Written by Leslie Kelly, an author I started following after reading her Black CATs series and the first book of her Extrasensory Agents series (written under the name Leslie Parrish or Leslie A. Kelly), the Walker Brothers series is a very cute and breezy, excellently fun and sometimes humorous romantic comedy duology with enough substance to draw you in, though they are still light and fluffy in nature. Each book covers the romance of one of the two Walker brothers: Johnny Walker, the older brother (who was named for his Daddy's favorite drink) in She Drives Me Crazy and Nick Walker, the younger brother in She's Got the Look.
As much as I was simply expecting a breezy romance, I was surprisingly delighted to find that I had a ton of fun reading this series with some grinning, some smirking, some scattered laughs, and the usual fawning over the Happily Ever After.
Also, it didn't hurt to fall in love with the younger of the Walker brothers who is as alpha male as he is adorable--he has his moments, but it works for me.
She Drives Me Crazy centers around a small town in Georgia called Joyful, and the backstory that we are immediately given is that a strip club is being built near the highway, a large billboard is sporting a huge pair of a woman's breasts, and Emma Jean Frasier is coming back to town. You get a nice dose of small town rumor mill and gossip before the story even starts when one of the town's biggest gossips (as well as bitter old biddie with a chip on her shoulder, otherwise why the heck is she spreading rumors anyway) takes a perfectly innocent portion of Emma Jean's profession and makes scandalous assumptions about it.
By the time Emma Jean arrives in town, the entire population has already learned that she's an ex-porn star and is the owner of the new strip club and that the breasts featured on the huge billboard belong to her.
Except that Emma Jean is a financial adviser and used to work for a huge firm in New York investing people's money. Those are NOT her bare breasts on the billboard; and while the land that the strip club is being built on belongs to her, she's not the person responsible for the development of said strip club. In fact, she doesn't even know of its existence nonetheless realize that the land had been sold for that purpose--and then there's some conspiracy about how neither she nor her deceased grandmother had sold the land at all and there's falsified documents and a murder... the eleventh hour kind of crams a lot of plot twists into it.
She just happened to have been helping out with an artist's exhibition a while back and that artist happened to be displaying nude art in a gallery. And Emma Jean happened to send the pamphlet for that particular gallery exhibition to her grandmother, Emmajean, and because of that innocent little pamphlet, now the entire town believes that Emma Jean is an ex-porn star.
Talk about an overly extreme version of a childhood telephone game.
It probably didn't help her case that she had left the town due to a completely different, equally embarrassing scandal (which was true, this one), when she was seventeen. Something about her boyfriend running off to marry another girl on the night of prom, followed by her and Johnny Walker being found in a compromising position in a gazebo, with a lot of misunderstandings thrown into the mix.
But time heals, problems are resolved, misunderstandings are straightened out, and Happily Ever After. I guess if the people in this book actually took the time to communicate with each other properly we wouldn't have much story to tell, but it doesn't hurt to hope, right? While it can be a fun source of amusement that causes cute bickering, the case of miscommunications and misunderstandings sometimes can get to a point of frustration.
The progression of the story itself was kind of dragged out. There were few scenes that were presented painfully deliberate in their attempts to keeping the secrets a Big Secret, despite being knowledgeable gossip around the entire town. But since the Big Secret (That Isn't Really a Secret) as well as other secrets were all kind of predictable and extremely obvious, the anticipation behind the deliberate skirting of the issues ended up making me more impatient for the story to move on than anything else.
While amusing at first, when this same tactic is used too many times in a couple other moments just to drag out the Big Secret, it tends to get old.
Overall, this was a very entertaining and enjoyable book with lovable characters.
Kudos on how Emma Jean blows up at her fellow classmates during her reunion when she learns about the nasty rumors circulating about her being an ex-porn star. Because these people she went to school with couldn't just come out and say, "Hey, why were you a porn star?" and then get the whole misunderstanding cleared up. They had to go snickering behind her back and making crass innuendos about her. And I also don't appreciate that the people who called themselves her friends didn't bother to tell her what the whole town was saying about her behind her back either--with friends like that, who needs enemies?
Pssh. The rumors will die down on their own and the people will move on, my ass!
Conclusion: Well written, amusing at moments with some flaws that might have come off a bit tacky. Fun and great characters as well. I just felt like the whole "Emma Jean is a porn star" gossip got dragged out a little longer than it needed to be dragged out.
Also, I don't know if I can ever look at pecan pie the same way again... which is sad since it's the only pie I actually love...
She's Got the Look takes place in Savannah, Georgia, a larger city where not everyone knows everyone, unlike in Joyful. There's quite the contrast from small town rumor mill gossip, to bigger city living where your chances of running into the same people by coincidence all the time only happens if you all get invited to the same big, rich person's party. (Which is exactly what happens when Melody gets to meet three of the five men on her "Fantasy Sex List"--we'll get to that part later--when her best friend decides to invite them all to the same party.)
Melody Tanner moves back to her hometown of Savannah (from Atlanta) after an ugly divorce from her husband of six years. To cut to the chase, he continuously cheated on her, never really treated her like a wife more so than some trophy to be shown off (due to her being a former child and teen model), and then when she retaliated by (untactfully) vandalizing his billboard to tell the world what kind of a douche-nozzle he is (really, if you're going to do something THAT dramatic you gotta learn how to NOT get caught), and then she gets sued for slander and loses everything to him in order to support him financially since, apparently, according to the equally douche-y judge, she ruined his reputation and cost him his livelihood.
