Book Review

Hot Under Pressure by Kathleen O’Reilly

Ashley lives with her mom, her sister, and her niece in Chicago after a painful divorce. David lives by himself and travels all over the US for his job, working 90% of his waking hours, following an equally painful divorce. When they end up sitting next to one another on a crowded flight that’s delayed for hours before finally being cancelled, they notice each other, and realize that parts of themselves they thought might have been extinct are working just fine.

Usually I dislike the whole “Instant bonerating attraction, oh wait, our sex is meaningful, my wang is a divining rod, you are the ONE” storyline a LOT. Like, heaping, steamy piles of a lot.

But O’Reilly works it and works it hard and well and I couldn’t put the book down. Once Ashley and David notice each other, and realize that that notice is mutual, well, they put their inhibitions on notice and head for an airport motel, literally running through the terminal. The two progress from glances to trying to share the armrest to small conversations to white hot burning sexual tension in a small amount of time, and yet I utterly belived it. I’ve often raised a brow at portrayals of instant sexual tension so hot neither party could resist it, but O’Reilly’s careful construction totally sold me on this one.

After their hot night of nonstop sexxorating, Ashley and David go their separate ways. Ashley doesn’t intend to see him again, but she can’t stop thinking about him. David has much the same problem. Soon, they’re embarking on a secret, cross-country affair that slowly becomes more than they expected, and forces them to decide whether they want to move out of the post-divorce holding patterns they’ve been in.

One thing I love about O’Reilly’s writing is how she can pack a ton of information in a few spare words that both avoid the category romance info-dump and reveal a wealth of information about the characters. At one point very early in their affair, Ashley encourages David to try dating because he hadn’t seen anyone post-divorce except Ashley. So David embarks on a few online dating appointments, mostly so he can talk to Ashley about them and prove he was right, that it wouldn’t work. He ends up on a lunch date with another divorcee named Martina, who starts defending her ex-husband, who cheated on her horribly:

They met at an outdoor cafe on 52nd, crowded with spring-time traffic, and for forty-five minutes he listened to her talk about Barney, the ex, until David felt solely responsible for the sins of the entire male gender.

“You must hate listening to me like this,” she told him over dessert.

“I don’t mind. Honest,” he said, because as long as she monopolized the chatter, he didn’t have to say a word.

“Sometimes I think I still love him. He liked to flirt, and sometimes he carried it too far. That makes me stupid, doesn’t it?”

David’s first instincts were to agree, that infidelity could never be forgotten, but that wasn’t the way to carry on normal human relations. Besides, he knew what love could do to people. “Not stupid. Love isn’t easy. You think it should be perfect. That if two people are together, they stay loyal, they stay together. If you can’t do that, is it really love?”

“I think it could be.”

“Your ex was weak.”

“Not true. He was very strong, but sometimes Barney…” Martina’s voice trailed off with a sigh and David understood that an argument over her ex’s flaws was pointless. She had her heart set to stupid and he wasn’t going to talk her out of it.

Ashley and David also have their hearts set to different modes, and, like Martina, it takes a lot of will to change the setting. David’s is set to control and order, working nonstop and flying all over the US for business, filling his day with work and little else, and when Ashley enters his life, his order and control are blown away:

Nearly three weeks since he’d seen her; three weeks was a long time. A man could want a lot in three weeks. A man could hunger a lot in three weeks. It was the most logical explanation.

Except he had no logic in his brain. It was like she twisted the wires until logic was impossible.

The madness started all over again. His eyes opened, and she was still there. Waiting for him to do something.

“David,” she whispered urgently, her eyes flared, and he snapped.

Ashley has her heart, and her entire life, set to “Responsible.” She takes care of her mother, her sister, her niece, and the boutiques she purchased after her divorce, and leaves little time for herself, until she’s in a repeating pattern of soothing everyone else’s needs, and covering for everyone else’s mistakes with no space for her to ask or even realize what Ashley herself wants for her future. It’s as if, following her divorce, Ashley couldn’t see a different future from the one she’d expected with her former husband, so she stopped looking forward at all, and instead went in circles, never departing, and never arriving either.

She knows it, but she can’t figure out how – or why – she should change:

Finally she sighed, and there was that sad look of resigned self-awareness in her face, like when you overslept and you knew you shouldn’t because there were eighty-thousand things to get done. David never overslept, but sometimes he thought about it.

“I wasn’t always like this,” she told him.

“Like what?” he asked, knowing exactly what ‘this’ was.

“I’ve never been the most decisive person. Actually, ‘ponderous’ is the word I like best. But after Jacob, I don’t want to commit to anything. Do you have that problem?”

Of course not. David was decisive, able to leap tall judgments in a single bound, and once the decision was made he didn’t look back, no regrets. “Not a problem for me.”

“Then what happened to you? Because everybody knows, when you get divorced, you’re marked for life. What’s your mark?”

No, compared to Ashley, David had come through his divorce fairly unscathed. “I don’t think I have one.”

