Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Hartl
July 27, 2021, by Gallery Books
Review by Melanie
I tried hard to like this book. I thought the premise was interesting and clever and unusual to say the least. But ultimately, it broke down in the execution and by the end of the book, I was truly appalled by the actions of the MMC and could no longer support or even care about whether these people ended up together. In the course of reading a romance, if the reader stops being invested in the HEA, that’s pretty much the death knell for the book.
But lets start at the very beginning. Brinkley Saunders is a bit of a mess. After her serious relationship imploded in her face, she dropped out of her graduate program, lost all of her fellow graduate student friends, her apartment, and basically found herself at loose ends. Then came an unexpected job offer, working for a company called Heartbreak for Hire, which according to the blurb, specializes in revenge for jilted lovers, frenemies, and co-workers. Struggling to move on after the breakup with her (emotionally and verbally abusive) boyfriend, Brinkley finds herself seeking revenge in the name of others to find some semblance of peace and catharsis from her own emotional wounds. The trouble begins when her boss decides to add men to the all women business and the man hired to work directly under her happens to be her most recent target. Not only that, she also broke the biggest rule of her profession by going home with him and almost sleeping with him.
Professor Mark Cavanaugh, at first glance, is the kind of soft, sweet, nerdy, sweater-vest clad wearing MMC I typically love. He’s the typical academic, complete with a love for metal detecting. While he’s initially her target, Brinkley doesn’t love the client who hired her to humiliate him and when she meets him, she quickly realizes that he’s not as bad as her client made him out to be. However, I have to pause here and say, part of this is also due to the fact that Brinkley finds him extremely attractive at their first meeting and that really informs her first interaction with him.
Part of Brinkley’s problem with Mark stems from the fact that he’s an academic and Brinkley, whose mom is a professor, has a severe bias against the world of academia. I’m not saying her feelings are not rooted in reality but, some of the things that happen in this world of academia are really far-fetched and hard to fathom. The book is a very obvious commentary on feminism and sexual discrimination and it’s so heavy-handed at times, it feels almost like a cliché. Brinkely spends her days and nights planning sometimes elaborate revenge fantasies on behalf of her clients and then actually carrying them out. I’m not going to say these men don’t deserve what’s coming to them. They’re awful, self-centered, misogynistic jerks and absolutely deserve to be taken down a peg or two. But the whole concept seems so mean and negative at times, it truly does make me wonder how Brinkley has any joy at all in her life.
Secondly, we have the issue of Brinkley’s mom and their very toxic relationship. Listen, I understand about toxic parental relationships but Brinkley’s mother is emotionally manipulative and verbally degrading to her daughter and the fact that Brinkley continues to go to lunch with her every week and then, despite all of the revelations in the book regarding the secrets her mother has been keeping from her all her life, it kind of boggles the mind that they not only continue to have a relationship but that somehow, it’s stronger at the end. Like…how??
Brinkely is an artist. She dropped out of an extremely hard to get into graduate art program when her previous relationship fell apart. She spends the book dreaming of opening her own art gallery but is too scared to take the chance. That it takes Mark to finally propel her forward and take that step is annoying. But also, Brinkley has no experience in business and literally within a few weeks time, buys property and opens an art gallery. Again…how?? I get that sometimes, romance is a fantasy and we have got to suspend our disbelief. But I find that harder to accomplish with a contemporary that’s so rooted in reality but yet, there are so many jarring plot holes that make no sense.
However, my biggest issue comes into play with Mark. Brinkley, understandably, has major trust issues when it comes to men and relationships. However, she truly falls for Mark, believing that he’s a good guy and for the bulk of the book, I find myself rooting for him, despite my myriad issues with the book. However, towards the end of the book, a revelation about his true intentions comes as a gut punch to Brinkley and I have to say, I didn’t see it coming either. There’s some groveling at his end and he ultimately makes a decision about his own professional path that helps prove to Brinkley that he’s a changed man but his deception is pretty bad and the fact that he continues to move his relationship with Brinkley forward while keeping this huge thing a secret isn’t something I can let go of as easily as Brinkley does.
Ultimately, I had high hopes for the book because I thought the premise was really unique and I wanted to see how the author would make it work. Unfortunately, there were too many instances where I found myself questioning the plot choices and finally, I stopped rooting for Mark and Brinkley to be together. I do think this book may still work for a lot of people despite my issues, it’s just a matter of how good you are at suspending your disbelief.
I should add some content notes: Brinkley’s ex-boyfriend is emotionally and verbally abusive, toxic parental relationship, previous mention of drug use and death from an overdose of a parent, past mention of cheating, sexual harassment, gendered essentialism, fatphobic comments;