Review: Just a Little Bet – Tawna Fenske

Review: Just a Little Bet – Tawna FenskeJust a Little Bet
by Tawna Fenske
Series: Smokejumper #2
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Publication Date: October 26, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 282
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

After a night of too many drinks, smokejumper Tony Warren and his best friend, photographer Kayla Gladney, come to the realization that they’re both bad at love. They even tried dating each other, but that crashed and burned, too. Now he’s got the hangover from hell and the certain conclusion he’s just a shit boyfriend. But Kayla thinks he’s a straight-up commitment-phobe.

So they make a bet—they’re going to hunt down his exes and decide once and for all why he’s so unlucky in love. Terrible boyfriend or commitment-phobe. Why does either answer feel like he’s still losing?

But between roadside burgers and late night detours, they discover some fires never burn out—like the one slowly smoldering between them. And suddenly losing feels a whole lot like winning again.

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4 stars icon contemporary icon m/f romance icon

Content warnings: View Spoiler »

Road trip, lovers-to-friends-to-lovers, second chance romance? Hello, all my catnip in one shiny package! This is the second in a series about smokejumpers, but I read as a stand-alone. I should just note, for anyone looking for firefighter content, while he is a smokejumper, the book happens during the off-season, so there’s very little related content.

“And you’re thinking they’ll just—what? Open up and give me all this insight into why I’m a bad boyfriend? Why would they do that?”
“Are you kidding?” She laughed. “What woman wouldn’t want a chance to tell a guy how he screwed up?”
Tony frowned. “That’s encouraging.”

Kayla and Tony dated for a while but broke up amicably – he wasn’t looking for anything serious while she wants to start a family – and they’re best friends now. But everything changes after his latest breakup – on his parents wedding anniversary – leads to him drunkenly confessing to her that he does want the whole marriage and kids thing. Kayla, spurred on by a self-help book her happily married sister recommended to her, decides on a plan. Tony was already planning to accompany her on a road trip to photograph old fire complex sites, so they’ll also interview Tony’s exes to figure out whether he just sucks as a boyfriend or there’s some other issue.

“I want—” He started there, then stopped himself. There were a million ways he could answer that.
I want to know what a good, solid, healthy relationship feels like.
I want the kind of marriage where no one loses themselves.
I want to be someone’s safety instead of someone’s trap.”

I mean, that’s classic rom-com material right there, isn’t it? I liked Kayla and Tony, and I especially liked them together. They have great chemistry, a great sense of humor, and the sex scenes are steamy. The ex interviews are funny and unique, though they don’t play as much of a big part as you’d think.  It’s clear pretty quickly though why Tony has pushed away all his girlfriends, and his childhood trauma is deep and still very much present in the book. Despite his longing for a family – which he seems to barely want to admit to himself – he’s afraid he doesn’t know how marriage works and worries that he’ll only end up hurting Kayla if he tries to have a relationship with her. Kayla has her own issues – namely, being the only unwed one of her sisters – but it’s overshadowed by Tony’s family history.

“I kissed Tony and adopted a dog and almost had two strangers catch me bare-assed in the woods.” She paused, wondering if she should have started with hello. “Not necessarily in that order.”
“Wow.” Willa fell silent. “You’ve been gone three days, girl. What’s your plan for tomorrow, bank robbery?”

And that leads me to my main problem with this book. There’s just too much going on – the self help book, the ex interviews, the random dog (sure, Fireball’s adorable, but what in the world?), the estrangement with his mom. It felt like there were a lot of disparate threads and the tone differences between them all were jarring. Is this a madcap road trip comedy? A heartfelt story about recovering from childhood trauma? I’m not really sure. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy all those parts – I did! – but that I was often left with a bit of whiplash.

Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. While I think it had some tone issues, it was overall a funny and enjoyable read.

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