Can’t Buy Me Love- Molly O’Keefe

Luc is an aging professional hockey player with a secret brain injury.  His career is everything to him, but then he finds out that his abusive father, Lyle Baker, is supposed to be marrying some gold-digging young woman named Tara Jean Sweet, who has also been running the Baker family business for the last few years.  Tara is a woman with a past she can’t quite forgive herself for and can’t soon forget.  She’s determined not to let anyone or anything get in the way of her second chance at life.  When it turns out the wedding between Tara and Lyle was just a ruse to get Lyle’s children home for his dying days, Tara and Luc are forced to reassess each other’s motives.  They find they are more than just attracted to each other, but might even, in spite of all their flaws, LIKE one another.

I really liked the first book I read by Molly O’Keefe, Wild Child, and while this one was similar, it didn’t quite measure up.  It was similarly gritty and similarly featured characters with a lot of emotional baggage.  Luc has defined himself and his life by his success in hockey and pretty much neglects the toll that it has taken on his body and his brain.  He’s not particularly ready to let anyone into his life, particularly if they’re going to get in the way of his determination to play one more year in hockey, but he’s in a little better shape than Tara.  Tara is a mess.  She has a past littered with bad decisions, regrets, and an awful, abusive, and criminal ex-boyfriend.  She can’t forgive herself, doesn’t like herself, doesn’t value herself.  And that makes it almost impossible for her to let Luc in and to accept that their relationship is more than just sex.  I definitely liked that these were not your average romance novel characters and that they were as much the obstacle in their relationship as any outside force was.

But… this book just felt convoluted.  The plot starts with the fake engagement and some serious I-hate-you-but-you’re-hot vibes between Tara and Luc.  Tara doesn’t like that Luc abandoned his elderly father and Luc thinks Tara is all about the money.  But then Lyle dies and suddenly the tension about him and his money is out of the way.  Next Luc is made Tara’s boss in Lyle’s will, but that never really comes to make any difference in the story as Luc couldn’t care less about the family business.  And then Tara’s ex-boyfriend starts lurking around threatening her and the Baker family and he (as well as Tara’s past) becomes the next big obstacle between she and Luc.  All the while, Luc’s health and career worries are lurking in the background.  Not to mention there are occasional passages from Luc’s sister’s POV, setting up for the next installment in the series.  It just gets to be a lot.  Especially as the main element of the romantic storyline is how Tara and Luc are changing in light of the other events going on in their lives and in light of having met someone willing to put up with and love them.  I think all the other stuff going on in the plot distracted from some of the character development, which left the characters feeling blurry; it became tough to grasp their motivations.

All in all, I am interested to read more of Molly O’Keefe’s novels, as I really like that she does the gritty romance so well.  Wild Child was much tighter plot-wise, so I am just going to write this one off as a book that didn’t quite come together for me.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When It Comes To Romances In Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the button also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is the Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When It Comes To Romances In Books.

I’m excited about this topic, as I have some definite preferences when it comes to romances in books.

Things I Like:

1. Nice Guys– I really like it when there is a genuinely nice guy as the romantic lead, someone it totally makes sense for the heroine to fall in love with and marry and spend happily ever after with.  Think Alex from Stay or Lincoln from Attachments or Daniel from Seeing Me Naked.

2. Banter– I love some good banter between the two characters.  Laughing together is such an important part of falling in and staying in love.  At least, I think so.  Books with great banter include: Here’s Looking at You by Mhairi McFarlane, Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern, and Jane Eyre.

3. Deeply Flawed Characters– I really enjoy a gritty romance with two totally messed up people who just make sense together and maybe even bring out the best in one another.  My favorite of these is Unsticky, but I also enjoyed Faking It and Wild Child for this reason, too.

4. Brooding Heroes– I know, I just said I like nice guys, but I also like a well-done dark and brooding hero, too.  I think I have Mr. Rochester to blame for this.  See also: Bran in Son of the Shadows and Will in Me Before You (which isn’t really a romance, but whatever).

5. Married Characters– No, no, not affairs with married characters, but novels that deal with an examination of marriage and a rededication of love.  I’m thinking books like After I Do or Landline or Wife 22.

