by Mary McBride, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61126-3
Mary McBride's follow-up to the excellent Still Mr. & Mrs., My Hero, has one problem: it has very little conflict and what little conflict it has is strictly of the very clichéd sort. The main characters are clichés. When the only thing happening in a book is the author turning out the clichés, the verdict just has to be "Uh-uh, not that good - can we say disappointing?".
Holly Hicks is given the opportunity to be a bigshot TV producer, her lifelong dream, if she succeeds in putting together a segment for an upcoming TV special, My Hero. Her segment is to cover Secret Service agent Calvin Griffin. Cal became famous when he took a bullet meant for the US President. (No, not everybody's favorite darling Dubby but some imaginary upstart named Jennings.) Cal, however, is tired of it all. He just wants to settle down in smalltown Honeycomb, Texas, to recuperate. Holly meets him, sparks fly, and then Ms McBride and me go through her laundry list of lovely clichés.
Cal has an ex-wife. She's a career woman. She's a slutty type. She used Cal. Cal doesn't deserve to marry her. I get it. But Ms McBride isn't too sure, so when the book ends, poor Diana's reputation is completely dunked in toilet bowl pancakes. Holly isn't the dating type because she's a nerd and she has no time and oh, cue the Sad Sad Heroine song. Why can't these authors just make their heroines say "I don't have that many boyfriends because I was in several long-term relationships, they don't work, so we parted friends" instead of beating me in the head with how dysfunctional these heroines are, I have no idea. Then again, why can't Cal say, "Okay, my marriage with Diana didn't work out, it was a mistake, thank God there're no kids involved, so we parted ways and remain friends"? Maybe romance novels should star characters who are freak magnets when it comes to their love lives.
The bulk of the story sees Cal and Holly slowly discovering their feelings for each other. The conversations are well-written, but unfortunately, the relationship build-up is strictly cliché. Likewise, the author just has to introduce Diana one more time towards the end of the book so that Diana will never escape this book without having her reputation thoroughly smeared and our main characters indulging a tiny lil' misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is bearable because it's resolved quickly by Holly giving up a promotion to remain in smalltown with Cal, Cal divorcing Diana at last, Cal moving back to Texas and magnanimously asking President Jennings to give Holly a job in Texas too. Wait, did I say "bearable"? Screw career and ambition, love is all a woman needs in life!
You know, when Cal goes all over the place in his Secret Service duty, leaving Holly alone and bored, or worse, when Cal dies in the line of fire, leaving Holly adrift, she's definitely going to be bitter because she wasted her opportunities in life catering to her husband without any Plan B for herself.
Mary McBride can tell a nice story, but unfortunately, My Hero is such a too-familiar fare that it really doesn't linger in mind after the last page is done. With stereotypical characters taking their time to embark of a stereotypically-written relationship while overcoming clichéd dilemmas using familiar resolutions, this book is the biggest cliché of them all: a readable book that is just too formulaic for its own good.
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