by Karen Hawkins, contemporary (2008)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-6022-7
Talk Of The Town, Karen Hawkin's foray into contemporary romance, is a spectacularly unoriginal effort that is nonetheless entertaining in many ways. Don't play any drinking game to this book though - you'll be as embarrassing to behold as those junkies and alcoholic on reality TV shows by the midway point of this story if you do.
Roxie Treymayne at 34 has recently divorced a cheating husband who has a thing for men in female lingerie. You know the story, I'm sure: Roxie was the perfect Southern lady, has no friends in the rich people community that she lived with her husband, et cetera. All that is missing is some female country singer singing about defiant housewives setting their husbands' cars on fire in the background as Roxie colors her hair blonde, gets a tattoo, has her navel pierced, and obtains a new wardrobe of hoochie shorts and red high heels. Alas, her foray into being the new Beyoncé Knowles is cut short by news that her mother has recently had a heart attack. So off she goes back to Glory, the small town she has vowed never to return to years ago.
Naturally, we have the hot Sheriff waiting to welcome her with a rebound affair. Yes, Nick Sheppard was once the bad boy while she was the ice princess. How did you guess that these two had a thing back in high school until the usual teenage nonsense came in the way and tore them apart? Of course, Nick is now a respectable ex-cop.
Even the secondary characters are straight out of central casting. We have plenty of dotty old people with no sense of boundaries running wild, behaving like little kids unhindered by gravity or arthritis. We have matchmaking good guys and bad guys, the bad guys being people who are either born rich or holding mayoral positions. Women with fake big breasts are mocked and ridiculed because you have the right to have a pair of impressive kittens only if you are born with them. Even the identity of the villain in this story is predictable, although I find this villain more sympathetic than anything else, if only because, unlike the other characters in this story, he actually has some human side to his flaws.
So yes, Talk Of The Town doesn't reinvent the wheel as much as it is content to be another cog in the wheel that drives the industry forward. But for a considerable moment, this story is very entertaining. Plenty of banters abound, with some of the scenes here actually making me laugh out loud. The descriptions of Glory are excellent - the town comes off like this quaint place that I don't mind visiting if it wasn't a fictitious place. For the most part, the secondary characters don't clutter the story too much. The only exception is Tundy, a ridiculous overly sassy creature who just has to cut in and talk over everyone - it is a good thing that she is quickly shoved to the background or she will drive me crazy. The old coots of the Murder Mystery Club are actually amusing as they drag a hapless Roxie along in their attempts to solve what seems to a blackmail case, and with Roxie involved, you can bet that Nick is going to be nearby as well.
Unfortunately, the romance is as dull as can be. Nick and Roxie do not have any good reason not to hook up by page 30. Ms Hawkins has Nick insisting that he is a changed man now and he doesn't want to get involved with a woman that spells trouble, but this is a very contrived excuse for a conflict that is dragged over 300 pages. I feel relieved more than anything else when these two finally hit the sack very late in the story, because I'm pretty sure the plot has been stretched so thin by that point that something is going to have to snap soon. This is the biggest reason why I feel that this story has outlast its welcome as it moves past the 200th page - there is honestly no reason why Nick persists in turning down a hot piece like Roxie (seriously, what kind of man is he?). These two have been playing hot and cold games for so long by that point that I do not have much patience anymore. Put out or get out, as they would say back in those days.
Talk Of The Town has many very funny and entertaining moments, and really, I won't hesitate recommending this book to anyone who is looking for an uncomplicated pick-me-up read. Just don't expect too much in terms of innovation or freshness to the proceedings, because you are not going to find any of that here.
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