Several months ago, I read Stranded With a Billionaire by Jessica Clare (because I love billionaire romances) and was impressed with the way Clare was putting a new spin on the trope. In most billionaire romances I’ve read, the men win over the women with their money; taking them on trips, buying lavish gifts, or giving them whatever their hearts desired. Instead, Clare wrote about a woman unimpressed by wealth. A woman who valued her independence and wanted to make her own way in the world. When I found out that the second book in Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series was modeled after Beauty and the Beast I knew I was in for a treat. My reading bestie, Kelly, from Reading With Analysis, jumped on board and joined me in reading/reviewing.
Real-estate tycoon Hunter Buchanan has a dark past that’s left him scarred and living as a recluse on his family’s palatial estate. Hunter is ready to give up on love—until he spots an enigmatic red-haired beauty and comes up with an elaborate scheme to meet her.
Gretchen Petty is in need of a paycheck—and a change. So when a job opportunity in an upstate New York mansion pops up she accepts. And while she can overlook the oddities of her new job, she can’t ignore her new boss’s delectable body—or his barely leashed temper.
Hunter’s afraid his plan might be unraveling before it’s truly begun, but Gretchen is about to show him that life can be full of surprises….
Kim: My favorite fairy tale has always been Beauty and the Beast. The feminist side of me would say it’s because women are painted in such a good light. But the romantic side of me would say what’s more beautiful than a relationship built on inner beauty? I’m assuming that after reading that it won’t come as a shock that I absolutely loved Beauty and the Billionaire. Clare’s done a phenomenal job smashing the common billionaire trope with this series (you know: man has tons of money, woman opens legs for it, etc.) It’s because she writes about women that own up to their sexuality and desires, but more importantly want to be respected as women, not objects that can be bought. They aren’t impressed by the riches their men have, they are instead impressed by the emotional lengths their men go to win them.
Kelly: It’s no secret that I’m leery of billionaire romances (especially billionaire/ingenue pairups. Ugh!), so I was pretty dang reluctant to give this series a try, but Kim can be rather persuasive. Also, I trust her taste in books. Anyway, one of the things that I liked about the first book was that Brontë was uncomfortable with Logan’s wealth. It reminded me (a little bit) of one of my favorite sequences in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Gardiner chides Lizzy for being such a snob, objecting to poor Mr. Darcy for his wealth. And, since I am predisposed to like anything that reminds me of Pride and Prejudice, I liked Stranded with a Billionaire and decided to continue reading the series. I’m glad I did, because I liked Beauty and the Billionaire about a billion times better than the first one.
Kim: Having read the three books available so far, I can say that Beauty and the Billionaire is my favorite of the series. And that’s mainly because of Gretchen and Hunter. Gretchen is the creme de la creme of female characters. She’s smart, sassy, witty, totally in touch with her sexuality, strong-willed, and independent (among other things.) As Kelly said, Hunter’s wealth doesn’t make her drop on a bed and open her legs to keep him. She’s instead wooed by all the small things he offers her. Each day Hunter sends her roses from the greenhouse he tends to with a note asking her to join him for dinner.
It’s probably a good idea to give a small bit of background on Hunter. Hunter is a mangle of scars that occurred after he was kidnapped as a child. Since then he’s lived as a loner in his huge mansion. When I say loner, I mean it. Hunter is a virgin (and all the more adorably awkward because of it.)
Kelly: Hunter lives his life in almost complete isolation, so he’s more than a little socially awkward at the beginning of the book. There are quite a few parallels to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in this story, particularly in the early scenes. All of Hunter’s initial attempts to befriend Gretchen are epic fails because Hunter has such a difficult time navigating social waters and managing his own insecurities. Let’s face it: Hunter has a lot to be insecure about. His face, chest, and hands are scarred, and he’s missing a finger; he’s not pretty. Hunter spent most of his childhood in seclusion, homeschooled until he was sent to college ostensibly to learn and network but really to be ogled and ostracized. “Socially awkward” doesn’t quite communicate the extent of Hunter’s struggles. His experience of society was decidedly negative, and he doesn’t believe that anyone can look past the scars to appreciate the man underneath. Further, he views himself (his visage) as a menace to society. So his isolation is the best thing, a kindness, for all parties. I enjoyed watching his journey and loved that Clare paired this reclusive and insecure man with vivacious, confident, and accepting Gretchen. She really is one of the best heroines I’ve ever come across.
