Monday, April 20, 2009

"Just the Sexiest Man Alive," by Julie James

Alternate Title: Just the Funniest Romance Written

The Chick:
Taylor Donovan. A hotshot lawyer working in L.A. (on loan from her Chicago firm), as the newbie in the office, she's tasked with helping world-famous actor Jason Andrews with his upcoming legal thriller.
The Rub: Jason Andrew is none other than the Jason Andrews, pretty much the most famous actor on the planet, complete with an Academy Award and an ego the size of the Kodak Theatre. And now Taylor has to babysit him.
Dream Casting: Rashida Jones.

The Dude: Jason Andrews - world famous movie star. His charm, good looks, entertaining movies, and crazy fame give him an all-access pass to any restaurant, movie studio, and female in the greater Los Angeles area. When he finds out the consultant assigned to help him portray a realistic lawyer for his film is a very attractive woman, he thinks he's got a new toy to play with.
The Rub: That is, until he comes up against Taylor's no-nonsense attitude - the first velvet rope in years that hasn't been lifted for him.
Dream Casting: Patrick Dempsey.

The Plot:

Taylor's Boss: Babysit Jason Andrews because all of our real employees are too busy!

Taylor: Wait - the Jason...

Jason: My people will talk to your people! *flees to Vegas*

Taylor: *NOT AMUSED*

Jason: Hey, sorry I missed our appointment! But it wasn't any hassle, right? *Megawatt Smile*

Taylor: It was a huge hassle, and you're a dick.

Jason: Hmmm, maybe I didn't say this clearly enough - it wasn't any hassle, right? *Jedi-Celebrity Megawatt Smile*

Taylor: Um, maybe I didn't say this clearly enough - YOU ARE A DICK.

Jason: Wh-what? This walking pair of breasts won't immediately kneel before me and worship my awesomeness! My whole worldview has toppled! I don't know up from down! And why is that so damn hot? I know! I'll make her jealous! That's a woman's greatest weakness!

Taylor: *starts dating his celebrity rival*

Jason: ... I am a moron. I'm sorry, I love you.

Taylor: I'm sorry! I'm afraid of commitment!

Jason: Well, that's just not fair!

Taylor: You're right, I'm sorry, let's get married.

Jason: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Workaholic Heroine

1 Superfamous Man-Boy Hero

Several Paparazzi

1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival

1 Romantically Lacklustre Fake Rival

1 Concussion

1 Stack of Chocolate Chip Pancakes

1 Very Bad Ex

The Word: I won this *signed!* copy of Just the Sexiest Man Alive from Book Binge, and I've only now gotten around to reading it, because in general my romance diet is an entree of historicals with contemporaries being a nice occasional side dish. But hearing all the positive reviews made me pick it up off my TBR pile, and boy, am I glad I did.

Taylor Donovan is a rising-star lawyer who kicks ass and takes names in the courtroom. When her Chicago firm sends her to L.A. for a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit, she's eager to prove herself, and so far her opposing counsel has been dining out on the dust from her wake. However, her superiors soon hand her a more difficult task: one of their clients, Jason Andrews, is set to star in a legal thriller and wants to hire a lawyer as a consultant. Taylor Donovan's plate is already full to bursting, but successful careers aren't made by saying "no" and she's also secretly intrigued by the chance to meet such a celebrity in person.

Jason Andrews is the most famous man in Hollywood - a box-office-smashing, Academy-Award-Winning, People's-Sexiest-List-Making, bona fide celebrity who goes through women like toilet paper. For his upcoming legal thriller, he wants to consult a real lawyer to make sure his portrayal is realistic.

When Jason blows off his appointments with Taylor to go party in Vegas, Taylor's interest soon curdles into disgust at his spoiled party-boy antics. When Jason finally does show up, his plans to cow her into submission with his billion-dollar smile crumble when faced with Taylor's righteous indignation. Instead, Taylor uses a mock-cross-examination to intellectually spank Jason and laugh in his face.

Jason is used to women throwing themselves at him, so the fact that Taylor not only refuses him, but bests him shocks his system, and not entirely in a bad way. He subsequently uses his influence to weasel more time with her.

I enjoyed the heck out of this novel. It was hilarious, heartfelt, and hella entertaining, mainly thanks to how the author doesn't compromise the characters to fit a particular storyline, but instead creates well-rounded, realistic, relatable characters who create an interesting storyline all on their own.

Taylor Donovan is easily one of my favourite heroines yet - she's someone who genuinely adores and is good at her work, and is reasonably well-adjusted. She recently endured a bad breakup with a sleazy fiance, but she doesn't let it get her down - she just throws herself into her work. She's a professional, and so long as she works hard and pulls 110%, it's unlikely she'll discover her job cheating on her with an attractive teaching assistant. Ahem. Not that's she's bitter or anything.

