Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86337-2
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Romance novels set in the entertainment industry are usually train wrecks because, most of the time, the author clearly doesn’t approve of the industry and sets out to write something that demonize it and make our hero and heroine miserable people who are clearly too good for the superficial hatefulness of the whole thing. I never understand why this is the case, as it’s not like someone is putting a gun at the author’s head and forcing her to write about our heroine being – gasp – an actress, but this is one of those things that make romance novels “special”.
In Blissfully Yours, however, Velvet Carter – who claims to be one of the world’s leading writers of “exotica” despite only having three titles, of which this is one of them, listed on Goodreads – takes the self-loathing of the beautiful to new heights: she applies her own logic and rules to the TV industry to the point that it bears minimal resemblance to the real life industry. Worse, the plot hinges on these made-up rules to make sense, so the story ends up making no sense at all.
Of course, you can say that people who don’t know anything about the industry may enjoy this book more, and I can get behind that, but I still don’t think “I’m writing this story so that it can be best enjoyed by ignorant people!” is something an author should put in her resume.
Since her nasty divorce, Ayana Lewis starts in a “reality TV show” Divorced Divas as the villain-you-love-to-hate Saturday Knight. Ayana was publicly slandered by her ex-husband and his lawyers, so an opportunist TV producer decided that it’d be a great idea to cast Ayana on his new reality TV show. Ayana is, of course, sweet and huggable, unlike her character, so she hates her job but she’s in it only for the money.
Let’s start with this basic premise alone. A reality TV show featuring an infamous media personality makes lot of sense… but to hire this celebrity and then force her to adopt a different name? How does that make sense? Worse, Ayana needs her job badly because she needs money to feed the orphans in Jamaica and other nonsense. This means that she lets herself be bullied by the producer. Now, why is this? Ayana is the most popular cast member. Can’t she use this as a leverage – hire a lawyer or an agent to negotiate a better contract? If she needs money, what, she can leverage her notoriety to raise funds by, I don’t know, take part in Celebrity Apprentice or something? The fact that Ayana behaves like a subjugated worker in a Chinese sweat shop makes no sense in today’s TV industry. The author makes Ayana a victim for no reason – Ayana comes off as passive, weak, and dumb.
In this story, the author calls Divorced Divas a reality TV show, but she has the cast members playing under different names, following scripts, and generally behaving like they are on a fully scripted show. Now, there are many reality TV shows that are scripted, but given how the author has shown that she has no clue about everything in the industry, I suspect that this confusion between reality and scripted TV show may just be another car in the pile-up that is this wreck of a story.
Our hero is Brandon Gilliam, who wants to be a serious director. Alas, he can’t catch a break and he ends up taking on the directing gig of this show because he needs a job. He becomes the author’s pulpit to channel her disapproval on women who act and put on make-up. Brandon thinks that Ayana is a superficial materialistic ho, but he still lusts after her, and the fact that he does clearly makes her a certified ho in his opinion. Ayana thinks that Brandon is hot, but alas, as a subjugated sweat shop worker, she can’t show him that virtue radiates from her – remember, her producer would fire her and then the kids in Jamaica would starve, oh no.
Let’s pause for a while so that I can point out that, in this story, the producer calls all the shots, even to the point of supplanting Brandon’s role as a director. Brandon is never privy to script changes or anything – he is, basically, a cardboard stand for all he does in his role as a director. The fact that Brandon lets his authority being challenged without taking a bigger role in asserting himself says a lot about why he is a failure in his job. Unfortunately, the author wants me to think of him as a guy with integrity who is clearly too good for the cesspit of the TV industry. I don’t see it. I only see an idiot.
Back to the story. When the producer ends up in hospital, filming is “suspended indefinitely” and Ayana happily runs back to Jamaica. No, really. In this wonderful fantasy world of the author, filming can be stopped until further notice when a producer is in hospital, because the TV station would never scream about deadlines and contracts, and there is no such thing as assistants to step in in this producer’s absence. No concerns for losses and repercussions that can rack up during the days and weeks of non-filming. Even better, the heroine can just flee without someone screaming blood murder about contractual obligations. Then again, Ayana has no agent or manager and everyone in the film company works without a score of underlings helping him or her out. This set up makes even a porn studio look like Universal.
Okay, so Ayana is in Jamaica. Brandon goes over too, for his own reasons, and the next thing I know, they are boinking like crazy. They believe that they are so into it, and then, when they come back to New York, Brandon thinks that she’s really a slut after all, so oh no, break-up central!
Even if I overlook the whole confusion of the reality TV business for the sweatshop business, the story in itself is a wretched rehash of the whole “he thinks I’m a slut, oh, how can I ever prove to him that I’m worthy of his love” formula that just won’t go away. It’s not even executed in a fun way. Ayana is a one-dimensional victim who puts herself in difficult situations for bizarre reasons. Brandon has only two aspects to his personality – judgmental and dumb. He is so quickly to assume the worst of Ayana due a very flimsy reason, I don’t see how he’s going to make the relationship work. He’d probably accuse her of being a ho every other day for the rest of their lives. “Aha, you took two seconds longer to take the trash out – slut! Your put on lipstick – whore!” What this story is good at is driving home the message that any woman who wants to do well in her chosen vocation is a mercenary ho who only wants money and fame. On the other hand, when the guy wants to do well in his chosen vocation, he’s just a manly man driven by manly ambitions, so ladies, the queue starts right here.
Blissfully Yours is already a cripplingly bad story due to its very poorly drawn characters, these characters’ often bewildering tendency to do stupid things, and the number of tired Madonna/whore clichés. But add in the impression that I get – that the author has no clue about what she is writing about – and this one is just… yikes. This one is just mind-numbingly awful in every way.