This book messed me up and not in the way I usually enjoy. I love Gerri Hill’s romance novels. She often manages to make me tear up and get my emotions all over the place. I also know that she sometimes writes things that make me cringe. Consent is assumed but not always clear with some characters whom I have to call predatory. And the first chapters of this book had me really worried and uncomfortable in that regard.
It starts in the most absurd way, as do many fake romances. I mean, how does faking a relationship ever sound like a good idea? Fake romance is a fun trope, one I like a lot, but if books were real life, I don’t think it would ever end well.
At the beginning of The Great Charade, Abby is dreading going to her parents’ home for Christmas because her ex is now engaged to her brother, which didn’t stop her from seducing Abby last Christmas. Long story short, Abby wants to take a fake girlfriend with her to help her resist Holly this time. Nic is a landscape artist Abby sometimes get glimpses of at lunchtime. A stranger, since all of Abby’s friends think her idea is insane. Nic has her own issues with Christmas, going back to her horrible childhood. When Abby asks her to be her fake girlfriend for ten days, Nic agrees in exchange for sex.
Ugh. If I was in the habit of DNFing books, I’d have stopped there. Or maybe I’d have stopped the second time someone mentioned Holly being a lesbian dating a man. Bisexuality is a thing, you know?
But I almost never DNF and I’ve loved so many Hill books that she deserves the benefit of the doubt. The characters’ faults aren’t necessarily the author’s and all that. So I went on. And as the story developed, I liked Abby and Nic more and more. Nic really isn’t as callous as she let Abby (and me) think. Quite the opposite, in fact. She’s guarded, for good reasons, but she’s also caring and kind. Witnessing her get her first fairytale Christmas was heartwarming. The chemistry between the two MCs was real, and when the Christmas bubble got to an end, I was sad along with them. I was absolutely rooting for them.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, when finding sapphic stories was still somewhat of a challenge, I would have recommended this one without a second thought. Today, I’m not so sure. If you’ve never read a Gerri Hill book, don’t start here. Read At Seventeen. Read No Strings. Read The Cottage (prepare to weep), read The Secret Pond, read Chasing a Brighter Blue or The Stars at Night. Hill has written really good books, romance, mysteries, thrillers. She’s excellent at depicting scenery and taking the reader to the places she loves. When her characters are good, they’re excellent. If this book doesn’t work for you, another one will.