Review: Can’t Buy Me Love by Molly O’Keefe

 

Title:  Can’t Buy Me Love

Author:  Molly O’Keefe

Publisher:  Bantam

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In Molly O’Keefe’s captivating new contemporary romance, a woman with a past and a man without a future struggle to find a place where they belong.

A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock; she’ll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure Lyle’s estranged children home. The mission is soon accomplished.

Now Lyle’s gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He’s also Tara Jean’s boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to Luc’s priorities, like make him want to pry her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean’s past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?

Review:

Once I started reading Can’t Buy Me Love, I realized that it was completely different from what I was expecting.  From the cover shot, I thought that this would be a light, flirty romance with a lot of humor.  It wasn’t.  Is that a bad thing?  Nope!  This is a sizzling love story about two very flawed people who are desperately looking for a place to fit in and find the happiness denied to them.  Both have been molded and shaped by their unhappy pasts, and they are both still haunted by mistakes they have made in their attempt to find meaning and acceptance.  Luc was abused by his demanding father, and even his status as a star hockey player can’t dim the disappointment that eats at him because of his father’s lack of regard for him.  Tara is running from her painful past, from the nightmare of being used by her mother’s boyfriends and by the terrible decisions that she has made before touching down at Crooked Creek ranch.  Both of them have huge dreams for the future, but they don’t trust enough in themselves to believe that they’ll eventually find some inner peace of mind.  I loved both Luc and Tara, and hoped that they would overcome their hang-ups long enough to find each other.

When we are first introduced to Tara, she is working for Luc’s terminally ill father, Lyle.  Lyle has concocted a sure-fire scheme to get Luc back to the family’s Texas ranch – he has announced that he and the much younger Tara are engaged and will soon be wed.  While Luc doesn’t give a fig about Lyle’s millions, his half-sister, Victoria, does.  Reeling from the revelation that her husband was running a Ponzi scheme, and still shocked by his suicide, penniless Victoria has only one thought in mind – saving her inheritance from Tara’s greedy clutches.  Once the flock re-converges at the ranch, all of their ugly childhood memories start crawling out of the woodwork, leaving them raw and on edge.  To make matters worse for Luc, he has been warned by his doctor to quit hockey while he still has a functioning brain.  One more concussion and more than his career will be over.

I loved Luc  and Tara and their struggle to put their pasts into perspective.  Luc has been running from his father’s disapproval since he was a teen, and nothing that he has accomplished has soothed his battered self-esteem.  He is a hockey superstar, but being back on the ranch rips all of his confidence away, leaving him frustrated, a seething rage roiling under the surface of his control.  He longs to confront his father, to put him in his place.  He wants tell him what a crap father he was and finally make him look at Luc and see him as his equal.  Instead, his brain is one more hit away from turning into a malfunctioning pile of goo, Lyle has exited his life for good, and Tara just keeps getting under his skin.  I found Luc interesting because there are a few times that he comes awfully close to totally losing control of his temper, which is something he  wouldn’t be able to forgive himself for.

Tara has made some terrible, terrible decisions in her life, and when her shady past finally catches up with her, I was afraid that she was going to try to keep everything a secret and not ask Luc for help.  When it seemed as though that was exactly was she was going to do, I felt like pulling my hair out.  Thankfully, her decision to be self-reliant quickly crumbles, which made me like her better.  A victim of manipulation herself, she is trying to run as far away from her former life of cons and deception as fast as she can.  Always forced to be self-reliant, I wanted her to let her guard down and let Luc take care of her, to learn to trust him so that she could finally move beyond her unhappy past.

Now, one character that I have a love-hate relationship with is Luc’s half-sister, Victoria.  The child of Lyle’s mistress, Victoria was also treated harshly by Lyle when she was a child. After her marriage blows up in her face, and her cushy life in New York dissolves, Victoria wants only one thing – her inheritance.  I didn’t like Victoria because the only thing that really mattered to her was money, and she expected to get it without working for it.  She does grow up by the end of the book, sort of, but I don’t know if I am ready to put her sniveling and whining behind her.  Life isn’t fair, and Victoria’s entitlement attitude grated on my nerves. Ugh!

