Thursday, September 16, 2010

What the Librarian Did (book) by Karina Bliss

I've been dipping my toes into category romances, and I've finally found one I really liked! Maybe it was just Bliss's writing, or maybe I need to read more Harlequin Super Romances, or maybe my liking this book had something to do with the fact that the main character is an academic librarian - whatever the reason, I liked this book. This will sound strange, though, when you consider that this is a romance novel: my biggest gripe about this book is that there wasn't enough romance. Rachel, the main character, had so much other stuff going on that there wasn't as much time for nice romantic scenes as I would have liked.

Synopsis:

Devin Freedman is a guitarist in a famous band, but he decides to give that up - his rock star life has meant nothing but shallow relationships and alcoholism, and his doctors have told him that he might die if he doesn't stop drinking. Devin decides to go live near his mother in New Zealand and start over as a college student. He's wary about how others will react to him, but he discovers to his relief that at least one person doesn't know or care about his rock star status: Rachel Robinson, an academic librarian whose fashion sense is stuck in the fifties and who knows nothing about rock music.

"What the librarian did" is made clear fairly early on - when she was 17, she got pregnant by her boyfriend, who she thought loved her. Her boyfriend panicked and left. His parents encouraged Rachel to have an abortion, while Rachel's parents encouraged her to keep the baby and raise him or her with their help (a simplified and not entirely truthful version of the real story, which is revealed at the end of the book). Rachel chose a third option: adoption. She originally asked that the child never be told about her, and when she changed her mind years later the adoptive parents refused to risk damaging their own relationship with their son by telling him he was adopted.

What they don't know is that he found out on his own. All 17-year-old Mark knows about his birth mother is her age and where she works, so he has the bright idea to go to the college she works at and look up every woman of the appropriate age until he finds her - he just had no idea how difficult a task this would be. For a while, the one bright spot of his experience is Devin, who, seeing something of his young self in Mark, decides to befriend him. Although Mark sees Rachel several times because of visits to the library and his friendship with Devin, she kind of makes him uncomfortable. He has no idea that the reason she acts so weird around him is because she has found out he's the son she put up for adoption and she desperately wants to be friends with him.

What little Rachel knows of Devin's rock star life convinces her that he's a horrible person for Mark to be around - but trying to convince Mark to stay away from Devin just alienates him, so she instead decides to get closer to Devin in order to stay close to Mark. Devin has no idea what inspired Rachel's sudden change of heart, but he's willing to see where things go between the two of them. As they grow closer and Rachel finds herself learning more about and liking Devin, she begins to feel more and more guilty about using him to grow closer to Mark.

Devin and Rachel keep touching each others' sore spots. Devin doesn't like that Rachel always seems to keep a portion of herself guarded and untouchable. He occasionally suspects Rachel of using him and usually finds out he's mistaken - until he learns that Mark is Rachel's son and finds out that she's known since before he and Rachel started dating. As someone who's been used by others for more than half his life, it hurts him to learn that the first woman he's ever had a real relationship has been using him, too. Rachel, doing her best not to fall in love with Devin, keeps misjudging him.

Things come to a head when Devin's older brother, the lead singer of Devin's former band, visits. Devin suspects that his brother has been cheating him out of royalties, and he's threatened to sue him. Devin's brother hopes to not only talk Devin out of suing him, but also to get Devin to rejoin the band. Although Devin has no intention of rejoining the band, Rachel assumes that he will. Rachel and Devin have a terrible argument. Things get worse for Rachel when Mark finds out that she's his mother and has known almost the whole time.

Rachel's bleak mood is interrupted by the news that no one can find Mark anywhere. Although she and Devin still aren't getting along, they team up to find Mark and learn that Mark is at Devin's brother's place (the guy promised him a job while he was high on marijuana). Rachel and Devin go to him, and they convince him to listen to what Rachel has to say. Finally, Rachel reveals everything that happened after she found out she was pregnant. The boy who had said he loved her abandoned her. Her father, a respected man in the community, was privately an alcoholic who abused his wife. He never beat Rachel, until the day he found out she was pregnant. Likely to preserve his public image, he and his wife made sure that the community knew they'd help Rachel raise her child, but Rachel didn't want her child to grow up in this kind of household. Because she loved him, she gave her child up for adoption.

