Driven to Distraction
It’s hard to resist trying a series called Lovestruck Librarians. Constance Chen, queen of the Bookmobile, constantly squabbles with Sam Wolcott from the IT department because as her best friend’s brother, she considers him off-limits, and their fighting is the only thing keeping them out of each other’s pants. Then Sam has to travel in Con’s bookmobile to solve some of her IT problems, and once in close quarters, the tension between them is explosive. But Con isn’t interested in commitment, and isn’t interested in motherhood at all. While the idea of this combative couple finding happiness appealed, the execution didn’t really do it for me.
I’ve read romance before where the heroine doesn’t seem like a good match for the hero, but I’ve never read one where the heroine seemed like she’d be better off single. Con is perfectly content on her own, passionate about her work, taking care of her many siblings, gardening, and doing home projects. She enjoys casual sexual relationships and seems fulfilled there as well. As a character, I liked her, but I wasn’t convinced she should be in a relationship. She complains to Sam that boyfriends are always needy, which Sam takes as a challenge to never need or demand anything of Con. That’s not what a relationship ought to be. Sam does everything from delivering gifts to the Bookmobile to bailing out Con’s siblings to cleaning her office to taking her to the hospital when she has pneumonia. Con takes care of Sam just once, when he barfs, and feels quite proud of herself.
This book suffers from severely overwritten, unnatural comedy. Con’s boss’s mood is predictable based on the patterns on her socks, which is silly and twee (and when Con sees her in cupid socks, she can’t possibly imagine what they could signify, which is silly). A couple from a previous book has an over-the-top Jane Eyre fetish, including a Thornfield-themed wedding and a Mr. Rochester stripper. There’s also silly, forced dialogue:
“Is Helen also to blame for the fact that your office appears to be the epicenter of an extremely localized earthquake and/or tornado?”
“Ooooh!” Helen said. “An earthnado! Or maybe a tornquake? Wasn’t there a made-for-TV movie about those on the sci-fi channel?”
The book’s greatest strength is that once Con and Sam get past their should we/shouldn’t we tension, the relationship obstacle is the serious, complicated issue of whether or not a couple should have children. Con, who essentially raised four younger siblings, does not want children, and Sam, who grew up without a family, does. I liked that the author gives both the hero and the heroine justifiable positions. Con is refreshingly unapologetic about not wanting children of her own which is completely in character; I didn’t even think Con should have another adult in her life, let alone a baby. Sam, coming from his broken background, was also plausible as someone who wanted to build a big, loving family. However, the fact that Sam always accommodated Con made me feel like I could predict the resolution to this disagreement chapters in advance. I also disliked the fact that Sam gave parenthood a trial by watching a niece for the weekend – any parent can tell you that’s not a real comparison.
To me, the incorporation of Con’s ethnicity was a mixed success. It was nice to see an author capturing microaggressions, like the patron who compliments native Californian Con on her English. At the same time, this clashes with the fact that the author gives “mangles English idioms” to Con as a quirky character trait. Con’s deeply-prickly, “ice-bitch” attitude can be seen as just Con, but that’s also a stereotype of Asian women. I’m not sure Olivia Dade was thoughtful enough about writing this character in the context of real life.
On the whole, I see strong potential in this writer, if she just relaxes and lets her ideas be themselves. While the “enemy co-workers” theme isn’t perfect, the chemistry between Con and Sam is strong, and the sex scenes are hot (including, yes, one in the Bookmobile). I may check in again with this author in a few more books to see how she’s grown, but I won’t be looking up her backlist.