Review: The Perfect Letter by Chris Harrison

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Perfect Letter by Chris HarrisonThe Perfect Letter by Chris Harrison
Published by HarperCollins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Romance, Western
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
As the longtime host of ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Chris Harrison has learned a thing or two about romance. Now, in his debut novel, Chris draws on his unique insights and wisdom to explore the exhilarating experience of risking it all in the name of love."The truth was something Jake said they should keep, always, between the two of them . . . "Leigh Merrill had spent ten years running away from her past. A talented young book editor on the fast track at a major publishing house, Leigh had been determined to build a life for herself in New York City—a life far from the hay-filled barns, swimming holes, and rolling hills of her grandfather's horse farm in Texas. And for the most part, she'd succeeded. This new life, one filled with books and parties and romance, was everything she'd dreamt of as a girl. Complete. Happy even, if Leigh considered the future she was building with Joseph, a brilliant, generous man who adored the very ground she walked on. Still, when the invitation arrived asking her to be the keynote speaker at the Austin Writer's Conference, Leigh couldn't ignore the nagging feeling that Texas, with all of its tangled secrets, was calling her home.Out of reasons to say no to a free trip, Leigh sees the conference as a perfectly timed escape—just a few days away to catch up with old friends, meet a few potential authors, and clear her mind. But Leigh's plans for a quiet retreat quickly dissolve when a stack of deeply personal letters from the past are left in her hotel room. After all these years of running, Leigh has nowhere to hide. In her hands she holds the letters that bare her soul and her secrets, the letters she wrote to one man, the love of her life—Jake. With her past and present crashing in around her, Leigh must decide just how much she's willing to risk for love.A remarkable debut by a modern-day love expert, The Perfect Letter is a must-read for Bachelor fans, and hopeless romantics, everywhere.

When I heard Chris Harrison, the veteran host of the long-running Bachelor/Bachelorette reality competition series, had written a romance novel and credited Nicholas Sparks as his role model, you can imagine how cynical my reaction was. Just because a guy hosts a tv show where people think they’re finding true love doesn’t mean he can write a real romance. And readers familiar with Nicholas Sparks know all too well how most of his books are the opposite of romances (spoiler alert: he likes to kill off one or both of his romantic leads off by the end). But as a romance reviewer and admitted Bachelor/Bachelorette fan, I couldn’t resist such a hugely publicized book. So I requested an advance copy, set my expectations to zero, and plunged in headfirst.

Fundamentally, THE PERFECT LETTER is not an all-out debacle, as some (including me) might have expected, and it is an actual romance, unlike most of what Nicholas Sparks produces. But it is also not a particularly well written romance, relying on too many obvious tropes without any attempts at originality on its way to a conclusion that manages to be both unbelievable and predictable.

Leigh is a successful young woman on the verge of a huge promotion in her dream job and marriage to a man to whom she owes so much. But first she must return to the place she’s stayed away from since her beloved grandfather died while attempting to avoid the one man who’s kept her away all these years. When Jake comes back into Leigh’s life, it’s like they’d never been separated, never lost each other in a sudden act of violence. But as Leigh is torn between her big city future and her small hometown past, someone else is poised to destroy it all before she gets the chance to decide for herself

For someone who has never read a romance book before, everything in THE PERFECT LETTER might seem new and exciting, but for an experienced reader, what’s here is a slightly longer version of a stereotypical category romance. After years of denial, adorable wunderkind heroine must confront a past tragic event that tore from her great love and forced her from the only home she’s ever known. Noble bad boy hero sacrificed all for his one true love but can’t help wanting her back even as the evil source of their pain has coincidentally returned to deal one final deadly blow. Add a red flag fiance, a wacky but loyal gal pal, and an ending that went well beyond mere eyerolls, and you’ve got THE PERFECT LETTER.

Just because a true romance must end with the hero and heroine together and happy doesn’t mean that a book shouldn’t keep the HEA from appearing predetermined. But THE PERFECT LETTER doesn’t even really try. The supposed conflict regarding Leigh’s existing commitment to her NYC boyfriend / wannabe fiance is laughable, as we’re already informed right at the start that the boyfriend mocks her Texas origins, isn’t particularly giving in the bedroom, and won’t listen to her concerns as he tries to railroad her into being his bride. Indeed, we’re supposed to be happy that Leigh instantly falls into bed with Jake after years of estrangement because he is her one true love, and Leigh’s hometown BFF is there to give voice to that opinion in case we might have any moments of doubt.

And when the real threat to Leigh and Jake’s long awaited happiness finally presents itself, it’s clear that the lack of plausibility isn’t limited to just the romantic elements of the story. You see, at the heart of THE PERFECT LETTER are the letters Leigh sent to Jake for several years after their wrenching separation. But it’s the one letter she wrote that has placed them both in danger, and the implausibility of its existence is matched only by what the heroine ultimately does in an attempt to save herself and the hero from the person using it to threaten them both. It’s difficult to fully express how unbelievable the resolution of the suspense plot is without resorting to spoilers, but when I’m searching online for details on how much a bank will allow you to withdraw from a personal account with only a few days’ notice, it’s safe to say I’m more than a bit skeptical about what’s going down.

As someone who is often fortunate enough to receive free advance copies for review, I’ve tended not to discuss book prices in my actual reviews, although if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see I have well defined opinions about what I will and will not personally pay for any book. But after a great deal of thought, I’ve concluded that cost is a key factor for enough readers that I need to stop ignoring it in my reviews. After all, saying a book is worth reading isn’t necessarily the same as saying how much it’s worth paying for, or even worth paying for at all.

So let’s talk about how much this book is being sold for and how that relates to its content. The new ebook price for THE PERFECT LETTER is $11.99 at the time of this review, and that’s in line with the majority of most big publisher hardback book releases by a well known personality. But even if it was half that price, I still wouldn’t buy it, if only because a highly marketed book like THE PERFECT LETTER will be fairly easy to find at the public library. There’s not much in this book that I care to read a second time, and certainly not for that much money, but like the rest of this review, that’s just my opinion and yours may vary.

In conclusion, it’s fair to say I was entertained by THE PERFECT LETTER and I’m happy I got to read it, though it’s a shame that it wasn’t the book it claims to be in its blurb. At least it’s a genuine romance, and not the Nicholas Sparks kind, and for that and for the reasonably enjoyable intimate scenes between its hero and heroine, THE PERFECT LETTER is still worth reading, even if not at full retail price.

three-stars

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