If You Just Say Yes by Reon Laudat

ifyoujustsayyes.jpgManhattan journalist Michelle Michaels just can’t seem to get a break when she finds herself the subject of false rumors. Now she’s being blindsided by her own boss. Wrongly suspecting her of trading sex for scoops, he’s caved in to the shady newsroom gossip and sent Michelle quietly packing on a leave of absence to her hometown of Detroit where some family secrets still lurk. With a career on the DL and a love life at low-ebb, Michelle’s hit rock bottom-until she meets dark, dimpled, and delicious Wesley Abbott…

Detroit reporter Wesley Abbott’s plate is full investigating a corrupt local judge. Now he’s got something else to investigate-and she’s the sweetest thing to sashay into the Herald in years. But Michelle and Wesley have more in common than they ever imagined, and it’s not just mellow vibes. In fact, it’s a scandal! And when these two bodies bump, so does trouble-with a capital T…

Wendy:  There’s nothing more disappointing than plucking a novel from the romance section then struggling through 200 pages looking for the romance itself.  In Reon Laudat’s If You Just Say Yes, this issue is personified not for lack of trying, but for lack of execution – this novel is disappointing in a harmless way: it doesn’t bother to offend or incite, rather, it fails to deliver any excitement at all. Some books simply do not work because the author isn’t up to the task, buries her story in meaningless minutia and forgets that the reader – or at least this one – is settled in for the chase, the affair and not never-ending back story for characters as important to the novel as the font face.

Michelle Michaels is a journalist for the Manhattan Business Journal until her ethical standards and journalistic integrity are called into question.  After the false accusations of the wife of an exposé subject send Michelle back home to Detroit, Michelle finds herself in the sights of fellow journalist and slick lady’s man Wesley Abbott.

Michelle and Wes could be engaging characters; they are both driven, obsessively ambitious, clear eyed, strong where others are weak, smart, and at times witty, but unfortunately they lack the humanizing flaws that would make them truly compelling and relatable.  The story’s engine of missteps and mistakes that drive the conflict and propel the action forward are the failings of other characters and never the hero or the heroine’s.

Theirs could have been a persuasive love story.  Together they hit high points of flirtatious sass but unfortunately they spend the bulk of the novel apart, mired in disjointed and unconnected subplots.  Had they more time together perhaps the foundation for the love they profess at the novel’s end could have been laid.  But as is, their quick jump from lust to love is unconvincing and rings hollow.

The novel’s pacing labors under multiple subplot setups that simply do not payoff, or for which the payoff is not equal to the setup investment.  A sharper focus on any one of the plot points (Michelle’s tarnished reputation, her mother’s mental illness, Wes’s brother’s incarceration, or courtroom corruption) could have made the story line come to life and offer a rich read.

Ultimately, the trouble with If You Just Say Yes is that the work leaves no stone unturned, no door opened, yet not closed.  Each and every character presented—no matter the brevity of their appearance or the lack of their importance—is given detailed back story.  That’s fine if the style and goal is to be Dickensonian in scope and feel, which is why John Irving and Richard Russo are able to pull it off without seeming pretentious.  In a novel like this, however, the aims are different and therefore the characterization must be as well.  Finally, If You Just Say Yes fails to be compelling because it’s a romance wherein the central focus is not the love story.

HelenKay:  When Michelle, a journalist for the Manhattan Business Journal, takes one too many steps out of line and ends up in an ethical tangle, the higher-ups at work send her to a sister paper in the far off land of Detroit.  She views this as a punishment but Detroit happens to be her hometown.  Enter her troubled mother and all the problems associated with returning to the fold.  The trip home also puts her right in the path of Wes, a fellow journalist with a player reputation with the skills to match.

If You Just Say Yes is a story about two strong, willful and successful career people, neither of whom know or understand the concept of balance.  They run head down, as fast as they can, from one problem to another all while trying to navigate their growing feelings for each other.

