Love Like Ours
Melissa Foster continues her Sugar Lake series of contemporary romances with Love Like Ours, the story of a teacher and the student she falls for.
Professor Talia Dalton, sister of Willow Dalton from book one, The Real Thing, and Bridgette Dalton from book two, Only for You, is happily calm and collected, though her sisters and mother find the fact that she’s not looking for a spicy romance a great tragedy and are doing everything they can to match her up with someone. Talia prefers to protect her broken heart instead, still smarting from being cheated on ten years before after being told she ‘wasn’t enough’ by her college boyfriend. That is, until she nearly (and quite accidentally) runs over a handsome man while arguing with her hectoring sisters and mother on a conference call while driving. Then the guy shows up in the class on ‘millennial masculinities’ she’s substitute teaching.
Derek Grant totally followed Talia to her class and isn’t even a part of it; she’s just that intriguing. He has dreams of opening a day-care centre for dementia patients, but at the moment he’s stripping in the same club where he tends bar, his dreams on hold as he cares for his father whose Alzheimer’s means Derek must care for him. Taking classes at the local college gives his life extra purpose, and he’s nearly completed a thesis in health administration. He is, by his own admission, coasting through life when Talia literally falls into his path.
Talia instantly develops a crush on Derek, who proceeds to flirt back. During their first non-school encounter she witnesses his stripper act (and her reaction to it is so naive you won’t be able to believe the woman’s thirty years old) and has to deal with some fantasies. That’s fine, as her buttoned up professor manners also turn him on. They begin to get to know each other and grow closer all the while. But can either of them allow themselves to experience true intimacy?
Love Like Ours is a book with a split personality. One half of the book is a tender recounting of Derek’s slow loss of his father to early onset Alzheimer’s. The rest of it is the awkwardly racy and too-fast relationship between Talia and Derek. You know you’re not reading a compelling romance when the depressing sub-plot is absorbing all of your interest.
Frankly, the way Talia’s sisters push her to find love because it worked out so well for them – even if Talia WANTS to fall in love – is kind of gross, as is their creepy interest in her sex life. Relationship evangelists are not charming, even in romance novels; when your mom’s dumping love potion all over your car in a desperate attempt to get you laid then she need to be told to kindly fuck off. Talia already feels like she’s not enough of a woman for the world at large – shoving her around won’t help her inadequacy issues. I do not need to hear about how this guy is ‘tickling Talia’s coochie’ either. The fact that this flock – including her patriarchal daddy who has no problem texting their mother about a sex weekend he’s planning while their daughters are around – suddenly become squeamish when it’s revealed that Derek works as a stripper is ludicrous.
Otherwise Talia is strangely mousy for an experienced professor who must be assertive to get her point across in a classroom. That she’d be this damaged by a single relationship involving simple cheating feels a little OTT, and her recovery of self after getting tangled up with Derek manages to make the book’s message ‘the ultimate cure for emotional dysfunction is romance’, a message we ought to have shed years ago. Talia is the kind of girl who used to be afraid of skiing and sledding; Derek’s penis cures her of this. There’s a lot of messed-up uncritical gender-based thinking in this novel that runs that way.
Derek is a decent guy, though his manner is a bit overly pushy and a little sleazy. I did like that he was genuinely fascinated with Talia’s work and genuinely into the class. I was far more invested, however, in his relationship with his father and how it moved under the strain of the man’s progressing disease.
I don’t know why Derek is instantly attuned to Talia’s beauty – I wouldn’t be insta-attracted to someone who nearly killed me in a traffic accident, but Derek is clearly unique. Talia’s insta-crush on him makes no sense either, and there is definitely an icky power imbalance in a teacher falling for a student. The book tries to counteract that by making Derek the one in charge, but it’s still uncomfortable and rather squicky. Talia asks at one point why Derek touches her so deeply; my only reaction was YES BOOK, PLEASE TELL ME WHY THAT IS. They like each other on the basis of some conversations that are far too intimate for the first thirty pages and it’s lust all the way – no basis for anything earth-shaking or life-enriching. They actually start bonding more emotionally AFTER she sees him strip and is stricken by inst-alust for his super special hairy chest; it’s as if the order of the romance has happened backwards. There are moments that surround the insta-build which are isolated but good, like when they spend time cooking or sledding together. Even a snowball fight wasn’t too cutesy. But when one of the people involved in the relationship doesn’t want to have kids because they’re afraid they might pass along the genes for the debilitating disease that’s destroying his father’s life, I think having them have bareback sex beforehand is face-palmingly ridiculous.
It also feels to add a weird narrative codicil about how important and noble Derek is for stripping and how it puts him above the judgments of society. Talia is weirdly prudish about the whole thing, but the narrative is nearly her equal. You see, Derek is only taking part in a little bump and grind to fund his dad’s treatments. He’d neverrr ever take his pants off professionally otherwise. The narrative tries hard to jerk off the reader’s pants while it’s jerking their tears, but it doesn’t succeed in either objective with messages like these, especially when Derek sits there noting the physical shortcomings of the female stripper working the crowd during his shift, who happens to be earning as much money as he does (yes, this is one of those only-exists-in-fiction co-ed strip clubs).
I only liked two of the supporting characters – Talia’s professor friend, whose behavior and rapport with her worked much better than it did with Derek and Derek’s artist/guitarist father, whose slow downhill slide during the book is sad and gripping.
This is the second book by Melissa Foster I’ve read for AAR, and the second book of hers I’ve been forced to fail. I will not be adding a third book to the menagerie.