What A Man's Gotta Do, by Karen Templeton

>> Monday, August 15, 2005

My first Karen Templeton was Honky-Tonk Cinderella. I absolutely hated it. But What A Man's Gotta Do sounded good, and I'm a sucker for plus-sized heroines, so, since it didn't have that royalty crap of HTC, I thought I'd give it a try.

Mala Koleski's brother might have married a real-life princess, but her own luck in the Prince charming department was zilch. Then an old high school crush by name of Eddie King returns to her hometown of Spruce Lake, Michigan, oozing even more bad-boy Southern charm than he had twenty years before. . .and even more determination not to set down roots. As their long-put-off attraction finally comes to a boil, however, Mala wonders if having a fling is enough to salvage her sagging self-confidence. . .or whether she dare put her size 18 butt on the line for the obviously hurting man. And when Eddie finds himself living in Mala's upstairs apartment, can he turn his back on on a pair of kids whose father abandoned them as Eddie's did him, not to mention their got-more-love-than-she-knows-what-to-do-with mother. . .or will he finally face his own fears in order to do WHAT A MAN'S GOTTA DO?
On the positive side, I did like WAMGD a teeny bit more than HTC. On the negative, this means that instead of a D-, it's a D+ for me. This is one of those cases in which I can sincerely say that a book I'm grading low isn't badly written or plotted. It's quite a good book, objectively. It's just that it rubbed me completely wrong.

I don't need to identify with the heroine to enjoy a book, but one like this, which is heavily fantasy and wish fulfillment, works best if you do. And I didn't. Frazzled, weary single-mom Mala wasn't someone I felt I had anything in common with. I admired her for being such a wonderful, amazing mother (except for her refusal to take any child-support money. That's a hot button issue for me, as I got the impression that she cared more for her pride than for her children's well-being in that respect), I quite liked her and I thought she truly deserved to find happiness, but I didn't feel any kinship with her.

I also never did understand what Eddie saw in her. As I said, I love reading about women who pack some extra pounds and guys who find them even more attractive for it, so the weight thing wasn't at all an issue for me (or rather, it was a positive, the way Eddie was so turned on by Mala's body). The thing was her attitude. A more UN-sexy woman I've seldom seen. The scene which clinched this for me was when she's waiting for Eddie, after they'd decided that tonight was the night, that that evening was when they'd become lovers. She's sent the kids away and got ready for her lover... in loose velour pajamas. Right.

And then there was her cutesy swearing. That was something that started out slow, so at first, it was just something that was only mildly irritating. But about half-way through the book, it felt to me as if there were particularly revolting examples of it on every page. "Criminy" "... what in the Sam Hill...", "Gee whiz", "...wait a dadburned minute!", even "tarnation"! I absolutely HATE this kind of thing. If you want to irritate me and make me want to toss your book out the window, take some notes, because this is the way to go.

And the worst thing was that Eddie was a particularly frequent offender when it came to usage of these horrific expressions. Yes, even "criminy". Which is one of the things I most disliked about this character, because these expressions, together with some other turns of phrase, made him sound like a fussy old lady. I don't need (actually, I don't want) my hero to sprinkle his speech with "fucks" to prove his machoness, but give me a break! Eddie in no way sounded like a 38 year old man! He sounded pretty much like Mala, actually.

Something else that made me grate my teeth was the non-stop shilling for Templeton's other books. Every single secondary character who appears here seems to have his or her own book (or her parents did). And Templeton makes sure we newcomers know it, as well as what that book was about. Every. Fucking. Time.

The parts in which she advertised her "royalty" books were especially annoying, because having all that stuff about princes and princesses felt really out of place in this heavily blue-collar, problems-of-real-people-who-yes,-often-shop-at-Walmart type of story. I could excuse the info-dump about Galen and her husband, but Alek and Luanne and Sophie and Stephen had absolutely no place in this book, even if Stephen was Mala's brother.

I don't know, maybe it was because I so hated HTC, so Templeton showing me how happy Alek and Luanne were did nothing to me. And also because the other book (I've no idea what its title is, the one about Stephen and Sophie) sounds so horrific. Farmer somehow gets stuck with 5 kids and gets a housekeeper to help, who turn out to be a princess hiding out from her royal responsibilities? Oh, please spare me!

There were some things I did like about WAMGD, though. The kids were actually pretty well-written and one of the things about this book that I did enjoy, surprisingly enough. They were neither monsters nor diabetes-inducing paragons, just kids who were sometimes too loveable for words and sometimes acted out enough to get on everyone's nerves. I especially enjoyed bossy Carrie.

And Eddie was a good wounded hero, quite a nice guy and, as I said, even if I didn't really understand his attraction to Mala, I did appreciate how turned on he was by very real, 37-year-old body.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to save this book for me, and I ended up fighting the urge to skim.


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