Pocket, $12.00, ISBN 0-7434-8226-3
Contemporary Erotica, 2003
While the extravagantly-titled Big Guns Out of Uniform is marketed as “tales of erotic romance”, the level of heat in this book is not higher than that of a typical Blaze book. Sherrilyn Kenyon and Liz Carlyle perform such amazing impersonation of bad midlist Blaze authors here that I wonder whether I should give them a standing ovation or something. The common theme here is that we have heroes from various uniformed/action man departments and walks of life falling in love with our heroines.
Sherrilyn Kenyon’s BAD to the Bone is, in a word, sad. I don’t understand why romance authors always complain about the genre being typecasted or stereotyped but authors like Ms Kenyon will be the first to jump the gun and insert insulting stereotypes in the genre when opportunity strikes. In this novella, our schoolteacher romance reading “I’m so plain, ugh, ugh, I’m so jealous of all those pretty women around me, I HATE THEM” heroine Marianne Webernec wins the “Hideaway Heroine Sweepstakes” contest that came with her favorite Rachel Fire romance. The prize will see her being swept away to an unnamed private tropical island where she will get to reenact her favorite romance story with some guy playing the hero.
Our hero Kyle Foster is with the BAD (Bureau of American Defence). Marianne doesn’t expect him to be the real thing, but when they end up in some espionage thingie, she realizes that the danger is very real indeed. But whatever, really. Marianne is a typical Blaze-like heroine in that she wails that she’s plain and she doesn’t want love because she knows she won’t be loved, et cetera – in short, she’s tedious to the extreme. Americans will appreciate knowing that their tax money is going to men like Kyle having sex with silly heroines in tropical islands. All in all, a silly story starring an action man and a nitwit heroine straight out of Blaze central casting. It’s readable, perhaps, but definitely forgettable. I hope Ms Kenyon doesn’t really expect romance readers in real life to be as sad as Marianne, a sexually frustrated self-esteem-free idiot whose sole bright moments in life come from her imagining herself being swept away into the books she is reading.
Liz Carlyle’s Let’s Talk about Sex is next. Let’s talk about historical authors writing contemporary stories only to come off as hip as one’s 94-year old grandma. Dr Delia Sydney is a radio sex expert. Just as the central casting handbook prescribes, Delia is of course frigid and repressed and her previous marriage sucked like a Hoover. Her neighbor, Sgt Nick Woodruff, is on a “forced vacation” and the moment they meet, they begin arguing like children. He has to help her fix her car, among other things, and they decide to have sex without any strings attached. You can probably map out the course from here if you have suffered through enough Blaze novels.
Since Delia is a central casting heroine, it’s a given that she’s as dumb as a pail of nails – she never considers using a condom during sex is for anything other than avoiding pregnancy and tells Nick that she can’t get pregnant as it’s not the “time”, ie Dr Sex Expert here is missing the letters S, T, and D in her vocabulary. Why do these authors bring up condoms if they’re going to end up making their heroines come off as sex experts with certificates bought from Acme Internet School for $50.00? Nick is often antagonistic for the sake of some macho man thing, but I find that a silly childish man, a bad temper, and a “forced vacation” from the police force a combination that I find more scary than amusing. Of course Nick will give some Sexual Healing to Dr Sex Expert here. Forget the drumrolls as our heroine soars through the metaphorical skies in her wonderful “At last, at last!” orgasms – wanna see my eyeroll instead?
These two characters have their amusing moments – Nick jumping into the pool when he realizes that he’s forgotten the rubber is pretty cute – but contrived and archaic female attitudes toward sex compounded with the overused “frigid sex doctor” premise and tired sex/love psychobabble fail to make this book any better than a mediocre Blaze novel, silly plot and nitwit heroines and tedious psychobabble and all.
Just when Liz Carlyle and Sherrilyn Kenyon have humiliated themselves thoroughly, in comes Nicole Camden to deliver the saving grace of this anthology, and what a saving grace it is. The Nekkid Truth has an awful title but this story blows me away. Think of this one as a very Memento-lite: our heroine Debbie Valley had an accident that damaged her brain so much so that she cannot recognize faces. Voices, names, sounds, yes, she can recognize those, but her brain can no longer help her remember faces though. The accident was a result of a drunken cop ramming the patrol car into her. The partner of this cop, our hero Det Marshall Scott, in his guilt pulls some strings so that our heroine can earn a living as a crime scene photographer. In this story, she is called to take some photos for a murder case. Her close proximity with Det Scott will soon encourages them to act on their mutual attraction to each other.
This story is told from Debbie’s point of view in first person narration. I don’t know how Ms Camden does it, but while this story is a mystery story, it is also a beautiful love story that’s sexy and even heartbreaking all at once. It helps that Debbie is a cynical heroine with a witty outlook in life. She photographs the nude human body when she’s not snapping pictures of dead bodies and she jokes that she can tell men apart only by their penises. But as Ms Camden tells it, Debbie’s wit often telegraphs a deeper vulnerability that gives this story a bittersweet aftertaste even as she falls for Scott. As Debbie puts it, sometimes she looks at the face of the man making love to her and she feels as if it is a stranger that’s performing physical intimacies with her. She also cannot remember her mother’s face, and there’s always a question as to how can she fall in love with a man whose face she can never remember. There is no easy resolution here, so it is only more impressive that the author manages to sell me the romance between Scott and Debbie here.
Debbie is a great heroine in that while she’s not some oversexed bad girl caricature despite having seen more penises than wise, she’s also free from contrived sexual neuroses too common among romance novel heroines (just see the previous two novellas that come before The Nekkid Truth). Because she comes off as real, Debbie has my support when she tries to live her life the best she can, my sympathy when she weakens and doubts herself, and my cheering her and Scott on when they decide to try working on their happily ever after. Scott… well, I like him too, because while he’s an action man hero, he comes off as a real person too instead of some Suzanne Brockmann-ish superhero sex dynamo stereotype.
If the review of The Nekkid Truth comes off like a review for a keeper book, well, this one is a keeper for me. It tells a bittersweet love story between two characters that engage my feelings without relying on easy contrivances, and dang if reading this one doesn’t make me feel good.
So take a well-deserved bow to the standing ovation, Ms Camden – she’s earned it. As for the two other more established authors that should really know better, pfffft and a raspberry to the both of them. The only big gun here is Nicole Camden.So, all you people go read this book in the bookstore if you don’t want to buy this expensive trade paperback, because the world just isn’t right if Nicole Camden doesn’t get recognized for her wonderful story here.