Desert Isle Keeper
Between the Sheets
I just re-read Molly O’Keefe’s Between the Sheets and was surprised to find out we actually don’t have a review of it in the database. It’s a strong story that manages, in a couple of areas, to be truly exceptional, and is well worth a read.
Shelby Monroe, an art teacher in Bishop, Arkansas, doesn’t have an easy time of it. Her mother, Evie, who endured an abusive marriage while being one of the only women factory managers in her generation, now has progressively worsening Alzheimer’s, and Shelby feels bound to care for her at home. Shelby’s late father abused Shelby as well, causing Shelby to develop an icy, indifferent exterior. The problem is, beneath that shell, she likes intense and rough sex, and she can’t figure out how to open up for a trusting relationship that would make her sexual preferences safe. The last man she hooked up with ended up describing “fucking [her] like an animal” on live national televison. Shelby can’t figure out what’s worse – that he said it, or that nobody believes her capable of it.
Meanwhile, Ty Svenson has settled in Bishop with Casey, the son he only found out about four months ago. Casey’s a fifth grader with a lot of baggage from a rootless and dangerous childhood with his mother, who has just been arrested on drug charges. Ty has no idea how to deal with him. When an artwork Casey draws for Shelby gets him pulled into the principal’s office, Ty realizes that the new setting isn’t helping his problems with his son to magically disappear.
If you can’t already tell from how long it took me to just introduce the characters, this is a richly developed book. I haven’t even described Ty’s career (he refurbishes vintage motorcycles and auctions them) or Shelby’s second job (art camps at a barn on her property). I haven’t talked about Ty’s negligent parents and caretaker grandfather, or about what Casey does when a classmate tells him to look up the video where Shelby’s sex life is described, or about Evie’s volatile Alzheimer’s tantrums and hoarding, and Shelby’s lack of sleep. In so many books, just finding one well-developed detail is a prize. Between the Sheets has a whole treasure trove of them.
I have two small complaints and one large one. Small complaint #1: characters from previous Bishop books are in here, and while they are nowhere near as grating as the worst former-hero/ine cameos, they are also nowhere near as seamless and purposeful as the best. Small complaint #2: Ty has a kneejerk ‘don’t medicate my kid’ reaction when Shelby suggests that Casey needs help. Medication can be a hugely valuable and necessary part of managing mental health, and even if Ty has inaccurate views, at least have Shelby, as an education professional, speak up against stigma.
The larger complaint: Shelby’s martyr complex and refusal to see reality about her mother’s needs is never fully resolved by the author. At the book’s climax, Shelby blames Casey, a child, for a serious situation about her mother, and makes her own emotional reaction the center of the situation. It’s a fully believable character moment, but the author rushes the resolution. Ty cannot let Shelby back into Casey’s life until Shelby deals with her problems, but from all appearances (the book time-jumps to the epilogue) he does. We don’t see any evidence of Shelby getting the therapy she desperately needs. She also, according to the epilogue, keeps her mother at home for months even after this incident. This means she has prioritized her own emotional need to see herself as caring for and protecting her mother over her mother’s physical need to be actually cared for and protected. As with the anti-medication comments, I felt this ‘Keep them at home until and even after it’s unsafe’ message was both bad for the character and harmful to readers. If you’re reading this and caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s – it is not just okay; it is right to place them where they are safe. When that time comes, you are not a failure for doing so.
And yet. It is SO HARD to write authentically difficult heroines. Shelby has a huge amount of work to do on herself and I wish the author had shown more of it, but I’m so grateful to see a messed up heroine making bad choices. I’m also grateful that the author really digs into the actual, real-life stresses of being a parent and an adult child in a parental role. I’m all for the drama of billionaires and mafiosi, but romance has a real shortage of books where the conflict is ‘How do I do my best in the face of this common but devastating challenge?’”
Oh, and you can’t review a Molly O’Keefe book without praising the sex scenes. Because damn, she can write sex. And it’s the best kind of sex scene – the kind that is intricately connected to the characters and their relationship. When Shelby and Ty agree that they both need a hot escape, they have spectacularly scorching sex. She asks Ty not to tell people about it, and, not knowing her past, he mistakes ‘don’t talk about fucking me on national television’ for ‘“I’m keeping you as a dirty secret”/ Unless… he hasn’t mistaken anything, because why will she fuck him but not go to dinner? UGH, it’s SO RICH.
Although this book doesn’t quite clear the fences, I appreciate so much that it swings for them. And since this is my third re-read, I can definitely vouch that it’s worthy of that Desert Island shelf space. Consequently, I give the flawed but fascinating Between the Sheets an A-, and encourage you to give it a try.
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
|Review Date:||March 24, 2023|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||Arkansas | mild d/s | realistic parenting | single dad | Teacher | The Boys of Bishop series|
This series, especially books one, three (this one), and four are excellent. I’m thrilled to see this review!