The Real Deal by Lucy Monroe

therealdeal.jpgThe most important thing in Amanda’s life is negotiating a successful merger between her company and Brant Computers, a family-held competitor. It should be a done deal: Company president Eric Brant is on board with the idea. But when Amanda arrives in Eric’s office, it is his cousin Simon Brant who greets her—and Simon is anything but agreeable. He’s not about to give up control of the family company or lay off loyal workers. Squaring off against the sexy, brilliant, sexy, obstinate, sexy, eccentric, not to mention sexy Simon is completely frustrating—and a total turn-on. And when he walks out on her presentation, sidetracked by another one of his brilliant ideas, Amanda is shocked…and intrigued…no, furious!…and…and…and so attracted she can barely enter data into her Palm Pilot…

Simon has never met a woman as passionate and driven as Amanda, or as devastatingly attractive. He can’t decide if he wants to put her on the next plane home—in the cargo hold—or kidnap her and spend a long weekend showing her exactly the kind of negotiating he likes best. Come to think of it, if the lady wants war, maybe they should engage in full-on battle…in the bedroom…and see who will be the victor. But when intimacy leads to an explosive passion, it might be time to think of a different, more permanent kind of merger…one that’s less about business and all about pleasure…

Wendy:  Lucy Monroe’s The Real Deal reads like an homage to romances from decades gone by.  Monroe employs dreaded genre constructs and clichés, but somehow infuses them with enough charm to make them work. Amanda Zachary is a woman emotionally ruined by her cheating ex-husband, unloved by her family and unaware of her self-worth.  She’s bright and articulate, yet not smart enough to realize how devastatingly attractive she is.  At twenty-six she has the firmly cemented career of someone ten years her senior, a condo on the water in Southern California (though it’s never explained when Amanda won the lottery to afford that real estate), and she’s never had an orgasm—even on her own because, well, she’s old fashioned.  Simon Brant is a reclusive, security obsessed genius.  He graduated with a double college degree while still in his teens, he’s part owner of a successful computer company, he practices Tae Kwon Do in his private gym, he’s rich, he’s gorgeous, he’s a socially inept warrior of a hero, and he’s so well endowed he’s afraid to take his pants off in front of women for fear of frightening them.  Wait, he also has a ponytail.

Amanda leaves Southern California—a piece of geography no more clearly defined than this term meant to encompasses half the state, but greatly vilified at every possible turn—for the beautiful and pristinely perfect Seattle to negotiate a merger between her company, Extant Corporation, and Brant Computers.  As would happen, Simon is against the union.  Despite his lack of people skills, he worries for the welfare of the little man and opposes the joining on grounds that some of his employees might be laid off.  Determined to change his mind, Amanda moves in with Simon, seeing the shared living quarters as the only opportunity she would have to present her business proposal.

The set-up and the plot are nothing short of eye-rolling, but the urge to do just that never occurs.  Amanda and Simon’s story is perfectly paced to keep the pages turning and delightful enough to forgive the plot.  The characters and the story are likable because they never bother to be anything they aren’t; The Real Deal is a cheesy romance and makes no apologies for it.  The difference between it and so many category romances is The Real Deal is well constructed, smooth and readable.

The book’s one true fault—that its lightness and charisma can’t overcome—is the jacket copy declaring this work to be like “a classic Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn/Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie.”  The Real Deal no more fits that bill than should it be declared the next To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Real Deal doesn’t trouble itself to be mentally engaging but it does skip sweetly along, allowing the reader along for the ride.

HelenKay:  If you’re looking for a contemporary romance that centers around the gritty and sometimes difficult world of a woman trying to succeed in a male-dominated business environment – read something else.   Know before you start that there are many things The Real Deal is not.  It’s not a realistic look into the business world.  It’s not cutting edge.  It’s not mentally challenging.

In many ways The Real Deal reads more like a tribute to the office romances that were popular in the 90s.  Specifically, this work by Monroe is familiar, almost eerily so, in tone, structure and plot to earlier works by Jayne Anne Krentz and some by Fern Michaels.  That is not to say The Real Deal is a rip-off or carbon copy of those early works.  Rather, it stands on its own while bringing back fond memories of romance works from the past that didn’t try to be anything other than simple and charming.  The voice differs but the end result is the same:  a fast and easy read with likable characters and a predictable storyline.  The book version of cotton candy – good while it lasts but not something you want everyday.

