What Janine is Reading, December 2022: Two Contemporary Romances
The Devil Gets His Due by Elizabeth O’Roark
This is the fourth book in O’Roark’s Devils series. Graham and Keeley are stuck planning the wedding reception for Ben (Graham’s brother) and Gemma (Keeley’s best friend) from The Devil You Know together. Keeley, who narrates this section (the book is written in alternating first person POVs), has Graham pegged as a tightwad because he opposes her plan for a lavish event in Santorini and wants it closer to home. She’s shocked that he turns out to be hot.
(Graham is not really cheap, it’s more that Keeley is ridiculously extravagant. I agreed with him on reining in her as far as that, and also the impracticality of expecting elderly relatives to travel to Italy.)
During the party Keeley realizes Graham is gravitating toward her but is too drunk to realize she’s doing the same with him, even though she’s determined to sleep with a cute rock band guitarist. Keeley’s “superpower” is that even when she’s drunk, it doesn’t show, so of course Graham doesn’t realize she should be under the table.
What do you know, Keeley wakes up the next morning to realize she’s in Vegas and married to Graham. Freaked out, she splits before Graham can wake up. When he does he is utterly pissed and disappointed. They have nothing more to do with each other until Graham learns that Keeley is pregnant. Then, in true romance fashion, they move in together.
Graham and Keeley have great chemistry and slowly learn more about each other. Graham has plenty of money, though it takes Keeley a while to catch on to that. Keeley spends like there’s no tomorrow because she doesn’t think there is one–there’s a history of breast cancer in her family and the women of the family die young. It takes Graham a while to learn that, too.
This book combines two tropes, “moving in together because of an unplanned pregnancy” and “got married in Vegas to a near-stranger and I don’t remember it”. I don’t usually care for the second trope but it works here because it’s paired with the first. This combination creates a situation that forces the characters to become acquainted after they are already married (a bit like in a marriage of convenience). They have to confront the reasons they married in the first place, and that held my attention.
I loved Graham to bits (he reminded me a lot of Ben from The Devil You Know). The humor resulting from Keeley’s quirks was good. I was also glad there wasn’t a ton of focus on prenatal stuff . I babysat a lot as a kid (not always by choice) and can never forget that babies are burping, screaming, pooping little things who require constant attention. They are cute and can be very rewarding to have, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t romantic to me.
A big thing to the book’s credit—I usually dislike the trope where the wild child heroine is forced to settle down because of a pregnancy. I often end up feeling that they have been tamed by external factors instead of organically reaching a place where they want to make a change, and it strikes me as sexist and borderline sex-negative. I genuinely didn’t feel that was the case here—even before she met Graham, Keeley envied her friends for having kids, but she chose not to have them herself because she was putting them first. She feared she would die while they still needed her.
The pregnancy resulted from condom *and* IUD failure (unlikely for both to fail at the same time, but definitely not irresponsible, which is more important in my book), yet I never felt like Keeley was trapped; only that she now had to cope with lifelong fears. Her choice to keep the baby fit because she’d always wanted to be a mother, just didn’t permit herself to. Unlike with many other books with the unplanned pregnancy trope, the decision not to get an abortion didn’t make me roll my eyes.
I was annoyed with Keeley for wanting a thousand-dollar stroller and other designer items when she didn’t have much money left in the bank, and also confused about how she had led such an expensive life before that. She had just finished med school, and tuition costs at medical schools are enormous. There was no mention of a trust fund or windfall. But I liked how for all of her flightiness she turned out to be quite intelligent. Her effervescence was delightful too.
Graham was just about my dream hero for a contemporary. Sexy, strong, snarky, supportive, sweet and did I say sexy? Except for one incident that felt contrived.
There more drama than necessary toward the end and the book’s take on homelessness (Keeley has a homeless neighbor/friend who is a former investment manager) wasn’t realistic and I don’t think it was intended to be. It was played up for humor and to portray Keeley’s niceness and friendliness. Though it was amusing, it also rang an uncomfortable note when contrasted with Keeley’s extravagant spending.
On the whole, though, I liked this book a lot. Straight B (Give me more heroes like Graham, please!).
Second Best by Noelle Adams
Commenter Jenreads recommended this sexy contemporary. In its first pages, Sean and Ashley meet up at a hotel to have sex for the first time. Ash is in love with a co-worker who has never looked at her twice, and Sean is the successful businessman who signed a deal with her firm. They’ve come across each other in a work context and once, when Ashley was upset (over John’s indifference to her), Sean followed her into a bar where she shared her woes and a hot kiss with him.
Now, as they meet at the hotel room Sean rented, Ashley spots a contract that Sean had drawn up—a contract for a strings-free, weekly-sex-only relationship. Since they’ve never had sex before Ashley asks Sean how he knows she’ll like the sex enough to sign it. But he promises that she will, and she does.
Then they meet every Wednesday to fog up the windows, and Ashley gets to know Sean better. She’s already aware that his fiancée died two years earlier, but now she gets a glimpse of his vulnerability. She notices that he’s disappointed on the occasions when she can’t stay, yet she constantly thinks of herself as being “second best” in his life. This got annoying after a while because it wasn’t consistent. How could she notice all these things and not realize he was starting to want more than the stipulated arrangement?
(The way the term “second best” was inserted near the end of each chapter was repetitive enough to irritate me too.)
The book kept me reading, though. I really liked the subplot about Ashley’s crush on her co-worker John. It was a way for her convince herself that her relationship with Sean wasn’t serious and he too was her “second best,” – they were equal. As the story progressed there were little signs that Sean was getting jealous of John.
Because Ashley described herself as ordinary to the point of being invisible, I felt like a piece of the story was missing — I wanted more information about how Sean and Ashley met, what attracted him enough that he followed her to the bar even though they didn’t know each other. Why Ashley opened up to him, and when and how it clicked for him that he wanted their long-term arrangement before he even had sex with her. If something about Ashley’s invisibility resonated with Sean on some level, I wish it had been shown, because she seemed bland to me. She didn’t have enough personality to make up for her ordinariness in other ways, IMO.
I also thought there was just a little too much sex. I say this because the sex (A) was pretty vanilla, with a couple of exceptions, (B) didn’t leave room for a more informative opening, and (C) in some cases didn’t move the story forward. The proportion of sex scenes to everything else felt off to me. The scenes were also only partially sexy—sexy because Sean was confident and hot but not so much because of what Ashley was feeling.
I loved Sean. He is such a great character, a guy with integrity and generosity in bed and so much charisma on the page. He reminded me just a little bit of Ilya from Rachel Reid’s Heated Rivalry and The Long Game, but without the smartass aspect. Very charismatic, sexy, good in bed, confident.
Though the trope of a relationship that begins with two people regularly meeting up for sex but not dating outside of those meetings is a bit overused these days, it’s one I’ve always liked. There is something that fascinates me about putting the cart before the horse.
There was a short slow patch in the middle but the last few chapters were terrific; I always appreciate it when a book ends on a high note.
This was a strong book, mainly because Sean is such a sexy hero. It’s pretty short (60,000 words, or 260 pages) and I finished it in two days which is very fast for me. I’ve now read three books by Noelle Adams and this is my favorite of them. B/B+.