Ah, new year…new resolve to dive deep into the TBR for the multi-blog TBR Challenge. This month we’re easing in with short reads (novellas, category books, etc..) and so I went pulled out 2004 release In Like Flynn from Harlequin’s now-defunct Flipside line. I didn’t remember having this book, but as soon as I saw the author’s name I knew immediately why I would have picked it up. Dorien Kelly is the author of Do-Over, which is to this day one of my very favorite lawyer romances. Most romances involving the law center on criminal practice, but I’ve always worked in the civil realm and Do-Over a pitch perfect portrayal of what life in a sizable corporate firm is like. Short on glamor, long on drudgery and intense politics.

With this book, Kelly turns her focus to life in a family-run restaurant chain. Annie Rutherford comes from an overachieving family and while she has an MBA, she’s still the black sheep as she works for a pizza chain in Ann Arbor rather than a silk-stocking investment firm or something of that nature. Annie dreams of showing the owner of the chain how to make it into a franchise, but Mr. Donovan has other ideas – he wants to create an Irish pub like one he enjoyed on vacation. He places Annie at the helm of this project and announces that he plans to bring in an Irish consultant to work with her. Faced with the change in her dream business plan as well as an unwanted partner, Annie resolves to freeze out Daniel Flynn – even if he does turn out to be utterly gorgeous when she meets him.

Not only is Daniel gorgeous, but he’s renting a townhouse on Annie’s street and their project will require them to at least behave civilly as they spend lots of time together. Annie’s boss throws research travel trips at them and the chemistry just builds from there. This book was slower to catch my interest than Do-Over in large part because the heroine spends a little too much time belittling herself, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. Kelly’s portrayal of the moderately dysfunctional family business that employs Annie rang true and had just the right amount of crazy to make me laugh rather than roll my eyes. And I really enjoyed Annie and Daniel. The two truly are at opposite places in life, but the ways in which they recognize and work with their conflict feels very real.

The author sums up the heart of the difference between Annie and Daniel in two sentences: “If confidence were a tradable commodity, Daniel Flynn would be a billionaire. And unless she[Annie] picked up this skill, she’d forever be broke.” Daniel has the natural ability to connect with almost anyone he encounters while Annie struggles with body image issues and a feeling of never quite measuring up. As trite as it sounds, Annie spends much of this book learning how to stand up for and love herself because until she does that, she’s not going to appreciate how much Daniel comes to love her. Kelly tells her story with a light touch and plenty of funny moments, but real emotion runs beneath the surface of the tale and that’s what keeps it from feeling like mindless slapstick.

In Like Flynn is one of those examples that shows how good category romance can be. It’s only 218 pages, and the story works completely within that small space. The author creates a vivid setting and strong characters with a minimum of words. I’ve read a lot of romance, but Annie and Daniel stand out as characters and that’s a sign of good writing. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely wonderful. Best of all, Harlequin recently re-released this story as an eBook. If you’re looking for something fun, definitely try this one out. I’d give it a solid B.

– Lynn Spencer