REVIEW: Here Comes the Groom by Karina Bliss
Dear Ms. Bliss,
Jane sent me Here Comes the Groom after I told her how much I loved your last book, What the Librarian Did. Like What the Librarian Did, Here Comes the Groom takes a fairly cliched romance novel convention and gives it the kind depth and re-charge that I think is lacking in so many contemporaries.
Here Comes the Groom is a best friends to lovers story. Jo and Dan have been BFF since childhood. They know each other and understand each others’ weaknesses and strengths like few other people do. And they’ve always had a platonic relationship. Or they did until that awkward night over a year ago when a very drunk Jo made a pass at Dan just before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan. Nothing came to pass from the pass, as Dan rejected Jo’s advances. But now Dan is back in their New Zealand town of Beacon Bay insisting on cashing in on their old marriage agreement-‘a promise scrawled on the back of a menu years ago due to heartbreak and booze. At first, Jo thinks he’s joking, but it quickly becomes clear that Dan is dead serious about wanting to marry her. To complicate matters, there’s Jo’s rapidly deteriorating grandmother, Dan’s feuding parents, and a lot of nosy townsfolk. In the summary version, this book sounds like every contemporary romance you’ve ever read.
But it’s not.
Before I talk about what makes this book great, I want to talk about the pitfalls of contemporary romance because it is those very pitfalls that you so beautifully avoid while still using the conventions and tropes that we all like to see to energize the story-‘all of which, ultimately, make it a satisfying read.
The problem with contemporary romance is that it always feels like somebody’s mom wrote it in 1983. By which I mean, that even though the characters are supposed to be around my age (25-39ish), they all sound like were rounded up at a mid-1980’s romantic comedy anachronism convention with all the quasi-post-second-wave-feminism gender politics associated therewith and executed with the kind of heavy-handed myopia you usually attribute to aging relations political opinions. You know what I mean. It is the story in which the hard-headed business woman-‘who may or may not be wearing shoulder-pads despite it being 1998-‘has to be taught the value of family and American value systems via the sexy, sexy courtship of a small-town, blue collar mechanic who reads Dickens and possibly has either an orphaned child or an orphaned dog to raise. The hero, invariably, has to learn to love again after the death/abandonment of his wife/mother/flighty younger sister and is also, possibly, in the process of trying to save the dying family business. Together they save the economy of Treacle Town just in time for Christmas/The Big Festival of Celebratoriness/The appearance of badly dressed businessmen. If it is a 1980’s teen romantic comedy, there also may or may not be a downhill ski-race and/or boat race that will save Grandpa Nick’s estate/bed & breakfast. This is also the plot to every Hallmark Christmas movie, all of which have aired within the last 3 weeks and all of which I have seen. Along with this entree of romance, you can choose five of the following side-dishes to mix and match: a wedding, a dog, a child, interfering parents, interfering friends, a Big Misunderstanding regarding a smoking hot member of the opposite sex who always turns out to be either gay or a sister, a sudden fear of commitment when no fear of commitment existed prior (let’s call the Deus Ex Matriphobia), the re-appearance of an ex-flame, and a serial killer.
A lot of people complain about the lack of historical accuracy in historical romance novels. Nobody complains about the lack of historical accuracy in contemporary romance novels. In fact, I would argue that there is more historical inaccuracy in contemporaries, and it is, in my not-so humble opinion, a much less forgivable sin. Presumably, the authors of contemporaries live now and thus should be aware of their own historical context. Alas, this is not the case as above aforementioned plot devices detail.
Which brings me back to Here Comes the Groom. On the surface your books uses a lot of these tropes, but it never descends into a cliché. If I had to summarize what I think the skill of a good romance author its, then it is this ability. To use what everyone loves about the romance genre, without letting those conventions take over. And you do this really well. Jo runs a newspaper that her grandfather and grandmother started. Dan’s a sheep farmer and ex-soldier. Jo’s trying to save her business. Dan’s trying to woo Jo. Jo’s gran is sick. Dan helps her. Dan’s parents are fighting. Jo helps him. Dan’s suffering from PTSD. Jo helps him deal with it. There’s a wedding. There are wacky friends who do wacky things. But all of these aspects are used with a great deal of thought and care.
To illustrate my point, let us take the opening scene of the book. Jo’s drunk and in the process of seducing a some yuppie schmo for a one night-stand, when she runs into Dan, who is on his way to the Middle East with his unit:
"Who cares?" Jo planted his palm against her curves.
