This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Christine T. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.
Ali Winters is not having a good day. Her boyfriend left her, everyone in town thinks she's a thief, and now she's about to be kicked out of her home. Her only shot at keeping a roof over her head and clearing her name is to beg for help from a police detective who's as sexy as he is stern….
After a high-profile case goes wrong, Luke Hanover returns to his hometown for some peace and quiet. Instead he finds a bombshell brunette in a heap of trouble. As he helps Ali put her world back together, the pieces of Luke's own life finally seem to fall into place. Is this the start of a sizzling fling? Or are Luke and Ali on the brink of something big in a little town called Lucky Harbor?
And here is Christine T.'s review:
I always look forward to Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor books when they come out because they really hit the spot for me as vacation reads. In fact, I believe It Had to be You was the one book for which I actually paid full price when I was amassing an inventory of reading before our trip last summer—which is huge, because I’m sadly a very stingy person. It was my “be a good girl and get on the airplane, and then you can read this lovely, lovely book when you get there” book. That’s pretty much the highest endorsement I can give an author!
I think most of Shalvis’ readers would agree that her books are great comfort reads in large part because of the small-town settings. The Lucky Harbor books work particularly well for me because I’m a Northern California girl presently stuck in the urban vortex that is Los Angeles, and I like to imagine that someday we’re going to break free of this place, battle our way north up the 405 and land somewhere green, clean and friendly like Lucky Harbor.
In most regards, Lucky Harbor is as idyllic as ever in It Had to be You—the ocean and mountains are there to provide recreation and catharsis, the town is decorated with twinkly lights, and whenever anybody needs an ice cream or chocolate chip pancakes, they’re right around the corner. Awesome! (Obviously, we can find all of those things here in the greater Los Angeles area, but we generally have to drive to get to them and then pay to park. Nobody seems to have to pay to park in Lucky Harbor.)
This book had me a little bit off balance the whole way through, though, because while the main character, Ali, has recently been welcomed to Lucky Harbor, she hasn’t exactly been taken into the fold. We hear that people love her, but her friendships are all basically new and untested, and when the going gets rough for Ali, most of the residents of Lucky Harbor believe the worst of her based on little or no evidence, which was pretty disappointing. I expected better of them. Ali also seems fated to run up against everybody’s self-serving side. People like her and wish her well, but they take an excruciatingly long time to reach out and lend her a hand. And then there’s Teddy Marshal, town clerk and dyed-in-the-wool politician. Teddy is Ali’s ex-boyfriend (although she doesn’t know it yet at the beginning of the book), and he’s a steaming pile of cheating excrement.
More on that later.
For me, Ali and her love interest, Luke, are characters who mirror the town’s light side/dark side portrayal in this book. Ali starts off seeming terminally naïve. She looks at Teddy and sees someone who is going to offer her the three S’s: safety, security, and stability. Really? Who on earth puts that much faith in a politician? But she’s trying to carve out a new, white picket-fence life for herself after growing up in dire circumstances, and I guess we all tend to overlook lots of flaws in things that we think are good for us when we’re trying to become real adults. I liked Ali more as the book progressed and she alternately got mad and showed her teeth and, conversely, accepted other people’s misdeeds with grace. We learn that she’s cognizant of the fact that she comes across as a Pollyanna, and that it’s a coping mechanism—at which point I say, Hey! more power to ya! There are far less attractive coping mechanisms out there!
Speaking of which…
Luke: board shorts, a ripped body, and a badge. What’s not to like? Luke also utters my favorite lines in the whole book:
“Not all men will disappoint you,” he said. “I don’t mean me. Because I will absolutely disappoint you. But we’re not all assholes, Ali. I can promise you that.”
Luke is super sexy when he’s in his element being a competent, compassionate caretaker. And yet, Luke has some serious neuroses that unfortunately aren’t sexy at all. He’s carrying around a boatload of completely unrealistic guilt over his grandmother’s death, his sister’s incarceration, and the latest criminal that got away. Over the course of the book, plenty of people tell him straight out that he’s not responsible for every single bad thing that happens to those around him, but I wasn’t convinced that he’d kicked the habit of seeing himself as a perpetual disappointment by the end. (Maybe we’re supposed to assume that when he relocates permanently to Lucky Harbor, the town will work its magic on him like a miracle tonic and he’ll grow back all the emotional parts that were broken? Here’s hoping!)
Still, board shorts… Mmmm…. Plus, he owns a house and has steady employment. I can see why Ali would stick it out.
What’s really, thoroughly satisfying in It Had to be You are the relationships that Ali and Luke have with their families and close friends. Ali’s mother and sister are generally down on their luck but eternally optimistic, and Ali’s appreciation of their strength was really heartwarming—and vice versa. Luke’s sister is a flawed human being who has redeemed herself and cares deeply about her brother and grandfather—I wish we’d seen more of her without the lens of Luke’s self-recrimination. Luke’s friend Jake is probably my favorite character in the book, and their friendship is golden. I wish Ali and Leah had spent more time getting up to no good together, because they were a fun pair, too.
The mystery arc was ultimately frustrating because I wanted Teddy to suffer (no, make that SUFFER) for being such a terrible excuse for a human being, and he really doesn’t take any damage at all in the end.
Realistic? Yes. Satisfying? Nope. Not at all. I’ve read the next book in the series, and I can’t remember if he gets what he has coming to him at some point in the future (crabs, maybe?), but he should have suffered in this book. A lot. (For Ali’s sake, of course. I don’t feel strongly about it or anything.)
Also unsatisfying to me (and obviously YMMV here) was the sex. Because while it was steamy and plentiful, they kept going at it on hard surfaces—especially tables. For some reason, I can buy people not making it to a bed once or twice because the need is so urgent, but Ali and Luke don’t make it to a bed until they’ve “boinked” on the kitchen table (twice?), the worktable in the garage, up against the wall, and also possibly on the floor?
And maybe that was an intentional choice on the author’s part and the table sex is supposed to be emblematic of the way their whole relationship is impulsive and painful for most of the book. But it was difficult for me, at least, to enjoy those scenes: in addition to the fact that I kept imagining all the drawbacks of table sex (bare skin sticking to the surface, the clatter of the table slipping across the floor, people getting bruises on their thighs and butts from the table’s edge), at some point it made their relations seem almost as tawdry as Teddy banging half the women in town on his office couch. I kept thinking, “You’re not desperate teenagers—get to a bed already! Take your time!”
So. It Had to be You isn’t going into my “comfort reads” file, because for me it’s a little more challenging than comfortable—I had to engage in actual reflection to appreciate a lot of the characters, and there were several threads that didn’t get tied up nicely in the end. Ali and Luke’s forecast seems to call for a happily ever after, but I thought they both still had issues to work through. All the same, It Had to be You had lots of typical Shalvis sweet moments and funny stuff that I really enjoyed.