When I heard Kristen Callihan was writing a new series, I might have mentally (actually) high-fived myself. When I heard the stories are set in the music world, I was initially wary because I’ve recently been spoiled by excellent books about musicians by Mercy Brown and Erika Kelly, and I worried there wasn’t room in my heart to like another one. Newsflash: there’s enough room for this one and whatever comes next. Idol is an excellent, sexy and romantic rock romance.
Killian James is the lead singer of Kill John – one of the biggest rock bands in the world. But when he’s discovered by his new neighbor, Liberty Bell, drunk and passed out in her front yard after wrecking his motorcycle, he’s just a guy she needs to get rid of. Liberty (Libby) lives in self-imposed exile on remote Collar Island, a fictional spot on the Atlantic coast. Strange men have no place in her life. When she wakes Killian up by spraying him with a hose, he doesn’t react as she expects. Instead of slinking off, he stalks towards her, flinging his hair and removing his wet, stinky clothes along the way. Libby tries not to look at his naked body as he approaches but can’t keep her eyes off of him. They trade insults, he vomits on her, she hoses him down and then drags him into her house to sleep it off.
Ms. Callihan writes witty, charming and interesting heroes. Killian James is no different – but he’s also a sexy, talented musician. He isn’t easily put off by Libby’s attempts to rebuff him when he wakes up and meets her in the kitchen. He’s curious about his new neighbor and her evasions and deflections to his questions only further spark his interest. After Killian moves in, he uses his charm and humor to break down Libby’s walls. One night, after he returns from a brief trip out of town, he can hear her singing and playing her guitar next door. She doesn’t know he’s back, and he can’t resist walking over to her house to watch. Killian already knows his feelings for Libby go beyond friendship. Watching her not-so private performance, he realizes he’s fallen hard for her.
Libby’s exile started two years ago, after she lost her parents in a drunk-driving accident. When Killian drunkenly crashes on her lawn, she’s mad, lonely and confused about the direction of her life. Killian doesn’t stay away, even when she rebuffs his attempts to get to know her. Instead, she finds herself opening up about her hopes and fears – and attracted to his good looks and sly sense of humor. When he reveals his identity after a fan spots him grocery shopping, she’s initially overwhelmed and starstruck. He disappears for a few days, disappointed by her reaction – and she’s hurt when he leaves without saying goodbye. Missing him more than she thinks she should, she’s surprised when he shows up several nights later while she’s singing and playing her guitar. Relief at seeing him overcomes her usual fear of performing in front of anyone.
Killian’s return signals a change in their relationship. Years ago, Libby dreamed of writing her own material and performing on stage, even though her parents discouraged those ambitions based on their experiences in the industry. When Killian crashes Libby’s fence, Kill John is on hiatus and he’s struggling emotionally after the suicide attempt of his closest friend. During the two month interlude they spend together as neighbors and friends, they rediscover their joy in making music – and fight their growing attraction to one another. Killian nurtures and encourages Libby to pursue her music dreams; Libby helps Killian heal from the loneliness he experienced before and after his friend tried to kill himself. They open their hearts and start making music – literally and figuratively – with each other.
Not long after they start writing music and spending all their time together, they also give in to their physical attraction. But their idyll ends abruptly when Killian, under pressure from the band to return to New York City and tour new music, is forced to leave Collar Island. He knows Libby isn’t ready but asks her to come with him anyway; only after he’s gone and she realizes how miserable she is does Libby agree to join him. She demands one concession from Killian before she commits – to keep their relationship secret. She wants to be accepted for her talent and not because she’s sleeping with the lead singer.
Life on tour with Killian is everything Libby hoped and feared it could be. Performing (after early nerves) is exciting and exhilarating, falling for Killian is thrilling and overwhelming. Unfortunately, the strain of hiding their relationship and also trying to navigate her space in the industry starts to take its toll. When Libby finally decides to admit they’re a couple publicly, Killian is thrilled, but her worst fears are quickly realized. The press, the public, and even other singers start to make negative assumptions about Libby’s motivations and their relationship. In the face of such intense pressure, Libby retreats from Killian. Killian gives her space, uncertain how to make things better or comfort her, and she mistakenly assumes he wants distance from her as well.
As I’ve come to expect from Ms. Callihan, Idol is a sexy, romantic and compulsively readable love story. One additional aspect that sets this book above others I’ve read are the excellent song selections that advance the story. I particularly loved a scene at the end that featured Killian singing an acoustic version of “I am trying to break your heart,” by Wilco, to Libby. If you’re familiar with the song lyrics (look them up if you aren’t) – trust me when I tell you the scene brought tears to my eyes. Truly, all the author’s song references in Idol are terrific.
Ms. Callihan also writes witty, sharp dialogue; though the relationship between Killian and Libby is intense, their conversations are delightfully entertaining. Killian’s naughty, sexy rocker is the perfect foil for the quieter, less outspoken Libby. Through his PoV, it’s obvious that Killian knows he loves Libby almost from the moment he first joins her in the kitchen, but is reluctant to scare her by revealing the depth of his feelings. He wants to give her everything right away but he understands, and accepts, her need to take it slow. Libby is afraid to trust herself, her feelings about Killian or to believe in her music. Losing her parents left her adrift. It’s not until she leaves Killian and the band that she realizes she doesn’t have to be lost anymore – Killian is her anchor.
Idol is an excellent entry into this new series. I can’t wait for the next one!