"Tell me I'm sexy again."
Brad's brown eyes darkened and he smiled, spreading his fingers to encompass her breast. Leaning closer, he opened his mouth to speak.
Jo jerked her head around to see who the deep, masculine drawl belonged to. "Dan!"
Her instinctive delight at seeing her oldest friend subsided into embarrassment as he took in her slutty top, the scarlet lipstick and Brad's intimate caress. Grabbing her pickup's fingers, she tried to act casual. "What are you doing here?" She enunciated her words carefully so Dan wouldn't know how drunk she was. "Weren't you on a surf trip down south?"
Amused, he lifted his teal-blue eyes from her pushedup cleavage. "No swell- When I heard you were on your own in the Big Smoke, I figured you could use some company." Dan grinned, shrugging his wide shoulders. "Guess I figured wrong." Turning to Brad, he held out a hand. "Dan Jansen-I grew up with Jo in Beacon Bay."
Brad tried to disentangle from Jo's restraining grip.
"Brad Wilson. I met her tonight."
"Rea-a-ally?" Dan drawled and she felt the beginning of a blush. "Relax, Swannie," he added. "What happens in Auckland stays in Auckland."
The two men shook hands and Jo squirmed as she watched Brad deliver a bone-crusher. Dan responded by stroking the other man's knuckle with his thumb. Brad couldn't release fast enough. Her best friend looked at her. You can't be serious.
The best part about this scene is that Dan isn’t concerned that Jo is interested in a one-night-stand with a douchie investment banker, but that Jo’s drunk. When he ruins it for Jo, he does mostly just by being there and freaking the guy out. When he figures out it mattered to her, he’s sorry. The point is Jo and Dan are friends.
Dan looked skeptical, and impatiently Jo jiggled her up-thrust cleavage. "Isn't it obvious I dressed to get laid?"
"Can you quit bouncing those things in front of me?"He sounded irritated. "You're making me feel like a pervert."
"That's because all guys are shallow."
"Yeah, and you're only interested in Brad's personality."
"My point is," she said, sticking doggedly to it, "quit with the third degree. I'm not chasing blue-chip investment here. Bad-‘I mean, Brad and I are all about mutual-asset stripping and quick returns."
"You wouldn't have sex with him if you weren't drunk though, would you?"
"Tracy," said Jo. "Mandy- Shall I go on? Angie."
He held up his hands. "Fine, you've made your point, I'll say goodbye and disappear."
In the time between this conversation and the beginning of the story proper, a lot of things happen to Dan. He loses two of his close friends-‘one of them his cousin-‘in an ambush while in Afghanistan. When he comes home for good, he immediately puts a wedding announcement in the paper without even talking to Jo first.
Jo’s reluctance is understandable. Based on this behavior she has every reason to believe that this wedding thing is somehow related to Dan’s PTSD and his unaddressed grief over the loss of his friends. Plus, you know, he totally rejected her one pass at him. Jo believes that marrying Dan under these circumstances would be wrong. She also believes this because of a secret of her own, one that she’s been keeping from Dan. Not out of contrived Big Misunderstanding-ness, but because she didn’t/doesn’t want to further burden him when he needs time to recover from the death of his friends.
Besides her secret, Jo’s grandmother-‘the woman who raised her-‘has dementia. Everyday her grandmother forgets a little more, confuses Jo with her dead mother, confuses the year. Jo knows she needs to put her in a home, but she can’t let her go. On top of all this emotional and family fall-out, Jo is in the process of trying to save the newspaper business her grandparents’ built. Jo’s refusal to marry Dan makes total sense.
Dan, in the meantime, struggles throughout the book to come to terms with his feelings for Jo, which he isn’t even sure about when he starts this whole wedding business. He also has to learn to let go of the deep sense of guilt he has for not being on the mission when his unit was attacked. He has to come to terms with his sense of responsibility for the death of his friends, his inability to face his godson, and the real reason he wants to marry Jo. Add to that bag of mess the fact that his family is falling apart-‘and not in a quirky, cute way-‘and the man has a lot on his plate.
You convey the complexity of emotions-‘the love, the attraction, the doubts, the other obligations, the fears, the hopes, the exasperation and frustration, etc.-‘that both Jo and Dan feel for each other. But for all that, it is still a funny and delightful romance. You never reduce Jo into a ball-breaking business woman or a petulant child. Nor do you make Dan’s stubborn refusal to accept Jo’s "no" for answer the act of an "Alpha-hole." And that, right there, is why this story is so satisfying. You allow a breadth and depth of emotion for the characters, but you still make it fun to reader. The term is one you coin later in the book. But it isn’t said about Dan. The phrase shows up when Jo calls Dan’s best army buddy an alpha-hole:
Ignoring Jo, Ross opened Delwyn's door. She was leaning against it and toppled sideways with a tipsy giggle. "Oops!"
