Esme Brett reviews romance on Instagram as @Feminist_Romance. She lives in New Zealand and is a devoted cat mother to Franklin. Her areas of expertise involve Buffy the Vampire Slayer, winged eyeliner, and red wine that’s less than 9 dollars.
Trigger Warning: sexual assault. This review won’t go into specifics.
Little Bridge is an idyllic island in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, it’s also in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane. Most of the island population evacuate except for Bree Beckham, hottie Drew Hartwell, and a whole bunch of beloved pets in need of Bree’s help. These details form the structure of the plot.
There are three things you need to know about Bree:
- she’s stubborn
- she loves animals
- she has a weakness for a hot male bod.
So even though Hurricane Marilyn is getting very huff-y and puff-y, Bree stays put and makes it her mission to assist the left-behind pets of Little Bridge. Luckily, Drew is on hand to help and he is, as I say, hot. (I’m not just repeating this because it’s an important point, I’m repeating it because it’s pretty much all there is to know about Drew).
Bree doesn’t want to like Drew, she doesn’t!
…She totally does, though.
I have a long history with, and adoration for, Meg Cabot’s backlist. Suffice to say, she is the setting QUEEN. Little Bridge and The Mermaid Cafe feel so real to me; it’s like I can smell the sand, feel the hot breeze and taste the piña coladas. Plus, Ed, the boss of The Mermaid Cafe, gives me major Luke Danes vibes and I’m here for it.
The insight into island life is lovely:
All native-born Little Bridge Islanders woke up and applied SPF 100 and several layers of mosquito repellant first thing after showering.
I’m from NZ, which is a bunch of islands (don’t get cute with me; you would be surprised how many people I talk to who don’t know that) albeit not tropical ones. NZ is right below the thinnest part of the ozone and summer tourists always spend their first few days applying Aloe to pink skin.
Anyway, when everyone in the book gaps it off Little Bridge because of this huge hurricane, Bree stays because of Reasons and Drew stays because of Other Reasons. The two fraternise amid howling winds, dropped trees, electrical shortages, and a verifiable menagerie of rescued pets. Cute.
It’s clear from the first few pages of No Judgements there will eventually be a reveal requiring the Trigger Warning in my review. Within the novel, blatant foreshadowing provided a warning. By the time I got to page 27, I’d had three in-narrative ‘heads ups’. I know that TWs (or lack thereof) are an issue in romance, one that I’m pretty sensitive to — strangely enough, I don’t like being surprised by sexual violence towards women, shocking, I know — and so it seemed to me that these warnings leapt off the page, dressed in neon and doing a cabaret kick line. Because of this, I guessed the reveal in a few chapters. Having massive bread crumbs may sound unappealing, but I appreciated it because when the full revelation came, I was prepared. I could feel feelings along with Bree, but it wasn’t like I’d been bottled from behind.
But even halfway into this novel, I still wasn’t sure what Bree’s schtick is as a character was (Art? Loving pets? Pink hair? I need a bit more than this). Nor did I understand when or why Drew got the hots for her. Apparently he just…had them?
That’s fine, I can make peace with instalove, but I did mind that in a critical moment, Bree had to console Drew instead of the other way around. And he was a bit controlling. Drew’s best asset was that he didn’t like wearing shirts and even when he did, he couldn’t seem to align the buttons enough to cover all of his chest or abs. Which is great! More writers should do away with even pretending to care about shirts. Bare and fuzzy chests for all, please!
Cabot’s technical style is aces, as always. The way she structures flashbacks is straight up gorgeous. And her ability to twist a sentence into something equal parts pithy and descriptive is the main reason I love her so much.
But I wasn’t wild about the way Bill and Patrick, Bree’s gay neighbours, were written, which I talked about when I reviewed the prequel to this novel. I don’t like seeing stereotypically flamboyant gay men in 2019 content written by straight woman. Obviously, homosexual men who are super femme and flamboyant exist. But for far too long, het female romance writers have been using a stereotypical gay character to further the narrative of a cis female protagonist, or as an accessory, and it would be nice to leave that in romance’s past.
On the bright side of No Judgements, the animal heist (sorry, rescue) scenes are very fun, and there are some great moments rejecting the derision of demonstrative femininity:
There is a segment of the population that feels there anything feminine — such as purple bicycles with flowered baskets and perhaps even pink salt — is less worthy than more masculine things. I was certain he was a member of it.
I enjoyed this book well enough, but I was not ~obsessed~ like I wanted to be.
I think if you’re not as intimate (or obsessed) with Cabot’s backlist as I am, or you’re a dyed in the wool rom-com consumer, you’ll enjoy this. It’s very much in the vein of Tessa Bailey’s Fix Her Up. It’s a smooth read (a beach read, one might say) and quite charming. But if you’re hoping for another Cabot home run, the kind that makes you laugh out loud and your eyeballs stream with feelings; this one is enjoyable, but it doesn’t quite get there. Ultimately, this is a nice mocktail but I was craving a boozy ass cocktail