As much as I loved Taylor - I loved Jason more. Oh, Jason, you oblivious man-child. Julie James earns my eternal gratitude for not pulling any punches in her character development of Jason. He's not a "fake rake" whose crazy spoiled exploits are just unfair exaggerations of the paparazzi. He's not a down-to-earth dude who hates fame and wishes he could escape the glaring lights and retire to some farm in Maine with the love of his life. He's not an aloof artiste who looks upon the celebrity lifestyle with cool disdain.

Just as Taylor Donovan loves her job, Jason loves his work as well as the lifestyle that comes with it, and his character clearly shows the effects of entitlement, instant gratification, and fan worship. He legitimately thinks he's king of the fucking world and brags about banging a dozen NBA cheerleaders and is accustomed to having people wait on him hand and foot. Most of his thought processes mirror those of a spoiled fifteen-year-old, but it makes sense why most of his cause-and-effect and problem-solving skills are simplistic, because he's used to people picking up the phone on the first ring and scrambling to get him the best table and pulling a few strings to make sure People's Sexiest Man Alive (hey! that's the name of the book!) walks away happy.

So much of the novel's enjoyment comes from reading Jason's befuddlement as none of his tried-and-true celebrity ploys work on Taylor. It sends nearly his entire social frame of reference out the window, leaving him vulnerable and awkward. That's not to say his celebrity ploys still don't work on others, but as he grows to love and depend on Taylor for the emotional grounding she provides, he starts using his Hollywood God powers for good - that is, instead of "Pleasure me! Jason Andrews wills it!", we get "Pleasure Taylor! Jason Andrews wills it!"

This also doesn't mean that Jason doesn't give as well as he takes - he may be used to getting what he wants, but he's an intelligent guy who's completely willing to use unorthodox methods to get what he wants. Jason and Taylor's interactions zing as they spar with each other - just as Taylor pecks at Jason's celebrity-bubble, Jason chips away at Taylor's nervousness and social inhibitions.

That being said, Jason's fame is the main obstacle in the novel. While Taylor soon starts to feel the warm-and-fuzzies for Jason, she's stymied by his profession. He's a movie star, after all - getting people to love him is his job, so how much of what she feels is real and how much is stardust? Secondly, she can't help but notice how many of Jason's whims are catered to and can't help but wonder if her refusal is the main reason Jason finds her attractive.

Thirdly, Jason's fame as a talented actor only narrowly beats out his fame as a notorious womanizer and while Taylor's break-up with her cheating fiance isn't a melodramatic issue (her ex never appears in the book), it's enough to give her serious pause. Her ex had a similar womanizing reputation, and his betrayal continues to influence how she approaches relationships.

I empathized totally with Taylor and her doubts and completely understood where she was coming from. She has a legitimate reason for suspecting playboys and if Jason were anyone other than the novel's protagonist I might have doubted him, too. Jason is a playboy, and Taylor had already gone through the experience of thinking her womanizing fiance was capable of giving up all other women because she was "special," she was "the one" - that is, until he cheated on her with his teaching assistant. How, she wonders, is she to assume Jason is any different?

At the same time, the author deftly shows us how incredible fame and fortune don't automatically make someone the son of Satan, and how underneath all the glamour and obliviousness, Jason is actually a pretty swell guy. This is achieved mainly through the contrast the author provides with the character of Scott Casey, an ambitious up-and-comer obviously modelled on Orlando Bloom (he got his "It Boy" status thanks to a lauded secondary role as a sexy archer in a fantasy epic) who tries to manipulate Taylor in order to stick it to Jason, currently at the top of the Hollywood heap. Jason may be thoughtless with his immense resources, but he never hesitates to use them to help those he cares about.

I also enjoy how, ultimately, the romance doesn't compromise Jason's profession by the end of the novel. As I mentioned before, Jason does not suddenly realize that fame is a festering canker on the skin of his soul and retire to some isolated paradise to make People's Sexiest Babies Alive with Taylor. Just as Taylor's job as a lawyer is important to her, Jason's acting is important to him and the fame and glitz don't detract from his dedication to his work. Part of the reason he wanted a legal consultant in the first place was so he could give the best performance he could, because that's the kind of person he is. The flocks of crazy fans and paparrazi and annoying reporters are simply aspects of life that he, and eventually Taylor, learn to deal with as inevitable parts of life. I really admired this - it's easy to consider acting to be an "easy" career just because of the crazy perks that go with it, but Julie James gives it a measure of respect.

I'm a character-driven person when it comes to reading romances, so in my reviews I end up discussing the characters more than I do, say, pacing and style, but Julie James' writing style, particularly in her depiction of Taylor's and Jason's POVs, is too hilarious to go without a mention. The points of view convey so much about the characters while at the same time being incredibly funny. Taylor, despite her setbacks and obstacles, has a pretty confident outlook on life and I laughed at the swipes she takes at her obvious inferiors. Similarly, Jason's POV also inspires chuckles - particularly whenever he thinks he and Taylor are about to have sex and subtly moves furniture and utensils out of the way, just in case.

