I’d heard the buzz about this on Twitter, so since it’s available on Netgalley, I downloaded it. Was I ever glad I did! The Man She Loves To Hate has believable, flawed characters, an intriguing situation, and is notably devoid of the honey-sweetness of many books from this line. It made for a great read.
Jolie and Cole lived in the same small town in New Zealand, and they were friends. But when it was discovered that Jolie’s mother and Cole’s father were having a long-term affair, Jolie found herself ostracized and branded, as well as being accused of things she didn’t do. The prologue is a heartbreaking account of Cole’s childhood rejection of Jolie, when she still doesn’t know about her mother’s affair.
Years later, after Cole’s father’s death, she goes up the mountain of the ski village where she lives to get her mother’s belongings from their love shack. Cole has left his father’s funeral and come to reflect on his life. They find themselves together in the gondola going down the mountain. Then there is a disaster and the first story is a fraught cabin romance.
The description of the disaster (no spoilers here!) is beautifully done and makes me think that Hunter either saw something similar or watched a lot of footage of it happening. And when they are in their cabin, there is no instasex, although there is sex of the thank-God-we’re-alive variety that, despite the best intentions of Cole and Jolie, turns into something else. It’s touching, as are their responses afterwards. Cole and Jolie know exactly why they shouldn’t continue their relationship, but they also know that they have to – especially Cole, who has the determination Jolie sometimes lacks, along with the strength both of them need.
The story goes on from there. The bitterness between the two families is not glossed over, and the problems this gives Cole and Jolie in their burgeoning relationship. And there are no villains, except, perhaps, Cole’s father, or his mother, who has allowed the affair to taint her whole life and the way she approaches everything. Later in the book, there is a reason given that really makes sense of the affair between Cole’s father and Jolie’s mother. I won’t spoil it for you, but that put everything in a different perspective for me.
Hunter never takes the easy way out or uses romances tropes as shortcuts. She uses them to explore the characters of Cole and Jolie, to see how they react and cope with what is thrust at them. While most of the story is Jolie’s, we’re not shut out of Cole’s mind. He’s not an object, not an impossibly suave and powerful man. He’s a man with a real business facing a real crisis and at the same time coping with an unexpected love. He’s adorable, for the most part, but, like Jolie, he’s not perfect. At times in the story they both do unheroic things, but they are perfectly understandable and it never stops you rooting for Cole and Jolie to get their happy ending.
Although this book is firmly set in New Zealand, the problems and the passions experienced by the main characters could have happened anywhere, in any small town, from an English village to an American Midwest community. This is a small-town romance done absolutely right. Cutesy stereotypes are jettisoned in favour of real people with flaws and believable personalities, and there’s enough colour to give it distinction, but not too much detail to bore.
Hunter’s style is wonderful for this kind of book. Straightforward, devoid of purple and truthful. Her clarity is to be admired, and the story seems to flow effortlessly, although I bet it took a lot of work to make it seem so effortless. Words are chosen with care, and there are no oddities or author tics, or at least, none that I noticed.
I’ve read similar books where everything is smoothed over and explained at the end, and it’s all fairies and wishing wells, but this book acknowledges that such deep-rooted problems, especially in a small community, can’t be cured overnight. Instead, Cole and Jolie are left with work to do, but they hope that they can do it. I think they will. And I also think we might be seeing one or two of the characters in another book. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
Three reasons to keep away from Cole Rees…
1. My mom had a scorching affair with his dad—just think how awkward that “meet the family” would be…
2. His arrogance drives me mad—he might be a gorgeous billionaire, but I hate how he knows it!
3. Every time he touches me I go up in flames…and it’s utterly terrifying.
Come on, a fling with the man I love to hate? Like that would ever work out…
Read an excerpt.