The Book: John Riley's Girl by Inglath Cooper
The Particulars: Harlequin SuperRomance #1198, 2004, Out Of Print, Contemporary Romance
Why Was It In The Bat Cave TBR?: Next to Harlequin Historical, Harlequin SuperRomance is my favorite category romance line, and I've read and enjoyed two other books by Cooper. Also of note, this particular book won the 2005 RITA for Best Long Contemporary Romance.
The Review: Olivia Ashford left the small Virginia town of Summerville right after high school without saying goodbye to anyone - and that included her boyfriend, John Riley. She's now a successful, local TV news anchor in Washington D.C. and is on the cusp of getting a big promotion. Then her BFF from high school calls her and invites her to their 15-year high school reunion. Olivia is on the verge of saying no, when a thought hits her. Maybe the reason she's so unhappy, the reason she's at loose ends, is because she never put her past properly to bed. Maybe going home is just what she needs.
John is now a widower and single father to a young daughter. He was desperately in love with Olivia and her leaving him without so much as an explanation stung. Badly enough, so it seems, that he never quite got over her. He feels guilty about this, especially in the face of his wife's devotion to him, her long illness, and eventual death. He never expected Olivia to come to the reunion. She's successfully avoided him and the town for 15 years. So color him shocked when she does show up.
This is one of those stories where Small Town = Wholesome Apple Pie Goodness. I know a lot of readers who cannot tolerate this sort of thing, but it's a trope that does still work for me as long the author avoids the obvious pitfall - which Cooper does here. Olivia is not happy at the start of this book. She's at that moment where everything she's been striving for in her career is about to come true, and all she can think is "Do I really want this?" She's not so sure anymore. She only knows that she's been coasting through her life and that she's desperately lonely. It's no way to live. She goes home looking for answers and maybe a little closure. This worked for me. It's much more annoying when the Big City Career Gal heroine starts out the book "happy" and then chucks that happiness off a cliff all because the hero can give her mind-altering orgasms.
The main stumbling block, for me, is that the reader has to buy into the idea that John and Olivia had such a deep lurve connection as high school sweethearts that they're still pining for each other 15 years later. On one level, I get it. When a relationship just "stops" (as opposed to "ending properly"), and there's a lack of closure, it's hard to move on. Believe me, I've been there. But, there does come a point where you need to chalk it up to the other person being an emotional cripple and Move. The. Eff. On. We're talking 15 years here. 15 years. That's a long time. An amount of time that should have taken both hero and heroine to the nearest therapist to hash out why they were both incapable of Moving. The. Eff. On.
Those of you who aren't category romance aficionados will likely not "get" this, but there are just some authors in the Harlequin Universe who fit their chosen line like a comfortable pair of old jeans. Inglath Cooper is a perfect fit for SuperRomance - a line I go to for my emotional intensity fix. Quibbles aside, there's no denying that Cooper is a writer who can burrow under your skin, find your heart-strings, and pluck out an entire operatic score. She milks every last emotional drop out of this story, rendering me a limp noodle by the end of it.
By the end of the story I'm not entirely convinced John and Olivia are forging a future together based on the "present" - but the journey was nice to read about, and the author, whose last book came out in 2006, hits all the right emotional notes. It wasn't perfect, but it was enough for me.
Final Grade = B-
Side note: The author's web site is D.O.A. (new site coming Spring 2009!). Here's hoping she's still writing.