The Real Deal tells the story of a wealthy eccentric genius, Simon, and the feisty woman who blows into town and rescues him from a life of desolation and intellectual repetitiveness.   Amanda walks out of a degrading marriage and focuses her life on her work.  All work and no play make Amanda a safe girl.  With her insecurities still hovering at the surface, she meets Simon and his cousin in an attempt to convince them of the positive aspects of a business merger.  Cousin Eric is in.  Simon is out….or is he?  Simon insists on a one-on-one business meeting at his isolated home on an island accessible by ferry.  A convenient device to strand Amanda with Simon, yes, but it works here.  This also is where the professionalism angle falls apart for Amanda and the reader.  A visit turns into an overnight stay, which turns into something other than separate bedrooms.

The Real Deal is a romance you pick up and don’t put back down until you’re done, not because it’s brilliant but because there’s no reason to stop when you know the payoff is only an hour or two away.  Monroe’s style is engaging.  She creates in Simon the lovable recluse you can’t help but cheer on.  Part alpha, part geek with every stereotypical positive hero attribute you can imagine.  Yes, that one too.

Amanda is dense but lovable, flawed and endearing.  Even though she doesn’t come off as smart as you might want her to be, you do want her to have a happy ending and know, almost from page one, exactly what will happen to her from chapter to chapter.  This includes a visit from the nasty ex.

The secondary characters move in and out of the story without unduly drawing attention away from the main action.  They don’t intrude.  They add bits and pieces to the plot – there really aren’t subplots here – without interfering with the book’s pacing which clips along without much stuttering.

HelenKay’s response to Wendy:  Amanda is not the typical romance heroine we see outside of sweet romances today.  Her sexual experience is limited and her business judgment suspect.  Did her character work for you and grow in a way that you found believable or did she suffer from the Too Stupid To Live syndrome romance readers and authors grumble about all the time?

Wendy’s response to HelenKay:  I didn’t feel Amanda was TSTL—it’s not as though she went into the basement clutching a flashlight with creepy music playing in the background.  However, she isn’t what I expect from a modern heroine.  I liked her well enough even if there were times I wanted to shake her and tell her to be more confident.  Ultimately this work is about as complex as chewing gum and Amanda fits in nicely.

HelenKay’s Final Thoughts:  The Real Deal is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.  As long as your expectations are as realistic as this book is unrealistic, you’ll enjoy.  I recommend it.

Wendy’s Final Thoughts:  I enjoyed it immensely even if I had to check the copyright date three times.  Recommended.

You can visit Lucy Monroe here and buy this book here or here.

24 thoughts on “The Real Deal by Lucy Monroe

  1. This was a middle-of-the-road book for me. I liked it OK, and it was a quick read, but didn’t love it. I know that others had a more love/hate reaction to it.
    Are you no longer rating the books?
    Alyssa

  2. I haven’t read this one, but it was nice to see a positive reaction after readers voted it the Worst Read of 2004 in the AAR polls!

  3. It certainly wasn’t the worst book of 2004. It wasn’t the best either, but I can’t imagine it intended to be.
    See, I have an absolute weakness for Jayne Ann Krentz’s older stuff, including the stuff she wrote as Samantha James (I think that’s the name) and this read just like those. It was cute and kind of doopey. A book that will only take a few hours to read. Don’t expect much or much depth. Really, I don’t think Monroe was going for depth. In some ways, I wondered if this was something she wrote previously, maybe targeting one of the category lines, and made it fit in with her Brava plan.

  4. Alyssa – We were struggling with the grades and are testing out a Recommend/Highly Recommend/ Recommend With Reservations/Don’t Recommend scale. Different from grades and we’re hoping more helpful and true.
    Do you prefer the grades?

  5. The objections I did read had to do with the total unreality (and unprofessionalism) of the business situation – something that spawned a massive discussion about business women in romances. I’d link to Robin Uncapher’s objections if I could find them, as they were quite thorough.

  6. Alison – The women in business part is totally unrealistic. Absolutely. I didn’t dwell on it once it was clear how farfetched that it was and, instead, looked at the book the same way I did those business romances from the late 80s and early 90s. The book is a throwback. No question. If you hate that kind of stuff, you won’t like this. If you view those oldies as sugary candy you dip into now and then – as I do – this is worth a look. If you like the old plot centered on the reclusive genuis and the young sweetie who rescues him, read this.

