Desert Isle Keeper
Romances featuring characters who are famous are my booknip, so I was admittedly always inclined to at least like Jenny Holiday’s Famous, the first book in her new series. There’s good news for me and for fellow fans of the set-up, because I loved this book. Ms. Holiday avoids the potential for a saccharine story of lost loves and licking Hollywood wounds in America’s Heartland and delivers a knockout contemporary romance sure to delight.
To say that Emerson Quinn is famous is an understatement. Emerson Quinn is a phenomenon. Beautiful and talented, with a love life that keeps landing her in the tabloids, she’s essentially a fictionalized Taylor Swift. Much like many a songstress before her, she’s under a lot of pressure to ‘mature’ in her music, abandoning her tween girl fan base and start appealing to a more adult audience. The way to do this, her management team assures her, is to follow strict instructions from them and record only music approved by a writing team. They’d also love it if she could stop dating boys who break her heart, but they’re not all that fussed about it since heartbreak sells records.
Emerson chooses not to go down that route, instead fleeing to a small town in Iowa to seek out the only human she really trusts, even though she hasn’t seen him in nearly a decade.
Evan Winslow is, or at least was, infamous. The son of a famous art thief and counterfeiter, Evan fled the limelight of his childhood and took a position as an art history professor at a small college in Dane, Iowa. He’s on tenure track and is fairly comfortable with his small and quiet life; he’s got adoring students, quirky and loveable neighbors, and zero need for a love life.
Years before, Evan and Emerson met at a wedding. She was in her late teens, ready to embark on a career of stardom despite being abandoned by her parents. Evan was about to launch into the quiet phase of his life and was enjoying one last night of privileged debauchery. The two had an immediate connection, which they have neither acted upon nor forgotten. Evan, however, has not exactly kept up with the outside world. Part of his quiet life is ignoring social media and popular culture completely, meaning that when Emerson shows up out of the blue, he has no idea the world’s biggest pop star is asking to crash on his couch.
There are about seven hundred small moments to adore in this book, but the thing I loved the most was that it’s grounded in reality. Emerson’s pain is evident and so relatable – she’s a young woman who has let other people define her for far too long. Her time in Iowa reminds her who Emmy is as a woman and who she wants to be, and allows her to separate that from the public ideation of Emerson. Who among us has not had that same journey, albeit perhaps not on the cover of People and in the full glare of the media spotlight? Evan has been taught through a lot of life experience not to trust people and his choice to not only let Emmy in, but to allow her to open up his world is charming to watch. They are fully formed folks who could continue to operate without each other, but are so much better as a team. My, what a lovely thing to read.
The secondary characters are a gas, particularly Mrs. Johansen and Tony, but they are far from caricatures. The academic drama of the tenure process made me laugh so loudly because it was painfully spot on. I was not surprised at all when I discovered that Ms. Holiday has a PhD; she knows this world and its idiosyncrasies well.
Overall, if you like contemporary romances with strong characters who grow throughout the book, you have no reason not to pick this one up. Famous is charming, warm, sexy, and an absolute delight.