I loved 80% of this book and yelled in my head for about 15%. I’m a huge Melissa Brayden fan. I’ve said it often, I was lucky enough to translate two of her books and I loved it, loved every word. I know I’ve overrated some of her books in my reviews because I want to love them so much, but in recent years, they haven’t worked for me as well as older ones. That’s why I found a lot to love in Marry Me, despite the second part ruining the first one for me. Because there was something new, something exciting. With Exclusive, I found that feeling I love when reading Brayden’s books. For about 80% of the book, I was in Brayden heaven, then the requisite breakup occurred and from then on, it felt off. I’m still a Brayden fan however, I’m still cheering for her and rooting for her, and if that means yelling at characters for part of the book, so be it.
When Skyler Ruiz leaves her small local TV station for a much more exciting job as a reporter in San Diego, she’s intent on proving herself and making the most of the opportunity. That the desk next to hers belongs to her all-time idol Caroline McNamara only adds to her motivation. Even if, at first, the older woman isn’t as welcoming as Skyler could have hoped. But when Caroline finally lets her guard down, Skyler’s entire world seems to suddenly shine more brightly.
I knew it was going too well. Skyler stole my heart immediately, Caroline – Carrie – intrigued me, and getting to know her through Skyler’s eyes, I had no trouble imagining how sexy she is. I need to mention that all through my reading, my Twitter TL was full – even more than usual – of photos and videos of Cate Blanchett, because of the César Awards, and now Caroline and Cate look very much alike in my mind. There’s also a Morning Show feel to this story and she could have looked like Jennifer Aniston, with Skyler as Reese Witherspoon, but my brain rejected the possibility, which means I have no idea what Skyler looks like. That’s not on the author at all, I almost never “see” characters. I feel their personality, their actions, their energy, their emotions, but as I wrote in a recent review, physical descriptions are lost on me.
So anyway, I was very happily basking in the getting-to-know-each-other giddiness and of course, it couldn’t last, because that’s not the kind of romance stories Melissa Brayden writes. And when it happened, Skyler lost my heart. To be honest, for a big part of the book, I could completely understand why Skyler was head over heels over Carrie but I wasn’t sure why Carrie felt the same way about her. This might be because the story is told in the first person from Skyler’s point of view, which gives readers a lot more insight into what she loves about Carrie than we get about Carrie herself and what she feels.
By then, however, Carrie had completely won me over, I trusted her and if she could forgive Skyler, maybe I could too. And that’s what I love about reading, I can get really angry at someone and no one gets hurt. Yes, I have real feelings, strong feelings, about fictional characters. And in this case, I feel Carrie is treated very unfairly. Skyler isn’t completely in the wrong, I understand where she comes from, and she did try to meet her halfway, but in an impossible situation, there are no right choices. You do your best. Then you do your best to make that best work. And in a relationship, both parties have to try.
That said, Brayden writes beautiful chemistry. Every time these two look at each other is hot, and they do a lot more than look. That’s probably my favourite part of Exclusive, this chemistry, this palpable connection. As usual, the banter is excellent, but this Brayden trademark is also one of her flaws, as it makes her characters sound similar. Skyler’s personality is very different from Carrie’s yet what they say and the way they say it is at times interchangeable.
I was happily surprised to see Sarah and Emory from Heart Block as secondary characters, even if they gave me a scare. And can you believe Grace is sixteen? I feel old… There are also a couple of Easter eggs from the Tangle Valley series and Strawberry Summer (I’m only adding the link to prove all the points I made in the first paragraph of this review).