Tools of Engagement is the third and (as far as I know) final book in Tessa Bailey's Hot & Hammered series, following Fix Her Up and Love Her or Lose Her. I enjoyed Fix Her Up but skipped the second because I don't think Bailey has the tools to write outside her lane with two POC protagonists.
That said, I've been struggling to finish books lately *gestures at the world* and managed to pick this up at just the right time. It's not a perfect book, but it's highly readable and it was a comfort to go back to this little world with a flawed but loving family and a bit of Fixer Upper feels.
As usual, the banter and chemistry between Bailey's main characters pulled the book together for me and kept me flipping pages as they work together to flip a house. There were several plot choices that didn't make much sense to me, however. The whole book takes place over the course of a couple of weeks and we've got a man making some choices for him and his niece (he's her temporary guardian) that don't make a ton of sense given his background as a child in the foster care system.
Bethany is written as though she's struggling with anxiety and whew boy was her stuff relatable. A lot of her life is spent keeping up appearances for everyone else, worrying so much about things being perfect that she's making herself sick. She has a patch of skin on her neck that she rubs when she's having a particularly bad day and at one point Wes helps her through a panic attack. This seemed like really great rep to me (my spots are on my right shin and the back of my neck lolsob) but then she just works her way out of it without help from anyone. No mention of considering therapy at all or what she'd do when she and Wes had been together a while and the infatuation period wore off. I wanted her to seek out some help and maybe Wes, too. Love doesn't actually fix everything.
The choice to go on a house-flipping competition show was a pretty sudden plot development, seemingly on a whim and not especially in character for Bethany given her perfectionist tendencies. I get that it was a competition with her brother and siblings goad each other but this was her first flip so it felt weird.
Still, I liked Tools of Engagement and if you enjoy Bailey's books you'll like this one. It's lower heat than some of her other books, but it's still got plenty of steam. It's not erotic romance but the chemistry between the characters is palpable and I wanted their HEA.
I didn't even mind that there's a child in the story. She's pretty great.
Suzanne received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review.
Content Warnings: references to drug use, parental abandonment, past: foster care, anxiety, panic attacks