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.
I loved reading Thomas’s The Hollow Of Fear, but I was more-than-happy to sink into a thorough romance-romance, emotional, sexy, with a clear line to the HEA, littered with dark little moments. Though the day-job continues to be an albatross, I took a lot of time in my evenings to finish Kelly’s Just This Once, book three in The Wedding Date series. Like the others, Just This Once opens with the hero at the previous book’s hero and heroine’s wedding; it concludes with his own. A premise that’s a tad twee, but I forgive because the novels often win me over. In Just This Once, hotel-owning-rich-boy hero, Sean Wyse of the Chicago Hotel Wyse chain, is best-manning his guy best friend’s wedding, Max Brandt’s. His side-kick and ever wedding date is the friend of his heart and youth, Max’s younger sister, Molly. Sean and Molly’s friendship is immature, but kind of fun. He teases, she torments; they pretty much behave like two teens who secretly harbor crushes and take them out in silly pranks. Everyone in their friendship circle, the past and future heroes and heroines of Kelly’s series, look upon their shenanigans with affection and amusement. The silliness being given a critical nod, I liked how Kelly also built in true camaraderie, compatibility, and affection into the group’s relationships and a lovely tenderness between Sean and Molly, despite the occasional sophomoric behaviour.
Miss Bates’s first reading of a Mira Lyn Kelly romance (from the defunct KISS line) left her murmuring “meh, meh, meh”. Her recent Kelly read, May the Best Man Win, The Best Men #1, was a different experience. Miss B’s pre-reading prejudice was wary to say the least, especially in light of that rom-com cover. She side-eyed May the Best Man Win for several days before taking the plunge.
There are several ways you capture Miss B’s reading respect and enjoyment: you make her laugh; you do something tropish-ly clever or twisty; or, you write well. Kelly did all three. Premise-wise, May the Best Man Win is run-of-the-mill. Built around four wise-cracking late-twenties buddies who play best man to a groom-buddy, find love and make their way, bruised and battered (there be reasons) to the altar. The novel uses a clever framing device (Miss Bates LOVES a good frame), opening with hero Jase Foster, staunch bachelorhood in place, playing best man to buddy Dean Skolnic, as only a best man can, by holding a trash can as Dean vomits. The other three male friends the series will be built around show up as groomsmen. Jase is caring, but feeling pretty superior as he looks down at the nervous-as-wreck groom. At the end of the novel, with Jase’s own wedding-HEA, we round off with a torn sleeve and cut lip.
Miss Bates loves the 1963 film, Love With the Proper Stranger, Angie Rossini and Rocky Papasano’s one-night-stand story (Wood and McQueen are wonderful). Angie lives with her widowed mother and brothers and is constrained by their control over her life. In an act of rebellion, she sleeps with Rocky and thereafter realizes she’s pregnant. Angie seeks Rocky to ask for help to pay for an abortion and he agrees. They spend several days together making arrangements. Two things happen: the day of, in a place sordid and frightening, Rocky stops Angie from going through with the abortion; and, Angie and Rocky reluctantly grow to know and like one another. There’s no insta-love. Rocky begrudgingly asks her to marry. Angie refuses and, yes, he has a hard time with that. It spurs his interest, however. (Another aspect to the film that is interesting is how Rocky and Angie want to escape the stifling atmosphere of their overly protective but strong-on-the-family-loyalty Italian-American clans.) The film ends with Angie’s “upper hand.” The possibility of an HEA is there, but not the surety. Angie is vindicated. Miss Bates loved Angie: determined to forge a life for herself, uncompromising in her desire for love and independence, resolved to marry on her terms, not her family’s or Rocky’s, or not marry at all. She is fearless and glowingly beautiful mama material, this Macy’s shop-girl barely scraping a living.
Miss Bates suspects that Mira Lyn Kelly aimed for the same effect in Waking Up Pregnant. Unlike the 1963 film, the 2014 novel doesn’t manage this as successfully. Miss Bates enjoyed reading it, thought it well-written, with innocuously sympathetic leads; however, its ethos was conventional and she couldn’t help comparing it, and it coming up short, to a film over 50 years old. It is a novel with a situation similar to that of Sarah Mayberry’s More Than One Night, which is not a Mayberry novel that received the attention it deserved, but Miss Bates liked it very MUCH. Kelly makes all the right noises for her heroine, Darcy, wanting independence and finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand; at least initially, makes her hero, Jeff, if not reluctant, then gobsmacked. But what’s most interesting about Stranger’s Rocky and One Night’s Rhys is their reluctance for insta-love for the heroine. They’re responsible and decent, but man, this is not where they want to be. The development of how they end up wanting to be there, as dads and husbands, is so much more believable and natural than the utterly-smitten-I’m-all-in-all-the-time Jeff. Romance novels are to a certain extent, yes, fantasies and Jeff’s sheer goodness, sexiness, and emotional open-ness are attractive, just not terribly compelling. It’s not as much fun when the hero doesn’t have far to fall (do check out Stranger‘s Rocky and his near-clownish antics at the end). Darcy too is an etiolated version of the Amazonian Angie. She pays lip-service to a “feisty” independence, but never enacts it. What does Waking Up Pregnant have going for it? Continue reading to find out