Kim: And I believe Hunter is one of the best heroes as well. To view himself as the menace to society? His soul is beautiful but the way he views himself (not just the way he sees himself externally) is heart-breaking. He keeps mirrors in his office so that he “never forgets” his appearance or why he lives in his mansion alone. He is also so generous. He pays his staff excellent wages and keeps his crotchety, old, and rude housekeeper on simply because the man has been there forever.
I fully approve of the way he “uses” his wealth. Unlike other billionaire novels I’ve read, Hunter tries to use his money to give, not gain. Even when he sets up the fake book project for Gretchen, he does it with the intent that he hopes he gains her as a friend. A friend.
Kelly: It could have been totally skeezy, right? Reclusive billionaire creates a live-in project in order to lure a young woman into his home… You’d expect that kind of premise to be the lead-in to Criminal Minds, but because Hunter is so well-crafted, the reader always knows that he’s not a creeper. It also helps that every increase in intimacy between Hunter and Gretchen is initiated by Gretchen (sometimes by accident.) With so much agency in the story, Gretchen never seems like the unwitting victim of some billionaire mastermind.
Kim: YES. Their first interaction with each other is when she unwittingly sees him after he gets out of the shower. She has never seen him or his scars before and is at first mesmerized by his hot bod.
At the end of the hallway, not a hundred feet from where she was standing, a door was opening. A man emerged, rubbing his head with a fluffy white towel to dry his hair, humming to himself. HIs face was hidden from her but…nothing else was.
And oh, mercy, he was gorgeous.
He was utterly naked, his skin gleaming with with drops from his shower. His legs were tanned and shadowed from the wet hair clinging to them, and his legs were thick with cords of muscle. Nice, wet chords of glorious muscle..
He was hung, too. Gretchen didn’t mind noticing.
He of course freaks that she sees him and tries to hide his scars from her.
Kelly: But Gretchen is more aware of having been caught ogling his manparts than anything else. I mean, she notices his scars, but she saw his penis first, so — quite accidentally — her impression of Hunter is sexualized before she even has a chance to feel pity for him. Of course, Hunter doesn’t really get that (from his perspective, he’s a recluse who has arranged for Gretchen to *maybe* become his friend, and then he goes and flashes her? Oy.) Hijinks ensue, including my favorite bit of dialogue in the book:
“Are you drunk?” he asked abruptly.
“No,” she said, drawing out that one syllable. Okay, so the pajamas weren’t making the best first–um, second–impression. “I’m friendly. I saw you out here and wanted to talk.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
So this wasn’t going well. When he began to stalk away at a pace more rapid than she could sustain in her oversized boots, she panicked. “Your penis!” she called out. “I saw it!”
Kim: Yup, that’s Gretchen. Just telling it like it is. She goes on to flash Hunter so that they’re “even” and then begins her attack on him. I don’t say attack in a bad way, just that she knows Hunter’s sensitivity and reluctance to push himself on her because of his inexperience. And this is why Gretchen is awesome. Knowing everything she does about him, knowing that he’s scarred both inside and out, she still sees something deep inside of him that speaks to her. And what can she do but go after it?
One thing I wanted to mention here. There isn’t much of a “plot” so to speak. The majority of the book is spent with Gretchen in his mansion working on the book project he’s set up for her. However the lengths of character development and growth that exist in this book is astounding. To me, THAT is what makes a book good/author amazing. When one can develop characters without crazy plots of kidnappings, rapes, and dark abusive pasts, and just develops the characters in the here and now, THAT is writing. And damn good writing at that.
Kelly: Amen to that.
Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
Berkley Publishing (2013)
eBook: 261 pages