Tue
Aug 22 2017 12:00pm

First Look: Lauren Layne’s Ready to Run (August 22, 2017)

Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

Lauren Layne
Ready to Run (I Do, I Don't #1)
Loveswept / August 22, 2017 / $4.99 digital

As someone who enjoys The Bachelor/The Bachelorette despite all of their horrible qualities, Lauren Layne’s new series is everything I could want in a contemporary romance. The series centers around characters connected to a new TV show, Jilted, which is similar to The Bachelor but with a hero who has left multiple women at the altar. Layne uses this theme in the first book to weave a story of second-chances, complications, and sexual tension, making for a book that bursts with energy and excitement. In the acknowledgments, Layne says this idea excited her to no end, and as a reader, it’s easy to believe. Ready to Run is easily one of the most enjoyable contemporary romances I’ve read in a long time.

Upcoming television producer Jordan Carpenter believes that Jilted is what will take her career to the next level. Her boss loves the idea of a reality show that takes The Bachelor and turns it into a hero redemption story. The trick is finding a candidate that viewers will fall in love with despite leaving multiple women at the altar. After some hardcore Googling, Jordan finds her perfect candidate: Luke Elliott, a Montana firefighter who left three women just before marrying them and still remains a beloved part of his small Montana town.

Jordan and her best friend, Simon, fly out to rural Montana to track down Luke and get him involved. The town welcomes them with open arms, but it’s clear Luke would rather do anything else than go on a romantic reality show. In Luke’s mind, Jordan is nothing more than a city girl that wants to use his past (and the pasts of his ex-fiancés) to make her famous. The folks in town seem to think it would be good for Luke. Apparently, he hasn’t been the same since his third and final almost-wedding.

Despite Luke’s harsh words, Jordan buckles down and rents a house, determined to stick around until she gets her man. The trouble with Luke is that he’s lovable despite his gruff exterior. Jordan can see legions of American women vying for his true love. But, as she gets to know Luke, Jordan realizes that her assessment includes a hearty dose of personal bias. Her attraction to Luke is more than physical, and she has to decide if her career is worth leaving their chemistry, and his trust, behind. Luke can tell that Jordan lived in a town like his once upon a time, and something about the complicated small-town-meets-big-city girl makes his heart race. If Luke wants Jordan to stick around, he has to be honest about his past and confront the emotionally turbulent feelings that caused his last engagement to fail.

What Lauren Layne has in Ready to Run is a tried-and-true contemporary romance plot with a strong comedic arc through the narrative. It’s what Layne does best; her stories feel pleasantly familiar, a movie that we know we haven’t seen but can safely predict the beats of almost immediately. Layne does this well because she uses that familiarity to take the storyline deeper, to focus more on the elements of building mutual trust and respect between the hero and heroine. That trust, along with Layne’s signature humor, makes the story of a city girl falling in love with the country feel fresh again.

The most important part of the book is that romantic development. While the idea of the reality show is interesting, Layne did have a challenge in creating a character that romance readers could believably trust despite three failed almost-marriages. She manages that well with Luke by making most of his romances failed due to “extenuating circumstances” that aren’t really his fault. It’s not that unexpected, but Layne makes the revelations feel genuine, and it’s helpful that Luke is actually comfortable speaking about those ones with Jordan after a certain amount of time.

Of course, as the story progresses, things get harder. I liked that the challenge of trust Layne created was more about Luke and Jordan being honest about their pasts rather than Jordan not trusting Luke because of his engagement history. Layne goes for conflict that makes sense and doesn’t feel contrived, and it makes the romance shine with genuine conflict. Luke and Jordan also are fairly contentious throughout a lot of the text; the sexual tension makes it clear more is going on, but it’s nice that their personalities and issues are detailed and can’t be fixed with one clear conversation (and truthfully, their barbed banter just really adds to the humor.)

He gave me a little smile. “You were hoping to see me save a cat?”

“Have you?” She smiled back. “Saved a cat?”

He winced and looked away and she gasped. “Oh my gosh, you have, haven’t you? You’ve saved a freaking cat. You couldn’t be more perfect if you tried.”

His eyes locked on hers, and Jordan backpedaled. “Not perfect for me. I meant for the show…”

It was the wrong thing to say.

The other elements of this story that keep it fresh are in the humor. Layne’s brand of cosmopolitan, modern comedy works well in a story like this – Jordan is a quintessential city girl with Jimmy Choo heels to prove it, after all. What’s refreshing is that Layne makes a lot of the humor come from Jordan’s friendships; there’s a substantial population of women and femmes as secondary characters that give her a social circle and make her laugh. I think the scenes where Jordan was out at book club drinking wine or meeting other women at the bar were some of the best because they reminded the reader that, yes, Jordan is a modern woman who has a life beyond this romance, and it’s pretty great.

“Damn, Jordan, can you please stop making us look so dumpy,” Bree said, pulling a chair from the table behind them and shoving Hailey over to make room.

“Oh, I don’t want to intrude – “

Hailey reached up, tugged Jordan’s hand until she plopped down into the middle of small-town girl talk.

“You like sauvignon blanc?” Stacey asked, holding up a bottle of white. “You know what, you do now. Izzie, tell Benny we need another glass here.”

Layne also tactfully avoids making Jordan seem out of touch because she enjoys elements of the city. The implication of small town superiority is also mostly absent, and that was a welcome relief as well. It kept the book funny without feeling like it was trying to imply that small towns were superior. That was a welcome relief. Layne is actually pretty honest about the good and bad elements of these choices and makes it clear that Jordan’s enjoyment of the space is due to a variety of factors based on her own background.

There are some elements that I think readers will stumble with. Layne includes a few LGBTQ characters, but one is solidly in the “femme gay best friend” trope and doesn’t get much of an expansion beyond it, and the other two are also pretty binary in their sexuality and representation. It’s a welcome inclusion to have multiple LGBT characters present in a small town, but the rep didn’t always sit right with me as a reader. Some of the humor is also a little on-the-nose (Luke calls Jordan “city girl” and “City” as a nickname, for example). Your mileage may vary as a reader, but those gave me a few hiccups in my otherwise flawless reading experience.

Overall, Ready to Run is a series opener with a lot of promise and joy. The romance is familiar and still fresh, the conflict’s detailed and complex, and the humor mostly hits all the right notes. I think Lauren Layne is an author with an incredible individual voice in contemporary romance, and any readers who love Bachelor-style TV tropes, small towns, comedy, and women’s friendships will find this series to hit just the right buttons. It was exactly what I needed to cheer me up, and I’m going to devour the next book in the Jilted series as soon as it comes out.   

***

Learn more about or order a copy of Ready to Run by Lauren Layne, available now:

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John is a student, reviewer, and editor with a taste for social justice. He's queer/LGBTQ and has always loved a good romance novel. A current student at Ithaca College, he is majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications and trying to pick up a creative writing minor on the side. If you observe him in the wild, you may see him reading—or find him watching reruns of The Golden Girls while sipping his first/second/third cup of coffee for the day. You can find his reviews on his blog, Dreaming in Books, and listen to his random musings on Twitter @DreamingReviews.

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