Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
As a Gen X-er, I grew up in the thrall of some of the best movies of all time. In my mind, the 80s birthed some notable rom-coms that transcend generations, one of them being Working Girl, a workplace romance starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford (who is definitely not the rogue, Han Solo, but more wealthy, sweet, and hot). I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve watched Working Girl because I adored that movie. I loved Melanie Griffith’s chutzpah at seeking to transcend her position as a lowly administrative assistant from the “wrong side of the tracks” to the life as an executive in the bright lights of Manhattan. Along the way, she meets Harrison Ford’s character through a game of mistaken identity and intrigue. They obviously fall in love, but her life unravels when her secrets are found out. Thankfully, this being Hollywood fiction, all is righted in the end, and they live happily-ever-after. What always intrigued me in my teen mind as I watched that movie was the movie’s suggestion that women had to struggle to “get to the top.” That the glass ceiling was firmly in place, and it would take men, like Harrison Ford’s character, to help women break through that ceiling. That was definitely an important message for the 80s, but interestingly enough, it’s still a message for today. And Laurelin Paige’s Man in Charge, book 1 of the Man in Charge duet, is a modern-day Working Girl, highlighting ideas about privilege and power. Over and over again, Laurelin Paige magnifies the ways that privilege and power can be used for both good and evil.
Man in Charge encompasses everything you love about Laurelin Paige’s romances. There is a playboy-esque, alpha-hero in the character of Scott Sebastian. Honestly, in this book, Scott’s characterization isn’t as round as you would imagine mostly because the point of this view for this book comes from Tess, Paige’s heroine. We aren’t privy to Scott’s emotions or thoughts, so it’s difficult to see him as more than the guy who Tess wants physically. He is also the path by which she must travel to secure a contract for her passion project. He is the gatekeeper for her ambition. He spurs on her journey, but he isn’t her inspiration. Her best friend who lives with a disease, dysautonomia, is the ignition to the flame of her purpose. And honestly, this is a Paige staple in her romances. She oftentimes writes through the lens of one character for a portion of her stories until she introduces the other lens. I’m hoping in the second book of this series that we will indeed be provided with Scott Sebastian’s point of view because there is more story in him than we are yet allowed. I find it elevates the anticipation for more depth in her characters when she does this and it fuels the fire of chemistry. We do know through Tess that Scott is the “victim” of nepotism, and he isn’t entirely happy with his life. For all of his privilege, I imagine Scott is searching for more, for something real. That being said, Scott’s character is actually Paige’s manifestation of her power discussion. This is overt and intentional in her story. Paige uses his burgeoning relationship with Tess to discuss power at play. While Tess and Scott are steamy, they are also focused on ameliorating the potential abuse of power, and I don’t believe that Scott would be so thoughtful about it without Tess’s insistence on discussing it. Those are some of my favorite moments between these two, even beyond their fiery physicality.
As a heroine, Tessa Turani is a spitfire. Like the heroine of Working Girl (who incidentally is a Tess), Tessa is hardworking, insightful, and has just enough ambition to want more from life, to make a greater impact. Unfortunately, she isn’t born into wealth, and her struggles for “more” exist because she is a “have not.” Through her characterization, Paige highlights discussions on socioeconomic parity and the power assumed through a higher class. Interestingly enough, one of Tess’s oppressors is her “friend” and boss, Kendra, who honestly comes off as mean-spirited. Again, her character is filtered through Tess, so it’s possible that we might be missing an empathic side to her, but I’m thinking when we read Man in Love, we will find a snobbish, self-absorbed woman who doesn’t necessarily care for her friend. What is most important about Tess in Man in Charge is her ability to challenge Scott. She magnifies his privilege for him in her provocation of his power, which makes for the titillating physicality of her book. By the end of Man in Charge, Tess finds herself in an “oh #h*t” moment, and it is both exciting and groan-inducing because the end is not nigh for our characters.
One of my favorite parts of reading romance is an author’s intent. Some romances are crafted for smut, for getting lost in the $exual natures of its characters. Some romances are crafted to make you laugh. Other romances are crafted, however, to challenge your thinking through the subversion of reality into fiction. That is the case with Laurelin Paige’s newest book, Man in Charge. Yes, it’s more of what you love about Paige’s stories: clearly dominant male, an insightful female who challenges the male, and a whole lotta loving between the two. Yet, carefully threaded through their story is insight about life, about the truths of our world. And it’s there where Paige’s magic lies. If that is your type of romance (as it surely is mine), then run and one-click Man in Charge. But be forewarned. It’s a beginning, not an end.
In love and romance,