Even though Can’t Buy Me Love was completely different from what I expected, the story clicked for me.  I liked the hero and heroine, and was convinced that they were meant to be together.  Their courtship quickly burns out of control, despite their best attempts to ignore the attraction that rages between them.  By the end of the book, I believed that there could be no other partner for either of them, and their life experiences had given them the strength to stand together.  What else made me happy?  Seeing that Molly O’Keefe has an extensive backlist that is screaming to be read.

Grade:  B+, leaning towards A-

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by author

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Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

 

Title: A Lady Awakened

Author: Cecilia Grant

Publisher: Bantam Books

ISBN: 978-0553593839

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In Cecilia Grant’s emotionally rich and deeply passionate Regency romance debut, a deal with a rumored rogue turns a proper young woman into . . . A Lady Awakened.

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

Review:

I first heard about A Lady Awakened on Dear Author.  Because I dislike spoilers, I avoided reading anything about the plot, but it was talked up enough that I was intrigued.  Plus, the gorgeous cover didn’t hurt this very unique Regency.  I hesitate to label it a romance, because it is so much more than that.  This is a thoughtful, provocative character study that explores the emotional growth of two very different, and at first, seemingly incompatible,  people.  Seeing the development of the protagonists is what made this such a wonderful read.  Both Martha and Theo undergo amazing changes.  They become better people because of their association.  They learn to trust and be caring individuals, and I totally bought into these changes.

Martha has an unpleasant discovery after the unexpected death of her husband; only her son will inherit the property and the fortune that she has married into. Her husband has left her nothing.  If there is no male heir, than her husband’s brother will take possession of the estate.  When Martha learns that her brother-in-law is a heartless cad who is responsible for ruining two of the servants in the employ of the family, she is determined to protect the women she has come to feel so responsible for.  She cooks up a scheme to get herself pregnant, so that the estate will stay under her control.

When Theo is sent down from London to his family’s small country estate to cool his heels, he is eager to find a way back into his father’s favor.  He is bored in the country, and he wants to be free to resume his frivolous life in the pursuit of personal pleasures.  When Mrs. Russell approaches him with a scandalous proposal, he doesn’t hesitate to accept.  He will perform the task that her husband could not and get her with child.  In return, she will pay him and offer a pleasant distraction while he is exiled in the country.

What set this book apart for me was the gradual regard that Martha and Theo develop for each other.  Despite the intimacy of their deal, Martha is ever careful to keep herself discretely detached from Theo.  To her, he is nothing but a sperm donor. The bedroom scenes are almost painful as Martha considers the male form repulsive and never allows herself to experience any pleasure whatsoever.  She is afraid of losing control, and of losing part of herself.  There is nothing more grating for Martha than the knowledge that she has no real command over her own life.  If she doesn’t produce a male heir, she will be forced to move in with her brother.  She is desperately trying to avoid being dependent on anybody other than herself.  She has little regard for men, even her own deceased husband, and it is this lack of respect that has pushed her into a shell of her own making.  How can she possibly enjoy herself when she is with someone she just can’t respect?

For his part, Theo begins to find his new daily duty more of a chore than he had ever imagined.   Martha manages to remove any possibility of enjoyment from these encounters by remaining detached and aloof.  Theo is left struggling to find ways to keep himself motivated during an act that has suddenly become unpleasant.  The thoughts rolling around in his head had me in stitches a few times.  I actually started feeling sorry for him, and started desperately wished that Martha would lighten up a bit.

As they spend time together discussing the care and management of their estates, however, something wonderful begins to happen.  They both become very likeable people who are striving to provide for their tenants and to improve their land.  Theo gradually changes from a selfish young lord to a man worthy of admiration.  Martha’s icy demeanor begins to thaw.  They have common goals to strive for, and they slowly form a strange sort of friendship.  As Theo’s outgoing personality rubs off on Martha, she begins to take emotional risks with other people.  And as Martha’s concerns for the people under her care begin to influence Theo, he becomes a caring landowner who wants to improve the lot of those living on his property.

This book worked for me because I totally bought into the changes both Martha and Theo undergo.  I’ll take it one step further – without knowing each other, it wouldn’t have been possible for either of them to grow and develop into kind people worthy of – yes – respect.  They both become better than themselves because of their association with each other.  This is an emotionally satisfying read because of the changes the characters undergo.

If you want to read a very unique book, look no further than A Lady Awakened.  The emotional depth and maturity of the book will have you hooked.  You, too, will find estate management captivating, and you, too, will come away from the read believing in the transformative power of true, selfless love.

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by author (Thank you very much, Cecilia!!)