TBR Challenge: Listen to a Friend

DISCLAIMER: This review posted a week early because I had a massive brain fart about how to count to “third Wednesday.” TBR Challenge day is actually February 20, so I am delay this post for another week. Sorry for any confusion.
Knock Me Off My FeetThis month’s TBR Challenge suggested theme is Recommended Read (something recommended by a fellow reader). I have a lot of those in my TBR. The one I chose is Knock Me Off My Feet, Susan Donovan’s debut novel from 2002. It was TBR thanks to my friend Robin, whose taste in romance I always respect, even though we don’t always agree. She thought I would really love this book, but the description didn’t thrill me. Here’s the summary:

Autumn Adams never planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps as Chicago’s answer to Martha Stewart — she can’t cook, doesn’t clean, and would rather play soccer than discuss the joys of white bathtub grout. Then some lunatic starts sending her threats in the mail and Audie finds herself under the protection of simmering, sexy Detective Stacey Quinn, a man determined to examine her every nook, cranny, and ex-boyfriend in his effort to find the stalker. A disarming combination of macho cop and sweet charmer, Quinn is hard to resist. But with Audie’s bad luck at finding and holding on to Mr. Right, she think it’s best to keep her distance.

A couple of things missing from this description help explain why I liked the book more than I expected to. For one thing, Audie is REALLY messed up. She hates running her mother’s “Homey Helen” empire, but she feels obligated by a deathbed promise to her mother. Her relationship with her mother was poor, her relationship with her brother is just as bad, and she thinks she’s a failure at romance. But she isn’t a loser — she’s a terrific soccer player, and she has a great relationship with a former boyfriend, and the reader learns over the course of the book that Audie’s “bad luck in love” is really due to her insecurity from a lack of affection growing up. She’s an easy character to like and to root for, and she has a lot more justification for the “poor little rich girl” trope than I was expecting.

Even more unexpected, and really delightful, is the character of Stacey (his mother’s maiden name) Quinn. He is actually a “Homey Helen” fan; he learned cooking and the satisfaction of providing a comfortable home from his mother, and he’s a bit of a neat freak. That makes from some initial humor in his early encounters with Audie, and it becomes a symbol of her increasing importance to him when he loosens up a little about putting housework ahead of other activities. He comes from a large, complex Irish family, which is both a draw and an obstacle for Audie. He has almost endless patience once he realizes that Audie is “the one” for him, and he needs it.

The secondary characters are also interesting and amusing; there’s no obvious sequel bait, and yet I would happily spend more time in the company of these people. There are interesting side stories that don’t detract from the main plot, which is romance with a suspense framework.

It seems that I’ve read a lot of books recently where the heroine isn’t a virgin but hasn’t really had good sex. I can believe that two characters in love find sex more amazing than any they’ve had without love, but I’m bothered by over and over reading male characters like that paired with women for whom sex has been forgettable, even unpleasant, before this, as though only men and sluts are capable of enjoying sex with partners other than “the one.” Donovan handles it better than many authors — at least Audie knows what an orgasm is — but it still felt unbalanced to me, and that kept me from fully enjoying their romance through a lot of the book.

Other than that, I enjoyed reading this book, with its funny side, its sexy side, its warm and fuzzy side,and its over-wrought but effective ending. I will be on the lookout for more by this author.