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vacation romance

REVIEW:  Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

REVIEW: Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna


Dear Ms. McKenna:

During a vacation around ten years ago, I observed a couple of teenagers beginning a flirtation in the hotel pool. It made me wistful for those unexpected, thrilling crushes of adolescence, those miniature relationships that sometimes happened when two strangers around the same age wound up in the same place for awhile. Although the main characters are adults — thank goodness! — Her Best Laid Plans captures the pleasure of that experience, and let me enjoy it vicariously again.

Jamie is disappointed in her first night in Ireland. After putting her life plans on hold for years for her boyfriend — and then getting dumped — she’s now yearning for adventure and cute Irish guys, but the only pub she can find is full of men her dad’s age. Then as if on cue, a gorgeous young bartender named Connor takes over the bar, ready to listen to her tale of woe:

‘I hope you’ll find the young men of Ireland sympathetic to your plight.’
She laughed. ‘I hope I’ll be able to find any young men on this trip, period.’
Connor looked demonstrably to either side and then down at his own chest, and held his arms out in mock surprise to say, Behold, a young man, at your service!

As Jamie psychs herself up to take advantage of this “made-to-order vacation fling,” the language of the story continued to evoke the thrill of the unexpected youthful romance:

“The excitement and the possibility, the newness… it charged her, thrumming as surely as the bike between her legs.”

“It all felt so tenuous, like a middle school crush. She had to remind herself, I could probably have him if I wanted to.

“…why did she feel fifteen again, dizzy from a guy’s touch?” And Connor, we learn, has similar feelings: “I’m some skinny kid again, trying not to make an arse of myself with a girl.”

Jamie and Connor aren’t extremely young — she’s 23, he’s 28 — but they’re both still embarking on adult life, not yet settled down. Jaime can see they’re well matched by observing Connor’s living space:

His apartment looked just right. Not sophisticated, but not immature. Suspended between the two, just as she was herself.

Mind you, this is most definitely an adult story. Things heat up fairly quickly and then stay heated (within mainstream romance limits.) But I was less captivated by the most passionate sex Jamie and Connor engaged in than by their first provocative teasing of each other, over a game of snooker:

‘Would you fancy making this a bit more interesting?’
‘How so?’
‘Friendly wager?’ Flirtatious wager, to judge by his tone.
‘How much?’
‘Name your prize.’
She thought a moment. ‘If I win, a glass of your finest whiskey. On the rocks.’
‘Fair play.’
And if you win?’ She leaned in, cocking the cue along her thumb and knuckle.
‘If I win… if I win…’
His fingers drummed the table’s ledge until Jamie raised her eyes.
‘Your finest kiss,’ he said with a devil’s smile. ‘On the mouth.’

[Jamie has won]

‘You deserve a taste of this yourself, for saying so.’
He eyed the bar, finding his customers placated. ‘You’re a bad influence.’
She shrugged and took another sip. The whiskey was making her feel bold in the most natural, essential way.
Connor nodded his surrender. ‘Fine. That’s top-shelf — I won’t say no.’
With a smile, she took one more generous taste, than rose on her tiptoes. He caught on just in time, leaning in to bridge the gap. Their noses brushed first, then their lips. She held the glass between them, one of his shirt buttons teasing her knuckles — a strange and perfect little intimacy. A different sort arrived as their lips met, the contact rocking through her with a sharp, hot bolt.
All at once woozy, she kept it brief — just enough of a kiss to let him taste her winnings, then she dropped back on her heels.

The downside is that nothing that followed was as delicious as that initial kiss. Their physical relationship continues to be almost dully perfect: Jamie rhapsodizes that it’s like they already know each other. From her point of view that’s great, but we’re not learning much about them as people, or as a couple, though the sex — and since it’s a short, steamy novella, there isn’t much place else to put characterization or depth of emotion. The only conflict is the limited amount of time they have before Jamie’s return to Boston — although you could argue that Jamie’s reluctance to once again get sidetracked by a man is also a conflict. In any event, I never felt very invested in their sexual relationship; I liked both characters and appreciated how their story eventually worked out, but there was no compelling reason to care all that much that they were getting it on.

At its heart this is a story about new beginnings — even the ending is a beginning. It didn’t have a whole lot of punch to it otherwise, but that aspect was just right.  C+



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REVIEW:  Down for the Count by Christine Bell

REVIEW: Down for the Count by Christine Bell

Dear Ms. Bell:

What a totally fun, sexy, and contemporary romance. The story is driven by well known tropes but the writing and the characters made it a fresh read.

Down for the Count by Christine BellLacey Garrity finds her husband with a bridesmaid during the wedding reception and flees on the back of her best friend’s brother’s motorcycle. The brother, Galen Thomas, and Lacey have known each other for years and while there’s always been a spark of attraction between the two, by the time the two were old enough to date they always had partners.

Galen convinces Lacey to go on her already paid for honeymoon in San Juan and says he’ll come with her.  They go and have a fantastic time during which Galen urges Lacey to overcome her tendencies to hold back.

The one bad thing about the book is the lack of surprises.  The story uses gimmicks to create sexual tension like a high school game of I Never wherein Lacey reveals her inability to orgasm while have sex with a man.  This, of course, only serves to bait Galen into taking action.  He’ll show her how it is done.  Lacey’s marriage to Marty was done for a business deal, a merger although I didn’t really quite understand it because Lacey’s family business was a law firm but nevertheless it was an easy way for Lacey to feel both bound by familial obligations to Marty but also excuse her quick emotional recovery from their marriage bonds being severed.

Despite the well worn path and predictable nature of the story, the fun dialogue and the good natured characters propel the reader quickly through the story.  It takes some obvious suspension of disbelief to buy into the holiday romance, even with the pre existing relationship because a) she’s coming off of her marriage to another man and b) it happens so quickly.

The chemistry between Lacey and Galen is obvious and Galen’s honest and frank appreciation for Lacey was sexy and entertaining.  There was one scene in the story that had me laughing out loud even though I was skeptical that Galen wouldn’t have caught on to the signals another couple was sending them both.

Galen is a boxer, hence the title, and while the references to his boxing was minimal, it was believable and decently integrated in way that didn’t dominate the story such that sports enthusiasts and those who are disinterested could still appreciate the story.

Lacey shows the most character growth, despite the short time span, and it comes off as fairly authentic.  As she is helped to find security in her person, she is more capable of handling the challenges externally, like standing up to her mother or pursuing the man of her dreams.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit and think most readers looking for a quick, fun, sexy read would not be disappointed.  B-

Best regards,