Driven to Distraction by Olivia Dade

Asian woman with long dark hair and a sandy-haired bearded man in a blue t-shirt in a library, looking at a book togetherWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the author via NetGalley

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  IF THE BOOKMOBILE’S ROCKING . . .

Constance Chen is not the demure kind of librarian. Sure, her high-horsepower ride is Big Bertha the Bookmobile, but Con swears a blue streak, does her own home improvement, and wears steel-toed boots. She has a tight circle of friends, a demanding, beloved sprawl of a Chinese-American family, and a strict hookups-only policy when it comes to men. Her life is just how she wants it. Except for one maddeningly sexy footnote.

Sam Wolcott, her friend’s baby brother and the library’s IT star, has been throwing sparks with Con since he moved to town. To everybody else, he’s a thoughtful, sensitive sweetheart. To Con, he’s a cantankerous pedant, because if they don’t fight nonstop their clothes will spontaneously combust. Sam needs a commitment Con won’t—can’t—give. And neither of them will chance their hard-won bonds for pure lust.

Too bad Con and Sam have a whole week in a very tiny, very private space to sustain their dumb arguments. Alone. What happens in the Bookmobile might take their resistance right out of circulation . . .

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This book was a lovely surprise. Constance Chen (aka “Con”) is the type of heroine I don’t see a lot in the romance genre. She’s a tough, no-nonsense woman, who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go and get it. She is blunt, prickly, a little brash and not looking for a relationship. She’s also a devoted sister and daughter and friend. Her close friendship with Penny, one of the other librarians in Niceville has her hesitating to act on her attraction to Sam Wolcott. And Sam has similar concerns. He has only just reconnected with his half-sister (they had different fathers) and she is the only family (apart from an extremely absent and disinterested mother) he has. He won’t do anything to risk that. He fears that if he starts anything with Con and it goes south, Penny will choose Con over him and then he’ll be alone. And that – being alone, is his greatest fear.

Sam, who works in the IT department of the library, and Con have adopted a novel way to deal with their strong attraction: sublimate all that heat into bickering. Con is downright mean to Sam and he fires the same right back at him. Everyone else who works with Con finds her to be kind, caring and friendly – albeit with a bit of a potty-mouth but with Sam, she’s hell on wheels. They both know they’re doing it too. They don’t talk about it out loud but each is aware that’s the cause of their friction.

Con does have some legitimate IT problems in the “Bookmobile” (I gather it is a bus or large RV-sized-vehicle which serves as a mobile library) and Sam is nominated to spend a week working with Con on the Bookmobile to troubleshoot IT issues as they arose.

His fingers danced over the keys. “No Wi-Fi. No access to the library’s circulation and reference software. No internet.”

She had an easy response to those statements. “No shit.”

Unfortunately, this proximity means that bickering and avoidance become unable to keep their simmering attraction at bay. And, both are forced to admit that each had legitimate concerns from their perspectives and, wonder of wonders, they start to get along. Oops.

Con isn’t interested in a relationship however. She wouldn’t mind a fling with Sam as long as they can make sure that there’s no fallout which would impact either of their relationships with Penny but a boyfriend/girlfriend thing? Nope. Not interested. She is one of nine children and had a large role in child-rearing when she was young. Even now her younger siblings constantly (like, EVERY DAY) call her to get her help with various issues from money to part time jobs and trouble with a professor. She is super busy at work and her family, even though they live far away from her, are constantly requiring her time and attention. She knows from experience that she doesn’t have time to devote to a relationship.

“But the right person wouldn’t be an albatross,” he protested. “He would lift some of those burdens from your shoulders. Share their weight.”

“That’s what all my exes said at the beginning,” she noted with a wry smile. “But somehow, a few weeks later, I was always running errands and cooking dinner for us both. I was always expected to stay home instead of going to games or meeting my friends. And at some point, they always informed me I spent too much time and energy on my family’s needs and not enough on theirs. It was predictable and inevitable and so goddamn boring, I can’t even tell you. A decade or so ago, I decided to opt out. And I’ve been happier ever since. I’m not a relationship kind of woman.”

Jesus, her ex-boyfriends sounded like complete fucking tools. But he couldn’t figure out a good way to dispute her conclusions without using the term not all men. Or, even worse, coming across as a patronizing ass who thought he understood her needs better than she did. So he kept his mouth clamped shut.

Sam is an unusual man however. He actually gets off on helping Con and making her life easier. The text explicitly said that. I was still a little concerned, I admit, that things were a bit too one-sided in their relationship once it go going. I didn’t see Con doing much of anything for Sam and I wondered if things could last that way. Even though Sam was deliriously happy to be with Con and was pretty much prepared to do anything to keep her, it seemed to me to be a problem waiting to happen. Perhaps I’m projecting.  However, I was really happy that this was addressed later in the book and it was clear that things would be far more balanced as they started living their HEA.

Sam stealth-wooed Con and got past her barriers. He managed to navigate the Penny situation and was gratified to know that Penny’s feelings toward him weren’t anything to do with Con or how successful his romance with her was (or wasn’t).  I liked how he admired and liked Con for who she was and didn’t seek to change her.

He loved her directness. Her humor. Her liberal use of profanity. Her completely whacked grasp on figurative language. Her pragmatic brand of caring. Her loyalty to her friends and family. Her work ethic. Even her damn steel-toed boots, which had come to represent Con to him, their hard edges concealing something breakable inside.

The real stumbling block for them came when the issue of children came up. Con doesn’t want to be a parent – she’s done her parenting thank you very much, has the t-shirt and everything. And Sam wants kids. That’s a pretty insurmountable problem unless one of them changes their minds. I liked where this story went and how it got there. I liked that Con got the non-traditional HEA she needed to make her happy, while Sam got what he needed too.

Sam and Con have great sexual chemistry but they also like each other and have similar interests; hockey, gardening and Con demonstrated that she’s just as fierce about supporting her man and she is about everything else important in her life. It took me a little while to warm up to Con, mainly because I tend to avoid conflict in my personal life, but I enjoyed seeing her layers peeled away. She turned out to be very relatable and Sam was delish.

What else? What was also fun was the interaction between Con and all of her work friends and their partners. Angie continues to make me laugh – her plans for the bachelorette party for Penny and Jack were hilarious.

Penny pointed an accusing finger at her best friend. “But you can forget about your plan to make butt plug puppets. We’re not decorating them with little wigs and dresses and googly eyes. And we’re not guessing the lengths of various dildos, either.”

I really enjoyed Driven to Distraction; it had all the elements I look for in a contemporary romance.

Grade: B+

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