The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill
I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for Misunderstood Heroines. Throw in a Tortured Hero and a Self-Righteous Small Town and I’m all over it like white on rice. So when I read the cover blurb for The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill, I knew I had to read it. Lucky for me, my instincts steered me right and I scored a twofer with both a new-to-me author and new series to glom.
Librarian Savannah O’Neill has been living with the consequences of being one of the Notorious O’Neills all her life. The colorful family history includes brothels and bootlegging, and even Savannah’s parents, Vanessa and Richard, are known con artists – though they took off when Savannah was a child and haven’t been seen since. The fact that Savannah’s grandmother is a companion for rich gentlemen, and Savannah herself is a single mother, just adds fuel to the gossip. Most of small town Bonne Terre’s residents view the O’Neills with varying degrees of disgust or disdain, and the crumbling O’Neill estate, where Savannah lives with her grandmother and 8-year-old daughter, is a favorite target for teenage vandals. After a particularly vicious incident, Savannah and her grandmother decide to hire a handyman to do repairs and install a security system.
St. Louis architect Matt Woods is on a mission. Seven years ago his father was sent to prison for a jewel heist when his father’s partners-in-crime set his father up to take the fall while they vanished with the loot. Now Matt is trying to track down both the jewels and the co-conspirators so that they can face the punishment they should have faced years ago. He’s tracked one of the thieves, Vanessa O’Neill, as far as New Orleans, but the trail ends there. Hoping Vanessa will return to her old family home, Matt travels to Bonne Terre, Louisiana. When he’s mistaken as an applicant for the handyman position he decides to take the job, knowing he’ll get more information out of the secretive O’Neills if he’s working on the inside.
Romances with a Secret Identity plot are always tricky, and whether or not the book works is usually a reflection of the author’s skill. O’Keefe pulls it off through her characterization of Matt. You understand his reasons and motivation, you see the increasing emotional toll his deception takes on him, but most importantly, he never becomes so blinded by his need for justice that he fails to see what’s really important. In short, he never loses his integrity just to further the plot.
To put it simply: I really, really liked this book. Savannah and Matt are characters who are easy to like and easy to empathize with. They both have their demons, and for good reasons, but they’re not so overly tortured that it crosses the line to depressing. And while at times Savannah’s reclusiveness and abandonment issues seem a wee bit on the irrational side, I never reached the point where it felt frustrating or excessive.
I’m always a little hesitant to read a romance featuring children. No, it’s not because I don’t like kids. Really, I don’t. It’s just that I’ve read more than a few romances where the children either detract from the story, or are just two-dimensional fluff characters. In the case of Temptation, however, I found Savannah’s daughter charmingly independent, and felt that her character very much added to the depth and quality of the story. And Savannah’s decidedly unconventional grandmother proved to be a refreshing change of pace from the typical grandmother types one finds in romances.
So, if moderately tortured characters and a little intrigue and small town melodrama are your thing, I highly recommend trying The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill. It’s the first book in O’Keefe’s Notorious O’Neills series, and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the next installment.