Book Review

Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O’Reilly

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Title: Shaken and Stirred
Author: Kathleen O'Reilly
Publication Info: Harlequin Blaze March 2008
ISBN: 0373793863
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Everyone and their fellow bloggers have mentioned the awesome sauce that is this book. They are not wrong.

Tessa works at a bar with Gabe O’Sullivan. Gabe, conveniently, has

three

two other brothers, which is awesome because I totally want more of them and helloooooo sequels, baby, yeah. Tessa is working her way through college and trying to fulfill her own concept of being a “grown up,” which includes accounting, her own apartment in the building of her dreams in Manhattan instead of being with a roommate, and her own autonomous independence wherein she doesn’t rely on anyone.

Tessa bugged the shit out of me. You know that person you know in your life who is on the cusp of really embracing their potential and then without fail they whine or shoot themselves in the foot or make dumbass decisions while proclaiming, “I am figuring out who I am and what I want?” Tessa reminded me of that person I know, and it’s not a favorable comparison. I don’t expect every heroine to know what she wants, but Tessa’s one step forward toward what she wants not what she thinks she should have, OMG half step back, commence beating herself up for that step forward in a different direction, then take another step forward, repeat sequence again dance got old. 

And the conflicts between Tessa and Gabe that Tessa seemed throw up in front of them like so many pesky hurdles that weren’t that strong from beneath made me want to shake her. I want autonomy! I want anonymity! I want my own place! I want to not need anyone! I make bad decisions and I’m a good bartender, but that’s not enough. I want things and will deny that I want them! But I want them anyway when I SHOULD be wanting someone or something else! And I have to readjust all the things that I want because they are coming into conflict with other things that I didn’t know I wanted, and the other stuff that I want but shouldn’t want.

Tessa had that rare and irritating ability to delude herself, and I lose patience with that shit in no time flat. She recognizes that she makes bad decisions. Admits it outright. And yet she still doesn’t listen to herself – and she barely listens to other people who tell her she’s better than she thinks she is.

She would have continued pushing herself into accounting, a field she was not at all interested in, because she thought that was a responsible profession, until two different people pointed out that her near-encyclopedic knowledge of New York City’s real estate would make her a great real estate agent. Well, duh-cakes, honey.

The underlying theme centered on Tessa’s achievement of autonomy and partnership, and the idea that it is possible to find a job that fulfills and matches your interests and goals, instead of merely a job that pays the bills. Gabe has that at his bar, but it’s his family’s establishment. He loves his job, and his life, and has always wanted to be doing exactly what he’s doing now. Tessa is conflicted between what she wants to do and what she thinks she should be doing.

Visually explained, Tessa needed to build her own pedestal of accomplishment and then place that pedestal next to someone else’s for equal protection and balance, and not erect a leaning structure that rested entirely on the strength of someone else’s foundation. Problem was, she hadn’t recognized that she had already established her own foundation by moving to Manhattan on her own, getting a job, paying her way through college (even if she was in the wrong major for her skill set) and working at a bar making a huge and solid circle of friends. She never fully gave herself credit for the accomplishments of her backstory.

However, every moment that Tessa bugged the shit out of me was underscored by the fact that, though her habits and hand-wringing moments of self-doubt were irritating to me personally, they were each and every goddam one exceptionally well written. They. Were. Real. I wanted to smack her upside her stubborn head because she seemed so real. It’s rare that a character would get under my skin so much, especially in the limited page space of a category romance. Usually I need a great many more pages to be so bugfuck annoyed by someone, but no, in a few hundred pages, I wanted to sit her down and conk her on the head with a liquor bottle. Then have a drink with her. She brought out the ‘Oh, honey’ in me, but that’s not a normal occurrence with me. O’Reilly gets it right, so right it’s real.

And speaking of right: O’Reilly gets New York right, too. Damn near perfect, and I’m there every day. She knows her apartment buildings, how the different neighborhoods within Manhattan change in a three-block walk, how “Chelsea” used to mean one thing and now it means something entirely different, and what various people in different stages of their lives are looking for when they move into their shoebox in the sky. O’Reilly got Manhattan dead on perfect.

So what was the best part?

While reading this book, I made a note to myself: “hr to ex NR men.” What does that mean? If this book is any indication, Kathleen O’Reilly may be the heir to the Nora Roberts title of Really Unbelievably Nuanced, Delicious Male Characters (aka RUN-DMC). All you ladies who dig Nora for her well-written, flawed, funny, and fabulous men? Go out and find yourself this book. I was totally into each and every brother, and not just Gabe, the protagonist, because they were each fascinating, even as supporting characters who were presently mired in repeated habits of behavior and weren’t fully fleshed out.

