tl;dr: could not get invested into this sorta-forbidden, sorta-office romance
Context is key in romance. I learned this from Emily Nagoski, whose book Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life was eye-opening in not only a personal relationships sort of way, but also in the way that helps me explain why a romance novel works or doesn’t work for me. As far as romance novels go, the reader needs to have a sense of who the characters are, because most of the plot is driven by the emotional response to what is happening between the two characters. In Family Jewels, I couldn’t get enough of a sense of either character, and how they related to each other, in order to care about their romance.
I’m told that Riley Cameron is the spoiled daughter of a man who runs some sort of jewelry business, but she doesn’t seem all that spoiled. That the new manager, Devon Scott, is handsome and commanding, but he comes across as an arrogant jerk. It’s implied that the boss’s daughter dating the new manager is a Very Bad Thing, but other than the idea that it’s generally frowned upon to mix business and pleasure, we don’t get a real reason for awhile. Parrish teases a Big Secret for most of the book, and eventually it comes out that Riley has dated someone else that was employed by her dad, and then when it went badly, they fought and broke up. But if that’s the case, why did she let him put his hands on her on only their second interaction? If she was so devastated by that breakup, shouldn’t there have been a little more reluctance on her part?
This book employs some BDSM elements, but it went back and forth between emphasizing how Riley had only ever had “vanilla” sex before and how she was completely aware of the lifestyle from a basic common knowledge source. She shouldn’t know those terms if she is unfamiliar with kink, including “sub drop” which I only know from The Boss series, and I think is used incorrectly. So she’s familiar enough for plot convenience, but also unfamiliar for plot convenience. I felt like Devon came on way too strong. He either wanted complete domination over her every waking thought, or he was being overly considerate, walking on eggshells. I’ve read BDSM. One of my favorite series has strong BDSM themes. (The Original Sinners series that I always sing praises for has a sadist and a handful of masochists, submissives with collars, etc.) But the behavior from Devon made me uncomfortable. It was not total consent from Riley, and that was icky.
As characters go, these were so thin, I could hardly tell you one distinguishing thing about them. It doesn’t help that they bounced around from one side of a spectrum to another, and were completely inconsistent. Riley was outspoken and brash, except when she wasn’t. And there wasn’t any rhyme or reason for her sudden meekness. Devon claimed that he wanted only what she had to give, until he pushed and pushed for her to share more than she was willing.
The Big Secret (the prior relationship with father’s employee) was also a complete let-down. It would have made a much more interesting arc for Riley if we had known all along why she was reticent to begin a relationship with Devon, and if she had actually shown any internal conflict over it. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t buy into a first person narrative with a Big Secret, because while I think people are totally able to push aside things they don’t want to think about, it’s not like they’ve had a lobotomy or anything. Even unwanted thoughts pop up on occasion, particularly when prompted by a personal event. If you want to hide a Big Secret from us, at least do some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stuff with it.
All that to say, I wasn’t invested in either of these characters. They were flat. I didn’t care if they worked it out or not. I only kept going to the end for this review, and I skimmed the last 10%.
I’m assuming this book is set in the UK due to language and spelling, although it was never established. Because of that, a lot of the phrasing seemed off to me, because it seemed full of slang. I’ve read many books set in the UK, and most of them are clear about where the book is taking place, and the Britishisms don’t bother me. It gives a real sense of place. But so much of the phrases in this book seemed too conversational, more like a private chat between two friends than a novel.
The signposts for the secret were too obvious to not come out and say it. Such as the following:
“Perhaps. My romantic history isn’t all that interesting.” Ooh, lying now, eh? Good one.
There was also a lot of internal monologuing. During the weirdest parts, too. The initial sex scene takes a really long time because it seems like Riley is leaving her body in parts to describe things that aren’t really related to what is actually happening.
Some of the sentence structures were odd, too. There were a lot of them. that. went. like. this. In order to make some sort of point? It didn’t work for me.
The general idea for the book is not a bad one. Riley had a bad romantic experience dating one of her father’s employees, has a strained relationship with her father and his business to begin with, and feels guilt about being paid off for her silence with her father’s affairs. But her characterization is so inconsistent, I found it difficult to be invested in her plight, particularly when the character’s own investment in her life wavers quite a bit. She’s guilty, then she’s self-righteous, then she’s shy, then she’s assertive. And Devon was kind of an ass. Both of them need therapy, not each other, and that’s generally not the conclusion you should come to when finishing a romance novel.
This book is probably not available from your library, but if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read for free.