Truly, Julie James' Just the Sexiest Man Alive impressed on all fronts. The characters were believable, the story fulfilling, the obstacles legitimate and well-developed, and the writing crisp and witty. I really can't come up with a single significant flaw about this entire novel. It's that good. Thank you, Book Binge!


  1. Anonymous5:48 PM

    Congrats on winning this book. Free books rock, and signed ones are even better!

  2. Yes.

    : D

    I loved the dialogue on this one. I have to say though, I wasn't head over heels in love with Jason. I did think he was an ass to women. Other than that, LOVED it.

    and are you going to read Practice Makes Perfect? I thought it was even better.

  3. Anonymous --> Yes, yes they are. Especially when you have the book in your purse when you go to be interviewed for Chapters so you can prove you didn't shoplift it. :)

    Ana --> Well, I found the situation similar to that of Sebastian and Jessica from "Lord of Scoundrels." Yes, Jason is an ass to women - but so is Sebastian (hey, at least Jason doesn't rely exclusively on hookers), but what made their characters was that they were both confronted by strong, confident women who were unwilling to put up with bullshit.

    I actually enjoyed that James didn't try to make Jason a "misunderstood" ass to women - James didn't give him a sad past that explained it or make it out to be a media exaggeration or worse, make his ass-ness to women just a front to hide his inner pain (part of the reason I wasn't the hugest fan of St.Vincent in Lisa Kleypas' "The Devil in Winter"). He was a legitimate butthead and both he and Taylor had to deal with that.

    I like that, frankly. Good people can do bad things, and I appreciate when romances give us flawed protagonists who've actually made moral mistakes and have to change or overcome them.

  4. M. L. Kiner9:47 AM

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  5. "He was a legitimate butthead and both he and Taylor had to deal with that."

    OMG, laughing my ass off at that one.

    So true.

    AnimeJune-- thank you so much for this incredible review!! I was smiling and laughing through the whole thing. This really just made my day.

    You are right on the money with Scott Casey. In more ways than one. ;-) I did use him to show a contrast with Jason, both in terms of personality and behavior, and also in the way Taylor's conversations with Jason zipped along--like they just understood and got each other--whereas she didn't have that same connection with Scott.

    Jason and Taylor were such fun characters to write. Both of them are pretty cognizant of who they are, and know their flaws, and don't necessarily apologize for those flaws. I wanted to create a story of two confident people who are surprised to find themselves humbled by love when they finally find it. But Jason can be a little tough to handle, nevertheless... ;-)

    I'm so glad to hear the book worked for you. Thanks again for this wonderful review.

    On another note-- I just saw your review of "Lost in Austen." I'm a huge Jane Austen fan (particularly P&P), but I'd never heard of this. I HAVE to go check it out. I wonder if it's available on DVD...?

  6. Julie James --> thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it!

    As to Lost in Austen - it's on, so it should be the same in the States, I think.

    Which makes me very happy because I've been hording the episodes on my PVR since Christmas.

    "Practice Makes Perfect" sounds like something fun, too. I'm definitely not cut out for law school, but I do come from a legal family - my grandfather and dad are both lawyers, and my mum met my dad when he was the judge at her Moot Court.

    Taylor Donovan definitely shares a lot of qualities with my dad (also defence - in this case of insurance), particularly the way he loooves telling enthusiastic stories of beating down a lame prosecution, *lol*

  7. So I just finished watching "Lost in Austen." (I trusted your good opinion and ordered it right away.) Loved it!! I even got teary-eyed at the end. From about the midpoint on I was on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out how everything was going to work out. But it all did, and perfectly so.

    Thank you again for the recommendation!

    Oh-- and too funny about your mom meeting your dad when he was the judge at her Moot Court. That could be the beginning of a rom/com or contemporary romance, right there. ;-)

  8. I completely loved Just the Sexiest Man Alive, too. Particularly when Jason tries to dazzle her (I kept picturing those old movies where the hero's smile would glint) and she's beyond underwhelmed. The dialogue was just fantastic, and I adored Taylor especially. *sighs happily*

    Love your review, so I've linked to it here.

  9. I just read this on the strength of your review and loved it! Jason was so befuddled by Taylor that there were more than a few moments where he regressed to about 8th grade: "So, uh, about that Spring Fling? C-could you maybe think about *voice cracks* going with me?"

    I also thought it was quite something, for People's Sexiest Man Alive, that they never had sex and only barely kissed, and yet it was still hot and compelling.

    My third favorite thing is about Scott vs Jason and the relationships they had with their best friends. Jeremy was a genuine friend that had Jason's best interests at heart and never hesitated to razz on him. Rob was just an ass-kiss with his wagon firmly hitched to a star. Showed so much about both Scott and Jason.

    All this and it was hilarious. Thanks for bringing this to my attention because I would have passed it over otherwise.