She held up a hand to her ear. “Can you repeat that please? I missed it against all those throbbing molto-basso sounds of male denial.”

“I’m not in denial.”

“Liar, much?”

“Honestly, I’m fine.”

She laid her chin on her palm. “Then why don’t you talk about your marriage at all? Huh? Riddle me that one, Mr. I’m-So-Well-Adjusted.”

That small puff of air was the sound of male ego being deflated by a woman who wears bunny slippers on a plane.

David gathered his courage, met her eyes, and almost lied, but eventually the truth made its sorry way out of his mouth.

Once Ashley and David take larger personal risks to their own solitude and isolation in order to be together more often, they have to take other risks, ones that affect their carefully-constructed workds, and the people around them. Ashley and David have real problems that have to be faced, and there’s no easy, sparkly, wrap-it-all-up-in-rainbow-ribbon solutions, either.

But the journey they both take while flying back and forth to be with each other results in realizations and progress for both of them, with the opportunity for greater rewards, should they decide to take even bigger risks.

The flaws were few. Every now and again, the language gets purple in a hurry (at one point, a cock finds “heaven all on its own”). Ashley is ever so happy to recommend changes for David while resisting to the point of stubborn contentiousness that anything is wrong with the roles she maintains. She’s so often prickly and offended when someone else points out something that she has already recognized about herself – which is normal. But when she does take a stand to break her own damaging habits, the narration indicates that its something she has rehearsed. Until then, there is plenty of accounting of Ashley’s ruminations when the scene is in her POV, so for the story to jump to a moment that she has rehearsed and prepared for, all outside of the reader’s experience, is jarring. But perhaps that was meant to be a surprise for the reader as much as for David, who is suitably stunned.

Flaws aside, I loved this book. I am horrified at myself that I resisted the appeal of category romance as long as I did, and this book is exactly the kind of kick in the ass I deserve for neglecting some outstanding stories in the category format. Hot Under Pressure depicted realistic, wounded people recognizing that perhaps they’ve outgrown the habits that used to keep them safe. It is a breath-holding, marvelous tense pleasure to witness their potential for happiness, should they take a chance and change directions.


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Hot Under Pressure by Kathleen O'Reilly

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  1. tracykitn says:

    Not to be too totally difficult, but…I can totally buy the

    “Instant bonerating attraction, oh wait, our sex is meaningful, my wang is a divining rod, you are the ONE”


    Once upon a time, I met a guy. Long story short, within a year, I’d had a baby and we’d gotten married (in that order) and now, ten years and two more kids later, I still get butterflies every time I hear his voice or see his truck pull in to the driveway. And we’re heading into our second Iraq deployment, which is not fun, but it challenges us to find ways to connect beyond me reading on one end of the sofa while he watches TV from the other end.

  2. Kiersten says:

    I’ve really enjoyed Kathleen O’Reilly’s writing since you and DA turned me on to her last trilogy featuring 3 brothers (the bartender, accountant, and politico. the names escape me right now, but it’s my birthday so I’m not trying too hard today.) Now I’m looking forward to picking this one up, heading to the local pool and settling in for a great time. Cool!

  3. Melissa, in New Orleans says:

    Just saw this in the store.  Thanks for reminding me I wanted to buy this for my kindle!

  4. JewelTones says:

    It’s funny… I rarely find a single title book (romance or not) that can hold my interest it’s full length.  I hit that 3/4s mark and it feels like there’s filler in there until they hit the black moment.  I much prefer the pacing of category romances like this one—it’s tight, it’s quick, the pacing is always a focus as the relationship builds—and I feel like nothing is ever wasted.  Plus they’re just plain fun to read!  🙂


  5. Vanessa says:

    I saw your twitter about this one during the “Handselling Tuesdays” twitters, maybe last week? I bought it immediately (what’s up ebooks!), read it that night, and LOVED it. It wasn’t cheesy and I absolutely believed in the characters and in their HEA 😀

    Thanks for the rec!


  6. Courtney says:

    “Instant bonerating attraction, oh wait, our sex is meaningful, my wang is a divining rod, you are the ONE”
    This ACTUALLY happened to my husband and I.  No, really.  I love this plot.  I find it completely realistic!!

  7. Caffey says:

    I’ve so enjoy Kathleen books!  She too pulls me in on the emotions of her stories.  So real!

  8. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the review—I agree with most of it.  I bought this one and read it based on your tweets and having read and enjoyed three previous categories by this author. I enjoyed it.

    I know you don’t like to comment on your own posts, but I can’t help asking: what did you think of the use of the word “shyster” to refer to a lawyer named Mr. Golden of a law firm Goldstein, Goldstein and Lowe? I really enjoyed this book, but I was a just a bit surprised that another choice wasn’t made here. Then again, I tend to have a sensitivity of a dog that can hear nonhuman decibels when it comes to these things!

