(Dual Review, Originally posted at Book Lovers Inc)Jackie: I liked the strong female character, Alexa. She was fierce and intelligent, though prone to swooniness when in close situations with Nick.Alisha: Indeed. Alexa seems very smart, logical, easy going. She was easy to like. Which made it all the more scandalous (in other words, intriguing, as a reader) to see her deliberately hide those qualities from her business partner-slash-fake-husband. (Which more or less made sense, with her reasoning.)Jackie: Nick on the other hand came off as a bull-headed male, stubborn and slightly misogynistic, but if he were honest with himself, it would only be a matter of time before the right woman would correct him of his delusions, right?Alisha: Oy, yes. In the first scene with Nick, he’d made some statements that definitely came off as misguided at best, misogynist at worst. I do think it was done to quickly establish the “Oh, this marriage will never work!” feeling in the reader, since Nick is otherwise “a catch.” Key word being quickly, because the premise is fully set up almost immediately. I thought it was a good move to have had Nick’s sister–Alexa’s best friend–be somewhat estranged from her brother, because it meant it’s believable that he’d was clueless about actual quality role models like Alexa and his sis.Jackie: The pace of the story was set early with the main characters’ mutual history, so no “getting to know each other” delays. Normally, this would probably bug me, but in The Marriage Bargain it didn’t seem so bad. It kept me reading long after I should have quit for the night :) . It actually felt like a good fit for the characters, as they were portrayed: they both knew what they wanted and were willing to fight for it.Alisha: Yeah, notice how the details of their lives are kept hidden but they still reveal a lot of themselves in other ways. Behavioral tendencies like insisting on cooking your own healthy meals (despite insane wealth), or taking in animal shelter dogs (despite non-existent wealth). A rabid Mets fan and a rabid Yankees fan. Things that say, “history is irrelevant compared to your actions in the present.”Jackie: As much as the characters knew each other, I liked the way Probst slowly filters out the information from the past. Though Alexa and Nick, knew each other, the reader gets to slowly peek into their histories, the current situations, and their psyches. Again, this added to its page-turning qualities.Alisha: Ya know, I liked that they knew each other previously. It allowed them to compare the memory of each other to the current reality. I actually wish that the previous connection was explored some more, seeing as how Nick and Alexa were childhood friends, and he dissed her bad back in the day. Alexa explores some of that history, but Nick doesn’t think of it at all, as I recall (other than the expected, “oh, how she’s filled out!” male nonsense. ^_^).Jackie: Also, do you notice the trend in romance novels where the female lead either works in publishing or a bookstore? It seems to be popping up more and more (or at least I’m noticing it more). I’m curious if this is done because a lot of those reading (and writing) tend to live books and of course, fantasize about men that will enjoy them just as much? It seems to reinforce that fantasy, as we live vicariously through Alexa.Alisha: Ha! You’re right. H.P. Mallory’s Dulcie O’Neal is an author. Molly Harper’s Jane Jameson began as a children’s librarian, and Nicole Peeler’s Jane True owns a book store. Perhaps someone can write about a heroine who’s a book blogger and falls for a hunky, intelligent super-reader? Heheh…But anywho. ^_^ I also love those deliciously awkward moments that come along with people who have to pretend to like each other when they really don’t. Add family or friends that buy into the ruse, and it’s a hilarious guilt fest that I can’t get enough of. There were quite a few of those moments here.Jackie: So true. It’s funny how things shifted so subtly to the use of “honey” and “sweetheart” for Alexa though. Her successful acting may have added to the fuddled thoughts going on in Nick’s head…Alisha: Speaking of acting…this story would make for a great romantic comedy, cliches and all. ^_^ Though there was some internal monologuing, there was so much more visual humor and demonstrable drama. Many of the humorous moments are riffs, best served deadpan. Some favorites:(While Alexa and Nick awkwardly sit in his car listening to Nick’s classical music)“Do you have any Black Eyed Peas?”He looked puzzled by the question. “To eat?”and…“Maggie says you have a fish.”That remark rewarded her with a chilling look. “Yes.”“What’s his name?”“Fish.”She blinked. “You didn’t even give it a name?”“Did I commit a crime?”Jackie: There was some great back and forth conversations, giving the readers hope for the seemingly hopeless couple. I could totally see Katherine Heigl delivering those lines (though not sure how she’d look in a wig with black curls :p ) I think it was these fun interactions that kept me smiling while reading it.Alisha: Ah, good choice of actor! Though I’m not a Heigl fan, she plays sassy, witty ladies well. For my part, I most envision Rachel McAdams playing Alexa. Pretty, ebullient, but also possessing a quiet dignity…with lots of class, to boot.On a different note, I kind of thought the love spell part of the premise was unnecessary, maybe even silly. I never really figured out if Alexa was being serious in her belief that a spell would work, or if it was just her having a bit of fun in the midst of her frustration and desperation. Especially since it was not really mentioned later.Jackie: I think it was a catalyst to get the ball rolling. They’re both desperate, so when life doesn’t hand you exactly what you want on a silver platter, at the exact moment needed (does it ever?!), the only solution is appealing to the universe’s better judgement. Hey, it totally worked for Rhona Byrne ;)Alisha: That is true. Perhaps I was bugged by the fact that it was an actual spell. What ever happened to plain ole’ wishing on a star or something? ^_^So, all in all, I found this to be an an easy, fun read. Near the end I was thinking to myself, “well, things are too perfect; how are they going to come up with a good story climax?” But Probst delivered on that account, too. From beginning to end, this is a cute, funny, and engaging tale. ^__^ I would definitely check out her work in the future.Alisha gives The Marriage Bargain 4 stars!Jackie: I really enjoyed it too. It was light, fun, and a very quick read. Perfect for shaking you out of a bad mood. While it may have headed in a direction that highlighted Nick as a male chauvinist, Alexa held her own and the author did a fantastic job balancing these elements.Jackie gives The Marriage Bargain 4 stars!