I really wanted to like this book. And there were moments when I was charmed by the heroine and laughed at her descriptions of people. But the book suffered because of an arrogant presumptuous hero, and a severe reliance on cliche.
Jenna Riley runs the family sports bar, and says she hates sports. Well, she says she hates sports but then, a chapter or so later, says she doesn't – she only means that she wants a guy who doesn't play sports so she doesn't have to live her work life at home. So professional sports players, a good third of whom are probably related to her, are off the menu. And of course the guy who has her panties most in a twist is a hockey player, who, with his fellow hockey players, hangs out at the Riley sports pub.
Let me tell you, Jenna's family is the most amazing family genetic pool ever. Not since Archie Manning's testicles have so many extrordinary sports heroes been born in one family. A hockey star, a baseball star, a football star. Somebody better win a Nobel in math for taking the job of managing the family box scores and season stats.
Ty is a hockey player for the local team. His agent is the heroine of a previous novel and he's something of a friend of the Riley family. He hangs out at the Riley bar with some of his teammates, and he has a serious thing for Jenna.
My biggest problems were with Ty, and the reliance on cliches. Ty was incredibly presumptuous about Jenna, about her feelings for him, which was entirely sure of, and about her life, which he knew how to direct and manage. I couldn't figure out if he was an arrogant cockwad, or if he had been informed prior to the start of the story that he was the hero of a romance novel and subject to all the guarantees and behavioral habits pertaining thereunto.
The story rests mostly within Jenna's point of view, and this is an early scene from the book, at Jenna's bar:
Her body was pinging like a Geiger counter and Ty was radioactive. The closer he got, the hotter she became. She took a step back. “I don't want you.”
He stopped, his lips curving in a knowing smile, “You keep saying that, but I don't think I believe you.”
“Arrogant men are not appealing.”
“I'm not being arrogant. I'm just good at reading signals.”
“You are so full of shit.” She bent down, grabbed her bag, and held it in front of her like a life preserver. “What signals?”
“You're breathing fast. Your cheeks are flushed. Your pupils are dilated.”
“I'm exhausted and out of breath from running around trying to close down this place. And it's hot in here.”
Ty laughed. “It's not hot in here. And you've been standing still.”
When the internal dialogue and the external dialogue and physical actions don't meet, it's confusing. When she says “No” despite being attracted, I as the reader am aware that she does not want to go near him, regardless of any scientific equipment in her pants that might indicate a different status. But Ty is not privvy to Jenna's thoughts and internal Geiger counters, and he's just assertive to the point of creepy for me. She did not want a relationship with him, despite being attracted to him. She said so, out loud, several times. And Ty just rolls right over her protests. This was unappealing for me, to say the least.
Not only that, but Ty also Knows Best. He knows that Jenna wants him. He knows what's best for her. He orchestrates events that are in her best interests despite her protests. (I realize I'm being vague here, but I am trying to avoid a bit of a secret part of Jenna's life that might be a spoiler). His arrogance and high-handedness, and his constant confidence that He Knows Best was really tiresome by the end of the book, and I never felt like Jenna and Ty ever achieved equal ground. In the beginning Jenna is so confident and unique; by the end I felt she was smushed by Ty's micromanaging of her life. I'm surprised Ty didn't organize her closet for her and pick out her shoes and hand feed her at some points.
There were parts I loved, but before I get to them, I have to explain the cliche parts, because the good parts were stellar when next to the wooden, bland dialogue of the more cliche-ridden scenes. I liked the Riley family, and loved their dialogue, but when you got a bunch of them in a room together, they were hard to tell apart. The wedding scene, wherein the characters from an earlier book get married, made me want to pull my own hair. Cliche after cliche to the point where the chapter did nothing but reinforce the happy ending from two books ago. Not only that, but the reader is also served a huge helping of telling-not-showing infodump about where those characters are and what they are doing now. I read the first book, but didn't read the second, and even with that knowledge I had a hard time distinguishing one happy couple from another, or caring much about what they were doing because I was told so much of it, like an end-of-year holiday update letter on bright red paper tucked into a generic greeting card. From the groom's mother saying she'd “never seen two people more in love” (despite her offspring pairing off at a pretty healthy pace), to Jenna telling her brother, “Take good care of her. She’s special,” I couldn't figure out how a family that was giving each other a hard time with loving sarcasm and a lot of teasing suddenly went saccharine and meaningless. To me, it didn't fit. Then there was this scene:
Jenna got to dance with Nathan.