He caught her falling weight, instinctively bracing on his bad leg. A grimace of pain tightened his features.Diving forward, Jo propped Delwyn to a sitting position.
"Don't you ever listen to good advice?"
"I'm fine." Under the motion-activated outdoor lights his face was ashen.
"Let me guess," she said, exasperated. "Pain is weakness leaving the body." It was a favorite saying of the Special Forces. And in Jo's view, an idiotic one.
"You've got a smart mouth on you, Swannie."
"And you're a stubborn alpha-hole. Go wait in the car."
Clearly, Jo is awesome.
You set up complex people with complex problems and you don’t let those complex problems be solved by magical sex. Jo and Dan are forced to confront their problems, their feelings for each other and deal with the baggage both of them have from being human. Nobody is a virgin. This is the story of how two close friends, stay friends and become lovers. It is the story of how two strong-willed, independent people who’ve been damaged a lot-‘not by crazy melodramatic things like twins being switched at birth, but by things that happen to people you know-‘learn to lean on each other, and love each other even though they are both still damaged, and may never be whole again. That’s a much better love story than a hard-headed businesswoman/man learning that Christmas is a magical time of year. I will continue to look for your titles in the future because I know now that I can trust you to build complex and interesting characters who actually sound as if they belong to the 21st century. A.
Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony| eHarlequin
Ohh, a book set in the antipodes that is great means that I will have to brave the horror of the Harlequin ebook store because it will almost certainly not be available at the two places that sell Harlequin/Mills & Boon. Thanks for a review which highlights all the issues I have with contemporary romance and why a contemporary read these days for me, is more and more likely to be an m/m. I really agree that many of the issues are to do with poor world building which is actually a failure to think about the culture, space and time we inhabit and see that environment is as much a character shaping possibilities and outcomes as the hero and heroine.
“If I had to summarize what I think the skill of a good romance author its, then it is this ability. To use what everyone loves about the romance genre, without letting those conventions take over. ”
I’ll take it! I really have to read this author. Great review.
This is easily one of the best book reviews I’ve ever read.
What cead said. I’d given up on categories and you made me want to go give this one a try.
Great review and great choice of excerpts. I have the author’s previous book in my tbr pile, and I’m definitely getting this one.
This is the main reason I don't read a lot of comtemps. They don't feel contemporary. Most of them feel like the heroine has the social mores of their mother (or grandmother). And while I'm sure these kind of women exist (and are, perhaps, accurate reflections of the women writing them), I can't relate.
I've been trying to read more of the genre via the â€œSave the Contemporaryâ€ campaign, but it's still hit or miss for me, and I've yet to find a category romance that I like (What the Librarian Did was DNF for me, I couldn't get past the melodrama with the secret baby subplot).
But I have discovered that I like Victoria Dahl's contemps (her historicals, not so much) and Julie James. Plus, I've always liked Jami Alden, Bella Andre, Jennifer Skully (so bummed that she's not writing those anymore), and Jenny Crusie (though I haven't cared for her new co-authored stuff).
I always look forward to your book reviews, Lazaruspaste! And this is another excellent one.
I sincerely love the reviews you do here at Dear Author and it’s a must stop for me most everyday. And here again, you don’t disappoint. I’m so glad to see Karina Bliss’s book received a glowing review :) I’m also very glad to see Superromance featured more and more out in Romancelandia.
As a Superromance author, I’m happy to share shelfspace with a superb author like Karina. And I will say this to many people who’ve shoved Superromances aside – things have been changing at our line. Come March the Superrromance will grow bigger and meatier, there are new authors who know who Kesha is and don’t dress their heroines in jumpers, and there is more variety in plot. I have to say that in the five books I’ve written, I’ve had no secret babies. I’m kinda proud of that :) So, I think our line is heading in a better direction and I’m glad to see reviewers recognizing that.
Loved the review…you made me laugh several times. Something I really needed:) And, yes, I like smiley faces. LOL.
This is a fantastic review. And a big old YES to this:
I loved this book too. But the ending baffled me. I really didn’t understand how Jo’s solution was supposed to help Dan. It just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the book, and it dropped my grade to a B. Plus, I thought that Jo’s issues kinda got pushed to the side. I think the book would have benefited from a longer word count.
