This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.
Karina Bliss’ What the Librarian Did is one of those books EVERYONE is talking about right now. It’s getting quite a bit of positive buzz. That was enough to pique my interest. But then something else popped up and I had to read this book.
The male hero is a rock star. Therefore, I had to pick up a copy via PaperbackSwap.com and see if this rock star dude meets MY standards. Does What The Librarian Did qualify for inclusion my list of Best Rock Fiction?
Devin does earn his spot… and he doesn’t.
For starters, let’s talk about the book. I like the triangle here. There’s more than just a rock star and a librarian, cliched opposites fighting their attraction to each other. There’s a son who doesn’t know he’s met his mother, and a mother who’s not sure how to tell him. Or how to act around him. Or… well, pretty much everything. Rachel has a real challenge put in front of her, and it’s a personal, introspective one. I like this twist. It potentially allows for some serious personal growth.
This subplot rules the plot. Heck, it’s the reason for the title. I like Mark, the son who found out only recently that he’d been put up for adoption at birth. I wish he’d been a bit more rounded out and a bit more real, but … what can you do in 300 pages? He does serve as a nice buffer for Rachel and Devin, and he more than earns his spot in the story. I like how he reacts to hearing the news of his parentage. How he gets two truths but still doesn’t understand the how or why of it. It is very real.
I had a few quibbles with Rachel, our librarian. I’d have liked to get to know her better; she’s got a mountain bike and she quite self-consciously refers to it (threatening to shove it up parts of Devin’s quite experienced anatomy), but I never see her as the mountain bike type. (I say this as a mountain bike owner, myself, even if I’m not one who’s first in line for the singletrack.) A mountain bike conveys a sense of adventure, a seeking of danger, and a confidence that your wheels can handle it all. Rachel never onces gives off this sort of vibe. At most, she bucks trends and wears vintage clothes that seem more frumpy and frilly than the left-of-center expectation opened up by that bike.
Now, here’s the real thing about the mountain bike: I’m grousing on it so much because it just doesn’t fit. Contradictions in a character make a character come alive, my writing professors often said. But this contradiction seems more planted by the author than demanded by the character. (All you writers will immediately get what I mean. You readers, when you read this book, think about it and you’ll get it, too.)
Back to Rachel: I have one big issue with her, and that’s that she’s shut off. We never get to see her open up, how Devin brings out the best in her and inspires her to take a chance. This is sad. We’re told about some changes, but … we don’t get to experience them with her. It creates a distance and since we don’t get to see it, when the final scene happens and Rachel takes a HUGE chance that leads to her happily ever after, it seems out of character. We need to see her take other chances along the way (and no, I don’t think riding on Devin’s motorcycle is an example of her doing exactly that. She’s too matter-of-fact about it for me to believe she’s stretching herself.).
Now. Devin. Our rocker. Yeah, I can buy a guy who’s about to literally drink himself to death who wakes up and realizes not only does he need to sober up, he could benefit from being a student. I can buy a rock star who moves halfway around the world to take care of his mom.
Know what I’m missing here? A difficulty adapting to this new, not-outrageous world he’s been forced into. Chagrin over his past antics. Mistakes made as he tries to fit in — real mistakes, like where he can’t figure out why he has to pay for food in the cafeteria; it’s not provided by catering and paid for by the tour manager. He adapts too easily. He’s not a fish out of water, and he should be.
I found myself longing for a hint of where he wants his life to go now that he’s been forced into this change. It’s not something he chose, not if he wants to stay alive. So where’s his mixed emotions? Where’s the longing to make music again? To be on that stage, under those lights? For the gritty side of the life? For the glamour? Like Rachel, he’s on a very even keel. Maybe too even.
But, again, we have that 300 page issue. You can only do so much and ultimately, this is a romance, not some of my beloved rock and roll fiction.
I have a question, too. We’re told Devin was sixteen when he joined his brother’s band. Did he graduate high school? If not, how’d he get into college? Yes, he gave the school a boatload of money, but was that enough to get them to overlook the small matter of an unearned diploma?
And then there’s Zander, his big brother, the stereotypic prick. Nope. I didn’t buy him for an instant, even though I’ve met his type more than a few times. I especially didn’t buy the bit about the jobs. I don’t mean the job he tries to strong-arm Devin into. The other one. It’s a nice gesture, but you know what? I don’t buy it. It’s too convenient — and too much of a break from the stereotypic character we’re shown. Again, this is an instance where contradiction seems forced.
You’ll have to read the book to see what jobs I’m talking about. I’m trying really hard not to spoil things.
Or am I? I mean, I said I liked this book, and now I’ve popped up with a whole slew of complaints.
What it gets down to, you see, is this book is packed full of the fun of a romance. No matter how you try to spin it, a good chase is a good chase, and both Rachel and Devin have deliciously wicked tongues and quick comebacks. Plus, I really got the sense that author Bliss knows her romance-writing stuff. She’s smart. It shows. I appreciate that. And I love the idea of the dragon tattoo on Devin’s arm, its tongue licking his knuckle… What an image. What a concept. I wish it had gotten more play.
Sort of like that mountain bike of Rachel’s.
Overall, yeah. I’d suggest you ought to read this book. But how I rank it as Rock Fiction? It falls a bit short of my standard — but then again, my standard is freaking high.
Read it. Set your own standard.