Things I Dislike:

6. Oops! Pregnancies– There is nothing romantic about an unexpected pregnancy and that certainly isn’t something that is going to bring two people together for the long term.  At least, I’ve never read a book where this was a convincing plotline.

7. Miscommunication as a Relationship Obstacle– If the problem can be easily solved by two people talking about it, then it is not really an interesting romantic obstacle.  These are two people who are supposed to trust one another deeply enough to fall in love.  People like that actually communicate with one another.

8. Unrequited Love– Maybe I’m too far removed from being hung up on someone who didn’t want me back (it’s been a long time since middle school) or maybe I’m just not sentimental enough, but I am really not a fan of characters hung up on someone (who is clearly SO WRONG for them) from their past.  In real life, you move on.

9. Inaccurate Details– Romance novels like to be set in all kinds of worlds with their own particular jargon and rules– sports, academia, billionaire-land, government, etc.– and while I’m certainly not an expert in any of these things, it shows when an author hasn’t done their research.  I’m still ticked about a book with a hockey team called the Dallas Mavericks.  The Mavericks are the basketball team.  It isn’t that hard to find that info out (it’s called Google) and choose another fake team name.

10. Characters Tattooing Their Lover’s Face on Their Body– Ok.  I’ve only ever read one book where this happened.  But it was ridiculous and absurd and breaks the first rule of tattoos– you don’t put the name/face of a girl you’ve known for a month in a tattoo.  You’re just asking for future laser tattoo removal.  Might as well ask your tattoo artist for a reference.


What do you like or dislike when it comes to romances in books?  Do you have any recommendations for books you’d think I’d like?  How about funny stories about ones I wouldn’t like?  I’d love to hear about them!

Winter Mini-Reviews 2: Romance

I am trying to wrap up my 2014 reviews by posting some mini-reviews for things I neglected to review in full.  This is the romance novel edition.


Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins writes fun, cute, breezy romance novels.  In this one, we have Posey, who has always been a bit of a wallflower, and Liam, the boy she had a crush on all through high school.  Liam has recently moved back to town, a fairly recent widower with a teenage daughter in tow.  Liam was a total bad boy in high school and builds motorcycles for a living.  He’s grown up, but is still gorgeous with a bit of an edge– with the exception of his overprotectiveness when it comes to his daughter.  Posey is skinny and boyish and makes her living scavenging old homes for her architectural resale business.  She’s adopted and her family is crazy, but in a loving way.  Liam and Posey are attracted to one another, but their complicated past gets between them.

What I liked: the ridiculous side characters– for example, Posey’s brother is a surgeon obsessed with amputations and her cousin hosts a cooking show called The Barefoot Fraulein, the animals (always a plus in Higgins)
What I felt meh about: Posey and Liam as a couple– too much baggage, too many differences between them for me to really buy their romance, Liam’s overprotectiveness– men obsessed with their daughters’ virtue drive me crazy
All in all: I will read Kristan Higgins again, I’m sure, but wouldn’t recommend this one unless you’re better at suspending your disbelief than I am.


Wild Child by Molly O’Keefe

Monica has returned to her hometown in Bishop, Arkansas (holy cow, a book set in Arkansas) to begin writing her next tell-all book, this time about the night her mother shot her drunken, abusive father in self-defense.  Monica is a bit of a wreck, having survived an incredibly unstable childhood and a wild, drug-fueled adolescence, much of it televised on a reality TV show her fame-whore of a mother landed them on.

Jackson is the mayor of Bishop and feels completely shackled by the responsibility on his shoulders– an economically failing town and the teenage sister he is rearing.  He dreams of freedom, namely in the form of random sexual encounters with women, and getting the heck out of Dodge.

Jackson lands Bishop a spot on a reality TV show, competing as the best town to house a new cookie factory.  Monica’s notoriety can only help his cause.  The two get involved with one another– both in saving Bishop and in a romantic way.  But the buckets and buckets of emotional issues make theirs a bumpy road to falling in love.

