Built to Last, by Erin Hahn

17 Oct
Illustrated cover for Built to Last; it shows a house with two open windows; in one, there's a dark haired white man with a beard, in the other a blonde white woman. They're both leaning slightly out the windows to look at each other. There's a ladder outside, leaning against the siding, with an open can of paint.

I asked for an ARC of this back in May, because I saw the cover on twitter, and the blurb said it has the kind of second chance at love I can enjoy: they were friends and more as kids and teens, now they’re in their late 20s. There’s enough time and distance for them to have grown from the people who screwed up their chances to grown adults who can make a relationship work.

Reader beware: there’s graphic sex on the page, and some cursing; there’s the tropetastic narcissistic stage mom, and a bastard ex whose motivations are…he’s an asshole? Also, all white, all the time.

Built to Last, by Erin Hahn

The story is told, and quite well, in first person present tense, which takes real skill to pull off, and more so when the narration switches between the two main characters.

The first chapter, set five years before the book’s timeline, establishes the relationship between Shelby Springfield, former child actress turned starlet singer turned master carpenter-slash-antique furniture restorer; Cameron Riggs, former child actor turned documentarian working for National Geographic; and Lyle Jessup, former child actor turned showrunner for an unnamed reality shows channel, and the third point of the professional-slash-romantic triangle.

Except, it’s not really ever a triangle, and the book also deals with other relationships.

Here, have the blurb:

Shelby Springfield has spent the last ten years trying to overcome her past, sanding it away like the rough spots on the vintage furniture she makes over. But as a former child star, it’s hard to forget a widely documented meltdown and huge public break up with her former co-star Lyle Jessup. It’s also hard to forget her other co-star and childhood sweetheart, Cameron Riggs—the one who got away.

Anytime Shelby has called, Cameron has come running… And then he runs right off again to chase stories around the world by making documentaries, too scared to admit what he really wants. But when Lyle stirs the pot, getting the two back in the spotlight with a home renovation show, Cameron can’t help but get on board.

There’s something in it for everyone—almost. Cameron wants to set down some roots. Shelby wants to prove she’s not the messy party girl anymore. And a jealous Lyle can’t help but try to get in the way. But for his two childhood friends who had more chemistry than he could ever dream of, nothing is getting in the way of their second chance at love.

Both Shelby and Cameron are likable people who have worked hard to overcome the years they were in the fishbowl that is Hollywood, and to become responsible adults. However, both of them still have some growing up to do, each in their own way.

The set up to get these two together is more than a bit contrived–ostensibly, Shelby needs the show to be picked up so that her father can save enough to retire comfortably, but I wasn’t sold on why Lyle would want Cameron there, other than trying to further humiliate Shelby and somehow make Cameron miserable.

(Honestly, in a book where almost every character has a life beyond “serving the plot”, Lyle, his wife, and Shelby’s mother stick out as one-dimensional plot devices.)

It’s especially weird that, knowing just how manipulative Lyle is, and having had him lie to both their agents, both Shelby and Cameron would agree to work with him. It’s not like either of them are unemployed or unemployable; they’ve built decent careers away from Hollywood and Lyle over the last five years, after all.

But whatever, that’s the premise: they sign on to do the pilot, with Lyle as long-distance showrunner, and a local film crew following along on their first house restoration and flip.

From there, we are introduced to Shelby’s and Cam’s family and friends, and all the pointy angles and comforting spaces of those relationships, and it’s honestly great to see the two of them navigate getting to know each other again, as adults, as they work together, while also coming to terms with other issues in their lives.

Shelby has to work out her guilt over her relationship with Lyle, as well as over some of her ‘wild child’ behavior as a teen and young adult. Cameron has to face his daddy issues (literally), and learn to build relationships with his family while staying in one spot. (On this point, I cheered when Cameron finally confronted his father, and I only wish more of that had been shown on page.)

I appreciated that they don’t jump immediately into a sexual relationship, even though at one point I felt that they had already talked it to death.

Speaking of which, I love that these two actually talk. Shelby notices Cameron’s reaction to something, and explains her reasoning, to make sure there aren’t misunderstandings. Later, when she’s unsure what he means, she asks him to clarify. For a bit, it’s only her initiating real communication between them, but eventually Cameron catches on as to how relationships work, which is excellent.

Also, let’s hear it for consent and responsible sex (aka, condoms for the win!), both when they were teens and now.

Aside: there’s a whole “oh, no, the B&B only has one room, whatever shall we do!” passage that is hilarious and delicious, especially as we get to see it from both points of view–and props again to Ms Hahn for her handling of this trope.

I enjoyed the novel a lot, because both main characters are well rounded people and their growth as people, and towards each other, was believable to me.

I could have done entirely without Lyle, though; every time he showed up, it made me question the setup again–let alone the fact that his motivations just make no sense. A showrunner doesn’t get to make many pilots if he sabotages them out of pettiness, do they?

And look, in a romantic suspense, the motivations of the villain are obvious, and generally make sense, so readers can just take it as a given and move on. In a contemporary romance, having a villain whose only motivation is “he’s an asshole”, as he figuratively shoots himself in the groin, is just distracting. Either make him make sense, or just take him out of the equation.

And don’t get me started on Ada Mae, Shelby’s ‘mommy dearest’, who only shows up, courtesy of Lyle, to make Shelby miserable; or on Marcella, Lyle’s wife, ditto. All in all, I spent too much time dreading the next piano Lyle would drop on the characters’ heads, which distracted from the romance.

The ending, of course, is the best kind of fantasy: not only do these two end together in a healthy, adult relationship, but they get to turn the tables on Lyle in the best way, and they do it by being who they are now, and through their own talents.

Built to Last gets 9.00 out of 10, and I’m looking forward to Lorelei’s book (there’s a bit of sequel bait, but it works in context, much better than Lyle’s actions).

6 Responses to “Built to Last, by Erin Hahn”

  1. ArtK 19/10/2022 at 11:50 AM #

    If you like second chance stories, I have a real-life one for you. I’m friends with Margaret Kerry who was the body model for Tinkerbell. She was also in some of the Our Gang comedies and The Andy Griffith Show. Sweetest little old lady you’d ever like to meet.

    A couple of years ago, she re-met a man who she had dated 70 years earlier (they’re both in their 90s.) Got married just before the pandemic hit!

    • azteclady 19/10/2022 at 12:19 PM #

      OH MY GOODNESS!!!

      This is the best kind of story–thank you, Art!

      (May I share on twitter as a screenshot?)

      • ArtK 19/10/2022 at 1:37 PM #

        Go right ahead!

        BTW, Margaret has a book, “Tinkerbell Talks”

      • azteclady 19/10/2022 at 1:59 PM #

        Thank you! ::off to search::

  2. willaful 25/10/2022 at 7:25 PM #

    “I appreciated that they don’t jump immediately into a sexual relationship, even though at one point I felt that they had already talked it to death.”

    Poor authors, trying to please us! 🤣 I’m just like this.

    • azteclady 25/10/2022 at 8:02 PM #

      Right? We readers are the very worst!

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