Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Modern Love #2
Published by Avon on April 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
In Alisha Rai's second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.
OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???
I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]
Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!
One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for.
He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.
With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…
I absolutely adored this author’s Forbidden Hearts series (start with Hate to Want You and just BINGE!) but bounced fairly hard off of the first book in the Modern Love series, The Right Swipe. Howsomever, I did love Forbidden Hearts, and I heard good things about Girl Gone Viral, so I decided to see if this one would bring me back
And I was in the mood for another romance after yesterday’s lovely book, so this looked like it would certainly fit that mood. And it did. It so did.
There are two tropes going head to head in this romance, the ever-popular friends-to-lovers, and the hot, awesome but less frequently invoked bodyguard romance. And this was a time when these two tastes definitely tasted GREAT together!
The story doesn’t quite match the blurb – or at least the intensity of the feelings involved aren’t quite conveyed by the spritely tone of the blurb.
Kat doesn’t just crave a low-profile life – she needs one desperately in order to cope with her excruciating panic attacks and something that feels like PTSD after a traumatic kidnapping several years ago. Letting that cute guy sit at her table in the crowded coffee shop was Kat sticking a toe out of her comfort zone – only to discover that there are sharks outside that comfort zone. Seemingly literally, as the live-tweet of the complicated fabricated romance takes on a life of its own – probably with the active connivance of both the tweeter and the cute-but-clearly-an-asshole guy.
Kat is spooked. Completely, totally and utterly spooked. Partly because spooked is her default setting – something she’s changing very slowly – and partly because becoming a viral internet sensation can be a two-edged sword at the best of times. She wants this to fade away, but the Streisand Effect is a real thing. So is doxxing. So are death threats – particularly if you’re living online while female and try to claim your own space in the world.
So there’s a lot going on in this story, and not just on Kat’s side of the equation.
Her bodyguard – and secret crush – Jas has plenty of his own stuff to deal with. Including his own PTSD from his military experience in Iraq. Something that he deals with by, essentially, not dealing with it. By shoving it down into a hole so deep that he doesn’t even let himself see what’s crawling around down there. He deals with it by pushing his loud, loving and very intrusive family away. And he keeps telling himself that he doesn’t feel anything for Kat beyond friendship.
Of course he’s lying to himself about pretty much all of it.
So Kat needs to escape and Jas both wants and doesn’t want to visit his family, so he uses Kat as an excuse to go home – while pretending to most of his family that he’s not really there.
Like that ever works.
But out of the city, alone together in a house where Kat can just be and Jas doesn’t have to be on guard 24/7 because it really is safe, they let themselves get close to each other. And finally tear down the walls that have been keeping them apart.
Escape Rating A-: The bodyguard crush is a trope that isn’t seen all that often in contemporary romance, as, after all, most people don’t need a bodyguard. Add to that, at least on the surface, Kat doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would need a bodyguard. She’s not political, she’s not a superstar, no one seems to be threatening her. And yet, she does need Jas, not just as a bodyguard but because her own traumas make her need the safety of having a bodyguard. And, well, Kat just needs Jas but isn’t ready to admit exactly what she needs him for as the story opens.
They are friends. Even if Jas in particular would have a difficult time labeling their relationship that way. Especially because Jas isn’t used to having friends, period. And his tense interactions with his family make it clear that he’s having difficulty with personal relationships in general – among other things.
Which leads directly to a third element to this story that almost put it over the top for me. So often, reaching their HEA solves all of everybody’s problems. Love conquers all, after all. But in real life it doesn’t. Love makes things better, it makes the world look brighter, it makes the hard stuff easier to get over, past or through. But it doesn’t erase the past, nor does it magically sweep away all the baggage we all carry around.
So the great thing about the way that Kat and Jas find their HEA is that love gives them the courage and the impetus to deal with their own shit. Neither can magically fix the other’s PTSD or panic attacks, each of them HAS to do that work for themselves. Love provides support, as it does, but there is no magical healing for the crap they both have to deal with, and it doesn’t. Instead, a big part of the HEA is that they both do better at taking care of their own messes so that they have more room to love each other. And that’s an ending and a message I definitely believe in.
But there’s this niggle. I still feel like we’ve all been left hanging about the fake viral setup that started the whole thing. It feels like a setup. It reads like a setup. I wish there was some resolution to it. Kat gets past it and turns it back on the original posters, but it still felt a bit unresolved. It’s not so much that I wanted them to be exposed – although that would have been really, really terrific – but I wanted some acknowledgement that the whole thing had been a deliberately put-up job from beginning to end to promote his new business and his flagging career. YMMV.
All in all, I’m really glad I read Girl Gone Viral, and I didn’t feel like I’d missed too much by not having read The Right Swipe. There’s enough backstory here to let new readers pick up the series here. And I really loved the characters, not just Kat and Jas but the entire mad and crazy bunch. I definitely would not mind seeing this crew back for more with a new couple at the heart – finding where their hearts belong.