by Annie Dean, contemporary (2007)
Liquid Silver Books, $6.20, ISBN 978-1-59578-360-8
Addie Alger is living out her personal Cinderella melodrama of sorts. Our divorced heroine is trying to turn the family-run inn, the Grail, into something resembling its former glory, but it is not easy since only Addie's mother and Addie's sister Mel seemed to have a sensible head and both women had passed away for some time when this story begins. The fact that the inn is located in an "impossibly dry land near the Mexican border" doesn't make things any easier for poor Addie. Addie used to be a fast and wild person partying away until her ex-husband's debts forced her to grow up. Her father is always coming up with crazy inventions that won't work while her brother-in-law Manu is still mourning for Mel even four years later.
Finally, she comes up with an idea that ends up working very well. Starting a website called Your Alibi, she offers clients a most convenient service. If these clients want to say that they are lodging at the Grail on some innocent business trip instead of, oh, going away to somewhere else with someone other than the person they are currently in a relationship with for an illicit rendezvous, she'll back up their stories in exchange for a fee. It is working well... until journalist Sean Duncan shows up to check up on whether his wife of fifteen years was really staying at the Grail like she claimed to be.
Don't cringe, people. Sean has realized for some time now that his marriage is over and he shows up at the Grail hoping to get some ammunition to begin dissolving the marriage. Addie is on to Sean the moment he rather foolishly checks in using his real name so she's not sure what she is going to do with this man. She is worried about her cover being blown, so she tries to distract him with her "feminine wiles" and hopes for the best. As for Sean, he feels very certain that his wife lied about the nature of her "business trips" the moment he shows up at the Grail, but he's more interested at that moment in spending some time away from his work (which hasn't been going too well lately) and knowing the eccentric denizens of the Grail better.
Your Alibi is not a romantic suspense story despite what the title may suggest. The story takes place over a week, which is probably too soon for any genuine romance to take place under any other circumstances. I'm not sure about whether it's love or lust between Sean and Addie, but Ms Dean is not rushing her characters into a marriage and three kids by the last page so I'm not too bothered by this. It also helps that Sean and Addie have plenty of fun chemistry - they seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company when they are not having sex so it is easy to believe that these two will be alright in the long run.
Sean is a nice hero - he doesn't have any dramatic issues, he comes off like an ordinary guy. Addie on the other hand is a refreshing change from the usual heroines out there because she likes sex. Her favorite junk food is Ding-dongs, which says everything, really. No, she's not some some exaggerated female version of the male rake having a harem of toy boys all over the place. Instead, Ms Dean portrays Addie as someone who enjoys having sex and isn't afraid to have sex with the right guy. She has no issues about socializing with the opposite sex despite her failed marriage. I like this. Sean's the same too: he is smart enough to know that any problems in his marriage do not necessarily translate to some All Women Are Whores thing. I also like how Ms Dean gives Sean's wife some depths and allows her to leave the story with her dignity intact. There are no evil cartoon whores here, in fact, there is a most reasonable explanation as to why a woman would want to leave an apparent perfect guy like Sean.
While I really enjoy the interactions between Sean and Addie, there are some scenes, such as the one of Addie and her buddy paying Addie's ex-husband a surprise visit, that come off like padding. In fact, I feel that Ms Dean made a miscalculation when she has Sean and Addie reveal their secrets to each other at about halfway into the story. While I'm happy that Sean and Addie behave like reasonable people and Sean doesn't judge Addie like I'm sure some readers out there will - these same readers may be disappointed that Addie doesn't stew in melodramatic guilt, Mary Balogh or Jo Beverley style, or burn in hell for being the romance genre equivalent of some kind of Amoral Whore of Babylon - this understanding between the two characters dissipate any hint of genuine tension between the main characters. Ms Dean adds in things like what happens when someone they know utilizes the services of Your Alibi but these scenes feel like filler.
Things only become interesting again when Sean's wife shows up, and then things peter out again for a few more chapters until the two characters kiss and bring the story to a happy ending. The story ends up being much longer than it should be, with many moments in the second half that don't add much to the overall story. I also wish the author has developed some intriguing aspects of the story that she only skimmed the surface of, such as the circumstances leading up to Mel's death. And while I like the main characters, I must confess that by the end of Your Alibi I still don't feel as if I know them. They are nice people, but with Addie especially, I feel as if I only get small fragmented pieces of their past from the author instead of the whole picture.
I can't say I'm too impressed with this author's romance debut, but Your Alibi is good enough to convince me that she and me will probably get along very well if she keeps doing what she is doing. Some readers will not appreciate the heroine or the fact that the hero is still married when he embarks on his affair with Addie, but I personally find this book a fun and enjoyable romantic comedy.
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