What a good start to the year! I read something for the January TBR Challenge, which Wendy decided to keep hosting (yay!), and thanks to a snow day I have time to write up my post on the due date. This month’s theme is “We love short shorts,” so I chose a category romance: Cosmic Rendezvous, by Robyn Amos, from Harlequin’s late lamented Kimani line. (I think I learned about this from an Olivia Waite newsletter).
Amos’ title might suggest a sci fi romance, but this is a contemporary enemies-to-lovers story about an engineer and an astronaut working on a NASA mission. Shelly London is a talented engineer who has designed the spacecraft for this mission (whether this is really possible at 30, I don’t know, but it’s the kind of fantasy element I’m willing to go with in a romance). Lincoln “Lightning” Ripley is a famous astronaut. Shelly, who has been trying to get accepted into the astronaut training program herself, thinks he doesn’t appreciate what he has or take it seriously. Linc doesn’t understand why Shelly’s so short with him. What woman can resist his charm? There’s a bit of a pride and prejudice vibe in their opening sparring, with Shelly prejudiced against Linc because of assumptions she makes due to his fame, and Linc too proud to explain some of the circumstances that make him seem he’s not taking the mission seriously.
I have a fairly low tolerance for the “enemies” part of enemies to lovers these days, if the battle between the protagonists is too hurtful or protracted. Luckily, this wasn’t. The boss tells Shelly and Linc to work together for the good of the mission, and they quickly learn to respect each other. And then, of course, more, because this is a romance, and one I enjoyed.
The NASA setting and technical details are pretty lightly sketched, and that helped keep the story plausible. I always enjoy a competent heroine, and loved readng about a black woman in a role like this (this book was published in 2009, well before the Hidden Figures, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Amos knew something about the history of those black women mathematicians). Amos gives Shelly some characteristics that are more typical of romance heroes–she’s dedicated to her career and wary of feelings that might side track her, and of being vulnerable–without painting these as flaws, which too often seems to be the case in romance. When playboy Linc lets on that he might be ready to settle down, Shelly fears he sees her as a future wife and mother, in a limited role he’d never accept for himself.
Because this is a category romance, these emotional conflicts are briskly resolved rather than deeply explored, but they felt real–and really contemporary. There’s also a suspense subplot about sabotage to Draco, the spacecraft, which wrapped up in a rather abrupt climax that wasn’t really set up well.
Throughout the novel there’s a kind of slapstick comic thread about Shelly’s attempts to find a good hair salon after her move from DC to Houston (you would not believe some of the things that happen at her appointments). At first this seemed odd to me–there are other comic moments, but they’re less outsized. But I came to see this theme as symbolic, standing in for the way Shelly was trying to find a place she belonged (her sister is a stylist, so hair seemed associated with home and family). And based on little I have learned about the politics of black women’s hair, I wondered if it stood in for the struggles that Shelly might have faced as a black woman in the (mostly white) man’s world of aerospace engineering, something that the main plot didn’t dwell on.
My biggest annoyance with Cosmic Rendezvous was the way Linc thinks about the women he dated before Shelly: “I should have stuck to the models. They’re less complicated. Higher maintenance, but they don’t concern themselves with deeper issues. At least not the ones I’ve dated.” Ugh. I think this was meant to show how Linc hadn’t previously been serious about dating so hadn’t sought out women he had much in common with, but it’s an obnoxious, stereotypical characterization.
For the most part, though, I liked this book a lot. The setting is unusual, Shelly is a great heroine, and at this moment of romance genre upheaval, it was especially satisfying to read about a black heroine who gets everything she dreamed of, worked for, and deserved.