Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis
Lucky Harbor #1
Mass Market Paperback
Maddie’s mother Phoebe has died recently, but Maddie’s all about looking at the bright side: she finally left her abusive, emotionally manipulative boyfriend, Alex; and while she lost her job in L.A., it does leave her free (but broke) to claim the inheritance her flaky, hippie mother left her and her two half-sisters, Tara and Chloe, on the coast of Washington State at a little town called Lucky Harbor.
The inheritance turns out to be an old inn a mile outside the tiny town, badly in need of renovation and new everything, a little caretaker’s cottage, and a mariner that rents out boats and slips to locals. Maddie is determined to stay and make it work, but her sister’s – cool, “steel magnolia” Tara with the gorgeous husband and successful life, and “wild child” Chloe who wants to be off chasing the next best thing (work at a spa in New Mexico) – want to sell up fast and forget all about it. Maddie convinces them to give her until Christmas to do some repairs, and since that might help the resale value, the others agree.
For Maddie, life in Lucky Harbor is vastly different from life in L.A., but much more enjoyable and relaxing. Especially with sexy biker guy, Jax Cullen, one of the first locals she meets, who takes a marked interest in her. In fact, the entire town is watching as Jax tries to win Maddie over. Problem is, after Alex, Maddie has sworn herself off men, especially lawyers. While she doesn’t know (yet) that Jax used to practice law at his father’s successful law firm in Seattle, he’s still a man, and that makes him off-limits.
Jax is a changed man from the days he worked as a lawyer, getting wealthy slimeballs and obviously guilty people off scot-free. He helps everyone in town, and currently fills the office of mayor, while running his own business as a contractor/carpenter. While his life is now more fulfilling – and ethical – than it was in Seattle, until Maddie came into town, it was also quite lonely. He quickly falls for Maddie, and patiently coaxes her into being the confident, assertive woman that Alex had coerced (and slapped) her out of.
But Maddie’s battles aren’t all internal: she still has to convince her sisters to give Lucky Harbor a go, or there’s no way she can stay here. It takes the cathartic bearing of old pain and a near-tragedy to change the way her sisters think about their mother’s legacy.
The cover might be incredibly tacky, but the story is delightfully fresh in many ways, highly entertaining, funny and enjoyable. I haven’t read anything by Shalvis before and had kept my expectations pretty low, but after finishing it I immediately went and got the second book, The Sweetest Thing, because I definitely want to revisit Lucky Harbor and the fun characters that live there.
While Maddie had some cliched romance-heroine traits – cute bumbling clumsiness, some lip biting, stubbornness – she also had an openness about her, an honesty that was refreshing. She was able to admit to her own silliness and, later in the story, acknowledge in a clear-headed way that she was being unfair towards Jax, while trying to understand her own feelings. She still reacts in-the-moment, and sometimes over-react, but when she’s had a moment to cool down, she doesn’t stick to her original feelings out of stubbornness or not wanting to look foolish; she evaluates her reaction and her feelings and apologises or explains (without going on about it, too). This helped me not get annoyed at the way she reacted to some things, and understand that she has a real growth curve in this book, as she tries to recover from her previous relationship, but to be honest she didn’t really have anything to be mad about, and I had to admire Jax for being so understanding.
Jax, as well, was a pleasant mix of classic romance tropes and fresh realism. He didn’t suffer from pigheadedness or a silly refusal to admit his feelings, nothing so tiresome. He’s honest with himself as well as Maddie, and I quickly came to really love his character. He’s patient and generous and caring, and his reaction to the way Maddie flinches from him as if she’s going to be hit speaks loudly to what a truly good guy he is. He’s not perfect, but I love how he didn’t fall into the macho stereotypes. He was a fun mix of urban educated sophisticate and small-town handyman.
The supporting cast were also an interesting group of people, all quite different, all people you want to get to know more – and if I read on in the series, I know I’ll get that, until the town becomes a real place in my mind, like those towns in TV shows that seem larger-than-life (I’m thinking the ABC’s Seachange and the BBC’s Hamish Mabeth as personal favourites). While Lucky Harbor itself isn’t deeply explored in this first book, the pieces are starting to shift into place, and the atmosphere and sense of small town life is present.
There’s a whole gamut of elements at play here, within the classic romance formula: lively banter; heartfelt, non-cheesy sex; a wide range of emotions; fun characters and an engaging setting. It definitely had its moments of being cheesy, too, but the kind of cheesy that makes you laugh. It was easy to curl up with this book and not emerge until it was finished; sometimes you really need a book that offers this kind of comfort. (On a side note, I was curious to hear that she wrote a book called Aussie Rules – as in, our football? But she’s American? I had to look it up and, sadly, it isn’t about Aussie Rules Football at all, but a pilot… Bummer.)
“Cute. Very cute is the way I’d describe Simply Irresistible. [...] I waltzed my way through this introduction to Jill Shalvis and ended our first encounter with a heart as light as one of Tara’s muffins.” Angieville
“Right off the bat, Jill Shalvis had me cracking up in Simply Irresistible. Maddie is one very funny lady. …I look forward to reading a lot more than just Lucky Harbor books.” Gone With the Words
“I really enjoyed the smalltown setting. It made me wish I lived in a small town like Lucky Harbor. I can’t say that I will be reading any more of this series, but I don’t regret reading this one. If you like adult contemporary romance, give this one a try.” Quinn’s Book Nook
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