  7. So what do you think? Is this more of that divide of fantasy vs reality? Where some readers want their professions (and possibly everything in their books) to be accurate to the nth degree, while others are only along for the relationship ride? I’m really torn over this myself, because in some cases my suspension of disbelief never wavers over the most unbelievable plot point, yet at times if one hair is out of place, I can’t read any further.

  8. HelenKay, I appreciate the clarification. I thought you were doing recommend/don’t recommend, which I wouldn’t like, but since you are using other designations as well, I think it’s fine.
    As for realism, it always depends on each book. Sometimes I can say, “That’s unrealistic,” but simply go with the flow. Other times, I think, “That would never happen,” and it bugs me through the entire book. “It depends” is such a vague answer, but it’s really true.

  9. Alyssa – The recommend thing is a work in progress. We’re trying to come up with something that works but we don’t know if we’ve found it yet. If you have a suggestion we’re open to hear it.
    On the realism issue – I think it depends on the type of book. For example, Alison – in your SG-5 series, I want to see realistic people making realistic choices, even if they make bad choices. That is the type of books they are and your perspective on the romantic susupense is real world. Sometimes very nasty real world.
    Normally I want the books and characters to ring as true as possible. But when I read The Real Deal, I immediately thought the heroine and her business world were hookey because the book was supposed to play like a flirty kind of romp. I actually wondered if Monroe was trying to make us recall books of the past. It’s possible I’m giving her too much credit but the stuff she has coming out – look at her Ready, Willing and Able series – seems to have a much more realistic focus.
    Maybe the answer is that you have to go all realism and not waver or go doopey/cheesy and stick to that. It’s when folks go realistic then bring in an unrealistic piece where they get in real trouble. As a reader, I’m open to both types (‘tho I wouldn’t want a steady reading diet of the doppey kind) so long as I know upfront what I’m getting.

  10. For me plausibility is something to be taken on a book by book basis. I don’t think The Real Deal aims to be realistic and it seems unfair—at least for me—to fault it for not being an accurate reflection on life, women, or the workplace. If objections are raised about Amanda’s level of professionalism, why stop objecting there? Why not take issue with how unrealistic it is for her ex-husband who does not work for her company to be sent to close the deal where Amanda could not? Or why not throw stones at the fact that Simon’s butler is an ex CIA agent and who affects more personalities than Sybil? There isn’t one part of this book that’s any more unrealistic than another. You either submit to it and enjoy it or you don’t.

  11. Yeah…it’s kinda a you like it or don’t. Yes, there are plenty of unrealistic things, but it was just fun. And I kinda liked Simon the geek since I know guys who act similarly.
    I did really like it, though. Monroe is a H. Presents author and sometimes her books reflect that. I did really like her latest, Ready, though.
    Monroe is one of my guilty pleaure authors. She can write characters who I want to slap upside the head, yet somehow I still enjoy most of her books. Go figure. Perhaps it’s how she writes.

  12. If objections are raised about Amanda’s level of professionalism, why stop objecting there?
    LOL! Well, the posts I read didn’t stop at all! They shredded the entire book to pieces. But then LLB gave it DIK status, so go figure! I’m happy for Lucy that she’s found an audience to go along for the ride.

  13. LLB gave it DIK status and declared it her favorite read of 2004 in the review!
    I’m very surprised by the intensity of the reactions to this work. The Real Deal lacks the substance–something for a reader to really sink her teeth into–to be a keeper and it’s that same lack of substance that makes it not worth getting riled up over. I found it enjoyable and entertaining but not worth either lionizing or vilifying.

  14. I had a feeling that this book got the wildly mixed reactions it did BECAUSE of LLB’s review. She gave it DIK status, so everyone expected it to be the greatest book ever, which presumably led to its eventual status as Worst Read among AAR readers. Personally, I found it kind of average and finally have decided that I just don’t “get” Monroe’s writing, somehow. She’s one of the few Brava authors I’m not totally thrilled with.
    And Wendy, where the heck did your blog go?

