Wednesday, July 17, 2019

TBR Challenge: Molly O'Keefe - Can't Buy Me Love

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?

Comment: Time does seem to pass very quickly and it's again time for the TBR challenge post of the month.
This time, the theme is contemporary, which could encompass a huge variety of titles. I picked a long standing book in the pile for no special reason except it would fit the theme.

In this story we meet Luc Baker, a professional hockey player whose career is about to end because he has a brain injury that, as more hits he gets while playing, the more serious it can get. He is angry he is being forced to end things before he won the major cup in the sport and even more so when his father, a man he never respected and who hit him when he was a child, decides to marry a gold digger.
Tara Jean Sweet is certainly not a gold digger but she needed the money Lyle Baker offered so she accepted to play the role of a vain, empty headed woman only interested in money so Lyle could reunite with his children before he dies. 
The plan only works to some extent and Tara and Luc don't get along at first but the more time passes, the more attracted they feel and the more time they want to spend with each other. If only Luc could see past his own doubts and someone from her dubious past didn't suddenly show up to make things worse...

It's the first time I've tried a book by this author. I saw great reviews some years ago and that is probably why I thought to add it to my TBR but it has been waiting a long time. 
I had no real expectations about it, the only detail I had fixed in my head about the book was the fact the heroine wasn't what others thought of her and this "trope" usually is one I tend to like, if done well. She was not in disguise but those around her imagined the was more spoiled and vain than what she really is.

The idea of this story was cute enough. However, the older man Lyle wasn't a nice person while he was younger and able and he seriously mistreated his children. This means the possibility of having Luc and his sister Victoria going through a dramatic turn in the relationship with their father was lost and, for me, made things a little too unconvincing between them and after Lyle dies. I mean, the biggest point of conflict is gone, so what is left is the character's own behavior and self doubts and issues which could be a little too annoying at times.

From early on, the focus is on Luc and Tara as individuals. they feel attracted, it's clear they will develop a relationship and while I liked some steps of it, I couldn't avoid thinking they made many things, took some decisions behind the curtain. I mean, they would do things and the reader would know about the outcome later on or in another chapter. 
This wasn't happening all the time but it also reminded me a bit of Susan Elizabeth Phillip's writing style. The heroine is often a beaten down woman, whether financially, emotionally, physically and she finds a new strength in her dealings with the hero and those she accepts closer to her (like Tara accepted Luc and his mother Celeste, the housekeeper Ruby, etc) and she often would do stuff that would have a repercussion later on, like her decision in the end regarding the business deal that was so important to her and that we only see what happens after.

The romance wasn't anything special, I thought. They weren't getting along at first for obvious reasons and despite Tara Jean pretending to be more arrogant than what she is, I felt the balance wasn't achieved in all their interactions. They were a match sexually and we saw how they tried to connect emotionally as well and although this was obvious in some scenes, it was not in others. I just felt their relationship moved on too quickly for the type of personality they both had. It wasn't as easy to believe such headstrong people, with serious issues in their lives would want to be that vulnerable with one another so soon, even outside of sex. Still, I'm glad they got happy, of course, and I can say several scenes were good enough to make me keep reading.

Some decisions they took through the novel were a little annoying to me. How Luc put his life in jeopardy over a situation he couldn't control (how certain are you that in a team sport, you can determine the outcome of a season?), how Tara had a problem from her past and in a point she was having bonding scenes with the hero, she didn't trust him with that when they had discussed similar details... I can understand these inner conflicts help the plot move on but then, when things are solved and the HEA approaches, it feels a little uneven.

The secondary characters were mildly interesting. Eli, for instance, was mysterious enough for me to ant to get his story right away. His HEA, though, will be with Victoria, Luc's sister. We get plenty scenes with her and it's obvious she feels guilt and shame over something not her fault and her path will be one of self discovery but I admit I found her irritating here...
As for the major problems Luc and Tara Jean face, in the end there's nothing true love can't deal with... it was the expected ending but I finished the book and thought I certainly expected some more magic and romance from this. I might read the other two books in this trilogy one day...
Grade: 7/10

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