Getting What You Want, Wanting What You Get, Wanting Something More.
The brainiac, the 'chubby' one, the supermodel.
The dyslexic, the alcoholic, the amnesiac.
Kathy Love's Stepp series has its own spin on what would be considered a rather overdone plot line. As Love's debut series, the Stepp sisters' stories center around high school pains and the guys who eventually make up for it.
I remember coming across Kathy Love's books as Amazon recommended them based on my other purchases. The reviews were good and so I ordered them. Somehow, the order was mixed up and I ended up reading them out of order. The second one first, then the first, and the last. Though connected through the sisters, the stories are easily read out of order. But it wasn't the ordering that bothered me when I put the books down, it was something intangible, but I knew something was off. I couldn't say that I didn't like them, but there was something there that made me hesitant to read more of Love's work.
Then after I completed all three, I realized what it was. It was Love's writing. Specifically, it was the way she wrote her men. It's not uncommon for the hero to have some sort of barrier that keeps him from love, and ultimately, the heroine until the very end. It's usually a fear of commitment, perhaps he was burned in the past, or maybe there's some sort of deceit that serves as the undercurrent for the plot. It's kind of the case with Love, only I found it more interesting.
Her men have problems. Relatable, yet not always seen problems in romance novels. Or perhaps, not written in a way that's always seen. The men's problems quite easily overshadow the main love plot of the book. Especially for the second book, Wanting What You Get, it's the male's problem and not the relationship, that takes center stage.
Let's take a look at each novel...
Getting What You Want: Abby, the oldest, has come home to work at a research lab. She's the brainy Stepp. The quintessential geek. After high school, she bolts for bigger and better things, working as a scientist and dating the safe guy. Chase Jordan, the high school bad boy, has stayed in his hometown and now works as a successful carpenter and his work leans more towards architecture. When Abby comes home, she runs into Chase. He's still the same bad boy who she saw as a wounded individual back in high school that has the uncanny ability to make her tongue tied and freeze up.
Misunderstandings run amuck...Abby sees Chase as still the guy who's still so cool. Rumors run rampant about Chase and his old high school girlfriend, Summer. And Abby can't help but wonder what happened between the two when Summer obviously wants Chase again. Chase sees Abby and is blown away. The nerdy girl has come back and she's obviously grown into herself. But when he approaches conversation, Abby is too shy but comes off as aloof. Chase thinks that Abby still feels that she's too good for everyone in the small town and he can't help but feel that she's behaving snobby.
And Abby's behavior is her largest stumbling block. She comes off cold and distant and the reader feels for her because you know she's just shy and unsure of herself. She's surrounded by Chase and his friends, the same people who wouldn't give her a second look in high school. When she finally realizes how her misunderstandings and clinging onto the past is hurting her present, it's a good resolution.
So, the plot is farirly typical. The geeky brain is thrown together with the bad boy from high school. But there are differences that Love makes for herself. First, there's the secret of Summer's son and the rumors that surround Chase being the father. But the thing that makes Chase weary of letting Abby too close is the fact that he's hiding something. He's dyslexic. So much so that when readers find out in the end, they can see how Love wove that into the beginning that made their misunderstandings worst. For example, when Chase takes Abby out to dinner, she points to her menu and asks Chase if it's good. Chase can't read it and just takes a shot in the dark. While Abby gently corrects him with the correct dish, Chase brushes it off because he's already embarrassed. But, for Abby, she fears that Chase is irritated by her actions. She misunderstands him and thinks that reading the menu is not the thing to do because she noticed that Chase didn't even glance at his.
The fact that Chase is so embarrassed by his dyslexia is endearing and heartbreaking. He hides the truth because he feels that when Abby finds out, there's no way in hell the super smart girl will stay with the guy who can't even read his own name. That alone, makes his novel my favorite of the three. There are also many cute scenes that pepper the book. The scene where Chase teaches Abby to swim, the funny antics of his dog's perchance of stealing his clothes and ultimately bringing Abby boxers that belong to Chase...all, very sweet.
The combination of Chase and Abby was a good choice in characters. Plus, I have a soft spot for the brainy girl/bad boy combo. Who doesn't?
Wanting What You Get: Ellie, the chubby one, is the one Stepp sister who has stayed home. As the town librarian, she keeps the company of books and the other library employees. And that's it. She definitely does not have the social life of the town mayor, Mason Sweet. When Mason starts to notice Ellie, he proposes an affair. Too little, too late does he realize that Ellie is not the kind of woman that he should be having a casual relationship with. But Ellie is determined to do it because of Mason, no matter the cost to her heart. When Mason sees that he wants Ellie more seriously, it's Ellie to put on the brakes because she realizes that there's more to Mason than meets the eye. But without Mason's acceptance of his problem, no one can win in a loosing battle.
Here, in the second book, Love takes a bit of a turn. In Abby and Chase's story, they each had their own insecurities that contributed to misunderstandings and therefore, they each had something to apologize for. In the case of Mason and Ellie, the story is definitely all about Mason. That is what made this series stand out for me. Love choose to make her story focus not really about the budding relationship, but on Mason and his problems. Ironically, though Ellie is the 'chubby' sister, her weight is on the back burner of topics as Mason takes the stage.
Mason, the town mayor, is an alcoholic. It's not really that apparent at first. A drink here, a drink there. Then it escalates. When Ellie and Mason have problems, Mason drowns his anger in the bottle. When they go away for the weekend to reconcile, Ellie notices that Mason has practically polished off the entire bottle of wine himself before their dinner arrives. When Ellie confronts him, Mason denies it. And as Ellie bravely leaves him even because she can't stand to see him hurt himself, Mason continues to delude himself into think that Ellie simply can't accept him and love him the way he is. When Mason finally realizes that he's gone over the deep end, he also finds out that Ellie is pregnant and while she's happy for him, she doesn't want to take him back. She wants him to get sober for the right reasons, not to pin them on her or the baby.
As mentioned, the entire story centers around the growing evidence that Mason is an alcoholic. It's not really about Ellie and her embarrassment over her weight, though we do see a few scenes about her insecurities. It's all about Mason. And that stood out for me. I still like Abby and Chase's story better because there's a balance of problems between the leads, but I can respect Love's decision to spotlight Mason and his problem in the second novel.
Wanting Something More: The third, in my opinion, is a poor way to end the series. It's almost good enough to read the first two and leave it at that. Marty, the girl who was too skinny and too tall is now a supermodel. The guy who used her as a practical joke is now the Chief of Police. Oh, and let's not forget that Nathaniel was attacked and can't remember his past with Marty, therefore he doesn't recall ever being so mean to her.
This was Love's weak attempt of continuing the Stepp story but it turned out too contrived. It was stretching not enough plot to last the length of the novel. Marty's insecurities were not handled well and the little sub-plot of action and the threat of another attack on Nathaniel was pithy. When I finished, I could hardly believe that this was the same author who wrote the previous two.
Getting What You Want: 4 out of 5: A good balance of problems, tenderness, and sexiness from both characters.
Wanting What You Get: 3 out of 5: Brave departure from the norm by focusing solely on the hero instead of the couple as a whole. However, the imbalance left much to be desired in terms of seeing Ellie really grow throughout the story.
Wanting Something More: 1.5 out of 5: Nice try, but obviously ran out of steam by the end. Characters were not engaging enough to truly care for them like the previous two.
Good contemporary covers. Bright colors. No cringe-worthy models that make you embarrassed to be caught reading them in public.