What the Librarian Did, by Karina Bliss

>> Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TITLE: What the Librarian Did
AUTHOR: Karina Bliss

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary New Zealand
TYPE: Category romance

REASON FOR READING: Jane's tweets.

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.
Rachel Robinson and Devin Freedman's lives changed at the same time, when they were both 16. They were on opposite ends of the globe at the time. Shy Rachel defied her restrictive parents to secretly go out with a popular, attractive boy. She ended up pregnant and putting the child up for adoption. Devin's life changed in a completely different way: he joined his brother's band and it quickly took off, making him one of the world's most famous rock stars.

Almost 18 years later, their lives have evolved very differently. Rachel is a librarian in a New Zealand university. She's tried to make contact with the child she gave up, but her attempts haven't been successful. Devin, meanwhile, is burnt out after living the rock star lifestyle for so many years, ending in an on-stage collapse. He's moved to New Zealand, where his mother is from, and has decided to go to university, the same university at which Rachel works.

Rachel doesn't pay much attention to popular culture, so when a mature student, all grungy but with suspiciously expensive-looking boots approaches her, she doesn't recognise him and treats him like anyone else. And as someone who positively abhors celebrity gossip and works hard to avoid any whiff of it (not that I always succeed, sadly), and yet is still a normal person, I didn't find that at all strange or unbelievable. I think the only famous musician I would recognise by sight is Amy Winehouse!

Anyway, for Devin, being treated like a regular joe and being called on his arsey behaviour is a completely new thing. Not a welcome new thing, though, and at first he doesn't like Rachel at all. But they just seem to run into each other and have to have some contact, mainly because of Mark.

So who's Mark? Mark's the child Rachel gave up all those years ago. He's at the university (not an unbelievable coincidence, he's done a bit of detective work, knows his birth mother works there and is seeking her out). She soon realises his identity, but oh, dear, Mark's become good friends with that horrible Devin, who's sure to lead him down the wrong path!

Clearly, as you can probably deduce from the length of my summary, there's a lot going on. But rather than seeming overcrowded, it seemed like I was getting two for the price of one, both a wonderful romance, with the best sort of banter between well-matched protagonists, and the angsty, poignant story of Rachel and Mark reconnecting.

Really, the book is a bit of a rollercoaster in emotional terms. There are extremely funny, light moments, but there's also quite a bit of angst in Rachel and Mark's relationship, especially when she knows he's her son and he doesn't. It was very poignant to see the very cool Rachel acting incredibly not cool when she's around her son. Devin describes it as acting like a puppy, yapping around and getting underfoot, wanting to get petted, and that's exactly how it is. It's painful to read, but oh, so real!

Did I mention that Rachel is really, really cool? She is. She's got a very barbed tongue and as I mentioned, takes absolutely no shit from Devin, famous or not. This is part of her charm for him (even as he tells himself he doesn't need the aggravation). She especially takes delight on challenging librarian stereotypes. I loved the sound of her vintage 1950s wardrobe, as well. That sounded really cool. Actually, Devin's wardrobe's pretty distinctive as well. His taste is still very rock star. Not really to my own taste in men's couture, but I thought it was really cool to read about a hero with the confidence to wear a pinstripe jacket with a huge red dragon embroidered all over it!

Anyway, the romance is lovely. Both have issues. Devin has spent all of his grown-up life surrounded by people who want things from him, so his first reaction when faced with anyone is to wonder what they want from him. So when he manages to establish a more normal, non-using relationship and convince himself that this is so, and then it looks like there actually might have been ulterior motives involved, it hits him especially hard. Rachel, meanwhile, finds it very hard to lose control, and that has meant that her relationships haven't been too exciting, since she's been chosing men who are quite "safe" to be with... i.e. they won't threaten her control. Neither is what the other is used to, so when they meet, it's wonderful to watch. The dialogue zinged, and I couldn't get enough of their scenes together.

Strangely, I even liked it when Devin kept calling Rachel "Heartbreaker". It shouldn't have worked, but it did. Probably that was because there's actually a history in the book to why he decided to call her that, and I thought it hit the right note of slight mockery at the beginning, quickly turning into fondness. Much as Devin's feelings for Rachel as a whole, really.

The secondary characters were great, as well, and added to the story. I liked the subtlety in the way Devin's brother, Zander, was drawn. It would have been very easy to make him into a complete villain, but although self-absorbed and sleazy, he was very much a real person, with good and bad things.

Same thing about Rachel's relationship with her mother. Again, like Zander, it was so subtly drawn. Even after the childhood she had (which we don't fully appreciate until the end of the book), Rachel is able to see her mother very clearly. Rachel's not this unrealistic paragon of forgiveness and acceptance, and she does get frustrated and hangs up on her mother and makes very sharp retorts sometimes, but she also tries to keep the contact going. I think the best moment there was a point when Rachel gets really, really pissed off at her mother, and is tempted to just tear her to pieces and force her to really look at the truth. But then she thinks, does she really want to make this old woman's life miserable by ripping away the survival mechanisms she's built up over years? Makes me think more of Rachel than if she was just the forgive and forget type.

MY GRADE: I loved everything about this book. I was thinking I'd go with a B+ before I started, but as I wrote this review, I remembered just how good it was. An A-, then.


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