Title & buy link: Open Cover Before Striking
Author: Willa Okati
Cover Artist: April Martinez
Amazon buy link: here
Genre: M/M contemporary
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Well written as you’d expect from this author, but I couldn’t connect with the characters and was left oddly dissatisfied.
Davis Carmichael doesn’t do love. Ever. He’d rather strip naked and crawl through a field of broken glass than give anyone that much control over his head or his heart. The only thing he cares about is his career in journalism. That’s it. Period, dot, full stop.
That is, until he meets Cristián Baranov, a die-hard Romeo with an uncanny knack for making connections and taming cranky wordsmiths. A man who breaks down Davis’s resistance with a sweep of his hand.
For one night. Granted, it’s a night of marathon sex not to be forgotten…
Neither expected they’d meet again, but fate has other plans. Now Davis’s job is on the line, with the sacrifice of his pride and an article on modern matchmaking the only thing that can save him. And the matchmaker he’s meant to interview in-depth? Cristián. Who, though able to strike matches for everyone else, had given up on finding the one who was made for him. Until he slept with Davis.
When Cristián and Davis go head to head over romance and reason in print and in the sheets, sparks aren’t just going to fly. They’ll ignite.
Magazine journalist Davis is in a bad mood. He has a deadline and a delayed flight, and the only place he can find that has a WiFi connection is a bar. Matters aren’t helped when an attractive guy comes over and starts chatting him up. Even though Cristián is easy on the eye, he’s really chirpy and won’t back off even when Davis unleashes all his snark. Intrigued despite himself—and Cristián is really hot—the two men end up in bed and enjoy a rip-roaring one-night stand.
A couple of months later, Davis is sent to the back of beyond to write a filler article on a matchmaker who not only specialises in GLBT matchmaking, but his success rate is overwhelmingly high. Cynical and planning to write a hatchet job on the lonely, deluded people who use a matchmaking service, Davis is shocked to discover that the matchmaker is none other than Cristián.
Forced by circumstance to stay at Cristián’s house, Davis decides it’s not all bad. Cristián might be annoyingly optimistic and soppy, but he’s good in bed and Davis is keen for a second round. Then he learns how Cristián goes about matchmaking. Then he discovers that he’s Cristián’s perfect match. Then the sparks go flying.
It’s been a few years since I read this author, and one thing hasn’t changed. Okati still writes very well. This was a quick read and technically smooth all the way through, with nice descriptions of place. I particularly liked Davis’ conversation with Cristián’s best friend, Scott, when they’re sitting on the bench, and I also liked the scene by the frozen forest pond.
The rest of it didn’t work so well for me. Davis, first of all. I disliked him intensely. Usually I like snarky characters, but this guy just doesn’t quit. He is so defensive, and while Cristián finds it endearing, I didn’t. I kept hoping Davis would soften just a little, but by the time he did, I was past caring. I couldn’t find a good enough reason for why Davis was that prickly, either. It was as if his snark was his entire characterisation, and so to me he feels half-formed.
Cristián is more likeable, but again he feels more of a stereotype than a fully formed personality. He’s sweet and kind and loving, he has the patience of a saint, he’s fully committed to his matchmaking and believes in what he’s doing 100%. On a second read for this review, I actually found Cristián quite patronising towards Davis a lot of the time. Hardly the basis for a lasting romance. Cristián isn’t a doormat and he knows which buttons to press to get Davis riled up, but nothing in this suggested ‘long term relationship’. A hot shag for a week, yes, but nothing lasting.
Cristián’s only weak spot was in matchmaking a relationship between his half brother Reilly and his best friend Scott. The revelation of how Cristián did his matchmaking and why it’s so successful surprised me, but not in a good way. It felt a little convenient, as did the fact that Cristián could use this ability to determine that Davis was The One for him. If you hate InstaLove stories, steer clear. Technically they’d met before, but the bulk of the story takes place over three or four days. Cristián’s insistence (due to his matchmaking ability) that he and Davis are meant to be together may sway some readers who like this trope, but it didn’t work for me at all.
I actually think this story would have worked better with fewer sex scenes. Angry sex is all very well, but since Davis is so one-note I found that the sex scenes got repetitive and did little to advance the plot or to show us the growing connection between the two men.
Another thing that bugged me was the reason for Davis being sent out to do the puff piece in the first place. It probably wouldn’t bug anyone else, but my partner is a journalist and so this particular thing really glared out at me. I’ve read that scene half a dozen times and can’t make sense of it either way. If the story was printed, why didn’t the subs pick up the issue beforehand? If the piece was on spec from a staffer, as Davis is, it wouldn’t have made it past the editorial meeting. Same if it was a commissioned piece. Unless Davis is really bad at his job and has messed up numerous times before, there’s not enough here for him to be on his last chance. Anyway, as I said, probably a minor point to most readers but it seriously bugged me 😆
What I did like was Scott and Reilly. Though in many ways they were there as the moral lesson for Davis and Cristián, they were strong characters and I actually found them much more interesting than the main protagonists.
I’m left unsure how to grade this book. As someone who enjoyed many of this author’s earlier books, I’m disappointed—but newer readers may well enjoy the aspects that didn’t work here for me. In technical terms it’s well written, but the emotional connection wasn’t there and I simply couldn’t believe in the romance. With regret, 3 stars from me.