That Woman Next Door – Harper Bliss

You think my reviews say a lot about me? Wait till you’ve read this one. And my apologies to Harper Bliss who deserves better.

As I’ve written before, I don’t often read Harper Bliss’s books. They don’t work for me. They either leave me cold or annoy me. As I’ve been told repeatedly in recent months, it’s okay, books aren’t pizza. We don’t all love the same ones and we don’t all love them or don’t love them for the same reasons. When it comes to Harper Bliss, I find myself in the minority more often than not. That’s the first reason that makes me try again every once in a while: I want to understand why so many readers love them, what I’m missing. I can appreciate the way Harper Bliss writes, I admire the discipline and dedication it takes to release so many books each year, books that do not feel like they were written off-handedly, but they do not touch me, or when they do, it’s not in any enjoyable way.

The second reason is that a couple of my friends say some of the characters remind them of me. See, that’s interesting because my main problem with Bliss’s books is that I don’t like her characters. Worse, I often actively dislike the people Bliss writes about. For a character-driven reader, it’s a real issue. And now these characters I don’t like are reminiscent of me? Damn.

That’s what happened with this one, my friend was texting me as she was reading because of Olivia. So. Here I am. My stubborn brain decided at first to focus on every way Olivia isn’t like me. She runs when I have no idea how to breathe most of the time. She writes poetry, one of two genres – with nonfiction – I won’t willingly read. She lives alone, I’ve lived with my wife for twenty-seven years. She drives. She warms milk in the microwave. I love being outside. Oh, and we have a very different approach to sex. We’re very different, really. Pretty different. Okay, maybe not so much and I can see the resemblance. It’s in the little things. Details. The geography of the book adds to the sensation since Olivia used to live about twenty-five kilometers from where I now am.

Another thing is that Bliss’s books often make me uncomfortable. Now I wonder, do they make me uncomfortable because they are or because I’m me? This one didn’t, however, and maybe it’s because it’s more personal for the author too, as she explains at the end. Maybe that’s why it feels more genuine to me, for the most part.

Olivia lives on her own, with her two cats, in a small village in Brittany and that’s how she wants things. Most of her interactions with people are through emails. She translates books from English to French, mostly mystery and romance novels. She’s an introvert and she more than embraces that reality. Marie is a Belgian surgeon who, after losing a patient, feels the need to atone and decides the family house in Brittany is the place to repent. She’s loud and intrusive, arrogant and overconfident, the kind of person Olivia would usually run away from, but not this time.

It’s the perfect opposites attract situation, with a side of age gap (the MCs are forty-four and fifty-six). Bliss knows what she’s doing and delivers an effective romance, with plenty of character growth on both sides, as two women who closed their hearts off find themselves unexpectedly catching feelings for the most unlikely person.

The story is told in first person POV in alternate chapters, and I have to admit I kept mistaking the characters for the other. Even though they’re very different, which is clear from their actions and the way they are, their voices aren’t distinct. There was also an adjustment needed from me, as a French-speaking reader, to remember that the characters are supposed to be speaking French even though they’re written in English, especially when Marie says she’ll wait till the French translation is done to read the book Olivia is working on. This is where I’d add an Inception gif if I was in the habit of adding gifs to my reviews, which I’m trying very hard to resist. Anyway, I guess if French is a foreign language to you, none of that will matter.

As a side note, I wish sapphics around the world would stop idealizing Catherine Deneuve. She doesn’t deserve your love. There are all kinds of out queer women in entertainment that I wish we loved as much.

So, in the end, this was an uncomfortable but objectively – or as objectively as I can manage – good book. And I’ll probably have to read the Two Hearts Trilogy at some point too now.

4-stars

That Woman Next Door @ amazon

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