Desert Isle Keeper
It Takes Two
Jenny Holiday’s series about a group of self-proclaimed Lost Girls whose weddings cause romantic chaos in each other’s lives takes us into the wedding of book one’s heroine, Jane. While she deals with her out-of-control plans, her best friend begins to fall back into love with her brother… and therein lies the tale.
Busy lawyer Wendy Liu is fully prepared to be maid-of-honor in her best friend Jane Denning’s wedding. After the disaster that plagued their friend Elise’s ceremony the previous year (covered in the previous book, One and Only – which is also where mild-mannered Jane met her daring groom, Cameron), Jane seemed to be looking for a nice, sedate, easily-organized ceremony, but Wendy soon finds herself swept up in Jane’s snowballing, elaborate plans – which Jane, who isn’t good in social situations, is having a hard time keeping in order.
Struggling with the fact that the wedding means Wendy’s deep, long-standing friendship with Jane is going to have to expand to include Cameron, Wendy is not looking forward to spending the upcoming weekend with Jane’s brother, Noah, the object of a frustrated youthful crush and the guy who hurt her so long ago.
Little does Wendy know that Noah’s been infatuated with her since they were teenagers as well, but refuses to pursue his desire for her because he thinks Wendy sees him only as a big brother figure. Noah is pleased about Jane’s upcoming marriage, but he’s having trouble processing that Wendy is a grown woman who might not need his protection any more.
Wendy and Noah’s repressed mutual attraction comes out in the form of banter, which only underlines the sexual tension between them. In spite of the temptation, Wendy is reluctant to explore the possibilities that develop between them; she remembers all too well what it felt like when Noah didn’t show up to meet her at the senior prom, exacerbating her abandonment issues. Can Wendy learn to settle down? Can Noah learn how to be protective without smothering the women in his life? And when things explode between them in Las Vegas, will their developing feelings stay there?
It Takes Two is an excellent romance. It takes apart the insecurities of its characters with confidence and careful reflection. Sensual, touching, it’s as much character study as romance – an imperfect one perhaps, but one that’s worth reading nonetheless.
I really liked Wendy; flawed, scarred and imperfect, she’s funny and witty, professional and collected, but loose and clumsy and sweet – easy to love and easy to understand. Her friendship with Jane is just as important to the novel as her romance with Noah, and Jane’s mutual, bonding love of Josh Groban was such a great, realistic little detail.
Noah’s a worrier, which leads to attempts at controlling behavior, but it’s not a quality that entirely subsumes his character. His struggle is to see Wendy as a fully autonomous woman, and his sister as the same, but he is forced to do a proper grovel for this.
The relationship between Wendy and Noah is rather combative at first, and then settles into a nice, melting sense of tenderness; these are two characters who push and pull at one another until they get what they need, and the immaturity of their early connection is questioned and called out by the narrative. They already have actual interests in common – both are runners, and like to train for marathons – so there is some commonality beyond the mutual lust they have. They’re even mutually attracted to each other’s chests, which comes off as an amusing instead of creepy detail, though Noah does tend to go off on tangents about her boobs (and I also wish Ms. Holiday hadn’t made the unfortunate choice to have him think about how he’s “not getting Wendy’s milk for free” just after thinking of them).
Holiday’s prose is sprightly and lighthearted, while striking at the heart of deep, true things in Wendy’s life. The balance between angst and character study is well maintained and her characters are refreshingly human and flawed. I liked the minor characters, including Gunnar, who strips at Jane’s bachelorette weekend, and Gia (the clear future star of book three in the series) a fashion model who loves to party.
Unfortunately, several flaws detracted from the book’s final grade. One is an editing issue that caused confusion – at least twice we’re dumped into flashbacks without warning, and the only way to tell the difference between the Wendy, Jane and Noah of the present and their past selves is the sudden appearance of discussion about school and the dance. It’s a truly lazy decision from the editor, who is careful to denote the amount of time that has passed as the time for the wedding approaches at the header of every normal chapter.
My other issue is with the strangely patriarchal feeling of Noah’s interaction with the women in his life, such as his exchanges with Cameron which make it feel like Jane’s well-being is simply switching hands from her brother to her husband. And while it’s a decent character trait that Wendy chose to become a world traveler and to experience several friends-with-benefits relationships to deal with her emotional scars, it reduces her experiences and interests to abandonment issues that started over something more trivial (Noah not showing up at the prom) instead of something major (her father’s death). The book does try to lampshade this, and the narrative eventually rebalances, with Wendy reclaiming her own sexual and autonomous freedom of body. It’s a relief to see her take responsibility for her issues and not lose the hero in the process, just as it’s a relief to see the hero address his control issues. Some readers might be disappointed that the ending is very much an HFN rather than an HEA, but I think that these two need the extra space to be together and yet figure out how to grow up.
It Takes Two is a unique contrast between spicy romantic comedy and emotionally intense character study – and a rare example of such a dichotomy managing to make the book cohesive instead of causing it to fall apart. Check it out, you won’t regret it!