What I liked: the love story between two pretty messed up people, O’Keefe pushes the boundaries of the romance genre- flipping some tropes around on us, the small town setting
What I felt meh about: I mostly really liked this one, but I don’t think there was anything tipping the scales into omg awesome for me
All in all: I have already checked out another book by O’Keefe from the library.  This is smart genre romance and that’s something I can’t get enough of.

Believe by Erin McCarthy

Robin is a college student who parties.  Hard.  That is, until she wakes up after a night of drinking to find she slept with her roommate’s boyfriend.  She swears off drinking and partying, not liking the kind of person she becomes when she does.  Phoenix is fresh out of jail, broke, and sleeping on his cousins’ couch.  Robin and he meet at the cousins’ house and find one another really refreshing to be around.  There’s no judgment, no expectations, no pressure.  They quickly fall in love with one another with their past indiscretions lurking in the background, ready to make things difficult.

What I liked: Erin McCarthy’s writing, that the characters were getting second chances
What I felt meh about: Phoenix and Robin declare their love way too soon, especially since they are both supposed to be so damaged by their pasts; Phoenix seems far too nice to have the anger management problem he supposedly has; Phoenix tattoos Robin’s face onto his body after knowing her for a month- INSANE
All in all: Enh.  I liked it enough to read it, but it was silly and cliched.  This author is really hit and miss for me.  Not sure I want to keep trying with her any more.

One Plus One- Jojo Moyes

I absolutely loved Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You and have been eager to read more of her work, but a lot of her previous novels seem to be more historical romance and I’m much more partial to contemporary romance, so when I saw One Plus One was coming out I was thrilled.  It took me forever to finally read it, but I enjoyed it much like I expected to.

Jess is a single mom of two, struggling to make ends meet and working all the time to do so.  Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math genius who is offered a spot at a prestigious private school and a 90% scholarship.  Problem is, Jess can’t afford the remaining 10%.  But Tanzie’s math teacher has an idea.  Tanzie can enter a math competition in Scotland where, if she wins, the cash prize could help cover the remaining expenses of private school.  On a lark, Jess and her kids set out in their hooptie Rolls Royce, only to end up on the side of the road a few miles outside of town.

Ed is a successful software entrepreneur who is being investigated for insider trading.  He’s been holed up in his summer home and has run into Jess a time or two in her capacity as housekeeper and bartender.  When he sees her stranded on the side of the road, he pulls over.  And he wants to do something to help, something to take his mind off the selfish stupidity in the rest of his life.  So he offers to drive Jess and her kids and their smelly old dog to the math competition.

Over the course of the road trip, Jess and Ed break down the barriers between them, namely the huge class difference between them.  And an attraction develops.  But both their lives are in complete disarray, making it hard for them to build a relationship together.

This book had a lot in common with Me Before You.  Both feature a young working class woman who doesn’t see any way out of her present situation, but with a bright outlook on life and a slightly older wealthy man with big problems who really benefits from seeing how the other half lives and getting a healthy dose of optimism.  But this one is more of a romance.  And Me Before You dealt with a much heavier subject matter.  Unfortunately, the similarities between the two books made it impossible not to measure them against one another.  And while One Plus One was just as addicting and just as full of interesting and real characters, because its subject matter wasn’t as heavy or life-or-death it felt a little fluffy in comparison.  I know Moyes can do something heavier and deeper and more impactful, so it was slightly disappointing to not get that here.

All that said, I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to chick lit fans.  Moyes constructs some really endearing characters who are facing real struggles, but who persevere nonetheless.  But if you’ve read Me Before You, come at this with different expectations, as it does not carry the same emotional weight.

Fall Mini-Reviews

It happened again.  I get on such a roll with my reading that I completely neglect writing reviews and so… mini-reviews!  These were both books I thought were ok, but you know, they didn’t leave strong, lasting impressions…

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

I found this at my library book sale and having enjoyed Sedgwick’s writing in the past, decided to give it a try.  Sig lives in early 20th century Sweden up in the Arctic frontier, where they is iron mining going on.  His dad dies under mysterious circumstances and when his stepmother and sister go to town to get someone to take care of Sig’s father’s body, Sig stays home in his isolated cabin alone.  And then a mysterious and frightening stranger comes to the door.  With a gun.

