by Ellen Fisher, contemporary (2004)
New Concepts Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 1-58608-375-9
Ellen Fisher, who has written two historical romances previously, decides to change the tempo and setting with this, her first contemporary romantic comedy All I Ever Wanted. While this book is very readable, the plot and the characters are very familiar. I can be nice and call this book "commercial", I guess, which isn't a bad thing at all if I am not currently feeling close to being overdosed on the same-old, more-old kind of romantic comedies floating around the market right now.
Professor Drew Cooper, who's the heroine, is a literature person that scoffs on the kind of anti-feminist damsel-in-distress type of space soap-opera that Maxfield Sinclair makes his career out of writing. Drew reluctantly follows her sister Tiffani to one of Max's rare appearance in a fan convention. He overhears her going on and on like some killjoy about everything that she finds wrong about his books and is intrigued by her. When a fan starts shooting at him and he saves a toddler while taking a bullet, Drew starts to think that maybe Max isn't such a tacky fellow after all. However, Tiffani seems to have set her eyes on Max too, which adds a few more potholes in Max and Drew's rocky road to a happily ever after.
I am not fond of the pseudo-love triangle thing. I say pseudo-love triangle because Max is never interested in Tiffani but for some silly reason Drew keep thinking that he is and he can't really set the record straight. Drew also faces a subplot where an ex is harassing her. Max has fears of commitment because he has been hurt before. There is nothing new about the plot, and I'm afraid that Ms Fisher doesn't succeed in handling these familiar elements in her plot in a way that I would find refreshing. Likewise, the main characters are straight out of the stereotype handbook. Drew grates on my nerves more than Max because while Max's crime is merely being unoriginal, Drew is almost a caricature of the ridiculously judgmental and killjoy type that won't have fun, won't loosen up, and won't do anything much other than to scowl, whine, and complain. I find it very hard to warm up to Drew.
Tiffani starts out the typically shallow and self-absorbed but ironically, she eventually becomes more interesting than her sister as the story progresses. Unlike Drew, whose derivative baggages cause her and Max to go through some tired contortions to get to their happy ending (she wants a fling, he gives her a fling while hoping that they will get serious eventually, she gets offended when he seems more than willing to have a mere fling with her, and you can guess the rest), Tiffani shows some evolution in her character that sees her developing from a central-casting vapid younger sister to a more well-rounded character than the stick-in-the-mud Drew. Why can't Max learn to love Britney Spears and hang out with Tiffani instead of Drew?
All I Ever Wanted is a readable story comparable to the light-hearted style of many generic romantic comedies out there, although I can't help thinking that the story's emphasis of crazy exes in the plot gives it a dated feel compared to urban romantic comedy romances today that are becoming more and more like an amalgamation of the traditional romantic comedy and chick-lit genres. Likewise, Drew's preconceptions of science-fiction fans strike a little too close to the ignorant bigotry displayed towards romance fans, which doesn't sit well with me because they are so unoriginal. I also find the kind of stories Max write - playboy space hero that has a revolving door of a sex life involving too many silly heroines that can't wait to take a bullet or blade or whatever for the hero - at odds with the current trend of popular sci-fi stories: Max's books and the TV series that is based on his books may take off at a time when the fantasy genre was still synonymous with Boris Vallejo artworks and horny alien queens wanting to ravish our hero, but I doubt the TV series will be successful in today's fantasy and sci-fi environment where either it is more in vogue for TV shows to feature strong heroines (Buffy, Dark Angel, Birds Of Prey) or soap operatic tales with dreamy and broody pretty boys that compel the teenaged girls in the audience to write fanfiction and debate on who and who are 4eva+eva (Smallville, Roswell).
I'm pointing out the discrepancy between the current trend in sci-fi and fantasy entertainment and the kind of stories Max is writing to illustrate why I feel that All I Ever Wanted feels dated to me. Reading this book is like watching today a sitcom created in the 1980s. I can laugh at some of the comedic scenes, but I can never forget that the sitcom was created twenty years ago because of its dated feel. Ditto my reaction with this book - it feels like it's set in the 1970s or early 1980s.
Still, even if I overlook the dated and stereotypical treatment of the battle of the sexes and the fantasy/sci-fi genre in this story, the lack of emotional complexity and rich characterization that the author has displayed in her historical romances still manage to disappoint me. Ellen Fisher can do better than this, I'm pretty sure.
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