by Raine Weaver, contemporary (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-036-3
Once I've finished Let's Pretend, in hindsight the plot isn't really that ridiculous. It is ridiculous but not as ridiculous in a "Have I landed in a different planet?" kind that it seems to be at first.
Oh yes, the plot. Raine Weaver's Let's Pretend starts off like one of those crazy stories that, in the quest for domination of the spicy contemporary romance market, have really bizarre plots that are created solely to get the characters to have sex. Pornographic movie plots, if you will. Here, our heroine Veronica "Ronnie" Peale gets a free male escort named Brant Coleman as a present from her buddy Kayla Carpenter. While Veronica having wild crazy sex is a bonus, what Brant is most useful for is to hang around Veronica going all cozy and smoochy so that Veronica's boss Paul Lang will finally take notice of our lawyer heroine here. The hero of this story is Brant and he's not who he seems to be - he's actually going undercover to investigate the theft of a pair of very expensive earrings. You see, he's actually an investigator for an insurance company. He will fall for Veronica for reasons only he will understand.
The plot turns out to be less ridiculous than it seems to be at first, as I've stated at the start of the review, because Ms Weaver has some grounded explanations for all the apparently nonsensical aspects of the premise. A part of me wonders, however, why the author just can't have the hero pose as something less ridiculous, like, say, an office boy at the law firm. The fact that the plot is ridiculous and the author then bends over backwards to do damage control suggests to me that this book is, er, "modified" in order to be sold as a spicy contemporary romance.
Still, everything will still be a fine, if contrived, read if Veronica isn't the epitome of the most infuriating type of heroine stereotypical in spicy romances: she is often very inconsistent in her attitude towards sex. Sure, it may be a challenge to have the hero break down the heroine's defenses but here, Ronnie either treats sex like Brant is going to extract all her teeth using a pair of rusty pliers or she is throwing herself at Brant like a lemming flying off a cliff. Ronnie is either a humorless frowning sourpuss or she suddenly starts exchanging wisecracks with the hero. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to Ronnie's behavior - she seems to swing from mood to mood or jump from hesitation to utter willingness to misbehave as per the author's requirements in this story. There is a lack of coherence in Ronnie's personality - she comes off like a one-note plot device that will behave in any way the author feels will create conflicts to keep the story going for as long as it does. There are some really cringe-inducing moments in this book when Ronnie acts like a seriously demented creature, such as when she goes insane with jealousy with jealousy at the sight of Brant with another woman and lashing out at him in a pretty ugly manner while insisting that she will never want to sleep with Brant. Something isn't right about Ronnie, I tell you. In a serial killer story, she'd be suspect numbers one, two, three, or four depending on how many personalities are trapped in her mind.
Because of this, I have a hard time understanding what Brant sees in her since her behavior at either end of her mood swing spectrum requires considerable patience from him when he's dealing with her. Maybe he likes high-maintenance women, I suppose? Brant is a pretty likeable hero even if there isn't much about him that makes him stand out as a memorable romance hero. One thing about him that bothers me though - his willingness to screw Ronnie as part of his job is one thing, but he then starts saying that Ronnie can't be the thief of those earrings because she's too sweet and decent, the usual, when all she has done is to schizophrenically either coo at him or snarl at him in crazy deranged jealousy. Brant seems to let his little head (yes, yes, it's not that little, but whatever) overrule his common sense too easily.
As for Paul Lang or Pang, he's the other man in this story. In a story full of stereotypes (Kayla is the faster and smarter best friend of heroine as well as the cackling slutty nasty ho all rolled into one, Brant is Mr Tender Loving Care with a Secret, et cetera), what do you think is the fate of Paul in this story, hmm?
I don't mind much the fact that this story is populated by stereotypes behaving predictably, but there are too many things about both the story and the characters that come off as too obviously contrived. Fairly or unfairly, I end up getting this impression that Let's Pretend is a fairly decent contemporary romance forcibly changed so that it becomes spicier and hotter. Consistent characterization - or at least a heroine who is more stable in her emotions and attitudes towards sex - would have helped here.
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