The book is part comedy, part suspense and part family drama.  There are various subplots, including Michelle’s mother, Michelle’s father, Wes’ brother, Wes’ extended family, work issues and judicial corruption.  Laudat takes on an enormous number of issues in approximately 300 pages, trying to weave them together and never fully meshing all of the ideas into a coherent mix of romance and suspense.

Laudat writes with an easy style.  She is at times witty and at other times far more serious, handling both ends of the writing spectrum with relative ease.  She creates characters who are believable and real in their imperfections.  For example, Michelle suffers a severe career downturn due, in part, to her misguided choices and lack of self-awareness.  Rather than wallow in the unfairness of life, Michelle pushes forward.  She takes responsibility for her actions and moves on.  Wes is a ladies’ man with a competitive journalistic soul.  He doesn’t apologize for who he is or for the level of success he has earned.  From beginning to end, the characters stay true to their personalities, even when dealing with the never-ending series of crises Laudat throws at their collective feet.

The consistency of the characters follows through to the end.  Laudat provides closure and a happy ending without wrapping up every subplot with a pretty pink bow.  She allows the storylines to unfold in a realistic manner.  Rather than manipulate and push every storyline in a pre-designed direction, she allows them to unfold in a realistic manner and if that means the ending is not so happy, Laudat is comfortable with that fact.

The weakness in this book – and it is a significant one – comes from the interlocking subplots and the fact they do not actually mesh together in a coherent story.  Laudat takes on so many issues that none feel fully examined or fleshed out, including the romance which sputters along until approximately page 150, then it takes off without any real understanding or explanation of how the attraction grew into something more.  The reader is left with the uneasy feeling the pacing would be tighter and smoother, and the romance more believable, if the subplots were streamlined.  As written the story lags and the romance gets lost in the checklist of issues the characters have to overcome.    

HelenKay’s response to Wendy:  Did this book work for you in the traditional sense of a romantic suspense – where the romance and suspense aspects are bound together and cannot be separated?  Or, is the weaving together of the two conflicts even necessary in your opinion?

Wendy’s response to HelenKay:  I think a major failing of this work is its lack of cohesiveness.  The ties the bind the various subplots are the thinnest and weakest of threads.  Tightly weaving Wes and Michelle’s romance with a single external conflict would greatly strengthen this story.

HelenKay’s grade:   While the author’s writing skills are considerable, the stop and start pacing and problem of competing storylines signficantly lower the grade on this book.  I give it a C-.

Wendy’s grade:  Under other circumstances I would have put the book down within the first fifty pages and not returned to it.  D.

You can visit Reon Laudat here and buy this book here or here.

7 thoughts on “If You Just Say Yes by Reon Laudat

  1. Hi HelenKay and Wendy,
    I found the comments very interesting and enlightening. Though I do not agree with them all, I do have some things to think about that I hope will help take my writing to the next level. Of course, I would’ve liked a higher grade from Wendy! A *D*? Dang. If that was on my high school report I’d be grounded for a whole month! :-O It seems as if she didn’t get any enjoyment out of the story, the characters or writing voice. Sorry about that. HelenKay had criticisms, but picked up on what I still believe are strengths in the book, such as the characterizations of the two main characters and the humor etc. I do want to admit that when I initially wrote the proposal and pitched the idea for this book to my editor it was for a family drama. The book has been described as a romantic suspense in some reviews, which totally baffles me. The court corruption stuff and some of the secondary characters and issues were thrown in to flesh out the two main characters. This novel is an early attempt to move beyond straight romance so the love story probably felt more like a subplot. This is why it was approached gradually and took longer to take off. The book has been marketed and promoted as a straight romance, though, so I can see why a person expecting that would be very disappointed. Thanks for checking out my work and discussing it here! Despite the negative comments I like the fact that I’m on some new readers’ radar.And I hope that they will still be curious enough to give me a shot.
    Peace and Blessings! 🙂

