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Review of "The Thing About Love" by Julie James

Title: The Thing About Love
Author: Julie James
Publisher: Berkley
Series: FBI/US Attorney Book #7
Price: $10.99 (paperback) $8.99 (e-book) $15.74 (Audible Audio)
Rating⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2

From The Publisher

Two undercover FBI agents can hide who they are from everyone but each other in the latest novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Suddenly One Summer.
After spending six years in Los Angeles—and the last six months wondering how her marriage fell apart—FBI Special Agent Jessica Harlow is looking for a fresh start. When she finds out that the Chicago field office has an opening for an undercover agent, returning to her hometown seems like the perfect answer. But her new partner, John Shepherd, is someone she never expected to see again. Six years ago, the cocky Army Ranger was her top competition at the FBI Academy, and the one man who got under her skin like no other. 
Just one assignment away from joining the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team, John isn't going to let anything throw him off his game—not even the self-assured woman who once showed him up at Quantico. He'll work with Jessica to take down a corrupt Florida politician, even if pretending to be business partners staying at a beachfront resort means getting closer than they'd expected. For two experienced agents, it should be a simple enough assignment, but the heat behind their nonstop sparring threatens to make the job a whole lot more complicated…

The Review

Back when I was in college, I would leave for school about 2 hours before my classes started because my local bus was unreliable to the extreme.  This often lead to me reading whatever paperback I had stashed in my backpack (unless, of course, I had a test I needed to study for), reading from the moment I stepped foot on the bus, stopping only to walk from the bus to the Dining Hall, where I would inevitably start reading again (let's face it, I was my college's Rory Gilmore, book in hand, headphones firmly in place).  There were a few times that I would become so engrossed in the book I was reading that when I would eventually look at the small digital display on my old Trac Phone (yes, I had one of those clunky brick-like phones that would probably still function in the aftermath of a nuclear blast), I would realize that I missed the first half of my class.  The Thing About Love would definitely have been one of those books.  In fact, I found myself sneaking away from my desk at work, hoping to get a good five minutes of reading in before I had to go back to looking at houses that I will never be able to afford.  Yes, this book is that good.  It is the type of book that while reading it, you find yourself smiling like a lunatic and hoping that no one asks you why you're so happy.

One of the things I like about reading this series is that Julie James is a master of writing characters who know what they are doing.  She does her research and uses it to make her characters absolute professionals no matter what they're doing.  A lot of people talk about Competence Porn and this book is a perfect example of that -- both Jessica and John feel like real people, who I would trust to get shit done (good qualities in FBI agents, I would assume).  Some of my favorite scenes are the ones where they are undercover as Ashley and Dave, where they had to pretend to be financial professionals willing to bribe a high-level public official into doing them a "favor."  The way these characters are written, you would never know that they weren't exactly what they seemed to be.

Something that struck me as I was reading was that they were almost always undercover in some form.  Even when they weren't pretending to be Ashley and Dave, there was always something else going on with them.  First, they had to pretend that they liked each other (which I did not get) and then they had to pretend that they were simply partners without any other kind of feelings going on at all.  I like the fact that at the end of the book, when they realized that they wanted to be together officially that they would have to come clean about their relationship and that it wasn't going to be easy because there would be consequences (more for Jessica than for John -- because patriarchy and double standards) to having hooked up while being involved in an undercover operation.  I thought this was an interesting layer that I don't think I've seen before and I really liked the way they handled it.

While I loved this book, there are a few things that are stuck in my craw.  First, there is a stunning lack of relationships outside of the one Jessica shares with John.  She's shown as having a big, boisterous family, but they really aren't involved in the narrative, save for a few scenes where they were necessary to the plot.  Every once in a while there were text message conversations between Jess and her siblings, who were competing over setting her up with a rebound guy.  I loved those scenes, but there weren't enough of them.  John had a few more relationships, but they were only present to further John's character arc.  Hell, the book starts with him cutting four people out of his life, and while his reasons are completely understandable, it felt like Ms. James was creating a bubble for John and Jessica.  It was weird.  I don't think I've noticed this in any of her other books.

Another issue I had was the descriptions of the characters, specifically how John was described.  On several occasions, he was compared to Thor.  Had I not been familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Avengers movies, I wouldn't know what John looked like!  Sure, there were comments about him being blonde and muscular, but those aren't very specific characteristics so I wouldn't be able to picture him in my head.  It isn't just John who gets this treatment; one of Jessica's friends is later described as looking like Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Because I'd only ever seen Zoe Saldana in her green makeup, I actually had to Google her to know what this character is supposed to look like.

Finally, I was not a big fan of the way we found out about what went down between John and Jessica when they were in the academy.  It felt way too clunky and could have been handled better had the characters simply talked to each other about their misconceptions about that time.  This was the rare case where telling would have been better than showing.  I didn't even know that was possible!

Honestly, these are pretty minor issues when the book is taken as a whole.  The relationship between John and Jessica just shines and Ms. James's writing is as lovely and witty as ever.  There is one point in which she does get a little schmaltzy, but surprisingly I really liked it and it reminded me of one of my favorite Rom-Com moments:

Obviously, it wasn't a direct quote (that would be weird and I bet Nora Ephron's estate would cry foul), but it was along the same lines and despite the schmaltz, it works.  I found myself sighing as John professed his love for Jessica.  It was beautiful and romantic, and it worked perfectly for who those characters were to each other.

I want to leave you guys with one last thing: The FBI's airline of choice is United.  Something tells me that no one is going to want to mess with this guy (even without what I am assuming is the war paint and armor) -- and, yes, that was my way of getting a picture of Thor in my review:

Not that Jessica couldn't take care of herself -- she knows some kind of leg trick that I hear works very well.  :)


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