Passionate Game
by Michelle Monkou, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86311-2


Tamara Wendell supervises the mentorship program at the Miller-Brown Home for Boys, playing her role in helping troubled lads become responsible adults by ensuring that they are placed in appropriate intern positions at companies and such. Her latest mission is to place ten lads in our hero Grant Benson's computer game company. His human resource manager refuses to entertain Tamara's proposal, but that doesn't deter Tamara one bit. She'd approach the big man herself!

The synopsis at the back cover hilariously describes Grant as "the sexy tech bachelor with the mocha-latte eyes" with a "million-dollar smile and a fortune to match". How can any woman not fall in love with this walking Starbucks? I have to say, I think they hired that same fellow who used to write those awfully florid back cover things for Dorchester before that publishing house caved in.

Passionate Game is almost a great book. The same synopsis paints Grant as a bitter fellow who thinks all women are out to get his money after a bad relationship in the past, but he's actually not that one-dimensional. He is far more sensible than I'd have expected, most of the time. It is only when the author needs a conflict that he goes out of his charming guy character and turns into a rampaging "All women are lying tramps!" Hulk-like creature.

Tamara is feisty, but for the most part, she's feisty in a good way. She's often capable, so she can back up her big talk. She's dedicated to her job, she isn't looking for a man but she's also not against looking and hooking up when the right guy comes along, and she seems wonderfully normal most of the time. It is only when the author needs a conflict that she, like Grant, abruptly does something silly or out of character to trigger the conflict.

These conflicts are trivial, more like tempest in a teacup than bombs over the Middle-East, and they are also quickly resolved with unbelievable simplicity, so the author, I feel, is sabotaging her own story for no good reason. I do like that Grant's ex, while not above scheming and such, isn't too much of a cartoon psycho, but she doesn't add anything to the story other than being the usual foil to demonstrate how amazing Tamara is. Some of the conflicts, especially the one within the last dozen pages, feel like padding than anything else, because the characters overcome them with ease a page or two later. These conflicts don't advance the characters' arc or growth in a significant or even engaging manner. They are just conflicts, for the sake of conflict.

All the clutter in this story is unfortunate, because the romance is pretty fun to read. The characters have good chemistry and an entertaining retort-and-banter rapport going on, and their interactions with sequel baits feel natural instead of being clumsily inserted advertisements for books past and future. Without the short and banal conflicts, the good aspects of this story would have come through more.

As I've said, Passionate Game is almost a great story.

Rating: 78


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