  15. Ellen—I actually hadn’t planned to drop off the face of the earth. About four seconds after posting my last entry I decided I was done. I’d said the things I intended to say and didn’t have any desire to repeat or revisit myself. So, I floated the idea of retirement out there to a couple of people—who did not receive it well—on their objections I decided to hold off on making a decision. But, in the end felt no differently.
    I very honestly thought it would be possible to post a “thanks, it’s been great” entry—I even had a lyric picked out!—and call it quits; I assumed that the blog would hang somewhere in cyberspace forever. Typepad, however, saw things differently and obliterated the pages. Perhaps in the future I’ll feel sufficiently motivated to start another.

  16. Dude. Simon’s gunmetal eyes. Those everlovin’ gunmetal eyes. DEVOURING AMANDA WITH RAVAGING FORCE. The boob-humpin’ even as the characters can’t bring themselves to say “damn.” And the wacky, tarty best friend who doesn’t say or do anything remotely interesting, much less wacky.
    I don’t mind unrealistic books. Fergawdsakes, I like historical romances and paranormals–not exactly bastions of factual accuracy and everyday realism. I do mind unrealistic books that are poorly-written on a lot of levels. To refer to a previous rant I wrote: there’s making shit up, and there’s getting shit wrong. This book did way too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

  17. Ellen and Anea—thank you both. But, I haven’t disappeared into the ether. I’ll be right here for a good long while. If HK and I could magically add hours to every day, maybe we could do more reviews. But, alas, HK insists on having an offline life…

  18. Candy—I think there’s a big difference between a writer who is poor at their craft and a writer who makes choices that you—or any reader—find disagreeable. That “he muttered a fowl (or how about foul?) word under his breath” crap isn’t something I have a lot of respect for either but I don’t think it makes Monroe a bad writer (this is not to say I believe the National Book Award will come knocking any time soon). Frankly, The Real Deal doesn’t aspire to much, it doesn’t break new ground, it ventures nothing. At best it sets up modest and reachable goals and delivers on them.

  19. “Candy—I think there’s a big difference between a writer who is poor at their craft and a writer who makes choices that you—or any reader—find disagreeable.”
    Well, here’s the thing: what constitutes poor craft is, to a certain extent, subjective as well, non? For instance, Rebecca Brandewyne thinks purple prose is good craft; I think it’s bad.
    Once eyeballs are doing things best left to other organs–organs with teeth–and this portrayal is a) used in all seriousness, and b) supposed to be sexy, I’d say the writing has sunk from “not to my taste” to “gawdawful.” Suzanne Brockmann is not to my taste. Nora Roberts is not to my taste. Both of them are rock-solid at their craft, and I respect them tremendously as authors, even if their books leave me cold.
    The Real Deal? Bad writing. Bad, bad writing.

  20. Ooooh, two things I forgot to harp on:
    Thing 1: The biggest thing that bugged me about The Real Deal was how much of what was shown was so vastly different from what the reader is told.
    Exhibit A: Wacky, outrageous, tarty friend never actually says or does anything remotely wacky, outrageous or tarty.
    Exhibit B: We’re told over and over how the heroine is a hard-nosed businesswoman and a negotiator extraordinaire. What we’re shown is that she’s an emotional mess who’s unable to make even halfway competent business decisions.
    OK, those are only two examples. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book. Anyway, having what’s shown directly contradict what’s told when it’s not a first-person narrator who’s supposed to be unreliable = bad craft, in my opinion.
    Right, I’ll stop bashing on The Real Deal, now, heee.
    Thing 2 to harp on:
    Your blog is gone, waaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.

  21. Candy – Feel free to shame Wendy into bringing her blog back. I’ve tried threats and, for some reason, those do not appear to be working. Clearly she doesn’t appreciate my ass-kicking abilities.
    Back to The Real Deal: I gotta say that this didn’t strike me as an example of bad writing. Kind of dopey and totally unrealistic – yes. But not poor craft. Maybe I’m giving Monroe more credit than I should but the book really struck me as a tribute to books past. Goofy and fun but easily forgotten.
    Now, she’s released the first in a trilogy – Ready of Ready, Willing and Able. Those seem to have more of an edge and modern feel, or are supposed to. I have Ready and will read it to see if The Real Deal was written a certain way for a certain reason, or if that is actually Monroe’s writing style.

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