Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keeping Secrets

I'm not a big fan of Harlequin. Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of the big names that I read and love started their Romance careers with Harlequin. But I'm just not an instant fan. Maybe I still have a bias against what people view as typical Romance novels. That super gushy, no plot line, all sex, bodice rippers from generations past. I know this prejudice, but I still don't gravitate towards this line.

I don't do their serial Romances, and I also feel like their books aren't long enough to warrant my time or money. However, lately, I've noticed that they're releasing "normal sized" mass paperbacks with nice covers and a diverse set of sub-genres. 

For example, I saw Victoria Dahl's Talk Me Down, a while ago at Borders. What caught my eye was the cover, it was simple and understated but definitely a Romance with the female wearing a man's white dress shirt with a bright red tie and some sex-kitten peep toe pumps to match. But it wasn't a cover that had rippling abs of some long-haired Fabio and it was nicely done. The colors worked and it drew my eye. 

I've never read any of Dahl's work and found out that she writes historicals but this particular book was a contemporary. Though I thumbed through it for fifteen minutes, it didn't look good enough to purchase. But a week later, I came across it for fifty cents at the library bookstore and happily gave this book a new home.

I read some reviews about it and it seemed positive. What really sold me and got me excited was how one reader mentioned that Ben, the hero, wasn't the typical alpha. He was the beta hero who blushed when the heroine made a dirty joke. I'm sometimes weary about this "role reversal" because sometimes authors don't write this well. The heroine comes off too masculine and the hero looses that edge that makes him a good candidate for the protector. But this book did an admirable job in very subtly shifting some stereotypes about gender without loosing too much.

Molly Jennings has come home to her small home town for some R and R. There's some familial connections to why she comes home, but point is, Molly's back in town. Ben Lawson, was/is Molly's older brother's best friend. But now he's the chief of police and still as handsome as he'd been in high school when Molly worshipped him. 

Incidentally, back in the day, Molly had accidentally walked in on Ben and his girlfriend. Molly hasn't forgotten that sight of Ben in his truck with his pants around his ankles, and neither has Ben, judging by his embarrassment. 

But Molly's back in town and Ben has to deal with it. She brings with her a secret because no one, not even her own family, knows what she does for a living. She writes erotica for an e-publisher, and has garnered her very own stalker. Ben, on the other hand, is going crazy wondering what she does for a living. Having gone through his own share of family shame, thanks to his father's sex scandal back when Ben was a teen, he definitely isn't too keen on Molly keeping secrets. But they can't stay apart and soon Molly's problems find their way into their new relationship.

The plot's pretty basic. Girl goes back home, brings mystery and stalker, and Boy is there to fix things as best as he can while battling his own issues with Girl. Eh, nothing that's earth shatteringly original but it's not too bad either. The "surprise villain" isn't much of a surprise and I was just waiting for that to come to light. 

While I thought that the slight role reversal was handled well, with Molly being the more aggressive one, Ben wasn't written off as weak because once he gets going, he's not shy at all about pursuing Molly and a physical relationship. So, he might be the beta hero, but he's not that far away from alpha status. That was really important to me. That even though Ben was more of the emotional and sensitive guy, he didn't loose his edge and still had the potential to go all caveman on his women, even if he never actually did it.

But what lost me as a loyal reader was the Big Secret. Molly's career. It just dragged on way too long and her excuse to not tell Ben was lame. He would ask about it and she would hedge. When he got frustrated, she got frustrated back and asked why he just couldn't let it go. This went on for the entire length of the book. The secret just didn't have enough meat to last that long. 

The only cute part about the secret was when Ben would brainstorm about what the secret was and scribble his ideas of "hooker, phone sex operator, chatroom sex hostess...etc" at the beginning of the chapters. But all in all, the secret wasn't all that big and it just didn't have enough steam to carry the entire book where in the end, they didn't even make a big deal out of it nor did they resolve much concerning the secret. 

So, was it worth the read? Yeah. It had it moments of humor and while the sex wasn't written to be too explicit, it was still done well and generated enough heat to keep the reader interested. But worth the cover price? And a coveted place on my crowed bookshelf? No. It was well worth the fifty cents I paid but I'll be recycling the book on BookMooch soon, letting someone else enjoy it.

3 out of 5: Decent, but not great. Fun contemporary that is a definite easy read. Good for beach reading but not something to look forward to reading all day and burn through normal sleep hours to finish.

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