Hearing this story, Mark forgives Rachel, and Devin finally realizes why Rachel has always tried to never fall in love with anyone. Devin decides to stick around, no matter what, waiting for the day when Rachel can trust him enough to allow herself to love him. In the end, the two get married shortly after Devin's mother remarries, with Mark walking Rachel down the aisle.

Review:

Ok, so the cover is horrible (and, unfortunately, not too far off, because of Rachel's love of retro clothing), but I liked this book anyway. I only wish Devin and Rachel could've gotten along more. I loved their early quick and witty conversations and the conversations they had when they weren't worrying about weighty stuff, but then all the adoption issues, familial problems, and misunderstandings swooped in and that stuff was kind of lost.

The scene where Rachel finally explained everything to Mark made me teary-eyed - I'm a sucker for sweet scenes. Still, it made me remember the original thought I had at the beginning of this book, that "what the librarian did" would turn out to be "have an abortion." Is that even possible in a Harlequin Super Romance (or any Harlequin romance)? Do characters ever have abortions? Rachel says she never considered having an abortion, not even for a minute, but I don't think I'd have blamed her if she had - her choice made her life very difficult. As far as the adoption goes, since she was already estranged from her family, I'm surprised that she didn't allow Mark's adoptive parents to tell him about her until much later.

One thing that bothered me a little - Devin's alcoholism. What bothered me was that this seemed to have almost no bearing on his current life. Sure, it was the reason why he was in New Zealand in the first place, and sure, he refused any drinks offered to him. However, he never seemed to feel the slightest bit tempted by drinks, and he seemed to have no lingering alcohol-related issues. This didn't quite feel real to me. Rachel had enough issues that I'm sure there just weren't enough pages left to explore any alcohol-related issues Devin might have had, and near-fatal alcoholism made a good excuse for Devin being anywhere near Rachel in the first place - it just all felt a bit incomplete to me.

One last thing - as an academic librarian, I loved the "librarian" bits. Rachel gives tours of the library, explains the library's resources to Devin, and teaches instruction sessions. Prior to this book, I think the only fictional librarians I had read about worked in public libraries, so it was nice reading about a librarian in an academic setting. Rachel does these special dinners for students who are maybe a bit lonely and/or whose families live too far away to visit - very nice.

Overall, I enjoyed this. I'll have to look for more books by Karina Bliss sometime. Next time I visit a used bookstore, I think I'll try to pick up more Harlequin Super Romances - this may be a good line for me.

This is pretty much a one-note read-alikes list: romance featuring librarians.  I was going to work in romance featuring rock stars and romance featuring adopted children, but that wasn't working out so well, so instead you get a librarian-heavy list.

Read-alikes:
  • The Librarian's Passionate Knight (book) by Cindy Gerard - This Silhouette Desire romance stars a Boston children's librarian who lacks confidence.  She's being harassed by an ex-boyfriend when she's saved by Daniel Barone, a member of a wealthy Boston family.  I actually own a copy of this - I spotted it in a used bookstore and grabbed it because of the word "librarian" in the title, but I haven't read it yet.  Those who'd like another romance starring a librarian might want to try this.
  • The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill (book) by Molly O'Keefe - Another Harlequin Superromance starring a librarian.  In this case, the librarian's family is the subject of town whispers and gossip, although the description I read also makes it sound like maybe she's done something gossip-worthy in the past.  The hero in this one is a handyman.
  • Vegas Two-Step (book) by Liz Talley - Another Harlequin Superromance starring a librarian who ends up with a guy she would never have believed would really be interested in her.  In this case, the guy is a cool businessman the heroine meets while on vacation in Vegas.  She figures their relationship is nothing more than a quick vacation fling, so she's shocked when the guy turns up in her tiny hometown with the intention of staying and putting down roots.
  • The Winning Hand (book) by Nora Roberts - This is the only book in this list that I've actually read.  The heroine is a librarian who's never been very assertive but seems to be turning over a new leaf when she runs away from the guy she was being strongly encouraged to marry.  With little left to lose, she ends up gambling away the last of her money at a casino in Vegas...only to win big.  Now she has the ability to build a new life for herself, and she has to figure out what to do about the chemistry between her and the owner of the casino.

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