by Leslie Esdaile, Niqui Stanhope, Monica Jackson, and Reon Laudat; contemporary (2003)
St Martin's Griffin, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-32188-0
The Sistahood Of Shopaholics is a collection of short stories involving four women that share the same support group. Like the title of the anthology suggests, they are shopaholics, although only the heroines in the novellas by Monica Jackson and Niqui Stanhope seem to have a real addiction to shopping.
Leslie Esdaile starts off the anthology with Shameless. Single mom and divorcee Della Mitchell decides to go shopping for lingerie (her weakness) to chase the blues away. She encounters pilot and playboy Byron Fulton who's there at Victoria's Secret to buy some lingerie for himself. Nah, kidding, he wants something to break off his current girlfriend. He spies her moaning as she runs her fingers over some fabric and he's a goner. I'm not too sure about this one as Ms Esdaile spends too many pages letting Della moan and groan about her ex-husband. The space could have been better allocated to developing the main characters, especially Byron. It is bad enough that this man is a major player and he is buying lingerie to break up with his current girlfriend when he makes the move on Della. By the last page, I'm not convinced that he's reformed and ready to commit to a relationship. Nonetheless, Della and Byron are very likeable people and their interactions are fun to read. The author's snappy prose and her down-to-earth characters work like charm here.
It is a long time since I come across a heroine that starts off at a "bad" note that Monica Jackson's Please, Baby, Please leaves me momentarily disoriented. Indeed, Denise "Neecy" Ballard is "bad" by romance novel standards: she has a serious spending problem and she spends as much time battling her shopping addiction as she does fleeing her creditors. But when abstinence from shopping means that she balloons up from a size ten to a size fifteen, Neecy realizes that enough is enough. She is going shopping come heaven or hell. That is, until Joseph Vaughn's men come to tow her car away for non-payment. Joseph is attracted to Neecy and although he tells himself that he is all selfless kindlessness when he offers Neecy a deskjob at his office as a way for her to pay him back, Neecy suspects that he is thinking with his little head as much as his big head. And heavens, she isn't above taking advantage of the silly man if the opportunity arises... or is she?
Yeah, yeah, more conservative readers will hate the heroine at first sight and will never give her a chance, et cetera, even if Ms Jackson actually makes Neecy grow up and realize that money isn't everything by the last page of the novella. Me though, I find it a welcome change to read about a disagreeable heroine seeing the light instead of the usual saintly-heroine-saves-hero plot. It helps that I find Neecy more misguided than cruel. Besides, she has some things right about how life works: it really does make one's life easier if one has lots of money to shop, shop, shop. The hero's ex makes an appearance and how she and Neecy end up not friends (these women are too different from each other to click completely) but two women that can tolerate each other pretty well, even if they will take cheap potshots at each other.
This novella seems longer than necessary though - some of the scenes here can be cut off without affecting the story. Left intact, these scenes feel more self-indulgent than necessary.
Reon Laudat is next with It Takes Two. It's a reunion story. Ramona Jackson loves to shop for shoes, but it's not vital to the plot. Her ex, Kadeem Smith, and she parted ways because Kadeem was a bodybuilder that let his zeal to win at any costs override his common sense and Ramona's know-it-all Miss Fix It attitude is only fat on the fire. Now she is trying out for a marathon in support for a breast cancer foundation and he offers to show her some pointers. Sparks fly again, especially when he has given up competing professionally and is running a gym. But their different views on how he can find some much-needed money to upgrade his gym will cause some problems in their second-time romance.
I really like this one because the couple have a good reason to break up and both parties have to share the blame for the break-up. Kadeem and Ramona get back together because the both of them seem to have make important changes in their lifestyles that will make their second time romance possible. In short, this is a reunion story that works because it feels real. Kadeem and Ramona are also likeable characters with enough flaws and strengths to make them well-developed characters. The pacing is just right as is the character development. This is my favorite novella of the four.
Niqui Stanhope's Promises has the misfortune of having an improbable plot and her stereotypical characters fail to make this plot interesting or fresh. This novella has me laughing out loud when it starts with a truly over-the-top stampede in a shopping mall that culminates with our heroine Gillian Asher duking it out with the wife of the Mayor. The shopping mall Head of Security, Rick Parker, has to drag her into his office and sic a hefty bill on her for the damages she caused. They will meet again when Gillian announces to her sick grandmother that she's going to get married and will need a fake boyfriend ASAP. Guess who's the lucky man for the job.
The plot is bad enough, but the scenes of Gillian dragging the women from the other three novellas around as she looks around and asks strangers to be her fake boyfriend? Ugh. Am I supposed to believe that a CEO woman like her does not have any male friend that she can rope in to help her out? Unlike Neecy from Monica Jackson's novella that comes off as a misguided woman with issues, Gillian here comes off as a silly and spoiled nitwit overlooked by the men in white coats when they recaptured the weirdos that tried to escape from the Harlequin and Silhouette loony house. This one is easily the weakest novella of the bunch, although I suspect that it will go down very well indeed with readers of series novels.
Apart from Niqui Stanhope's story, the other three stories are very enjoyable in their own right. The heroines are likeable, the heroes are charming, and I have a great time reading about them. The Sistahood Of Shopaholics is a bouncy, humorous anthology that offers some entertaining moments at the beach or when one needs some quick and easy romantic reads.
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