  9. Kathleen O'Reilly says:

    Jessica,  I can answer this one a bit.  Have you read Outliers?  Right before I finished this book I had been reading Outliers and it was probably bubbling in my subconscious.  There’s a fascinating chapter on the history of Jewish lawyers in NYC, and how it came to be that a lot of the NYC firms that came up after the 40s (I think it was the 40s but it could have been the 20s) were very successful and conquered the landscape of law in NYC thereafter.  How factual his history is, I don’t know, but I love Malcolm Gladwell and would read the phonebook if he wrote it, because he would spin it into some fascinating little yarn and throw in enough data to make 867-5309 sound scientific.  If you haven’t picked up the book, it makes great reading.

    As for shyster, I can fairly confidently say that I adore the word shyster and shylock and love the sound of both.  I don’t like a lot of the modern slang for lawyers (my best friend is a lawyer), and I’ve written one hero as a lawyer, so I use shyster a lot in my books.  Please note that I never actually googled the meaning of the word shyster before, because to my previously untutored ear it sounds playfully roguish, rather than patently dishonest, somewhat like John Cusack, rather than John Malkovich, if that means anything.  Now that I’ve googled it, I will take more care in the future. 

    But all that aside, mea culpa. My sincere apologies if any offense was taken, certainly none was intended.  Sometimes my sensibilities (I have two children) are numb to all but a nuclear blast.

  10. Diana says:

    Ordered this book recently and can’t wait to read it when it arrives.

  11. Jessica says:

    Ms. O’Reilly,

    Thanks so very much for your illuminating response. The etymology of the word is in dispute (much more likely to have come from the German word for shit—which anyone who has seen the film Run Lola Run will know by heart (Scheisse! Scheisse! Scheisse!)—than Shakespeare’s Shylock) but I can tell you it does have a negative connotation in the Jewish community thanks to its historical use. It is certainly much more socially acceptable than some other words I can think of, though, and I was not offended, just curious whether another Jewish romance reader raised her eyebrows just a little bit like I did.

    Thanks again, and thanks especially for writing such terrific books. I really enjoyed Hot Under Pressure and eagerly await your next!

  12. Kathleen O'Reilly says:


    Thank YOU.  I spent many more years reading than actually looking up words, so I know more word meanings by context rather than precise definition.  My DH just two nights ago educated me on the definition of the word ‘prose’.  I was heartbroken because it’s such a pretty-sounding word. 

    After your note, I educated myself some more and came across”> this link . 

    And please, call me ‘Kathleen’. 🙂

  13. Kathleen O'Reilly says:


    This Link!

    Kathleen, who not only is poorly versed in etymology, but also HTML-ology as well.

  14. Moth says:

    Did you ever try any Sarah Mayberry? They’ve reviewed her on Dear Author a couple of times. Her friends to lovers book Anything For You is EXCELLENT. 🙂

    I hope I win this book in the giveaway, but if I don’t I might just dip into my meagre book fund to buy it. These excerpts were great.

  15. caligi says:

    I bought and read this book yesterday, solely because of this review, and absolutely loved it. That was a wonderful way to lose my Blaze virginity.

    Kathleen, you’re on my auto-buy list now, and I’m going to go searching out the backlist ASAP as well.

  16. Kathleen O'Reilly says:


    First of all, congratulations!  I hope you enjoy the books.  And I agree with you on the Anything for You.  I thought it was a great book and really had a good time reading it.

  17. Janet W says:

    Words and their understood/perceived/gut-level meanings—- fascinating stuff. Apropos of nothing, All About Romance is doing an online book club and one of the suggested September titles is Heyer’s The Grand Sophy which I love but almost hope won’t get chosen if the main convo is going to be about the rather unattractively portrayed back-street lender and Heyer’s a bit kneejerk portrayal of him. It sort of fits in with the ongoing poll on Dear Author—“which books have you outgrown and why?”: some of the sentiments we see expressed in books we love/loved are surprising, to say the least, when through 2009 eyes and sensibilities.

    That being said, the best Legal Firm name evah is from NPR’s Car Talk programme: the firm of “Dewie Cheetham and Howe”. My apologies if that isn’t spelled correctly.

  18. Kathleen O'Reilly says:


    I think sensibilities do become known a lot easier today, then before.  Before the net, people had their own localities, which were probably skewed toward racial, religious and geographical lines, and that was all they were aware of, outside of TV and radio.  Today, I have friends all over the place, and I’m exposed to a lot more than I used to be (in a good way, not a bad way).  I think the world gets a little smaller and I think people get a little smarter.  And that’s why I think our 2009 sensibilities are a little more aware than before.

    I’m not a big Heyer fan (Clare Darcy was it for me), but I’m not surprised.  There’s been a lot of discussion about older writers racial and religious attitudes, some of them personal attitudes, and some are things that come through in their writing, and it’s very hard not to judge them as you said, through 2009 eyes.  I’m not sure that it’s fair to do that, but it happens.

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