I do enjoy a well-characterized romance novel once in a while, and Mina V. Esguerra's No Strings Attached is a quick, one-day diversion that offers a lot in terms of intelligent characterization within the short novella form. However, the main quibble I had with the story itself lies in the fact that it is too short.The story is about Carla, a smart, professional woman who meets an attractive man named Dante during an office party. Sparks fly immediately despite their age difference (isn't it strange how this is only a concern when the woman is the one older?) but what was supposed to be a casual hook-up turns into something deeper and much more uncertain.The plot reminded me of How Stella Got Her Groove back by Terry McMillan, which I read when I was in high school. I was initially wary of the premise when I read the book blurb because it implies that despite an enjoyable career and great friends, the one obstacle in Carla's life is turning 30 without having a boyfriend. This is not how the story plays out at all. I like that the initial affair was very casual and laid back, that there was no moral hand-wringing about having an extended fling. Not that the characters don't get to angst, but that's really the nature of a romance though, isn't it?My problem is the inevitable final scene. I won't give away spoilers, but I thought that the conflict that surfaces between Carla and her friends weren't established convincingly enough in the story, and I wish more wordcount was used on that. What could've have been an affecting final scene makes Carla seem uncharacteristically bitter and prone to grudges. This then made the happy ending all the more abrupt and unsatisfying to me. In romance novels, we all yearn for that heart-pinching scene like Mark Darcy telling Bridget Jones that he likes her just the way she is and getting rebuffed, but that kind of expectation set-up and reversal needs a lot of buildup. I don't think it was earned here. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the character interaction for the most part. And I particularly enjoyed Dante and Tonio a lot.Originally posted on my blog.