And so, resigned to being a victim, hoping that giving all her money to her ex-husband would be good enough to get rid of him, Melody moves home to Savannah to recuperate and start her life over. Unfortunately, this seems only to be the beginning of more chaos and trouble.
The actual story centers around a list that Melody and her three best friends had made right before her marriage. As a joke, the four friends put together a list of five men as part of a fantasy "I'm Allowed to Have Sex With These Men No Matter What" type of deal. In part, since Melody's friends didn't like the man she was marrying, I have a feeling they were trying to make a point by telling Melody that she has so much more to live for than marrying a douchebag with a drill (he's a dentist who ended up screwing a lot of his own patients, as the backstory goes).
One of the standards of "the list" had been that the men Melody chooses should be improbable, but not impossible. As in, there was still a chance, even slim, that she would ever meet any of these men because they're local city folk or they're at least not Brad Pitt. And, as fate would have it, without even knowing who he really is, Melody puts down, as number one on her list, "the Time magazine marine hero"... who just happens to be Nick Walker from his days in the military.
Fast forward about six years and Melody is on the brink of a couple breakdowns after her nasty divorce ending an equally ugly marriage and her ex-husband still harassing her. Her best friend, Rosemary, wanting to help get the poor woman back out into life, decides to play set-up by hinting that "Oh my God, at least two of the men on your Fantasy Sex List--remember that list you made a long time ago?--have died. There MUST be some connection. You need to tell the police. Let me call my police connection and set-up a meeting!"
Lo and behold, the police detective who shows up to the meeting (that Melody agreed to go to in order to placate her best friend despite how stupid the idea was), happens to be Nick Walker, Savannah PD, former "Time magazine marine hero", and number one man on Melody Tanner's Fantasy Sex List. Yes, apparently Rosemary has been acquainted with this man for some time now (she's dating Nick's police partner, Dex) and decided that Melody needed to put her "list" into action.
Needless to say, there is a lot of muttering about murdering best friends, the couple gets off to a bad impression to start off their relationship due to the topic of "the list", and despite the sexual tension of lust clouding the air, Melody is resigned to NOT sleep with Nick Walker as dictated by her "the list", because he comes on too strong and is kind of being a cocky asshole about it.
Let the bickering begin. But kudos to Melody for not falling right into bed with a good-looking man who is being a cocky bastard (even IF Nick was just doing it to push her buttons and meant everything in good humor rather than actually being a real jackass), and walking away from him with some self-dignity as she flips him the bird on the way out when he pisses her off.
I'm not sadistic, but I'm a little content that Nick had to put some work into getting Melody to even consider talking to him civilly after his display of teasing arrogance (much less getting her to sleep with him). Too many romance novels make it too easy for a man to get the girl into bed simply by making him some sort of primal, sexy, being of perfection despite having a bad attitude and asshole tendencies.
So anyway, soon, the couple falls into a semi-lusting, semi-lovely, semi-sweet, semi-kicking each other's shins friendship, which quickly escalates into the typical Contemporary Romance novel Friends with Benefits stage... and ultimately start falling in love with each other.
Of course, then more antics ensue involving the "the list", a few more deaths (one of them a murder), stolen underwear of the Peacock Blue variety, Melody's ex-husband lurking in the background, a side romance story between Rosemary and Dex (which is equally as cute as the main romance), some angst, and then the heart-warming, yet somewhat cheesy Happily Ever After.
Now I know I haven't mentioned too much about Nick Walker (or even his brother, for the matter), but all I have to say about him is that he's attractive, hot, adorable, and I'm totally in love with him. Even when he acts like a jackass to rile Melody up, he does it with such good humor and no maliciousness, and even APOLOGIZES to her about his crass behavior, that I don't mind it. The point is, he knows he crossed a line with his teasing, and he actually apologizes for being a dickhead rather than using his terrible childhood and a subsequent nasty, yet short marriage (to a woman who then goes and turns his beloved family against him with lies) as an excuse to be a dickhead. And he doesn't spend his time trying to manhandle her into submission or manipulate her with his sexy wiles.
And so the romance between Nick and Melody worked for me; it had a lot of "FEELS" moments that just make your heart squeeze and puts a big smile on your face. Their relationship is sweet, lovely, and had so much fluff that you couldn't help BUT love seeing them together, whether as lovers, as friends, or just as is.
So despite some scenes where the story progression seemed to drag a little bit, I happily ignored all those little faults and decided that I love this book and I love the couple. The real story was the love story, using "the list" as a spring board with a little murder mystery intrigue as a lurking background plot device, but ultimately, I think I enjoyed this story because of the romance more than anything else. Nick and Melody are both excellent characters with hot chemistry and a pretty awesome relationship.
Conclusion: Oh, so much love for this book. Heart-warming, lovely, sweet, and adorable.
I think I'm going to miss the collective characters of the Walker Brothers series. Despite how crazy the rumor mills got in the little town of Joyful, I still enjoyed the characters and each of their own little back stories and secrets. Despite how much Melody's best friends managed to humiliate her with some tactless outbursts at a big party, I still loved their interactions as best friends. And it's great to see female characters with best friends (plural) in these romances (since I had spent so much time watching K-drama and started wondering whether or not it was possible for female characters to have friends, period).
I don't often read contemporary romances, but sometimes you get lucky enough to come across a few really good, shiny gems that just make your day.
With this, I'm definitely going to continue to dig into more Leslie Kelly books... although she was a very prominent romance author and I'm more of the murder mystery/crime thriller action type with a side of romance. It makes me wish she would either extend the Black CATs series, or write more similar books.
For a nice, heartwarming romance though (with lots of hot sex), at least I know she'll always be an option as a personal favorite.