Keyed Up by Sarah Estep
May 4, 2023
Review by Melanie
I discovered this book by sheer stroke of luck while scrolling through Instagram which is extremely unusual since I don’t actually spend a lot of time on Instagram. Somehow, the universe must have known that this book would speak to my personal reading id and check all my boxes. The author had done one of those posts with multiple arrows around the book and labeled each one with specific micro tropes found within the book. There were eight such arrows and I’m not going to list each one but I will say that I’m always going to be an easy mark for “good girl” and “pool chair shenanigans” but “childish pranks as foreplay” and “oh no he wears glasses” didn’t hurt either.
I downloaded the book for a recent trip that required me to spend multiple hours on multiple airplanes and let me just say, this book was so charming and cute and sexy and just plain fun, I didn’t even mind the hour long wait I had on the airport tarmac in Denver. Yes, it was just THAT riveting.
Eloise and Graham have found themselves as co-owners of a slightly rundown, shabby hotel in a small town in Oregon. Eloise, the hotel manager, inherited her half when her boss passed away. Her co-owner, who she has never laid eyes on, inherits his half because the boss in question was his uncle. Eloise wants to restore the hotel to its former glory and has big plans for the hotel, all of which unfortunately require funds she does not possess. Graham, a tech millionaire, wants to sell the hotel, sight unseen because he’s busy running his company in LA and can’t be bothered to deal with a hotel he has zero interest in.
Cue to these two menaces meeting and butting heads while also inconveniently finding themselves hot and horny for each other. Meanwhile, the book also involves an element of the You’ve Got Mail trope, meaning the two MCs are communicating with each other via a fan forum for a show they both happen to love but neither one knows the other’s true identity. Normally, that particular trope doesn’t always work for me because I get stressed out when one of the MCs realizes the true identity and keeps it a secret from the other MC and it becomes the instigator of the dark moment. However, this book manages to deftly avoid that pitfall – there is definitely a dark moment, but it has nothing to do with the You’ve Got Mail trope – that particular trope actually resolves itself in a very low-key, drama-free way.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I loved the two main leads, I loved the setting, which is kind of shocking because I’m not all that enamored with small-town romances. However, in this situation, it really worked because it also came part and parcel with a found family trope that I absolutely loved. In fact, I want books for literally every single secondary character I met in this book. This book is the first in a series titled Brunch Bros, which refers to the MMC and his group of friends. So, I assume we will have books featuring all three of his friends. However, there are multiple other characters who feature heavily, from goth Kiki who manages the hotel desk at night, to the brothers McMahon, to Eloise’s best friend Sybil, and even Sybil’s little sister, Mallory. Each of these characters makes a huge impact in a book that isn’t even really about them, and I already want to know more about all their lives and how they fall in love (and with whom – I already have some potential pairings ruminating in my head and am desperately curious about what the author has planned for this series).
But back to the actual romance in this book, between Eloise and Graham. At first, I was ready to label this as an enemies-to-lovers romance but Twitter just served up an even better label, that of annoyance to lovers and that is actually perfect for this book. Eloise and Graham get off on the wrong foot and since they are at cross-purposes when it comes to the future of their jointly owned hotel, it stands to reason that they don’t exactly become fast friends. In fact, Eloise wants Graham gone and goes to great lengths to try and make that happen (this is where the childish pranks as foreplay comes in) and Graham just wants Eloise to be practical and see that the hotel is a giant money pit. And somehow, while Eloise is trying to mess with Graham by trying to convince him his room is haunted and Graham is being his overbearing, grumpy self, the two also can’t seem to keep their hands (and mouths) to themselves.
It has been some time since I read a contemporary romance that made me snort and roll my eyes at the utter ridiculousness of the MCs and also swoon with a happy sigh at the HEA that inevitably follows. The dark moment, when it came, made me a little choked up, and then, when the grand gesture came, by way of an actual ball, put a goofy grin on my face. This is a solid debut from a brand new author and I’m excited to read more by her.
Content Notes: toxic parental relationship, parental abandonment, off-page death of family member, light mention of grief