Tessa works at a bar with Gabe O’Sullivan. Gabe, conveniently, has
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
THREE OMG YESSSSSS), and a setting that I know, love, and enjoy when it’s done well. Well played, Ms. O’Reilly. Well played.