by Leanne Banks, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61172-7
Long time series author Leanne Banks' full-length Warner debut breaks my heart. The characters are so beautifully written that they are screaming for a better story than the tired, dated chockful of series romance stereotypes that they are trapped in. Reading this book is like watching one's puppy being slowly swallowed by an anaconda. Won't someone please give Katie Collins, Michael Wingate, and Wilhelmina Rasmussen a better story?
Katie Collins is a woman determined to remain frigid and ugly. Think drop dead body made "ugly" in frumpy dresses and pinned-up hair. Yup, you guessed it, her momma was a slut, so Katie all but lobotomizes herself because of Momma. She has a deaf brother, Jeremy, to take care of, so when the boss offers her a hundred grand to find his daughter Wilhelmina a husband, she reminds everybody that she wants the money for Jeremy, not for herself. Because she's a heroine, she hates being beautiful even if she is, so we fat sexually frustrated ill-educated housewife romance readers (or so New York loves to believe us to be) can all relate to her. Or something. There must be a reason why these heroines keep coming on stupid and frigid in these books.
Wilhelmina is a pathetic girl. For a while, I actually thought her mentally handicapped, because she acts, well, like a complete child despite being said to be a woman. Naturally, she sees Katie as her best friend ever. Meanwhile, Michael has Daddy issues and he's a security guy hired by Wilhelmina's father to make sure the daughter is alright when he's away. I mean, that's a smart thing to do: get your PA to find strangers to marry your daughter and then worry that strangers will kidnap your daughter when you are away.
Daddy says that he has tried everything but cosmetic surgery to get Wilhelmina a husband. I want to smack somebody's forehead. So why didn't he? He's so rich, why not just get his daughter a few face lifts and breast enlargement procedures and watch those men come rolling? Also, I really doubt that there are no men out there willing to marry a frumpy daughter worth millions of dollars. Men are never too discriminate creatures after all.
So the plot is ridiculous and the women have exaggerated sexual neuroses too contrived to be even remotely real in the sense that maybe the moon is made from cheese type of "real". When Wilhelmina runs away to find her own love and enters a series of hisss-teri-cal tomfoolery, culminating in her being impregnated by a pig farmer, I wonder - am I supposed to cheer or something?
The plot is ridiculous. Maybe we should start some sort of adjustment center for series romance authors who are going to write full-length books. Some plots may work in the shorter length of a Harlequin American novel, but adding six of such plots just to make up 350 pages will not do at all.
But, the characters are really well-written. Katie is too frigid to be real, but that's the beauty of her: she's borderline crazy. She talks to the voice in her head ("mother") about giving blow jobs to men. She is so frigid that I'm sure she can open her own meat factory. But at the same time, her relationships with her brother and her mother have a bittersweet and very real ring to it. It sounds contradictory, I know, but that's what happens here. Katie is a caricature when it comes to her personality, but her relationships ring real and often cut me deep. Michael is a much better character - as a man in a romance novel, he doesn't have to be saddled with ridiculous sexual neuroses to keep some really strange readers happy - and while he has his baggages, he's a reliable, likable man who is never unreasonable, hard, or cruel. Even at her lowest and most imbecilic, Wilhelmina never fails to remind me that she's just a lonely woman wanting to find her dream - and the author writes in such a way that I always find a part of me relating to and even cheering Wilhelmina on.
See? The characters are very good. Ms Banks has no problem in reeling me in to care. Katie and Wilhelmina, in another book by another author, would be mutants from Planet Bad Books I will cheerfully roast over an open fire. But the author instead slowly brings out the more human aspects of her characters, drawing me in, making me care for them. My emotions are invested despite my better judgments, and I find myself turning the pages, wincing as these people get caught in more and more contrived scenarios, because I genuinely want to see them happy.
If Some Girls Do proves anything, it's that Ms Banks doesn't need these silly gimmicky plots to sell her story. Her characters work on their own, and Ms Bank's quiet scenes of romance and humor resonate very well. It is only that the entire contrived plot degrades the overall value of this book. Just because Carly Phillips, Elizabeth Bevarly, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and all those girls do, that doesn't mean Ms Banks should do it too. I think this book proves that maybe she's just too good for this sort of thing. Why not just get rid of the gimmicky plot devices, go back to basics, and tell a good story instead?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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