After Luke Jones accidentally witnesses a mob hit, his brother, Chase, an FBI agent, gets him placed in the Witness Protection Program, but Luke is worried that if he goes into protective custody it will cause setbacks in the lives of his needy life-coaching clients. Since all the coaching takes place by phone, Chase reluctantly offers to pretend to be Luke, so that Luke can be safe while knowing that his clients are in good hands.
Museum curator, Samantha Matthews, is one of Luke's clients. She sought out his help after repeatedly injuring every attractive man she dates. When Chase hears Sammi's sultry voice on the phone, he can't help but be intrigued. He also sees her case as the perfect opportunity to one-up his brother by proving that his military-style training works better than Luke's touch-feely stuff. Chase gives Sammi an assignment to go jogging in the park at 5 AM, and thinking she'll be too soft to show, he goes to spy on her. Chase is rather surprised when Sammi actually does come jogging by, and is even more shocked when her dog attacks him, leaving the two of them in a sexy, tangled heap on the ground. Once they sort everything out, Sammi invites Chase to her house for morning coffee, where he gets a first-hand show of her klutziness. Needless to say, Chase bolts for the door, deciding that in spite of her attractiveness, this strange woman does not meet his list of qualities in an ideal mate. When Sammi calls "Luke" about the incident later, Chase can't help but feel a bit sorry for her, and concludes that perhaps the best way to cure her of this malady is to date her on a limited basis. The only problem is that the more time they spend together, the more Chase finds himself falling for Sammi and the harder it becomes for him to tell her the truth about his identity. Once he finally does, she may never forgive him for the deception.
I received an ARC copy of How to Score from the book's author. I found it to be a rather eclectic book that is part romantic comedy, part romantic suspense, and part ordinary contemporary romance. The first ¼ of the story is laugh-out-loud funny as Sammi gets herself into one ridiculous predicament after another, but then it takes on a more dramatic tone as both Sammi and Chase's past hurts and Sammi's current troubles are explored. From this point on, there were perhaps a few more incidences that were worthy of a smile, but I didn't find many more moments of actual laughter except for one hilarious scene involving Joe, the dog, interjecting himself into a passionate moment between Chase and Sammi. How to Score then wraps up with a little bit of suspense as the hero and heroine are pursued by the mobster who is after Chase's brother.
As if multiple genres weren't enough, I counted at least ten different plots going on at the same time, leaving me feeling like I needed a scorecard (pun intended ;-)) just to keep up. First there is the main plot of Chase taking over his brother Luke's life-coaching-by-phone business while Luke is in protective custody after accidentally witnessing a mob hit. This leads to Chase meeting Sammi, who is one of Luke's clients. Predictably, once they start dating, Chase can't quite find the opportune moment to tell Sammi the truth about his identity. Then there are all the secondary sub-plots and conflicts: Sammi has a significant lack of self-confidence and an extreme case of klutziness with attractive men because of a low-life cheating ex; Sammi is reluctant to date a law enforcement officer because her dad was a policeman who was shot in the line of duty, and he was also pretty demanding; Chase is initially reluctant to date Sammi, not just because of his status as her temporary life coach, but because he has a very specific list of qualities he is looking for in a life partner and Sammi doesn't seem to be a match; plus Chase also had a very troubled childhood. Then there is Sammi's difficulties with her landlord, Walter, over the house she is renting from him but wants to purchase and restore as a historical landmark, and Sammi's trouble with her co-worker, Arlene, an older woman who irrationally resents that the museum board hired Sammi to replace her, even though she had said she was retiring. Insert a healthy helping of Arlene's troubled past and continuing obsession with her now-dead lover, Chandler, and a blossoming romance with Walter. Add Horace, a pathetic forty-something virgin mama's-boy who is another of Luke's (Chase's) life-coaching clients. Throw in a not-so-smart mobster who is after Luke. Mix well, and viola! You have How to Score. Whew! I'm getting worn out just thinking about it.