What I liked: Sedgwick’s writing, the unusual setting, the low page count
What I felt meh about: pretty much everything else, it should be a tense book as there is a gun pointed at someone for nearly the whole thing, but really I wasn’t that interested in the plot or the characters, it was boring
All in all: I keep hoping I will find a Sedgwick book that really clicks for me.  This wasn’t it.


All Lined Up by Cora Carmack

Dallas Cole is a dancer and freshman in college.  Oh, and her dad is the football coach at her Texas college.  One night at a party, she falls into the arms (literally) of Carson McClain.  The two hit it off immediately.  But Carson is a football player.  And a walk-on at that.  He doesn’t have time to get distracted by romance.  Especially a romance with the coach’s daughter.  Dallas has no interest in repeating her past experiences and wants to stay as far away from football and football players as she can.  But she and Carson start to casually hang out.  And things slowly heat up between them.

What I liked: super cute romance, set in Texas, felt like a truthful portrayal of being a coach’s daughter and the college freshman experience, FOOTBALL
What I was meh on: less steamy than I expected based on my previous experience with this author’s work (though it was appropriate to the characters)
All in all: Cute football romance.  Cora Carmack is great at this New Adult stuff.


Boomerang- Noelle August

Mia and Ethan get hired on to be interns at the newest endeavor of a young tech multimillionaire, a dating website for casual encounters called Boomerang.  The catch is only one will get a full-time paid job offer at the end of the summer.  Mia is a film student and daughter of a very famous photographer.  Mia (confusingly) needs this job to get an in with the media mogul in hopes that he’ll fund her pet project, a film about her grandmother who is slowly dying from dementia.  Ethan is a recent college graduate with vague notions of law school on his mind.  Basically he needs the job because he’s broke.  But the cut-throat competition for the job is complicated by the fact that Mia and Ethan are REALLY attracted to one another and have already had a one-night stand prior to starting the job.  And it’s against Boomerang company policy to date coworkers.  And the Boomerang CEO likes to send his unpaid interns on dates to test out the service.

This was a fun, better-than-average romance, but not really the most amazing thing I’ve ever read.  The better-than-average part was the characters.  Mia and Ethan were both interesting and well-drawn, with their own insecurities about the future and their romance and all that young adult stuff.  What was enh for me was that this hit on a lot of romance genre tropes: every last character is going to find the love of their life by the end of this series, people making serious money in ridiculous career fields, a silly and arbitrarily constructed obstacle to the relationship.  While all of that is fun and par for the course in romance, I think had this been toned down and made more realistic, with its great characters it could have been OMG AWESOME.

That said, I’ll probably read the other books in the series when they come out.  I like New Adult romance a lot more than I do Young Adult romance and I think these authors (Noelle August is pseudonym for two people) will create characters that wow me enough to keep going.

Outlander- Diana Gabaldon

So I did that thing again where I hear all kinds of hype about a book and its based-on-the-book TV series and it makes me think I should actually read that book when I really really shouldn’t.  Even worse I paid an actual five dollars for this book.  And promised to read it with a friend.  So I felt all sorts of obligation to finish this book, when really I wanted to DNF by about 30%.  But if I’d done that I would have missed sooooooo much crazy.

If you don’t know the plot of Outlander, let me sum it up.  Married nurse, Claire, is on vacation in the Scottish Highlands with her professor husband right after World War II and then gets magically transported to the 18th century where she meets the real love of her life, Jamie, and a whole lot of sex and violence happen.

Where do I start with my love-hate for this book?  First of all, I didn’t really love it, just more… couldn’t look away from it.  The writing was decent and while the book was far too long, there was plenty of action.  But dear lord.  The number of outrageous things that happen in this book, is well, outrageous.  Let’s start with the sex.  There was loads of sex in this book.  And you know, normally, I’m all for that, but the sex scenes in this book were weird.  Some faded to black, especially the early ones.  If you read romance novels at all, the first sex scene is typically the most graphic.  I mean, I know Gabaldon likes to brag about flaunting genres, but I don’t care.  There are conventions for a reason.  The sex scenes did get more detailed, but then I got to a scene in which the phrase “testicles contracted” was used and well, it made me appreciate heaving bosoms and throbbing members.  Because clinical terms are really not sexy.  So.  Lots of sex scenes that weren’t really sexy.