The attraction between Tessa and Gabe, his realization of his feelings, and his interactions with Tessa, his brothers, even his bar clientele: delicious.

This book is funny, real, and marvelously well done, with an exasperating heroine I still cheered for, Nora-Roberts-esque male characters ( A WHOLE SET OF

FOUR

THREE OMG YESSSSSS), and a setting that I know, love, and enjoy when it’s done well. Well played, Ms. O’Reilly. Well played.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    She has RUN-DMC men?? Making a note now…

  2. 2
    Anonym2857 says:

    Just one tiny point of order question in an otherwise agree-with-it-totally review…

    There are FOUR brothers?

    Hmn. I only remember three.  Maybe you are including the other bartender?

    I know there are only three books:

    Shaken and Stirred in March
    Sex Straigt Up in April and
    Nightcap in May

    I enjoy her writing, so I’d be happy to havea fourth! LOL

    Diane

  3. 3
    Jane says:

    There are three brothers plus the hot fireman cum part-time bartender (please note what I believe to be the only correct non porn usage of the word “cum”).

    And why yes, it was as good for me as it was for you.  I think I tend to grade more reactionary, i.e., if I had disliked Tess as much as you did, I would have graded it down.

    I really liked how you articulated that Tess had already made her pedestal and that she failed to realize it.  That was some deft writing.

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of Sex Straight Up given that it is one of the few romance books that deals with 9-11.

  4. 4
    Tae says:

    That’s some review, and it’s enough for me to go out and buy it

  5. 5
    Anne says:

    Yes!  I agree 100% on this one.  I normally am not very fond of the Blaze line lately, but Kathleen O’Reilly has a GREAT voice and great stories.  I’m looking forward to the next two stories in the series.

  6. 6
    Penny says:

    Oh, flawed and funny men, yes! Kathleen O’Reilly was responsible for the one hero I simultaneously wanted to snog silly and slap over the head multiple times all throughout the book (Spencer James in Breakfast at Bethany’s – I enjoyed him like mad). In the end I just couldn’t resist anymore and fell in complete love with him over the dorkiest Christmas present of all time. And then she came up with the Wall Street sex talk… Mad props to her, I can’t wait to read this one.

  7. 7
    darlynne says:

    Well, I typed out this incredibly long screed (emphasis on screeeeeee), which simply disappeared when I hit submit. Cosmic hand over my mouth or cyber fluke? I’m going with fluke.

    Sarah, I hated hated hated this book, more than any I can recall in recent memory. My reaction to it is whatever comes after wallbanging and ends in flames or homicide. Tessa is the new benchmark for TSTL heroines, that by which I will measure all. I have never been so outraged by a fictional character in my life and the sad part is that my enmity for her completely distracted me from what would otherwise have been an excellent read.

    I loved the O’Sullivans and enjoyed the dialog immensely; at times though, I felt nearly schizophrenic, bouncing as I did between laughter and snarls. If not for Tessa, the very sound of whose name still makes me grind my teeth, this would have been a favorite book, as opposed to the one, at least initially, that epitomized why category romance will never get any respect.

    Would an author deliberately set out to create such an annoying and totally unsympathetic character, just to show how she matures? Tessa may have grown emotionally by the end of the book, but I couldn’t summon the will to care and, frankly, wished she’d been run over by a bus. Twice.

    I was thrilled to read your review because that helped me separate the character from the book, although that seems kind of crazy, too, doesn’t it? On the other hand, I want to try again with new eyes, to see if I can focus on the truly excellent aspects of “Shaken and Stirred.”

  8. 8
    Jessica G. says:

    Hooray for the category romance.  When they’re bad, they’re very, very bad (I hate billionaire tycoons).  But when they’re good, I love them.

  9. 9
    dianewb says:

    Interesting review.  Between the (rather) glowing review and the comment from darlynne, I’m intrigued enough to read it.

  10. 10
    Lizzy says:

    I read Shaken and Stirred, and I just (Monday) read “Sex, Straight Up” on e-book. (It’s available now.) I liked Sex, Straight Up more.

    Yes, yes, Tessa got on my nerves, I must admit. I kept thinking: Listen, Gabe likes you. Please get over yourself. I’m sorry that Florida Ex-Boyfriend did you dirty; I live in Florida, and we don’t call it “America’s Wang” for nothing. And since O’Reilly did some other good and original things with this book, I thought Tessa’s ho-hum conflict felt especially clunky overall.

    Yeah, and re: Gabe. I thought he was good. But, alas, after Sex, Straight Up, I think My Heart Belongs To Daniel.

