It’s not secret that I did like not Secretly Yours.
Secretly Yours is the first book in the Vine Mess duology by Tessa Bailey. This novel follows Hallie, a gardener who lives in a vineyard town, after her former high school crush, Julian, moves back into town in order to work on his novel. Hallie grows closer to Julian after she drunkenly writes him a secret admirer letter. However, this secret becomes more difficult to keep when she begins to develop a real-life relationship with Julian.
Tessa Bailey books, specifically the Bellinger Sisters duology, gained significant popularity on BookTok this past year. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bellinger sisters duology, but I hoped that I would be more interested in this duology. Unfortunately for me, many aspects of the first book in the Vine Mess duology were quite literally a mess for me. As a result, my experience reading Secretly Yours as a whole was unenjoyable.
One area of the romance novel which needs to excel are the two main characters and the relationship which develops between them. Both of these areas were poorly executed. Both Hallie and Julian are very typical characters of the genre, but aren’t unique enough to stand out from the bunch. Hallie is the typical quirky, disorganized main character who makes incredibly immature decisions. On the flip side, Julian is the very serious, Type A love interest who is very academic and organized. Both characters have half-baked backstories which the author unsuccessfully uses to create a weak third act conflict. Additionally, I felt like they were too different to be a lasting couple. One example can be found when Julian goes to Hallie’s house for the first time and makes remarks about the clutter and Hallie shrugs it off as she just cleaned. Ultimately, I just could foresee too many problems with this couple in the future, so I couldn’t see a lasting relationship between them in the future.
Furthermore, Julian specifically lacks consistent characterization throughout the novel. Julian is introduced as a very serious and scheduled professor. However, his characters does a complete 180, but only during romantic scenes. With Julian, there is a lot more telling than showing. Readers are told that Hallie likes Julian because he is a very kind and helpful person. While he does help a struggling business in the story, I honestly don’t think he would have helped if the business wasn’t treasured by Hallie. It seemed like I was reading two different characters during the novel. I also extremely disliked reading from his POV. The way that Hallie is described during his chapters made me very uncomfortable to read. While the dialogue in this book is overall cringeworthy, some of the worst lines came from Julian. Think about the types of dating app messages where men say they would swim through shark-infested waters to be with a woman. Julian says a line akin to this, but instead of shark-infested waters, it’s a lake of fire. After reading that line, I had to put the book down for a few hours. When you read a romance, you want to like the male love interest. However, I could not stand Julian.
Another weak area of this book was the plot. From the book’s description, one would think the secret admirer letters would play a major role in this novel. However, they are only used to create some added drama at the end to make a conflict which could easily be resolved with one conversation. As I mentioned earlier, the third act conflict was incredibly weak and was a result of the miscommunication trope at its worst. The scenes building up to the conflict in the third act weren’t much stronger. Often times, it felt like I was reading a bunch of repetitive scenes or cute moments thrown in to make me see the male interest in a positive light, rather than scenes that built upon each other. Secretly Yours is a relatively short book as the last twenty pages are a preview of the next book. However, this book took me almost two weeks to read.
Overall, Secretly Yours has been my least favorite book of the year so far. I was very unimpressed by many aspects of this novel. As a result, I rated this novel one out of five stars.