The Good Ones
The Good Ones is blander than a bowl of oats. It comes on like a perfectly decent contemporary cowboy romance, but too many tropes and too many info-dumps will leave the reader groaning and skimming. It’s short read that’s cursed to remain unmemorable in the sea of westerns just like it.
University professor Maisy Kelly is a confirmed romance novel addict. Which is why, as she’s busy binging on her recently deceased Great Aunt Eloise’s elephantine collection of romance novels instead of helping to clean out her house for its sale, when a man straight off the cover of one of her aunt’s cowboy romances shows up at her doorstep, she gives a slightly drool-laden pause.
Ryder Copeland is a restoration architect, and he’s been called in by Maisy to restore the hand-built Queen Anne-era home to its former glory, which gives Maisy an idea – why not turn the house into a romance bookstore? She promptly quits her job, to the horror of Dean Berry, her ex and colleague, who thinks her dream is foolish (and to whom she has given the nickname “Dean-gle Berry” – yes, really).
Ryder finds Maisy’s plans confusing but fascinating. He definitely wants the job – in fact needs it; his fourteen-year-old daughter Perry goes to a prestigious private school and he can’t be wandering around the country serving as a structural engineer as he did in his youth. After his ex-girlfriend left for Los Angeles to take a role on a TV show, taking only summer visitation with Perry and leaving Ryder behind, his multiple experiences with cartoonishly thirsty women have led him to swear off them and to concentrate on Perry. He’s determined she’ll never experience the deprivation that characterized his and his brother’s life after the tragic death of their mother, but nonetheless has difficulty communicating his love and desire to be a good dad. Once Perry’s out of high school, Ryder plans on moving to Charleston, South Carolina to take a job for the government. Nothing’s going to stand in his way – nothing, that is, except for the charming Maisy.
Maisy manages to charm Perry, who’s soon reading romances and trying to start one of her own. But with the conflict between Ryder and Perry over Perry’s attempt at growing up and Ryder’s emotional constipation in the way, will happiness ever be achieved?
The Good Ones is goofy; an unpleasant kind of goofy, the kind of goofy you get out of a mid-level Hallmark movie. It’s filled with contemporary/cozy women’s fiction tropes – incredibly-sheltered-young-woman-falls-in-love-wit- rugged-cowboy-with-personal-scars-who-Can’t-Say-Yes-to-Love-because-mommy-issues. There’s a pet of some kind to be rescued and bonded with, a child for the heroine to charm, and an old house ready to be restored into something cozy all thrown in as plot pivots, and a disapproving ex who thinks the heroine’s dreams aren’t worthwhile lurks in the background. There’s a team of sassy best friends (one of whom is even nicknamed Savy and all of whom form a sub-Ya-Ya-Sisterhood centered around dance breaks, eating ice cream and the aforementioned pet) to provide sequel bait and a helpful elderly woman who has conveniently died off-page and left the heroine with a tradition to uphold. Everyone claims to be romance buffs but are almost entirely solely obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. You know how a story like this will go, and though the characters are decent people, they don’t strike up sparks bright enough to make them feel fresh or worth more than a few hours’ interest.
Maisy is painfully innocent and naive for a woman who worked at a university. Her plans really are childlike – a major plot point includes her wanting Ryder to build a turret onto her three story property in order to draw attention. This for a brick and mortar book store focusing on romance in a small town. She plans on starting with her grandmother’s hoarder-level stock of books, but have you ever known even a used bookstore not to take doubles? Does she not realize she’ll need to stock some contemporary and recent releases to get people to come? Have you known any professors who turn into blubbering ninnies when presented with a handsome man? And oh, does Maisy blubber. Non stop.
Ryder is a decent kind of dude. Bland, sure, with the typical ex-left-me-with-a-kid-and-I-have-messed-up-parental-issues-but-I-love-my-baby-just-don’t-ask-me-to-commit background. All of the material about his ex strains to be kind about her choices, so I have to give the author that much. The bigger problem is his determination to stick to his plan no matter what – because without it there would be no plot conflict.
The romance is just a hair over bland, and you’ve seen everything they do before they do it, from the meet cute to the so-incredible-it-melts-live-choices-to-the-ground kisses, to the awkward dinner. Ultimately the sneering contempt with which Ryder treats Maisy’s friendships felt almost unforgivable and were this novel in another genre I’d be amazed they worked through it.
Also charming is Perry’s relationship with the son of the chief of police, though Ryder’s overprotective reaction to it is gross. Unfortunately, the dialogue is painfully overfilled with plot dumpage. At one point, Perry blurts out (after a friendly screening of Pride and Prejudice at Maisy’s place) a question: “Did mom go chase bad boys? Is that why she left us?” The rhythm of the story screeches to a halt often for moments like this, where characters say things that they would not need to say for any earthly reason other than the plot needs to be moved along.
Worse, for a novel that’s supposed to celebrate romance novels, the author shows barely a surface expertise in the matter. Aside from Austen and Jayne Ann Krentz, Beverley Jenkins and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, no other authors are mentioned and Maisy uses ‘cute’ exclamations like “For Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sake”, but there’s no real feeling of abiding love for the genre. McKinlay shows flashes of talent, but sadly it doesn’t reach its full potential with this novel