I did love Jo and Dan’s friendship, and I was so happy that neither of them spent years secretly pining for the other one. I also loved the relationship between Jo and her grandmother. There was so much poignancy in that relationship.
While reading this book, I spent half the time in tears, and the other half laughing. And I just loved Jo. She was an amazing heroine. I just wish the ending made more sense to me.
I read “What The Librarian Did” after all the great buzz. I saw that Ms. Bliss had talent and her writing style was memorable but it wasn’t a keeper for me. I only decided to pick up “Here Comes The Groom” after Jane recommended it in her monthly round up (& eHarlequin was having a mega sale.*g*) I am very glad I did! =)
Your review is fabulous(!) and on point. I felt as if I was dropped into a real couples’ lives. It was sweet, feisty, poignant, real yet romantically hopeful. I loved it lots. The subplot with her Nan hit so close to home at times I had to stop reading b/c I was getting all choked up.
I am so happy I did not overlook this little gem. Between Sarah Mayberry & Karina Bliss, the HQ SuperRomance line is quickly becoming my favorite.
I’m going to have to pick up a Karina Bliss. Wonderful review! And interesting comments on contemps being less accurate than historicals. I think you’re on to something. But I will say, as a reader, I’m way more forgiving of contemporaries. I can’t say why exactly, but I believe I’m drawn to historicals because of the world-building and am depending on them to provide me that in a way that I don’t depend on contemps. But I’m sure every reader comes to these subgenres differently.
Great review for what sounds like a great book! But I have a question. Can someone who’s read the book put the cover scene into some context? I’m curious about the seeming juxtoposition of what she’s wearing – a wedding dress – vs. what he’s wearing – which looks like jeans and a T-shirt.
I loved your analysis of the clichÃ© contemporary romance novel plot!
Karina Bliss rocks. I have now read her entire backlist, and she is at the top of my auto-read list for her subtle, adult characters and sensitive storytelling. She’s a smart, funny and very emotional writer. Keep feeding my addiction, Karina!
normally I’m not a category reader, but this review makes me want to read the book
I read and really enjoyed What the Librarian Did and that sent me on a glom of all her books. The only reason I haven’t read this one yet is I decided to wait until Jan. to see what Feb books I can get at Harlequin *g*. It’s good to see that this book is another winner.
Great review! Can’t wait to read the book! Karina Bliss was my major discovery of 2010… I simply adored her What the Librarian Did. Looking forward to more wonderful works by Bliss.
@Tamara Hogan She is trying on a wedding dress.
@Dana S I loved the OTT ending. To me, it was Jo’s way of proving to Dan that he could still trust himself; that she trusted and believed in him. His friend, Alpha-hole whose name escapes me right now, talked about why they called Dan Shep, short for Shepherd. He was their shepherd who always got them home safe but Dan’s confidence in himself; his ability to lead was all shot when he was the survivor of a mission he missed because of a toothache.
So the ending was about him still having the ability to be the shepherd he was before the tragedy. He didn’t need the marriage to Jo to make him okay again. HIs marriage to Jo was because he loved her, not because she or the marriage could heal him.
@Jen X It’s kind of amazing, once you start reading categories, at how many really good authors there are in those lines.
Great book! A worthy follow-on to What the Librarian Did, which is an extremely hard act to follow.
I really laughed at your description of the cliched contemp. It’s not new although its form has changed. When I was a teenager it was young heroine who didn’t like that noisy modern music. Elizabeth Peters wrote the first romantic suspense novel I remember when the heroine actually seemed her age– and did like that noisy modern music.
It’s not just romances though, it’s also cozy mysteries. I don’t know if there is some antediluvian maid aunt out there somewhere that certain publishers ask their writers to imagine as their ideal reader.
@Tamara Hogan: She tries on her grandmother’s wedding dress to humour her senile grandmother and then gets stuck in it, so he helps her undo the zip.
This was one of my favourite books of 2010. I loved Jo and Dan and all the subplots. I laughed and cried and willed them on to their very well-deserved happy ending. Which is a real happy ending, in a world where there are still going to be lots of hard things to face and no certainties that everything will work out, but they will have each other to lean on through those tough times.
Ahh shucks, guys. Thanks.
If you haven’t read What the Librarian Did y’all should also read that one. Excellent characterizations.
