Desert Isle Keeper
Falling for Trouble
I feel like I should make no bones about it at this point; I love Sarah Title. After indulging in her playful novel Practice Makes Perfect, she’s become one of my favorite authors, so it’s no real shock that her latest Falling for Trouble is an immensely enjoyable read. What, I just know you’re asking, makes this story so special?
Joanna Green was well on her way to superstardom. Lead guitarist for an all-female rock band named Bunny Slippers, she’d just had a top selling record, been signed to a major label and was headed out on tour as the opening act for The Penny Lickers when Joanna froze up onstage at the first stop and then threw an onstage tantrum after realizing what the commercialization of the band’s sound was doing to its quality. This led to her being kicked out of the band she’d founded and guided to the big time, and then dismissed from both label and tour. When Joanna’s grandmother, Peggy, breaks her leg while walking her elderly poodle, Starr – and chatting with/ogling her hunky acquaintance, Liam Byrd – Joanna is called home to look after Peggy and uses it as an opportunity to contemplate her next move. Joanna knows that she doesn’t want to own up to her failure in front of anyone from her hometown; the people of Halikarnassus, New York have never looked kindly upon the rebellious Joanna, and they would be all too smug to learn about their least favorite daughter’s latest fall from grace.
Liam – jogger, library director, and Boston transplant – is the apple of the eye of every single lady in Peggy’s neighborhood – not that he notices. The one thing he does take note of is that Joanna is a pretty kickass musician. She was a member of his favorite local post-punk band, the Slutty Brontes – and while he’s less than impressed with the basic straightforward rock sound of the post-big time Bunny Slippers he’s still a pretty big fan. Which is why he’s shocked when his idol shows up on her grandmother’s doorstep while he’s checking in on Peggy.
Joanna and Liam soon find themselves bonding over the library’s book club, nights at rock clubs, and evenings at Peggy’s house. As Joanna plans to get her high school band back together with her best friend Trina, and rediscovers her authentic voice, Liam has own battles with Mayor Hal Klomberg Jr., who wants to axe the library’s funding from the town’s budget and funnel it into the town’s (terrible) high school football team. When Joanna is invited to rejoin Bunny Slippers after they lose their replacement guitarist and Liam finds himself caught between Hal’s personal needs and the library’s possible closure, they’re forced to choose between their romance and their dreams.
I cannot tell you how glad I am that we have a heroine like Joanna in the romance world! I’ve read about so many rock star heroes who are guided away from the debauched big time and toward the light of monogamy and a comeback by the purity of a heroine who happens to be a fan. To have Joanna be the mischievous, punkish, true-to-her-art musician and Liam the adoring fan makes a perfect reversal of roles that are all too rare in the genre. Joanna is a great, funny, messy, sympathetic heroine; her music is her true passion, is part of her soul, and Ms. Title uses it to explain both who she is as a person and where she’s coming from. Joanna names her beloved guitar after Sister Rosetta Tharpe. You will love her.
Liam joins Title’s line of funny and sexy beta heroes; a man who hates being thought of as boring, with a big crush on the intimidating Joanna; a man who’s awkward, tends to blurt things out and has an alphabetized record collection yet has horrible taste in fashion and is passionate about good books. He’s her counterpoint in a lot of wonderful ways, and the chemistry between them is wonderful.
And their relationship is relatable, romantic and totally ludicrous. Liam waives fines for anyone who knew Joanna way back when! Liam and Joanna fall in love while playing refrigerator Jenga and sobbing over cheesy clichéd World War II novels! They make love in the library and argue about Sunday morning music!
And the supporting characters! Peggy, who’s clinging to her youth; Trina Flunderman, Joanna’s high school best friend, who may have married an insurance agent and settled down to have two kids and build furniture instead of following her punk dreams to LA, but is still the same sassy girl who was just as wild as Joanna back in the day, and her appropriately ridiculous children; football-obsessed Hal, who is a bubblehead jerk; Gus, the walking music encyclopedia with a thing for Peggy; Peggy’s team of fellow elderly ladies, who ply her with terrible casseroles while she’s on the mend; even the dogs have personality, especially Starr, who loves Peggy but has to learn to love Joanna, to Joanna’s dismay. Even Kristen, who might be a stereotype in someone else’s hands, springs forth with wit and personality to the novel’s forefront.
The story’s minor problems – chiefly an unnecessary third act conflict between Joanna and Liam over some overheard words – don’t detract from its grade. In fact, the novel manages to feel like it’s just the right length while making you yearn for more. And yes, the book does contain many of Title’s classic tropes – bold heroine, a nerdy beta hero, sassy older women, the battle between government bureaucracy and people on its lower levels who wish to help out those around them… but it still feels smart, fresh and romantic.
Falling for Trouble is a delight. Don’t miss it!