Imagine the clan from Jon and Kate Plus 8 grew up to be a surprisingly well-adjusted group of attractive and good-hearted siblings, each one stumbling upon love in charming and “unexpected” ways. Now imagine it’s not super weird to read about them having sex, and you have the saga of the wealthy, beer-brewing Archer family of Ribbon Ridge, OR. This is their story. Well, one of them – it’s a series.
Type: Contemporary adult romance. (With a lot of Pacific Northwest beer and wine. Maybe go get yourself some craft beer or classy wine to drink while you read this book. When all of the characters are drinking delicious Oregon beer and wine, you’ll want to do the same.)
The couple: Tori Archer, the eldest (by minutes) daughter of the Archers of Ribbon Ridge, is one of a set of sextuplets. Tori is still reeling from her brother’s suicide, and she’s too busy being an older-sister and an important business lady to handle the complications involved with her secret quickie marriage (in a not so sneaky bit of subtext, she is also busy running all the time). Her husband, Sean Hennessy, wants to make the marriage work but is torn by the demands of his career. Also, Sean is British, which we are in no danger of forgetting, because he uses all of the words that fictional British people use, including “wanker,” “bugger,” and of course, “bollocks.”
Tropes: Family complications, quickie marriage, job vs. relationship, series with overlapping characters.
The story: Tori and Sean met, fell quickly in love, and got married after five weeks. But the day after they married, her brother committed suicide and things ended up in a tailspin. Now they’re estranged, but the only way for Sean to keep his job is to convince Tori and her family to star in a revival of their 15-year-old reality series. And as we all know, nothing can save a marriage like reality TV. Besides, Sean really needs to keep his job because he supports his adorable English parents and has to pay for his father’s hip surgery (a minor story line that becomes a weirdly specific commentary on the English medical system).
How’s the sex? In terms of frequency and graphic detail, the sex in When Love Happens is middle of the road. Burke uses the fairly common approach of building up to the sex scene, spending a chapter or so detailing it, and then just alluding to the sex for the rest of the book. It’s an approach that works out here because by the time Tori and Sean are finally getting it on in a cabin on snowy Mt. Hood, readers are so wrapped up in the career and family drama that we don’t care so much about who puts his/her mouth/hands where the second time around.
Is this book for you? Let’s be clear: When Love Happens is not a promising title for a book. But try to put that aside, because the rest of the writing is engaging and warm. Burke wisely focuses no more than necessary on the family reality show story line and instead centers her plot on the charming Archer clan. The characters in the series have moderately serious but manageable problems (sensory processing disorder, gambling addiction, inability to let themselves be happy for the first 220 pages), and having some dimension in the secondary characters makes the entire book more interesting. Especially when Tori is being a jerk.
Speaking of which, I think it’s a credit to Burke that she’s willing to make her female lead downright unlikeable at times. As readers, we know that in the romance genre, no lead character is ever irredeemable, so we can sympathize (sort of) with her reasons, we know she’s depressed, we can see that she’ll eventually come around etc, etc. Still, it’s a credit to the strength of the story that in a genre of essentially perfect people who are full of kindness and light, Burke’s heroine can get away with consistently being kind of a brat.
Burke is also smart about building her overarching story. The overlapping characters make the series feel like a soap opera (in a good way, if you like soap operas). She leaves readers wondering about how things will shake out in the rest of the story:
- Which of the brothers is going to end up with Aubrey the family attorney? My guess is Liam.
- Will unplanned seventh child Hayden ever come back from France? Yes, but possibly with a complicated soul mate. Or a drinking problem.
- Why is oldest brother Liam such a dick? Spoiler alert : we’re going to find out in 2 or 3 books that he’s not actually a dick.
Conclusion: In spite of – and maybe partly because of – the ridiculous circumstances, When Love Happens is appealing, fun, and surprisingly relatable. If you decide to dive in to the series, you might want to start with Where the Heart Is (the prequel novella) or the equally unfortunately titled Only In My Dreams (the first full-length book in the series). If you read them all in a row, the characters and their associated family issues will all run together, but if you’re doing it right you’ll be well into a growler of Ninkasi Total Domination so you won’t be bothered at all.