Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: A Matchless Romance by Christi Barth

cover art for A Matchless Romance, featuring two white people about to kiss
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Tabitha Bell is determined to turn her new business, A Matchless Romance, into Chicago’s premiere matchmaking service--but she needs a few more clients to help her get off the ground. Enter Drew Watson, a game designer whose inability to talk to women has hampered him both personally and professionally. Tabitha initially sees Drew as a new kind of client, one who requires life coaching as much as romantic help, but she soon realizes he’s someone she could fall for. What’s a matchmaker to do when she’s the only person she wants her client to consider dating?

A MATCHLESS ROMANCE [Amazon | Kobo | Scribd] is the fourth and final installment in Christi Barth’s Aisle Bound series, a loosely connected set of books about friends who work in Chicago’s wedding industry. I strongly encourage you to read the other three first, but that’s mostly because they’re awesome and you owe it to yourself. Tabitha is a late addition to the group, having made her off-screen entrance in the third book, so this one works perfectly well as a standalone if you don’t mind some totally obvious spoilers for the other titles (ie, who ends up together).

The first three installments set the bar for the series pretty high, but Christi Barth manages to exceed expectations. A MATCHLESS ROMANCE is pure fun from start to finish. Barth presents two engaging leads who’re easy to root for--and, more importantly, who have fantastic chemistry right from their first meeting. Their physical attraction comes through loud and clear, and it’s easy to see why they’d be interested in one another on an emotional level, too. I especially loved their game talk. Drew doesn’t test Tabitha to see if she’s really a gamer; he listens to what she has to say and lets her excitement for his job feed into his own enthusiasm for his projects. Their shared interest forges an instant connection between them and paves the way for deeper discussions down the line.

I did have a little trouble seeing why Tabitha finds Drew’s more awkward moments endearing, but I appreciated her willingness to see him for who he is rather than who she might want him to be. She helps him channel his personality into something a bit more socially acceptable instead of trying to change him completely. Similarly, Drew makes a real effort to understand what Tabitha can’t say out loud, and to see where she’s coming from as their relationship morphs into something less than strictly professional.

Barth gives both characters realistic hang-ups to work through together, too. Drew, a former Olympian1, worries that forming a deeper connection with someone will cost him big, just like it once did in his athletic career. Tabitha, who grew up in a Nevada brothel, is concerned about being mistaken for someone who follows her mother’s profession. I appreciated how they helped one another work through these issues and come to a place where they could truly connect, without their pasts standing in the way.

As fun as their banter is, it's these deeper moments that make the book affecting and real. I cried--fairly standard for me where Barth’s work is concerned--and absolutely refused to turn my e-reader off until the characters had fought their way through to a happy ending.

My one reservation has to do with the series as a whole, rather than A MATCHLESS ROMANCE in particular. I loved Tabitha’s story and am awfully glad to have it, but I do wish Barth had chosen to expand Aisle Bound to five books so Milo, the company’s office manager, could’ve had his own self-contained story. Milo is the only character from PLANNING FOR LOVE (the first book, which you will read and love) who doesn’t get a full-fledged courtship rife with drama. He’s good friends with both Gib (the hero of FRIENDS TO LOVERS, which, again, you will read and love) and with Tabitha, and he discusses his deep desire for a soul mate with both of them over the course of two books. While Barth gives him some romantic closure in this book, it’s very much a side story. I wish we’d gotten at least a novella with him.

That concern aside, though, this is a fabulous end to a fabulous series. If you have any interest in contemporary romance, I strongly urge you to pick up all four books.

  1. It’s worth noting that Barth never actually mentions the Olympics by name. I assume this means they’re copyrighted or some such thing. She gives enough hints that anyone with even a passing knowledge of professional sport can identify them, though.

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