cover image Can’t Hardly Breathe

Can’t Hardly Breathe

Gena Showalter. HQN, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-0-373-78992-4

Showalter’s fourth Original Heartbreakers novel (after The Harder You Fall), set in present-day Strawberry Valley, Okla., is pedestrian at best. Dorothea Mathis used to be fat and unhappy about it; now slim, she styles herself after ’50s pin-ups. She’s coming off a bad marriage and a secret tragedy, and she hopes she may finally have her chance with Daniel Porter, on whom she had a crush in high school. Daniel is just as hungry for Thea, but he has PTSD from his time in the military. Concern that their inevitable breakup would destroy his fragile father, he wants them to date in secret, which feeds her insecurities about her looks. Lust may win out, but not if both are convinced a relationship between them is doomed. The self-fulfilling nature of this fear, unfortunately, feels more and more manufactured and inorganic as the story continues. It does not help that Showalter’s attempts at sexy banter aren’t particularly successful, and the extensive inner monologues fail to generate drama. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (Sept.)