Playing for Keeps
Caleb and Sadie have been dancing around each other for a while. All of their mutual friends are aware it, they’re aware of it, but it takes an abandoned puppy in a rainstorm to make them deal with it. Both fraught with baggage, Playing for Keeps is the story of how two adults can find strength in each other without abandoning themselves.
First and foremost, before I get into the plot, I found a few elements of this book to be delightfully surprising. First of all, there is a frank and real treatment of self-harm (happened previously in Sadie’s life, but the repercussions still reverberate). Second, when Caleb and Sadie fight – which happens a few too many times for my enjoyment, but totally keeping with their relationship – they always make up like adults. There are measured conversations, apologies and explanations, and the conflict serves to knit them closer together. By the time we hit the HEA, I was so convinced that they’d work out that I was nearly looking for their wedding registry.
For those two reasons alone, I would recommend this book. The trappings of the plot are almost inconsequential to me in romances, to be honest. If the plot is so far fetched that it distracts, then I care for sure, but if it’s well constructed and the pacing makes sense, then I’m usually fine with it. What I care about – what I come to romance for time and time again – is the people. Do they make sense together? Are they people that feel like they could breathe and live and walk right off the page? Do they do the work on the page to make me believe in a HEA/HFN for them? If I can answer yes to all those questions, then it’s usually one I’ll recommend to those of my persuasion.
But I know some of you are plot folks, so here’s the one for this. Caleb is a Elon Musk type genius and gorgeous to boot. He’s been slowly falling for Sadie since he met her, but knows that intimacy of any kind isn’t on her radar. His family is him and his sisters and they are delightfully and frustratingly close. Ms. Shalvis is so good at writing group dynamics and this wee family is no exception. He calls his sisters The Coven and I now would like them to have their own spinoff.
Sadie, on the other hand, is not bonded with her family. She’s clearly wired differently than her mother, father, and sister and her parents never dealt with that well. My social worker heart just broke for her as she was telling Caleb her story of being sanctioned and subsequently ostracized when she was an early teenager. Suffice to say, it is not how I would have recommended her parents handle the situation. Sadie is, however, trying hard to stay bonded to herself and her sense of who she is. Caleb is mucking with that. Oh, professionally, Sadie is a tattoo artist and I loved her treatment of tattoos as redemptive entities.
She has to decide if he’s worth the risk and her hand is a bit forced when they accidentally rescue the same dog one evening. As they co-parent Lollipop, she realizes that her pre-conceived notions of who he is are largely wrong and takes halting steps towards allowing herself to be loved.
Without getting into any further details, that’s Playing for Keeps. If any of this sounded up your alley, this book is worth your time.