  2. Reon -Thanks so much for writing and for being such an incredible professional.
    What I liked best about the book was the heroine. It would have been easy for you to do a too-stupid-to-live lady here, but you didn’t. She made mistakes, owned up to them and took her lumps. She wasn’t afraid of her sexuality and wasn’t afraid to admit her brain wasn’t her only asset. That was refreshing and an area where many authors, in my view, mess up. My problem, as I pointed out above, was that there was so much going on I felt cheated in not having enough depth in Wes and Michelle’s relationship or in some of the other subplots. For me, it was a streamlining issue. Your writing is witty and charming but I didn’t get to enjoy it – and you didn’t get to showcase as much as I would have liked – with everything going on.
    Having said all that, we’re tying to look at some books and authors who might not be immediately familiar to people. I hope people see your name, google you, look around, buy your stuff and decide for themselves.
    Best wishes.

  3. Hi HelenKay,
    Just want to note for readers looking for more romance and a bit more of my comedic voice, there’s always “It’s A Love Thang” (*screwball/zany* romantic comedy) and “What A Girl Wants” (not quite as screwbally, but light and breezy with just one real-life issue touched on lightly.)
    Reon (Always the saleswoman!! 😉

  4. Reon—I too was completely surprised to see the romantic suspense label attached to this work, I even commented to HelenKay that seeing others label it as such made my jaw drop. As I read, family drama often came to my mind, so it’s not surprising that that’s what you had in mind. That your publisher chooses to market the work as a straight romance is unfair to both you and potential readers.
    There is a lot going on in the story—it certainly never lacks for conflict or plot. And, it wasn’t that I didn’t get any enjoyment from your novel, the issue for me is that too much eclipsed that enjoyment.
    My grade, while not a personal attack—though I imagine it’s impossible to take otherwise—is my honest opinion. Only one of many in the pantheon of book readers. My sincerest wish is that people go out buy your book and form an opinion of their own.

  5. I enjoyed this book, though I did see that it was more family drama than romance. I blogged about it and I think I mentioned that I liked those elements. It was nice to get a better idea of who these people were away from each other and interacting with family, etc. I think I would personally give it a B, but I also don’t always care if things are strictly romance when I read them.
    It’s not a fast read, kinda slow and leisurely and was perfect for what I wanted when I read it.

  6. Hey Wendy and Nicole,
    Wendy, I know that grade and your comments were not personal attacks. (It’s not as if you wrote that my mama wore combat books or advised me to pop a breath mint etc 🙂 When I mentioned that I wished the grade was higher that was my way of saying I wished you’d enjoyed the book a little more. I know it’s a bummer to feel as if you totally wasted your time and/or money on something. (I felt this way about a couple of really stinko DVDs I rented recently. Ugh! But won’t get into the specifics here.) What I’ve learned after writing seven books -and a novella- is this business is *NOT* for the thin-skinned or faint of heart ’cause the longer you write and the more you write the greater your chances are of stumbling across readers and/ or reviewers who are just not *feeling* your efforts. Mega-selling/millionaire authors, who I personally believe are at the top of their game, have one-star customer reviews on Amazon.com. Am I to expect a different experience for myself? Of course, it’s not *fun* to read negative comments, but my approach to them is to take what I think I can use to improve some things, then not linger on the rest ’cause you really can’t win ’em all 🙂 Not sure if you’re an author/novelist, but if you are I’m sure you’ll take the same approach when your books are out there and that someone, who did not enjoy the work shares his or her honest, unflinching opinion about how you failed on this or that project in a public forum. Just comes with territory. Just comes with the territory. (Have to say that twice.)But the flipside of that, of course, is the positive reviews and reader e-mails or comments, which brings me to Nicole. Of course, I’m tickled pink that you not only enjoyed the book, but took the time to blog about it. Thanx a bunch!
    Peace and blessings 😀

  7. Correction to previous post…I meant to write “my mama wore combat BOOTS!” 😀

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