by Toni LoTempio, contemporary (2006, reissue)
Chippewa Publishing, $6.00, ISBN 1-933400-57-9
Note that Nom De Plume was previously published as Chocolate And Vinegar by Bookmice Publishing Company in 2003.
Nom De Plume tells the story of divorcee Casey Catherine Farraday, secretary by day, author by night. Her quality fiction doesn't sell, however, so in desperation, she writes a smutty book that is little more than soft-porn and sells it to McCarron Publishing. Now Casey is beating herself up in guilt because she's writing under a pen name that allows everyone to think of her as a man.
So she hires a drunkard author Rick Mastin to be "K C Starling".
Meanwhile, the president of McCarron Publishing, Preston Frawley, isn't too happy about Steam Heat as he feels that the publishing house should be above churning out such smutty stuff. How lucky for him that Casey agrees. He doesn't know Casey is Starling, but he moves in next door and start wooing her using her cats Chocolate and Vinegar as pawns in the game.
Meanwhile, Celia, Starling's editor, is mad about Starling. Any man who writes such steamy stuff must be so-ooo-ooo hot. Guess again, Celia.
Nom De Plume has the potential to be the great screwball comedy it wants to be, but the whole acceptance of the story hinges on the reader's acceptance that (a) a good author never writes "trash", and (b) it is okay for the hero to use deception on the clueless heroine, as long as she loves him and he loves her in the end. Let's put it this way: I abhor the movie You've Got Mail because Tom Hanks' character practically manipulates the heroine left and right and she cries and says I wish it was you to him at the end. What a ditz. The same scenario more or less takes place here. I can't stomach You've Got Mail, I have the same difficulty liking both main characters in Nom De Plume.
Thing is, Casey's a wimp. She is going boo-hoo-hoo in the first chapter because she feels it is so wrong on her identity and sex to publish under a masculine pen name. So why do it in the first place? Doesn't bode well for this heroine's state of independence. And it goes downhill from here: she is absolutely no match for the hero's games. It's like watching snowmen under hot sun - look at how she melts, swallowing the hero's every word!
Preston lies, manipulates, and is a literary snob. Thing is, this runs contradictory to his playboy nature, making him a hypocrite. Surely a woman as pure as Casey wouldn't write smut... right? And since our playboy is the Guardian of Morals of the New Millennia, he isn't above trying to sabotage her attempt at being published. He apologizes prettily at the last chapter, but it's not enough to redeem this work. After all, every tender moment between Preston and Casey is marred by the fact that they are all wrapped up in deception of a woman obviously too clueless to realize what she is walking into. The only fun character is Celia, who, at the end of the day, is the wicked, witty woman milquetoast Casey could only aspire to become.
In fact, Nom De Plume has such a skewed image of romance novels that I can only hope this is fiction and not necessarily a representative of Toni LoTempio's own personal demons about writing romance.
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