cover image The Kissing Game

The Kissing Game

Marie Harte. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9

Harte (Satisfaction Delivered) takes on more than she can chew with this entertaining love story that falls short of its ambitions. Bartender Rena Jackson and bar patron Axel Heller have been circling each other for almost a year. Axel, a white, German-American mechanic with a temper, has been too afraid of hurting Rena to ask her out. Black, hopeless romantic Rena, who is gearing up to quit her job and realize her dream of opening a hair salon, plans on leaving her crush on Axel behind her. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Axel needs to learn to express his feelings and convince Rena to give him a shot. Harte loads this relatively simple premise with extraneous romance tropes—hunky firefighters, abundant miscommunication—while attempting to grapple with heavy topics including the challenges particular to interracial couples as Axel and Rena start dating and the racism Rena faces in her daily life, not to mention myriad other topics—homophobia, gender roles, mental health issues—that feature in the many subplots. None of these meaty themes are given the space to develop, resulting in a bloated plot and complex but underexplored characters. The central love story is sweet, but it gets lost in the noise. [em]Agent: Nicole Resciniti, the Seymour Agency. (Feb.) [/em]