Considering the plethora of simultaneous plots, some of which intersected and some of which didn't, I can say that they were, for the most part, all wrapped up satisfactorily in one way or another. Strangely though the main life-coaching plot was my least favorite and in some ways seemed to be the least necessary. Every time Chase and Sammi were talking on the phone about things she'd done with Chase it just seemed weird and awkward to me, not to mention somewhat repetitious. In my opinion, there was plenty of other conflicts to explore without this particular secret gumming up the works, and although Chase's intentions in dating Sammi covertly were good, his actions could be considered a bit unethical under the circumstances. While most of the story points had a certain appeal, I would have to say my favorite was Sammi's clumsiness because it was both funny and endearing at the same time. I also liked the ones which delved into the character's backstories, because they helped me to connect with them on a little deeper level. Unfortunately, with all the jumping around to different characters and plots those all-important connections were often difficult to maintain. In the end, I felt that How to Score would have been a much stronger book if the author had focused in on just a few of these plots and delved into them more deeply. As written, the sheer number of them just seemed to dilute them all and in my opinion, contributed to a lack of emotional development, particularly between the all-important main characters.
The characters in How to Score are quite a mismatched, motley group, but I generally liked most of them. Chase is a very controlled and serious FBI agent who is completely out of his element trying to coach his brother's clients, but somehow muddles through with favorable results. Sammi is a more free-spirited but stubborn woman who is dealing with a little too much on her plate at once, probably because she's so kind to everyone and just can't seem to say, "No." Sammi's dog, Joe, adds to the fun with his leather fetish. Sammi's sister, Chloe, is a spiky, blue-haired tattoo artist whose outspoken personality was a perfect compliment to Sammi's more sweet and reserved one. Sammi's landlord, Walter, could be a bit difficult, but was generally a nice man who was just a lonely widower trying to find his way through the sunset years. Sammi's co-worker (and kind of boss), Arlene, was quite a bit more difficult for me to like. There were a few times that I mustered up some sympathy for her, because her former lover was a jerk who shouldn't have led her on the way he did with lies and deception. Mostly though she was a very bitter old woman who treated Sammi terribly, and it was hard for me care about someone who had allowed herself to be selfishly used as little more than a man's plaything for 23 years and then continued to obsess over him for 27 more years after his death. I guess I do have to give her credit for at least partially redeeming herself in the end, by beginning to see the light and taking the second chance that life had handed her. Then there was good 'ol Horace who could be pretty annoying sometimes but was good for a few laughs at others. At least, he also managed to grow and change for the better. Although I'm not too sure that this wildly varying character palette blended together harmoniously, they did somehow manage to create a decent story.
Any readers who like buffet-style variety in their plots and characters should enjoy How to Score. Although I still believe it falls firmly in the realm of romance, I thought the story had a slight chick-lit feel to it which may appeal to fans of that genre as well. Even though it isn't a sports romance, Luke's former profession as a sports psychologist lends itself to Chase using lots of sports-related metaphors and analogies in his life coaching, which sports fans might find amusing. Robin Wells certainly seems to have a fun sense of humor, and at least the first part of the book was great for a few belly laughs. However, I thought that Ms. Wells could have done a better job of demonstrating Chase and Sammi's feelings for one another and their building sexual tension. It just felt like she was doing more telling than showing. Even their passionate moments were almost over before they started. I also thought their romance should have been more center stage rather than being so liberally mixed with other side plots. There were often quite a few pages of other stories in between the Chase and Sammi story. In addition, I found numerous typos and a few continuity errors, but since I was reading an unproofed ARC copy, I can mostly forgive those, and simply hope that they will be corrected by the time the book goes to it's final printing. In spite of its weaknesses, How to Score was a reasonably pleasant diversion that I found to be a worthwhile read. This was my first book by Robin Wells, and even though I thought it could have been better, there were plenty of things to like about it. I'm sure many romance readers will enjoy it at least as much, if not more, than I did.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook