His Uptown Girl by Liz Talley had me adding another requirement to my list of keeper rules: Not wanting a book to end. I didn't want this book to ever be "over."
The author takes us to present-day New Orleans, a city rich and vibrant, but still with the shadow of Hurricane Katrina lingering around the edges. Dez Batiste is back in town with the dream of opening up his own upscale jazz club. He evacuated to Houston, and spent several years there, trying to shoe-horn himself into a "normal" life. The fiancee, the "regular job," but naturally it all blows up in his face. He's determined to open his club, but is getting static from the local merchants who think it will lead to crime and drunks puking on their doorsteps. His biggest opponent is Eleanor Theriot, owner of an antiques store. So imagine his surprise when she walks across the street and does her half-assed best to hit on him.
Eleanor is mortified! She noticed the hunky guy across the street, and tired of being a shriveled up old widow at age 39, takes a dare from her friend (and store manager) and walks across the street. Turns out the hunky guy is not only "too young" for her (Dez is 30), he's also the guy who bought the old building across the street, determined to turn it into a jazz club. Eleanor has had a rough go of it. After Katrina she fell into depression, her politician husband took up with his secretary, and later died at the end of his mistress' gun. Her in-laws are vipers, her daughter is turning into Paris Hilton on acid, and now she finds herself attracted to a man who isn't "her type." He's young, he's hot, he's a musician, doesn't wear polo shirts and he doesn't play golf. But can she stay away? Of course not. Even when everyone in her life thinks she's gone off the deep end.
What makes this story work is what makes every good romance work (at least for me): it's about the heroine's journey. Eleanor is scared. Her husband was several years older than her, and from a powerful family. She was young, in love, and carefully fit herself into that life being the best wife, mother and politician's helpmate she knew how to be. Katrina changes everything. She reverts into herself, her husband strays, and when she gets "better" and he tries to cut the mistress loose? He ends up dead. This is all somehow her failing in the eyes of her in-laws, but because she has a daughter to think of, she bites her tongue. A lot. It's only when she meets Dez, and decides to really live her life, hell to even find out what "her life" truly means, does she find herself having to confront her past and deal with it. Does Eleanor run scared in this book? Yes, she does. Do her and Dez have some of the most emotionally charged dialogue I've read in ages? Boy howdy, do they! And I loved every moment of it.
The author rounds out her story by including a number of interesting secondary characters - most notable being the young delivery man that Eleanor employs - a 19-year-old kid who can play the tenor sax like nobody's business but gave it up to take care of his younger brother and toddler cousin. The author also does a nice job with the melting pot city of New Orleans. One of the best lines in the book is when Eleanor gets snotty with her white blue blood in-laws about Dez's ethnicity (he's white, Creole and Cuban) and they tell her those aren't their objections - because after all they're Democrats!
It's a romance about a woman who is scared, who needs to find herself, and the man who pushes her towards that goal. There were moments of heartache that ripped me to shreds, and dialogue that had me bleeding with need. It's a great story. A wonderful read.
Final Grade = A