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REVIEW: It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis

Dear Ms. Shalvis:

I suspect you could write your Lucky Harbor books in your sleep. That is as much a testament to their sameness as it is to your skill. Every book in the series–with the exception of the second, The Sweetest Thing–features a young woman either facing a problem or needing to reboot her life, a super-hot guy who struggles to with the marriage and babies are your future thing, good female friends who constantly tell the heroine how great she is, paeans to the beauty of the Northwest Coast, feisty old people, and well-written sexy love scenes. I’ve read all seven and, though I’m tired of Lucky Harbor the town, I’ve been entertained by five of the Lucky Harbor books.

 It Had to Be You by Jill ShalvisI read your latest Lucky Harbor novel, It Had to Be You, on a lovely Spring afternoon, sitting on my porch, drinking a glass of my favorite rosé. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Within a week, I’d forgotten the plot, but, while immersed in your prose, I had a good time.

In It Had to Be You, the winning young woman is Ali Winters. She’s having a run of bad luck in Lucky Harbor. Her boyfriend, Teddy the town clerk, dumps her via text, fifty thousand bucks is missing from Teddy’s office and she’s the prime suspect, and Teddy suggests she move out of the house they’d shared, a house whose lease, unbeknownst to Ali, ended yesterday.

The owner of the house is Luke Hanover, a San Francisco cop who has, after years away, come back to Lucky Harbor for a much-needed three-week leave. (His high-profile case of a murderous Senator went terribly wrong.) Luke is expecting the house to be empty and is surprised to see a woman clad only in her undies standing in his kitchen, cussing someone out on her cell phone.

Detective Lieutenant Luke Hanover had been away from the San Francisco Police Department for exactly one day of his three-week leave and already he’d lost his edge, walking into his grandma’s Lucky Harbor beach house to find a B&E perp standing in the kitchen.

She sure as hell was the prettiest petty thief he’d ever come across—at least from the back, since she was wearing nothing but a white lace bra and a tiny scrap of matching white lace panties.

“You have some nerve you…you rat fink bastard,” she said furiously into her cell phone, waving her free hand for emphasis, her long, wildly wavy brown hair flying around her head as she moved.

And that wasn’t all that moved. She was a bombshell, all of her sweet, womanly curves barely contained in her undies.

Once Ali explains why she’s in his house, Luke lets her stay the night, which, of course, turns into lots of nights. (She can’t find a new apartment.) The two are hellaciously attracted to each other and, within the first week of co-habitation are locking lips and wanting more. Luke tells her they shouldn’t get involved.

Her body was still tingling from his kisses, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe that he could make sex far more than enjoyable.

“One more thing,” he said.

She looked into his deep blue eyes.

“Not all men will disappoint you,” he said. “I don’t mean me. Because I will absolutely disappoint you. But we’re not all assholes, Ali. I can promise you that.”

Luke’s way of preparing Ali for her inevitable disappointment by him is to, with her help, solve all her problems. He works to find out who really took the money, gives her a place to live, encourages her to pursue her dream of owning the flower shop in which she works, and making sure she doesn’t need to use her vibrator. For her part, Ali feeds Luke, soothes his soul, and, whenever he’ll let her, offers him mind-blowing sex.

Luke and Ali are a good match; their relationship felt balanced to me. Ali needs Luke more initially, but, as he spends time away from his real life, Luke begins to crave the peace and pleasure he finds with Ali. The two have smokin’ hot chemistry and the book has a reasonable balance between lusting and acting on that lust. Ms. Shalvis shows Ali and Luke caring for–taking care of–each other in ways that make their falling in love believable. I liked that the book didn’t end with Luke on bended knee–I was worried when I saw it had an epilogue but, fortunately, it’s proposal, wedding, and baby free.

It’s clear where the novel is going from the moment Ali and Luke meet. (The only surprising thing is the identity of the thief.) Reading It Had to Be You is a lot like rewatching a fun TV show: you already know what’s going to happen, you don’t have to pay much attention, and it’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours.

The weakest part of It Had to Be You is that it’s set in Lucky Harbor. I’ve had it with Lucille and her Facebook page, the chocolate chip cookies at the Eat Me Cafe, the teen-age antics that make Sheriff Sawyer’s days a hassle, and the sun sparkling on the enchanting coast. I’m ready to move on to, oh, Seattle where the lovers could meet cute over coffee in Pike Place Market (there would be spillage involved) and then argue about whether is a force for good or for evil (he says it is, she says it’s the Evil Empire of the world.)

That said, there are at least two more Lucky Harbor books in the works. And I bet I’ll read them, skimming through the descriptions of the too quaint little town and enjoying the romance, just as I did in It Had to Be You. I give it a B.

Occasionally easy to please,



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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.


  1. Mandi
    May 23, 2013 @ 09:08:10

    Love this series. Just a fun, nice town with good romance. :)

  2. Anne
    May 23, 2013 @ 10:11:17

    I love these type of small town romances, but I really wish the authors would stop after the three initial books and switch locale. Even with books I love, it seems that trilogy after trilogy in the same town gets a bit tiring after a while. Susan Mallery is the same with Fool’s Gold, and Robyn Carr with Virgin River.

  3. Lana
    May 23, 2013 @ 10:28:44

    @Anne, I am feeling the same way! As much as I love Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallery, Sherryl Woods (Sweet Magnolias and Chesapeake) and such, I wish for a bit of change. @Dabney says it perfectly, it was a good read for the time, but you don’t remember much later.
    That said, I will read the new Shalvis, new Mallery and new Woods, but they aren’t getting re-read or raved about most likely.

  4. Dabney
    May 23, 2013 @ 11:34:55

    @Anne: I like Jill Shalvis’s small town books better than anyone else’s. They’re witty, sexy, and I think she writes hot heroes.

  5. cleo
    May 23, 2013 @ 13:05:00

    Luke’s comment that not all men are assholes reminded of the only dating advice my dad gave me (when I was 19) – “Honey, jusy because you tend to only date losers doesn’t mean all men are losers.” And he was right, both about my lousey taste then amd men in general.

    That’s one thing I like about Jill Shalvis, even though I quit after the third Lucky Harbor book – her heroes are reliabley not assholes.

  6. Dabney
    May 23, 2013 @ 13:41:29

    @cleo: But they often claim they’re not good enough for the girl which makes them even less assholey.

  7. Tinley
    May 23, 2013 @ 17:03:54

    I think your review of this series is spot on! I like Jill Shalvis books, but the sameness is getting to be too much in this series. I’m ready for something else. But, when the next book comes out, I’ll probably read it.

  8. Zoe York
    May 23, 2013 @ 20:43:12

    I’m a diehard Shalvis fan, and this was a no-brainer auto-buy. But I haven’t loved the whole series equally, so I’m excited to read it now that I’ve seen your review.

    “Not all men will disappoint you,” he said. “I don’t mean me. Because I will absolutely disappoint you. But we’re not all assholes, Ali. I can promise you that.”

    Yes, please. A whole book of that would please me greatly.

    (And I don’t mind the Facebook page. :P)

  9. Rosie
    May 24, 2013 @ 05:26:31

    I’m planning to skip this one because I am weary of the samey-ness of Lucky Harbor.
    BUT I will be picking up the next one b/c it’s a friends to lovers story — and oh how I’m a sucker for that. And I can’t think of a Shalvis book with the trope before.

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    May 31, 2013 @ 07:00:18

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