And then there’s some a whole freaking lot of violence.  And it’s not just there’s a war brewing sort of violence.  There’s domestic violence.  And child abuse.  And corporal punishment.  And sexual violence.  And sadistic rape and torture violence.  I’m sure life was more violent in 18th century Scotland.  But, well, I can’t say I enjoyed reading about it.  And I think the point was to enjoy some of the violence.  Or at least to draw some distinction between good violence and bad violence.  I don’t know.  Repeated episodes of graphic violence is not something I really want to read.  Especially not Jamie’s endless waxing on about how great it was to be spanked as a child.  It all got to be too much.

And then this book has all sorts of random weird stuff in it.  Claire sees the Loch Ness Monster.  Claire is put on trial for witchcraft.  Claire gets spanked by Jamie for disobeying him.  Claire has all sorts of esoteric knowledge and interests that appear when it’s convenient to the plot.  Claire somehow thinks you discourage wolf attacks by looking the wolf in the eye (which is the exact opposite of what you should do, as eye contact=aggression in the canine world).  In a book that is over 800 pages some of this nonsense could surely have been cut out.

All that said, I clearly did not enjoy this book.  I can see that other people might like it, as gratuitous sex and violence always sells.  I can even see how a TV show would work out of if (it’s very episodic, also, see gratuitous sex and violence).  But it was very much not the book for me.

Landline- Rainbow Rowell

Georgie and her husband, Neal, have hit a point in their marriage where things are tense.  Always tense.  They love each other, but work and life and two kids have taken their toll.  Georgie announces days before they are supposed to leave to visit family in Omaha that she needs to stay home for Christmas to work.  Neal leaves as planned with the kids, leaving Georgie behind.  He stops picking up her calls.  At her wit’s end, Georgie stumbles upon a way to connect with Neal, but Neal from the past.  Her magic phone calls 20 years in the past to the first year of their relationship.  Reconnecting with past Neal reminds Georgie of how they fell in love in the first place, before everything made its way in between them.  Perhaps this will give her a second chance to fix things before it is too late.

What I love about Rainbow Rowell’s books is that they somehow always feel like they were written just for me.  I don’t really have a life like any of her characters, but there is something about their lives and relationships that resonates with me.  While I’m not sure I could really understand Georgie’s workaholism (no one will ever accuse me of being a workaholic), I did understand the tension in her marriage.  I think anyone who has had a long term partner knows that there are times when you are closer to one another and times when you feel quite distant from one another.  Those distant times are tough and scary and leave you feeling quite vulnerable.  Georgie and Neal have hit one of those rough patches.  I sort of wish we could all get a magic phone for those times, a chance to remember what made the good times good and to remember when love was new and exciting.  The magic phone was an interesting narrative convention, too, as it allowed Rowell to tell a falling in love story at the same time she told a being in love and falling back in love story.

My biggest complaint with this book was the ending left something to be desired.  Georgie decides it is her turn to make the big romantic gesture in the relationship.  So she does and all is forgiven without so much as a conversation between Georgie and Neal.  While sometimes it just takes a small thing to put a relationship back on track, I did not believe Georgie and Neal could be fixed as easily as they were.  I would have liked to see an airing of grievances and rededication to one another, but that didn’t really happen.

All in all, this was another enjoyable Rainbow Rowell book and I will continue to read everything she publishes.  I love her writing and her characters and can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.  This is probably her weakest book so far (this or Fangirl), but it was definitely worth the read.  There aren’t too many books I can think of about being in love, so this was a welcome addition to the chick lit/romance (I guess that is what it is) genres.