“You look all grown up.”
Nathan grinned. “I kinda feel that way. And sometimes I still feel like a kid.”
She laughed. “Enjoy the feeling- like- a- kid moments. They’ll be gone before you know it.”
“I know. I’ll be off to college soon. Only one more year of high school after this.”
“I’m not sure we’ll let you leave us yet.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be ready to go.”
“Oh, trust me. You’ll be ready. Too much of the Rileys can be suffocating. You’ll have your bags packed and sneaking out the door in the dark of night so we can’t tie you to us.”
He squeezed her hand. “I like having you all for family, Jenna.”
“We all like you too, Nathan. A whole lot.” He turned her so they were facing Mick and Tara. “My mom and dad look happy.”
“They are. And they will be. Forever.”
She felt him relax.
I had a hard time believing that (a) a 17 year old would talk that way, (b) that family who see each other all the time would start mouthing wedding language, and (c) that Jenna could predict that Nathan's mom and stepdad would be happy forever – -unless someone tipped Jenna off that they'd been the hero and heroine of a romance novel, so their happiness was guaranteed.
The book does flip an old standard romance plot point, the 'I'm really attracted to this person so I'll just jump their bones once and that will get them Out of My System.” First, that never works. Second, and this is the part I liked, Jenna is the one deciding to get him “out of her system,” not Ty. He's pretty determined (ahem) in his interest in her, but she's not as interested in a relationship with him, and thinks her attraction is getting in the way of finding a real boyfriend to be with – and that interest in finding the right guy created one of my favorite scenes.
Jenna “reads” people by the drinks they order – and instead of seeming superficial and judgmental, it made me laugh:
Tonight she eagle- eyed every guy who walked through the doors, sizing them up as potential dates.
When a gorgeous man with a body to die for pulled up a seat at the bar, her radar started pinging. He wore crisp dark jeans and a button- down shirt, which he covered with a dark jacket.
Medium brown hair, cut short, and killer green eyes, with an engaging smile to perfect the look. She took a deep breath, a quick glance at the back bar mirror to make sure she looked okay, and went to take his order.
“What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay.”
A wine drinker. Fussy and anal retentive. How could she not have noticed that his jeans had that crease down the center? He probably dry cleaned them.
It would never work.
One down, many more to go, she busied herself serving some of her regulars and scoping out a few more potential single candidates, when another new guy walked in.
Dark blond hair, leather jacket, relaxed jeans and boots, motor-cycle helmet in his hand. Must be tough to be riding in February, because it was damn cold outside. His goatee and lazy grin were sexy as hell. He caught sight of her right away and headed in her direction.
She liked that.
“What can I get for you?”
He leaned against the bar. “I'll have a Chivas on the rocks.”
She'd been so hoping he was a beer guy. Instead, she'd gotten a rich boy playing biker. And he'd had so much potential. He probably rode a Ducati Superbike.
That was one the more entertaining parts of Jenna's personality and the narration from her point of view – and her skill to read people by their drinks comes up a few times. It was original and amusing, and when contrasted with the dialogue from the wedding scene and the telling-not-showing and the bland summaries of characters from books gone past, it only reinforced the differences between those sections of the book.
In the end, Ty pays lip service to the idea that they are a partnership, but does so in a way that's not believable for me (again, I do the vague thing to avoid the spoiler). He's been so sure and confident that he knows best for her, but when it's time for him to do something that's specifically For Her and traditionally His Job, he says he's going to let her make the choice because they are a team. So only after she's been pushed and pushed by him are they partners, and only after she recognizes and announces to him that He Was Right All Along.
The imbalance in the progress between them, with Ty's certainty and Jenna's self confidence taking hit after hit from Ty's assurance and overbearing attitude wore on me to the point where I didn't have much respect for either of them. Yet I like this series, and I like the characters (to say nothing of the cover art, sweet holy crapmonkeys) and will still try the next one in hopes of finding characters whose strengths are consistent and not subject to the dominance of will of one over the other.