Rival Radio by Kathryn Nolan
May 20, 2022, by That’s What She Said Publishing
Review by Melanie
I normally review a lot of ARCs for Smexy but I have to make an exception for this book, which came out in May of this year. I don’t know how I managed to miss a book that so very clearly tapped into all of my romance novel catnips but I’m glad I finally got my eyeballs on it because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a workplace romance with two bickering radio hosts forced to co-host a show, enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity with copious amounts of simmering sexual tension that, when it finally boils over, is scorching in heat and intensity.
One of the things I really enjoyed is the lack of a third act breakup. I know as romance readers, we’re conditioned to look for the third act breakup, that dark moment that forces us to wonder how will these characters ever find their way back?!? But this book doesn’t have it and more importantly, doesn’t need it. The beauty lies in the characters, the internal angst that comes from within these two characters, and the honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity with which these two communicate with each other.
Of course, it’s not always this easy and open, or else it wouldn’t be an enemies-to-lovers trope. Daria Stone has had it with love and relationships. Burned publicly when she was stood up at the altar by her husband-to-be on their wedding day, Daria runs a popular blog that has transitioned into an equally popular radio show in which she states with firm resolve that the most important relationship you can have is the one you have with yourself. Loving yourself, romancing yourself, and caring for yourself, she espouses, is more important than the harmful idea that you need another person to complete you. To that end, she’s sworn off the idea of love and relationships and is determined to be happily single forever.
Her nemesis turned co-host, Dr. Theo Chadwick is a true romantic, who firmly believes in love and soulmates and finding the person who completes you. Growing up in a cold, distant home with two parents who emotionally abandoned him, social psychologist Theo has made a career out of studying love and relationships and people. He’s idealistic and hopeful and very much wants what he never had growing up, a sense of belonging, a partnership, a family, and a love that will never make him feel as though he doesn’t deserve it.
It’s said that there is a thin line between love and hate and nowhere is that more apparent than in Daria and Theo’s interactions. While the two initially start off as enemies, constantly bickering and arguing about their differing philosophies on love and relationships, it becomes quickly obvious that they share far more in common than not. In a lot of books, this trope would be dragged out, riddled with miscommunication and misunderstandings, and hurt feelings that could easily be avoided. However, this book takes a different stance, giving us two adult characters who built their entire careers on talking about feelings…talking to each other about their feelings. There is so much honesty in the way they approach their feelings. It could very well have morphed into an enemies to let’s bang to get it out of our system and avoid talking about feelings to eventual lovers but the fact that these two characters avoid that pitfall and instead, approach their burgeoning relationship with honesty and so much vulnerability is one of the most beautiful aspects of this book.
I also want to talk about the side characters. As I stated, it’s a workplace romance taking place in an independent radio station in a beach town. The location and the vibe of the town play a huge role in the story, a beachy town with a boardwalk gives the book a really fun, lighthearted atmosphere. But the side characters, the radio station employees bring so much warmth and flavor and depth to an already delightful story, from Janis, the delightfully quirky but incredibly smart radio station manager to Magnolia, a long-time popular DJ who also happens to be Daria’s mom, to Des and Elena who help produce Daria and Theo’s show.
There’s also a found family vibe, especially with Theo who has never really known what that feels like, and the way that his coworkers love him and support him, especially Janis, his boss/mentor is one of the sweetest aspects of Rival Radio. The book talks a lot about the importance of community, the motto of the radio station being “Radio for the People” and the desire to remain independent and not be overtaken by some faceless corporation. All of this makes this story feel so cozy and warm, like the kind of beach town where everyone knows each other, supports each other and helps each other. Idealistic to be sure, but listen, if you’re reading romance for the escapism (and really, who isn’t?), then this book delivers and then some.
Let me also address the heat level for those of you who might be wondering. I have a hack to share with you (this only works for people reading digitally). I know a lot of people try to suss out the heat level of a book by doing specific word searches, it could be certain body parts or specific action verbs. I use the term “good girl” and it has reliably served me well. There are multiple sex scenes and one specific instance of “good girl” which is burned into my brain for all eternity. Theo is a serious, eyeglass-wearing, advice-giving, professorial type and when he morphs into a bossy, dirty-talking hero, it is the most delightful reveal.
So, let’s break it down: this book has two people at odds, constantly sniping at each other, find themselves super attracted to each other, and engage in some incredibly steamy sex with a side order of open and honest communication to find their way to a HEA. It’s delightful and I highly recommend it.
Content Notes: Daria is left at the altar by her would-be-husband; off-page parental abandonment