Death by gimmick

>> Monday, January 21, 2008

Here are my reviews of two Harlequin Blaze titles I read on my ebook reader on my way to and from Portugal. They're quite different in tone and plot, and each have their strong and weak points, but what struck me the most was how overpoweringly gimmicky they felt.

TITLE: Underneath It All
AUTHOR: Lori Borrill

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Part of the "Million Dollar Secrets" continuity

REASON FOR READING: The review at AAR made it sound interesting.

TV producer Nicole Reavis intends to use her millions to sort out a top secret personal hiccup. In the meantime, her show must go on. And Nicole has to entice mega-rich Devon Bradshaw to appear as one of Atlanta's sexiest eligible bachelors. But will he bite?

Devon's biting if it means spending more time with beautiful blue-eyed Nicole. But when he discovers that, underneath it all, they've got more in common than six-figure finances and shocking family revelations, he's determined to find out everything about her.
MY THOUGHTS: The central plot is quite simple: Nicole and Devon meet, are very attracted to each other and start dating. Devon falls quite hard from the very beginning and instantly recognizes Nicole as the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, but she refuses to even consider something serious. She's dealing with recently finding out she's adopted, and doesn't feel it's the right time for such big decisions.

This, what was at the heart of the book, was nice enough. I love plots about the hero falling hard right from the beginning and knowing she's the one, while she thinks she's just having a fling, and Devon was quite adorable. However, I did have some problems with things like Nicole's motivation for backing off so completely when it becomes clear Devon wants much more, because her reasoning felt a bit iffy. I never really saw the how her adoption was related to her current relationship with Devon.

Also I'm usually the one who's asking for more sexually assertive heroines, but here, Nicole made me a bit uncomfortable. Hey, it's great that she's comfortable with her sexuality and goes after Devon in that sense, but I had a few "whoa there!" moments, when she does things that would probably be more believable between two people with some familiarity and comfortableness with each other.

But ok, those were minor blips. What really kept throwing me out of the book was all the external stuff that was happening around them and felt very badly integrated. As I mention above, this is part of a continuity series. Nicole and a group of coworkers have won the lottery, but they're having trouble with the woman who used to work with them and is demanding a share of the money, because she used to play the lottery with them (or something like that). There's quite a bit of space devoted to this (they meet about it and discuss whether they should settle out of court and have endless debates about it), none of which adds anything at all to this particular story. This is what I mean by gimmicky. The book even ends on a scene from the "villainess" of that subplot's point of view, a truly WTF? note.

And there's also other stuff... like Devon and Nicole first meeting when she bids on him in a bachelor auction (again, adds nothing to the story. I could practically see the author thinking "I need a sexy, provocative beginning"). The only external plot I was mildly interested in was what's going on in Devon's business with the embezzlement and his doubts about whether he should quit or not. This felt much more germane to the story , I thought.

MY GRADE: Without the gimmicks, I'd probably go for a B-/B grade, but this ended up not being a particularly satisfying reading experience, so a C+.

TITLE: Ghosts and Roses
AUTHOR: Kelley St. John

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary New Orleans
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: Second in the awfully titled "The Sexth Sense", which starts with Kiss and Dwell. You can see the rest of the titles here.

REASON FOR READING: Same as the previous one: the AAR review.

He's never touched her but he's made love to her.

He doesn't know her, but he has to find her…

Before a killer does.

Gage Vicknair has been dreaming-incredible erotic visions-about a mysterious brown-eyed beauty.

Makayla Sparks has been dreaming about a strong, sexy man who keeps her safe-- and very, very satisfied.

When a spirit from beyond tells Gage he needs to rescue a stranger named Makayla, he never expects that stranger to be the same sensuous woman he's enjoyed so thoroughly in his nightly fantasies. But Makayla is very real-and she's living a nightmare. A vengeful murderer is determined to get her. And Gage is equally determined to save her.

Because the only way he and Makayla can have the love they've dreamed of is if they're still around to live it…

MY THOUGHTS: Another gimmicky one. And hey, you could say we have two gimmicks for the price of one! We've got the family of mediums, all of whom have unbearably "unique" names, who help spirits cross over in a way that's full of absurdly elaborate rules (this on the side of the hero), and we've got the group of four friends who survived childhood abuse together (this on the side of the heroine). Although I might be being a bit unfair, because this last one wasn't so gimmicky-feeling. I suppose I was just feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Anyway, what happens here is that Gage's latest assignment, the latest ghost he needs to help cross over, is one of these four women, Lillian. She was murdered and needs to warn the other three women that they are in danger, even though they think the guy who abused them as children is safely in jail. To help Lillian cross over, Gage must make sure these women are safe, which means not just warn them, but make sure the man threatening them is captured.

Gage is very surprised when he finds the first of Lillian friends, Makayla, and realizes she's the woman he's been having erotic dreams about for some time. And it turns out she's been having the exact same dreams, the only thing she can remember, because Makayla has amnesia, a reaction to having been attacked by the villain already.

My reaction here was very similar to how I felt about Underneath It All. There's a nice romance at the center of the novel, with a sweet hero and a nice, caring relationship, but what's around it detracts from it. The worst part is that it could be interesting stuff, but it's just not very well done. My main problem was that the abuse plot and the "sexy, sexy, sexy!" plot didn't really go very well together. Each was good on its own, but the former was extremely dark and traumatic, so juxtaposing it with the other stuff "cheapened" it.

I was also very frustrated by the way they go about trying to discover what's going on and getting the villain, because it's so totally bumbling. There were some very obvious steps that no one thougth of taking, and what they did do felt fake. The author doesn't seem to be very familiar with how googling something would work, for instance. At one point they're googling to try to find out what's going on with the girls former abuser, whether he's still in jail, and they google his name and come up with only one match (even though there was a big trial all those years ago, when they sent him to jail). And the guy's name is something not particularly uncommon or strange: Wayne Romero. Yeah, right. (Quick cursory search: 481,000 matches, and 688 if I put it in quote marks). It was all so glaringly OBVIOUS, too, that these people came across as incredibly dim for not realizing the truth much sooner. And the dénouement... *groan*.

What I found most distracting, though, was all the sequel-baiting for the next books in the series and the constant references to the completely irrelevant plot of the first book. This element, plus the silly rules of the Vicknair family tradition, with their assignments popping up and written like email memos, and so on, was quite preposterous.

MY GRADE: Another C+.


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