Whenever I start a Mira Lyn Kelly contemporary romance, I always think how silly her premise and then end up loving it … despite the implausible, low-angst, near-non plot, the characters out of run-of-the-mill rom-com, and the Friends-like atmosphere of the secondary characters (I’m probably one of the few who found that show puerile and boring). Decoy Date checked all the above boxes.
Bar-owner Brody O’Donnel (okay, I have been waiting for his romantic comeuppance) is annoyed with his friend Gwen Danes. She carries a torch for childhood boy-next-door friend, Ted Normandy. Brody wants her to move on, to go for other guys instead of mooning over Ted and because Brody, with his easy-going charm, beautiful green eyes, and bruiser-bod always gets what he wants, he convinces Gwen to fake a relationship with him. He hopes that Ted will be jealous and come after Gwen, Gwen will realize that her “crush” is an adolescent vestige and move on to a better guy. Gwen, in turn, hopes that Ted will finally notice her and they’ll live happily ever after. So, the fake relationship is ON not far into the first few chapters.
‘Tisn’t long before Brody and Gwen give in to what has always been an incipient attraction. Kelly, however, isn’t an insta-lust rom-writer, to her credit, and Gwen and Brody’s interactions are affectionate, funny, emotionally intimate, and caring. It’s evident these two are compatible: physically, sure, but also in terms of temperament and values. It’s important to establish these two parameters for contemporary romance to work, especially because the tearing-asunder of the couple tends to the contrived. I mean, really, what CAN keep two people apart, if you’re not resorting to the Big Mis, or the withholding of how the hero or heroine “truly” feels, the I’m-in-love-with-him/her-but-she’s/he’s-not-in-it-for-the-long-haul? These contemporary rom conventions get pretty tired after a while. On the other hand, I’m really glad that Kelly didn’t use the “bad parent” backstory and source of emotional blockage. As a matter of fact, I loved the portrait of Gwen’s happy-marriage parents and Brody’s cold, but not negligent mom NOT making him emotionally inaccessible, except for one childish bad narrative note (an important one though).
Thankfully, while Kelly’s protagonists do tend to these weaknesses, she’s a good enough writer to do some interesting stuff with them. The fulcrum of interest, in this case, is The Other Guy, Ted, and the hero and heroine’s perceptions and expectations. Kelly does not resort to he-man-thumping jealous rages on either man’s part: she deals with feelings in a clear, honest, and believeable way. And everyone, pretty much, behaves well. Ted has a dark moment, but it’s understandable. Brody has a dark moment and I think it’s the weakest link in the romance narrative, but something had to give to do the tearing-asunder so the couple can be built back up. Nevertheless, what always holds Kelly in good stead is her ability to create likable characters who make mistakes, own them, and talk honestly with each other, better late than ever often enough, but still, they do.
Kelly’s problem, on the other hand, because she’s rightly all too aware of the contemporary romance’s pitfalls (see Big Mis, etc. above) tends to the meandering narrative. She draws cool and often funny scenes of courtship, of falling in love, but they’re also scenes where I, as the reader, thought this is nice, but where’s it going? Gwen and Brody’s emotional investment was evident, but the stakes looked too low for too long. But I’ll always return to Kelly for the adorably squeezable characters, the chuckles, and the exuberant belief in an HEA that involves both a wedding and a baby. I like’em. With Miss Austen, we’d say that Decoy Date offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Mira Lyn Kelly’s Decoy Date is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on December 4th and would be a good way to while away a few hours. You can find it at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.