  11. 11
    Lizzy says:

    Also, and one other thing re: the Nora Roberts comment in the review. I’m rereading some Ye Olde Nora Categories right now. And I totally agree with the man comment. They’re some nuanced bastards.

    That’s all from the Wang for today.

  12. 12
    Jaci Burton says:

    What an awesome review! Must go get this book now. Thanks Sarah! :-)

  13. 13
    Chicklet says:

    I just read this book over the weekend, and… Tessa didn’t bother me as much as she bothered some of you. Perhaps that’s because I found her flaws believable, as well as her giant blind spot regarding those flaws. I mean, it’s one thing to be TSTL because you refuse to believe the hero knows anything about anything, and it’s another to be TSTL because you can’t see how you’re holding yourself back.

    Also, being a veteran consumer/creator of fanfiction, and therefore used to extrapolating huge amounts of backstory from a single line of dialogue, I inferred from Tessa’s phone conversation with her brother on Denny’s wedding day (“I thought Mom and [sister] would tell you about it in a mean way, so I wanted to call first”) that Tessa’s mom and sister weren’t supportive of her emotionally, so it didn’t surprise me that Tessa focused so intently on being independent.

    So, bygones. *g* I think we’re agreed that this book was very good, and that we’re looking forward to the next one.

  14. 14
    FunkyBunny says:

    I have to entirely 100% agree with darlynne – this book annoyed the piss out of me. 
    I was so mad I had to vent to The Husband.  About a book.  how lame.
    ((spoilers to follow))

    I was irritated with Gabe and his whole Not supporting her career, chest banging come be my GIRL Friend crap. 
    You don’t need your own apt, you don’t need your own job.  WHAT?!
     
    And her Lets have sex, but pretend its not you stuff?  what?! 

    And the BET.  The bar bet? It entirely skipped over the whole BET resolution, I actually flipped back to see if I missed a page or something.  NO.  She won unfairly, and gave it to a homeless guy.  Not to Gabe to help finish off the bar, not to pay off a student loan, or pay rent, but just some random homeless guy never to be heard about again.  This was the definitive TSTL moment for Tessa in my book.

    And the smarmy oldtimer who saw his ex girlfriend after 50 some years in the same bar?  uh, what was that all about? didn’t we clarify earlier in the book she doesn’t like to fly, and lives in another state far far away?

    This book qualifies as a full fledged wallbanger for me, and seriously makes me doubt the grading scale of my fellow Bitches! 

    (you can see how riled up I am, but I REALLY disliked this book.  I’ve already posted it on PBSwap, feel free to take it off my hands!!)

  15. 15
    Tessa says:

    Holy crap, heroine with my name!  Do you have any idea how rare it is for me to see a heroine with my name in print, as opposed to a best friend/murder victim/loyal dog?  Damn!

  16. 16
    Kaite says:

    Don’t go into a grocery store hungry, and double don’t go in after reading a Smart Bitches review. My local store has a half-way decent book/magazine section (they have knitting magazines AND almost half the entire Nora Roberts back library on sale), and I made the mistake of walking past it before I hit the self-check out.

    I may end up shredding the book, if Tessa (the fictional one) is really TSTL. The cover makes her look like a rather smarmy little weasel. I can’t get past the shit-eating grin on that model’s face.

    Oh, well. What’s $5 between friends?

  17. 17
    Beth says:

    I just started this one, and was very uncomfortable reading the first sexual encounter between Tessa and Gabe. I haven’t read a forced (albeit brief) seduction in a contemporary in a while (probably because I tend to stay away from billionaire tycoons), and I felt uneasy reading it. She was wasted, she said no, and she tried to push him away. A real hero would have used better judgment.

    Thanks for the great review!

  18. 18
    Shannon says:

    Hmmm… a good category romance?  Really?  Ok, but if I hate it I am SO blaming you!  Alright, maybe not.  I guess I am going to have to give this one a shot.  Open minds and all that…

    Oh, I just started a book blog of my own and have posted a link to this site.  Hope you don’t mind!

  19. 19
    Sayuri says:

    I liked this book. I loved Gabe, tolerated Tessa. Followed it with Sex, Straight Up and it was a friggin’ fantastic book. I have to wholeheartedly agree with Lizzy. I’m a Daniel FanGirl now. You think Gabe was nuaced. Daniel is nuanced and conflicted. Yum.

    I read her ‘Red Choo’ series as well and it had 2 good titles one really awful one. So I am hoping that Shaken Not Stirred is the bad one in this trilogy.  And it’s not all that bad.

    I have to say I’m kinda new to romance and now I’m completely friggin addicted to Harlequin Blaze. WTF? You should check out Lori Borrill’s ‘Putting It To The Test’. I completely loved it.

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