Unmasking Maya, by Libby Mercer

>> Monday, January 07, 2013

TITLE: Unmasking Maya
AUTHOR: Libby Mercer

PAGES: 210
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

Defamed, Disgraced and Displaced...

Fresh from a career-killing scandal, New York fashion girl, Maya Kirkwood, arrives in San Francisco to reinvent herself as a fine artist. She's offered the opportunity to create an installation at the Silicon Valley headquarters of a hot new tech company. Fabulous, right?

Not so much.

She can't stand Derek Whitley - wunderkind software genius and CEO of the company. Hot as he may be on the outside, inside the man is a cold, unemotional, robotic type. Way too left-brained for her right-brained self.

As Maya and Derek get to know each other, however, their facades begin to crack. She catches her first glimpse of the man behind the superhuman tech prodigy, and he starts to see her as the woman she used to be. But is this a good thing? Once that last secret is revealed, will it bring them closer together or will it tear them apart?
Maya Lockwood had a high-flying fashion career in New York, until it was destroyed by a betrayal. It was bad enough that people told her "you'll never work in this town again" and really meant it, so she changed her name and moved to San Francisco. As the book starts, she's rebuilding a career and is incognito at the first exhibition of her textile art.

She's struggling with money, so the news that local software millionaire Derek Whitley is interested in commissioning a piece for his headquarters is very welcome. But then her agent points out the man, and the first surprise is that he looks nothing like the weedy nerd she was expecting. The second one is that, not knowing she's the artist, he tells her she doesn't like her art.

It turns out, however, that he still wants her to commissioning that work from her, and she installs herself at his headquarters to work. And before too long, as she spends some time in Derek's company, she realises he's not the cold robot she first thought he was.

There are some good things here. First of all, Mercer has a voice I enjoyed. It feels smooth and almost breezy, which works perfectly with the tone of the book. I also thought her characters (main and secondary) were interesting and appealing. The setting is great, as well. The book has a very nice and vivid sense of place. I felt like I was in San Francisco, and I enjoyed the vibe of Derek's tech company and his employees.

Unfortunately, the romance didn't work for me. I didn't really feel much chemistry between the two main characters, and their relationship felt very underdeveloped. I think the problem was that Mercer introduced too many elements and conflicts, which then didn't go anywhere.

Take the horrible experience Maya had had in New York, being framed for something she didn't do and losing her career. It was only used as the reason why she moved to San Francisco. There was some suggestion that it might have more of an effect, providing conflict between her and Derek, but nothing. On one hand, it's good that we didn't have the predictable misunderstanding, where Derek assumes she's planning to steal his company secrets, but it all just felt like a damp squib. Same with the sudden appearance of her father, with whom there's such a fraught history. It's one confrontation, just to give us a reason why Derek would whisk Maya off, and we never see him again. And how about Maya's worries that Derek is driven by ambition, when she's sworn not to go out with another ambitious man after the debacle in New York? That just disappears as well. It felt very unsatisfying.

I'd be interested in reading more from this author, as I liked her voice and the book's premise, but this one just needed a stricter editor, someone to insist on a clearer narrative thread.


NOTE: My copy was provided to me by the author for review.


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