Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
“Because no matter where this relationship goes, no matter if or how it ends, this is love right here. It’s not the kind that bowls you over so nothing else matters. It’s not the kind that fizzles when the lust is gone. It’s the kind that starts with two people being best friends and grows until they become ‘your person.’ That’s the best kind of love there is.”
There is so much offered up in the romance world. I’ve said this before in other reviews, but it’s always amazing to recognize the depth and breadth of the types of romance a reader can find. There is romance that makes your insides hurt from the depth of his angst. Then, there is romance that titillates readers as it reveals the power structure of the dominant/submissive. There is romance that makes you laugh aloud so vehemently that it causes tears to fall from your eyes. There are genres and sub-genres and tropes galore. And then, there are romances that whisper its truths quietly over the pages. You wait for the big moments that you might have felt in other stories, but that whispering acts as a balm against the romances that scream their emotions at you. M.E. Carter’s newest book in the SmartyPants Romance world, Cutie and the Beast, speaks softly yet profoundly in its truth. This story isn’t a heavily overt romance. Instead, if I take liberties here, the true romance lies in the relationship between parent and child. It isn’t a new perspective, but I think its story has a slant to it that sets it apart from your usual single parents’ romance.
The story follows our favorite trainer from Carter’s Weight Expectations, Abel. Abel’s wife has divorced him, and he’s left to raise their precocious daughter, Mabel. His schedule is difficult, his job can be precarious at times, and he worries. I mean, what parent doesn’t worry? Abel is surviving, but it feels as though any change could unravel his control. Enter Elliott, a single mother. Elliott currently lives with her mother, but their relationship is fraught with tension. Elliott’s mother is well-meaning, but she has always been critical of Elliott. This has created a sometimes tenuous connection between the two of them. Elliott has determined that she will raise her daughter without that stricture, but she recognizes the importance of healthy boundaries. Looking for independence, she finds a job at the gym where Abel trains as the manager of the child care center. Wanting to find a place to live to create some distance from her mother, a co-worker makes the suggestion that Abel and Elliott become roommates since Abel needs some help with his mortgage. As Elliott accepts Abel’s invitation to move in, they must negotiate different parenting styles and a sometimes complicated situation. Intertwined with these situations is their burgeoning interest in each other. Their romance finds its grounding in friendship first. With their attraction growing, Abel and Elliott must contend with the worry over their daughters, different parenting styles, and a potentially messy future.
Cutie and the Beast’s romance washes over its readers quietly. There is a sweetness to it that dirties itself at points. However, as I noted at the beginning of this review, the true romance lies in the love between the parents and their children. Abel adores his daughter, Mabel, and his parenting style is informed by his ex-wife’s response to (or lack thereof) their daughter. Similarly, Elliott’s relationship with her daughter is bounded by her experiences with her own mother. These parenting styles intersect and cause problems for Abel and Elliott’s relationship. The profundity of this intersection acts as an umbrella to their ability to find a future. Thankfully, Abel’s character is such that he patiently waits for Elliott to recognize the depth of their love for each other. In fact, beyond this book being a SmartyPants Romance book, I read this book for Abel. His wisdom in Weight Expectations was insightful, and I was enamored with him in that book. His characterization in this book is no different. While Elliott is oftentimes reticent and careful, Abel is the impetus for their eventual pairing. He’s once again insightful and caring and charming. Elliott has no chance against him once he determines his interest in her.
Even more, while Elliott is the more reserved of the two, she has an inner strength that you can’t help but admire. She is sensible, and she loves deeply. She’s just careful. She worries over the impact of actions on situations. She’s also the first to admit when she has made a mistake. Her ability to love and “see” Mabel through her difficulties make her characterization an important one. Carter uses her as a warning against prejudgments.
Not every romance needs to dig to the deepest depths of your soul or tickle your funny bone or make you hot. Sometimes, we need a story such as Cutie and the Beast to sit softly over us, acting as a salve against the depths of other heavier romance stories. M.E. Carter’s book reminds us that love is for everyone. That characters who seem like “real” people living with “real” situations are important as they act as a mirror to our own problems so that we can find our way to love. Abel and Elliott’s relationship has some fire, but its true strength lies in its normalcy. And romancelandia needs that too.
In love and romance,