Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
What the Librarian Did, by Karina Bliss
I liked the first novel by Ms Bliss that I read (Second-Chance Family, review here) well enough that I was willing to buy What the Librarian Did when I saw it at the grocery store, book budget be damned. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had read mostly positive things about it around the blogosphere*.)
Here’s the rather coyly phrased back cover blurb:
When the librarian met the rock star…
Is Rachel Robinson the only one on campus who doesn’t know who Devin Freedman is? No big deal except that the bad-boy rock star gets a kick out of Rachel’s refusal to worship at his feet. And that seems to have provoked his undivided attention. Devin, the guy who gave new meaning to the phrase “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Devin, the guy who somehow becomes wedged between her and the past she’s kept hidden for years.
It’s up to this librarian to find out firsthand just how “bad” he really is. Because her secret—and her growing feelings for a man who claims he’s bent on redemption—depend on his turning out to be as good as he seems. Which is really, really good.
Before starting on the review proper I have to say that I like that the cover, corny as it may look, actually reflects the characters in the novel. Okay, so Devin’s tattoo should be much larger and reach all the way to the back of his hand, but at least it’s there; and Rachel’s penchant for wearing old fashioned clothes that match (and, I’m tempted to say, mock) many people’s preconceptions about librarians is crystal clear, from the blue neck ribbon to the waist high, knee long pencil skirt.
The novel starts with a humorous meet-cute: retired rock star and recovering addict Devin is being shown around the campus library by an oblivious Rachel, when a small group of infatuated teenagers barge in. The following snippet of conversation sets the tone for many of the exchanges between these two:
“I was a guitarist for a band that did well.”
(…) “That’s why I don’t know your name then. I don’t keep up with contemporary pop.”
He winced, “Rock.”
“We were rock.”
Something in his pained tone made her smile. “Was that like comparing Gilbert and Sullivan to Puccini?”
An answering glint lit his eyes. “Sorry, I’m not an opera buff. It’s always struck me as a bunch of overemoting prima donnas going mad or dying.”
“Whereas rock and roll…?” (pages 16-17)
This is followed by an entertaining scene created by Rachel’s just-dumped-and-still-very-drunk ex-boyfriend, Paul. A couple of weeks later, while (reluctantly on both their parts) going out together for dinner, they spar:
(Rachel has expressed relief after Devin has confirmed that he doesn’t drink anymore)
“It figures you’d be an advocate of prohibition,” he commented as he opened the passenger door.
“I’ve noticed before that you typecast librarians,” she said kindly. “But as your experience of learning institutions is obviously quite new I’ll make allowances.”
Devin started to enjoy himself. “Now who’s stereotyping? Besides, if you don’t want to be seen as old-fashioned, you shouldn’t dress like that.” (page 64)
At first glance it would seem that the opposites attract trope would mean that there is nothing in common between Rachel and Devin, but we soon realize that appearances are indeed deceiving, and that there is plenty for them to share—not the least of which is a certain college freshman named Mark.
I am not spoiling anything for anyone when I reveal that our vintage clothing wearing protagonist’s big bad secret is a teenage pregnancy. Seventeen years ago, Rachel chose to give her baby boy up for adoption rather than raise him by herself—since raising it at her parents’ house was not even an option for her, for reasons we learn as we get to know Rachel better.
Now that her son, Mark, is here, on her turf, Rachel struggles to find a way to get close to him without revealing her true reasons—she is keenly aware that she gave up all rights to her baby when she signed on the dotted line, yet she can’t help but hunger to know him and to earn his affection.
It may seem a bit too coincidental that Rachel’s son would show up at her library, but we soon learn that there’s nothing random about it: Mark is looking for his birth mother and, after some devious sleuthing, knows that she, this stranger who gave him up at birth, works at this particular college. Meeting, and being befriended by, Devin Freedman is a really cool development and all, but finding the woman who didn’t want him is Mark’s driving force.
For his part, Devin also has demons to face—between his estrangement from his only brother and his tentative, at best, relationship with his mother, on top of feeling still vulnerable in his recovery from drug and alcohol addictions.
There are a number of minor secondary characters, from Devin’s mother Katherine and his brother Zander to Trixie, Rachel’s “baby goth” assistant, and they are all deftly drawn—there is just enough depth to their characterizations to make them people in their own right, without having so much detail as to detract from Rachel and Devin’s own story.
As happened with Second-Chance Family, Ms Bliss’s writing voice kept me engrossed from the first to the last page. There are a few ups and downs in the story—a few misunderstandings too many, for example—but the writing is tight, the characters, both protagonists and secondary, are engaging and the pacing is excellent, so much so that this was a one-sitting read.
Do I have issues with the story at all, then? Yes, most definitely: I did have a rather strong wtf? reaction to the resolution of the conflict between Mark and Rachel—my own offspring’s teen years still too recent in my mind, I found it a bit too easy, too unrealistic. Mind, this is genre romance and neat happy endings tend to be the norm, so please do not let this personal quibble dissuade you from reading it.
What the Librarian Did gets 7 out of 10