Faking It- Cora Carmack

Max has a different hair color every week, is tattooed from top to bottom, dreams of making it as a musician, and has a string of bad boy boyfriends.  Her parents, straight-laced, conservative Oklahomans, arrive in town on a surprise visit, asking to meet Max’s latest boyfriend.  Mace, her actual boyfriend, is not really parent-meeting material, so Max strikes up a deal with a nice-looking boy she finds at a coffee shop.  Cade will pretend to be her boyfriend in exchange for an actual date with Max.  Though Cade is as nice as Max is bad, the two start hitting it off almost immediately.  And when Mace shows himself to be the complete tool that he actually is, things between Max and Cade begin to heat up.  But Max believes she is too toxic to be with Cade.  And Cade doesn’t fight for what he wants when Max up and leaves him because she’s scared.  The two have some emotional issues to work through before they can truly accept one another and themselves and be together.

I don’t think I have read any New Adult novels before and saw this one on ebook at my library, so thought I’d give it a shot.  I liked the premise of a fake relationship and a bad girl+good guy story.  So, first thing, this book kind of exemplifies what I’ve heard about New Adult: a Young Adult romance, but with sex.  There’s a lot of angst.  There’s the young adult theme of coming to accept yourself and become independent.  And then there was some sex.  I’m not complaining.  I probably preferred this to Young Adult romance because, well, there were sexy times to balance out the angsty times.

I hate to say I grade books on a curve, but I totally do.  This was good for what it was.  A sort of fluffy, yet gritty romance (can something be fluffy and gritty at the same time?) with enough steaminess and serious issues to keep it from going into boring or saccharine territory.  Max was a pretty unusual romance novel heroine, in that she is the bad girl– hard-edged, closed-off, and kinda bitchy.  It was nice to see the female in that role, instead of the usual stereotype of the good girl taming the bad boy.  But, at the end of the day, this is a romance novel where the big obstacle holding up the relationship is the couple’s inability or unwillingness to open up and communicate with one another.  So… not an especially original plot.  But, all in all, this book kept me entertained without leaving me much to complain about.  I will definitely stick my toe back into the New Adult waters when I am looking for a steamy romance to read.

Somebody to Love- Kristan Higgins

Parker is a grown-up trust fund kid living in her family’s mansion with her 5 year old son, Nicky.  She has written a successful series of saccharine children’s books called the Holy Rollers, but has donated all the profits to charity.  Her life is rocked upside down when her father liquidates her and Nicky’s trust funds in the wake of an insider trading scandal.  Parker’s only remaining asset is a house in Maine she inherited from a great aunt.  So she sets off to Maine to flip the house and begin rebuilding her life.  The complicating factor comes in the shape of James Cahill, her father’s lawyer, who insists on coming up to Maine to help Parker fix up the house.  Parker initially lumps James into the same category as her morally-bankrupt absentee father and keeps him at a distance, referring to him as “Thing 1.”  But James is a better guy than she gives him credit for and the time they spend working together on the cottage stirs up some deeply buried feelings for one another.

This is the first Kristan Higgins novel I have read and it was just what I look for in a romance– cute with plenty of quirky characters and romantic leads with believable obstacles to their budding relationship.  Parker is a bit spoiled, but she doesn’t shy away from hard work or learning new things or asking for help.  She is pretty down-to-earth for a someone who has never had to earn a living for themselves.  She does have real daddy issues and is definitely afraid to trust men, especially James, who has a closer relationship with her father than she does.  James struggles to deal with feelings of inadequacy, particularly as a result of a tragic accident in his youth.  But they are able to confront their pasts and communicate openly with one another, slowly gaining one another’s trust.  And as a bonus, the story is told from both Parker and James’s perspectives, which added a lot to the story.  It was good to see that James had good intentions, even when Parker had a hard time believing he did.  Even better, the town in Maine is filled with quirky small town residents who know everything about everyone.  And there is a sweet, shy dog that Parker adopts on a whim and who becomes Parker’s companion when she misses her son (who is living with his father for the summer).

I read this after A Game of Thrones, when I needed something fluffy and sweet and this definitely fit the bill.  I will certainly look to Kristan Higgins in the future for a light quirky romance.  If you like genre romance and haven’t given Kristan Higgins a try, I’d definitely suggest you do.  While I wouldn’t say this story will stick with me forever, it was the perfect sort of fluff to recover from the dreariness of my previous read.