Thank you NetGalley and Avon for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.
After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez.
Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy.
After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had.
Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.
With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret. (AMAZON)
I grew up watching telenovelas. In a Hispanic household, they were a huge staple of weeknights in my younger days, and gathering around the TV to partake in the entertainment was just the thing to do. I remember bits and pieces of titles such as Maria La Del Barrio, Esmeralda, Pasión de Gavilanes, and La Mentira. These stories were often over the top, but also rather entertaining. To this day, I'm fond of Portuguese telenovelas—such as O Clone—even though it has been years since I've dedicated the time to watching them. But as soon as I caught a peek of the synopsis in You Had Me at Hola, I knew that reading it would be my chance to enjoy a little bit of that history.
This novel is one of those books that I consider a guilty pleasure, with which you can sit back, relax, and just spend a day enjoying without another care in the world.
The story splits its time between the real lives of telenovela and soap opera stars Ashton Suárez and Jasmine Lin. Jasmine is a rising star in soap operas with a rather messy recent breakup splashed all over the tabloids. And Ashton has made acting in telenovelas his bread and butter for years, while he supports his family in Puerto Rico—which he prefers and struggles to keep very private from his public image—and tries to make his current new project alongside Jasmine successful enough that it will hopefully give him the boost he needs to get to Hollywood.
First of all, author Alexis Daria did a fantastic job of portraying families of Hispanic roots. The close relationships that both leads have with their own, the small nitpicking fights that break out, and the fact that there are no such things as secrets because your business is shared throughout whether you like it or not (it's all in the name of familial love, don't you worry), is such a typical thing to experience in this environment. As a Cuban born and raised, I've had my share of these moments. You love them, you sometimes hate them, but in the end it's family and that's the closest thing that you keep to your heart. The representation was spot on.
Since Ashton and Jasmine first meet, and work together, because they're both actors in the remake of a Venezuelan telenovela, it stands to reason that parts of this story would take place on set while they film. What I did not expect—but was delighted by—was to actually be able to follow along with the script. It was very immersive to feel like I was behind the camera while Victor and Carmen—the two characters that Ashton and Jasmine portray—flourish in their own stories. And through them, our own novel's protagonists start to grow closer to each other. It was a great addition to the book, and made it that much more unique.
The romance that wraps around said protagonists was not without its own diverting moments. What starts off as a disastrous first meeting of spilled coffee and mumbling apologies, finishes in a sweet and warm connection and happily-ever-after for these two individuals. Ashton has his baggage, which is not easy for him to get rid of in order to let Jasmine in. And while Jasmine's own seems to weigh her down, she still has the type of disposition that doesn't allow her to turn her back on love. She's a very open and warm person, and inadvertently, she's what pulls Ashton out of his comfort zone and his shell, helping him learn to live again.
While I generally enjoyed these two—and the heat between them was absolutely undeniable—I will say that when things got a little rough near the end between them and secrets were revealed, what could have been solved with a calm conversation was tossed out the window and replaced with misunderstandings and misplaced blame. Granted, considering the indulgently diverting dramatics of telenovelas, it fit. And Ashton's show of trust toward Jasmine at the end came into effect smoothly because of this. But there was still a nagging little feeling that they didn't need to suffer quite as much as they did to reach that ending.
Paired with this, there were instances when characters would sit down to have a conversation, and rather than follow a dialogue, the author would just tell us what was said, what the reactions and resolutions were, and continue with the narrative. This was not the rule, and there's plenty of growth between the characters on their own, but these moments almost felt rushed. It was as if we, as the reader, were being hurried along to the rest of the novel.
These points aside, You Had Me at Hola does not disappoint. If you want to read a romance that will keep you glued to the pages from the beginning, will make you melt a few times, and will pack on the sexiness, this is the one for you.