War Paint by J.J. Maya (NetGalley Review)

3/5 stars

Sometimes you need a book that feels like an escape, and in many ways, War Paint by J.J. Maya fulfills that need–a sassy heroine and a predictable-yet-fun plot makes this book feel like watching a romcom on a lazy Sunday with a steamy mug of tea. Basically, this book is capital-F Fluff, which there is certainly no harm in. But it reminded me a bit too much of the cringey, didn’t-age-well bits of classic romcoms–its overreliance on stereotypes.

Willow, our plucky heroine, has just arrived in New York from Glasgow as the new bride of Rick, a financier who seduced Willow with stories of a Manhattan apartment and strategic flashes of a black AmEx, only to find that he’s living in a dirty walkup in Queens and only recently broke up with Isabella, his partner of seven years who’s also pregnant. Willow is starting to have some regrets over marrying a man after only six weeks of knowing him (um, obviously) and tries to scrape together her own life working at the makeup counter of a local department store. And Isabella just happens to be her new coworker.

This plot writes itself, and that’s not always a bad thing–I zoomed through this in an afternoon. Maya appears to have cooked up a fantasy version of New York City, but that’s not necessarily a horrible thing. And Willow’s self-actualisation comes more from finding her own feet rather than running into the arms of another man, which was a nice, empowering touch.

But sadly, Willow’s personality changes whenever it suits the story–her only real traits are that she wears red lipstick and likes Irn-Bru, because Scottish, I guess? Isabella is a stock ‘guido’ scorned-woman stereotype, with no real substance beyond being angry. Jackson is the overbaked sassy gay friend trope. These characters are fun, but it made this story feel like empty calories. And its attempts to get serious about immigration in the United States, and especially undocumented immigrants, falls so flat it feels insensitive. Maya’s writing is snappy and bright, but I would like to see her branch out a bit more. The ending is a bit open, with strong hints of a sequel–hopefully Maya will use this as an opportunity to make her characters grow a bit.

WARPAINT on Amazon.co.uk:

This was my first book reviewed through NetGalley, a website that allows book bloggers and other professionals to read upcoming books in exchange for an honest review. You can learn more about NetGalley here.

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