Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.19, ISBN 0-263-84997-X
Contemporary Romance, 2006
Behind the Scenes has me laughing hard from the first page all the way to the last. It has an excellent funny banter system in place between the main characters, I feel as if I’m reading my first Janet Evanovich novel back before she started recycling all her jokes and relied heavily on slapstick comedy to carry the story.
The Vice President of Jupiter Broadcasting Company, Frank Pierce, believes that a hit candid reality TV show is just what they need to rejuvenate some life back into the company. His idea is a makeover show that transforms ordinary women – as opposed to gimmicky characters or celebrity guests – from brown cows to glamorous swans. He has determined, in fact, the ideal folks to get involved in the show. The makeover expert will be his niece, Tanya Pierce, who runs the beauty treatment center All about You in the Californian small town Sonora, and the show will be produced by our hero, AJ Landry, whose sitcom is currently their highest-rated TV show.
Upon being told by Frank about Tanya, AJ understandably pictures Tanya as a diva-type woman who wants her uncle to to make her a famous TV star. His ex-wife was one of those types who married him in order to get herself cast in his sitcom. Tanya, on the other hand, has a fear of performing in public and the show is going to play out before a live audience (I don’t understand why a live audience is needed but hey, this is Ms Jensen’s story so a live audience it is) so she’s not keen on doing the show. She also doesn’t enjoy the idea of being famous and hounded by the press and all that. Of course the idea of limitless money, drugs, and sex wouldn’t appeal – remember, folks, we are dealing with a romance heroine here.
From the first time when Tanya and AJ meet, sparks fly. They don’t like each other at first, but they are smart enough to work together, so it’s just a matter of time before they learn that they are actually so right for each other.
What makes Behind the Scenes really work for me is the humor. The author has the characters trading sharp banters and witty lines back and forth in a way that is positively dizzying yet too funny. There are no gimmicky Funny Old Woman or Funny Animal Antics stealing the show. Just two smart and likable people who actually resemble human beings having a good time pushing each other’s buttons and playing tonsil tennis. Tanya actually has a refreshingly normal and non-dysfunctional outlook when it comes to life and sex and this makes her a fun heroine. AJ is a funny and cute hero too. Despite the many opportunities for this story to fall into the trap of big misunderstanding drama, the author neatly sidesteps them by having the characters talk to each other.
I do have some complaints, of course. The story ends abruptly, right in the middle of a resolution of a conflict that is rushed to a sudden “let’s have happy make-up sex” closure when it could have been resolved in a better manner. It’s most unsatisfying, I must say, even if the rest of the story leading up to that point is full of fun. Also, I am not too keen on the hero’s paranoid worry about the heroine being like his ex-wife. While all this drama is mostly inside his head and he doesn’t treat Tanya unfairly, I can’t say I’m pleased that he is so paranoid that he overreacts to small things like Tanya wanting a celebrity guest on her show (oh no, this means that Tanya will soon mingle with divas and – eek!). If this man has such a narrow viewpoint of people in the show business to the point that it comes off like a matter of principle to him, it seems hypocritical that he keeps working in the entertainment industry.
But on the whole, Behind the Scenes is a high-energy laugh-every-page story. I have a really wonderful time with it. AJ and Tanya are fun, fun, fun together and I am so glad to be there in the front row seats to watch them go at it.