I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: Roomies, My Favorite Half-Night Stand, Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, Love and Other Words, The Unhoneymooners, Twice in a Blue Moon, In A Holidaze
on March 24, 2020
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
Carey Douglas has worked for home remodeling and design gurus Melissa and Rusty Tripp for nearly a decade. A country girl at heart, Carey started in their first store at sixteen, and—more than anyone would suspect—has helped them build an empire. With a new show and a book about to launch, the Tripps are on the verge of superstardom. There’s only one problem: America’s favorite couple can’t stand each other.
James McCann, MIT graduate and engineering genius, was originally hired as a structural engineer, but the job isn’t all he thought it’d be. The last straw? Both he and Carey must go on book tour with the Tripps and keep the wheels from falling off the proverbial bus.
Unfortunately, neither of them is in any position to quit. Carey needs health insurance, and James has been promised the role of a lifetime if he can just keep the couple on track for a few more weeks. While road-tripping with the Tripps up the West Coast, Carey and James vow to work together to keep their bosses’ secrets hidden, and their own jobs secure. But if they stop playing along—and start playing for keeps—they may have the chance to build something beautiful together…
Recently Christina Lauren books seem to have taken a turn from predominantly romance focused stories to stories focused more on the career and self-exploration of their 20-something protagonists- and I am here for it! I still love their original stand-alone romance stories (Roomies, Love and Other Words, etc) however there’s something refreshing and original about their new perspective, and I truly enjoyed The Honey Don’t List, zipping through it in just a few days when my previous read had left me in a little bit of a slump!
The Honey Don’t List plays on the popularity of home renovation shows and follows Carey and James, assistants to a popular celebrity home-improvement couple (Melly & Rusty) who are honestly like a twisted, darker version of the beloved Chip & Joanna. It was so intriguing to take a premise that is so relevant to today’s entertainment for millennials and explore what it would be like behind the scenes if dysfunction was at the core of the relationship. Of course, Carey and James are rivals who can’t stand each other (which gave me vibes from The Hating Game) and yet are forced to work together to keep their bosses marriage from falling apart right as they launch a Netflix show and (ironically enough) publish a book on marital advice.
I really liked Carey as a protagonist. She was quiet yet resilient, and had a less than traditional background and her own reasons for staying loyal to Rusty and Melly despite their exploiting behavior of her (including medical ones). When James enters the picture and can’t fathom why Carey puts up with her crazy job, the story does a good job showcasing a situation where someone can’t just walk away from an employer despite some pitfalls. There was some juxtaposition of privilege between Carey and James that was refreshing to see, and it was nice to see how they both came to understand the unique predicaments they were each in when it came to their careers, financial situations, and personal lives.
One of the elements of the story that most intrigued me was the relationship between Melly (the wife of the home improvement duo and the main driver between the couple’s success) and Carey (her assistant). James ruminates several times about how their relationship is toxic and abusive, which isn’t something I’ve seen many novels tackle, the imbalance between boss and employer, mentor and mentee. Some of the scenes between Melly and Carey were hard to read, from the ones when Melly was freaking out when something went wrong and attributing blame to Carey for things she could not control, to the scenes where she would step in and check on Carey, one of the only ones privy to her medical condition. It was heartbreaking to see how Carey was so dependent yet so belittled by one of the only people who truly knew her, and I feel this was an important area of the novel to explore. The story really focused on how Melly and Rusty had changed over the years and how it had impacted their relationships that they had before, with those such as Carey, juxtaposed against their relationships with those they met after their success, such as James.
Obviously a Christina Lauren story wouldn’t be complete without a romance, and Carey and James make a fine pair. I didn’t dislike their romance, it just took a backseat to me in comparison to the other, larger themes and more important relationships that this story chose to focus on (at least in my eyes). It was a nice addition but not totally necessary- I really think Carey’s story could have been successful no matter the outcome of her romantic involvement with James!
Overall: A more serious Christina Lauren novel about finding yourself stuck in a career in your mid/late 20s and questioning the overlap of your working and personal relationships, this story really scratched an itch I didn’t know I needed in adult fiction!