Choose Me, by Jo Leigh

>> Friday, March 23, 2012

TITLE: Choose Me
AUTHOR: Jo Leigh

PAGES: 224
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Blaze

SETTING: Contemporary New York
TYPE: Category romance
SERIES: 1st in the It's Trading Men trilogy

Trading Card: Charlie Winslow
Nickname: "King of Manhattan"
Occupation: Celebrity Blogger
Marry/Date/One-night stand: One night…but it'll be fabulous!
Secret passion: Shh! He's old-fashioned.
Warning: Complete workaholic.
Bottom line: Be genuine. Be yourself…

Charlie Winslow isn't your average New York date—he's wealthy, successful and usually mingling with the A-list crowd. So how exactly did he get set up with Bree Kingston on Valentine's Day?

Still, there's something about Bree. Her quirky style, her authenticity, or an unanticipated attraction that just keeps Charlie wanting more. And if Bree plays her trading card just right, this might be the luckiest—and nakedest—Valentine's Day ever!
I'm a fan of Jo Leigh's Blaze books, even though she doesn't do it for me every single time. When she does, though, her books are all that a Blaze should be.

Choose Me is the first in a new series, with books published in consecutive months. Jane did a review at Dear Author that really appealed to me. Well, books 2 and 3 did, but book 1 didn't sound great. Still, Blazes are short and quick to read, so what the hell, I should be more open-minded, so I decided to give it a shot.

The result? Unfortunately, I didn't like exactly what I thought I might not like, but there were some interesting things there, and it ended up being a just ok read.

Bree Kingston has always wanted to live in New York. She saw many of her schoolfriends in small town Ohio give up on their dreams for love, and she refuses to do the same. She is determined to become some sort of fashion personality (a cross between Tim Gunn and Tina Brown, she says) and she's got a five-year plan to do it.

Her five-year plan doesn't allow for long-term relationships at this early stage, but Bree is open to the idea of meeting someone who will rock her world for one or two nights. Which is why the idea one of the women in her frozen meal exchange comes up with is so perfect for her: men trading cards. As the woman puts it, they've all gone on dates with perfectly good guys where things just didn't work out. The trading cards would allow the women to pass this good candidate along to someone else, and tell the recipient whether the guy is looking for long-term or not, as well as some key things about their character.

Honestly? Gimmick. Very gimmicky gimmick, and pretty denigrating, at that. We're just talking about setting people up, why the need for the funfare of having cards? I'm clearly tragically un-hip, but the idea of a frozen meal exchange appealed to me a lot more!

Not to mention, the trading card thing doesn't even come into operation in this first book. What happens is that one of the other women in the exchange, Rebecca (heroine of the next book), decides Bree will be perfect for her cousin Charlie. She has the card printed and then just hands it directly to Bree, not putting it in the pile, or anything like that.

Bree is shocked to see Charlie Winslow on the card and to hear he's agreed to being set up on a date with her. Shocked in a good way, though: Charlie is the king of the New York social scene, founder and owner of a blogging empire, which includes several celebrity-focused blogs, on which he writes and stars. His private life provides quite a bit of fuel for those blogs. Charlie is out every night in all the right places, places Bree would give her right arm to go to.

The romance is very much along the innocent / jaded cynic mold. Bree's honest, open-eyed enjoyment of their date charms Charlie, who's completely bored with the whole thing and usually goes out with women who are just as jaded as he is. Surprising both of them, he decides he wants to keep seeing Bree, and even comes up with a business reason to do so.

I guess the setting and theme are supposed to be the draw of this book, but this aspect didn't work for me at all. I detest celebrity culture, so the glitz and glamour and constant name-dropping didn't appeal to me at all and I found it very boring and shallow, to the point of obscenity. There were some truly ridiculous things: Bree is not with you tonight? Oh, facebook's going to go crazy tomorrow! Fuck off. And yes, I accept that it's probably realistic, so I don't blame Leigh for the ridiculousness, I blame the real world. It's just that being reminded of how people are such idiotic losers made me very cross.

However (and this is quite remarkable), Leigh manages to make her hero and heroine likeable in spite of the fact that they are/want to be part of that very shallow, despicable world. Charlie is a genuinely decent, nice guy, and Bree might be a bit out of her depth, but she's ambitious and can see a great opportunity when one comes knocking. I was pleasantly surprised with how shrewdly she negotiates with Charlie when he comes to her with his business proposition.

Still, the romance wasn't particularly up my street. Bree is way too star-struck by Charlie, and even though she gets a bit more comfortable with him as time goes on, there's still too much hero-worship even by the end of the book, too much "I can't believe THE Charlie Winslow is with me, squee!!". As for Charlie, I was never completely convinced he was in love with Bree, as he claimed. By the end of the story, I felt they were more at a "let's date" stage.

MY GRADE: Oh, well, at least I read it in an evening. A C.


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