@liztalley: Superromances are going to get bigger? Yay! I’d fallen away from the line a few years ago when they seemed to get shorter and shorter, around the same page count as other, traditionally shorter books in other Harlequin series, but getting back the longer, more intricate books I fondly recall from the 90’s and prior, could very well bring me back.
I forgot to say, Karina Bliss also had a Christmas novella out recently, Kiss Me, Santa, in the That Christmas Feeling anthology from Superromance. A lovely story.
I love all of Karina’s books. Here Comes the Groom is at the very top of my TBR pile. Can’t wait.
By which I mean, that even though the characters are supposed to be around my age (25-39ish), they all sound like were rounded up at a mid-1980â€²s romantic comedy anachronism convention with all the quasi-post-second-wave-feminism gender politics associated therewith and executed with the kind of heavy-handed myopia you usually attribute to aging relations political opinions.
I want to marry this sentence and have babies with it. After it teaches me about the evils of being an ambitious woman and convinces me to move to a small town, that is.
I loved this book, too, but even with Jane’s explanation I just don’t get the stunt before the wedding. Despite that (for me) it still was a wonderful book. She’s a go to author for me!
I just want to say that I finished this book last night and loved it. This is an awesome review. This book made me giggle and it made me cry, and any author that can do that goes on my autobuy list.
“A lot of people complain about the lack of historical accuracy in historical romance novels. Nobody complains about the lack of historical accuracy in contemporary romance novels. In fact, I would argue that there is more historical inaccuracy in contemporaries,”
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. This is EXACTLY why I’ve mostly given up on contemporary romance; (save the occasional thriller). Heroines who act more like they’re from the 1950’s than the 21st century. Most of them act like they’ve never even SEEN a man’s willy.
Not to mention the millions of “baby” plots. I think the last time I looked at the catagory romances, 75% of them had a BABY on the cover. Wow. Just what I want to see when I pick up a ROMANCE novel.
Thank you for such an awesome review and it inspired me to pick this one up, which says a lot believe me considering the fact that this one will probably be my only het romance read in January :)
I thought the book was awesome, however ending I thought was incredibly silly and for me dropped the book from A to B. I mean I understood the idea behind that stupidity (IMO) and what Jo wanted to prove to Dan, but the specific thing that she pulled, I was like really? My estimation of Jo’s awesomeness dropped quite a few points, I now think that her IQ is significantly less than I thought before she decided to do this thing.
Thank you for the review.
I don’t particularly want to read the book even after this great review…but I just wanted to say I really like how you write!!
The OTT ending spoiled the whole book for me. I liked it up until that point. We’re asked to deal with the grim reality of cancer, dementia and PTSD, but then asked to make the giant fantasy leap (trying not to be a spoiler here) that deep true friends would actually treat Dan the way they do. Seems to me that the sheer personal violation of the act they employ with him (hello, can you say assault?) would only contribute to his PTSD.
Lisa A, I totally agree, but what also bugged me in the ending is that while the idea to do something to help Dan with overcoming his PTSD (not as if it is going to go away fast no matter what) was understandable, it just seemed so unbelievably silly to me. I mean, Dan suffered over not being able to do something for real, and she *created* the artificial situation, so how the heck this was supposed to help anyway?
I loved Joe throughout the book, but at the end I felt that her brain just did not work.
@Lisa A: @Sirius11214:
I agree with both. I just finished this tonight and, up until the OTT stunt, this was a solid “A” book for me as well. For the reasons you two identified, the grade dropped down to a “B” for me. I can see the stated reason (though I think Jane did a better job explaining it than the author did), but it just seemed foolish and childish, out of sync with what I was expecting from Jo. Also, I think the so-called resolution made too light of Dan’s obvious PTSD, seemingly reinforcing his claim that he doesn’t have it and no counseling is necessary — a good hike would solve the problem.
I bought Karina Bliss’s debut novel Mr. Imperfect last night and finished it tonight. It is another solid B/B+ read for me. The relationship isn’t as good as the ones in Here Comes the Groom and What the Librarian Did, and the h/h both seem to have more hangups. But the reader really sees the growth in the hero, and you can’t help but root for him toward the end. Now I’m going to look for more of KB’s backlist ebook releases.
Read this review, went immediately to amazon and bought the eBook and finished about half an hour ago.
That was a really fun, touching, fresh and satisfying read.
I cried for Jo, whooped for Dan and cringed when the ladies were on the dance floor. It was great!
So glad it was written and reviewed here. Gave my Tuesday a late night (early morning?), and totally worth it.