Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86464-5
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Don’t be fooled by the cover, as A Malibu Kind of Romance takes place amidst a very urban setting. Think: clubs, recording studios, Empire – not beaches, sandals, and ice creams. This is actually a solid romance, so adjust your expectations accordingly before turning the page, and you’re set to go.
Our hero Dante Wilson, his eye-rolling name notwithstanding, is the hot stuff of the moment, set on his own recording career while helping his father manage the family recording empire WM Records. Dante has a bit of a personal crisis, though: his true passion lies in fusing R&B with classical elements, but such music doesn’t sell, and WM Records is currently undergoing a financial draught. As a result, Dante needs to keep making music that sells.
The music industry is a small world, so Dante soon meets our heroine Julie Dominick. She has started her own property development company after a successful run at her former employer, and while she has been pretty good striking out on her own so far, her track record is marred by the closure of a recent chain of clubs in Miami. It’s not really her fault – the whole thing folded after one too many gang fights and drug raids – but the fact is, her name is attached to that fiasco. Her friend is close to Dante, and those two men are starting a new club, so if she can get onboard to help manage the property, she’d be back on the right track in no time.
Also, she wisely makes it a habit not to mix business with pleasure, after an unwise affair caused people to speculate that she got her contracts signed by opening her honey jar, but soon Dante makes it clear that he intends to mix his pleasure into her business alright.
Now, Dante’s behavior is initially really creepy to me, what with him stalking her and harassing the guys that catch her attention, so it is actually a testament to the author’s ability that she soon has Dante mellow down and get me to actually think that… well, he’s sort of sweet. Sexy. Charming, even. Ahem. I also like that the author doesn’t put Dante on a pedestal like many authors do – she has Dante eventually coming to the realization that he’s exactly the player type that has hurt Julie in the past. This self awareness will go a long way in making the happy ending more believable.
Julie is a fine heroine in her own right. She gets things done, and she’s good at what she does too, so this is one sharp cookie. Much of her baggage is standard romance heroine fare, but here, the author makes sure that the baggage fit Julie’s personality and past perfectly. In other words, this isn’t a heroine with issues just because we need a conflict. The heroine feels like a well-drawn, balanced character with believable strengths as well as flaws.
Oh, and the narrative is so much fun to read. The author’s prose has a bouncy, vibrant sass that I really like, and her characters’ dialogues are snappy and sharp while still feeling real. Also, there is a nice balance of quiet moments and sequel baiting here, so the romance never feels overwhelmed by the advertisements. In fact, the relationship feels organic, natural.
Okay, you may be thinking by now, so far the review seems to indicate that the book is at the very least a four-oogie read. Well, in some ways, it is. But I have to dock one oogie off the final score because it’s not long before the author resorts to tired, played out developments that actually sabotage the good things she’s had going so far. Julie, for example, so far has shown that she is capable of mingling with and even flirting with other men without losing her common sense, so it is a head-scratching moment when the author decides to have a nice guy slip a Crosby into the heroine’s drink. What does this scene serve, other than to force an unrealistic scenario where all men, aside from the hero, are pond scums? Likewise, his vindictive catty ex shows up, et cetera, and it’s all a tired old song and dance, especially as the story limps into its final act.
These tired plot devices are unnecessary because Dante and Julie are doing just fine on their own. If the author wants conflicts to spark up the story, the hero’s parents have enough drama to bring to the table. Everything else is just extra, basic, and acts to force the hero and the heroine together when they are already doing so well without all this extra stuff to muddle up the situation.
Hence, A Malibu Kind of Romance is in many ways a solid, fun romance story, but for some reason, the author seems to have little faith in her characters falling in love naturally, and ends up transforming this story into a tired-ass cliché-all-day affair in its later parts. Let’s just say that I’m as disappointed as I am entertained by this baby.