Sun Valley
by Gena Hale, contemporary (2002)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41039-4

Don't look at me like that, I'm just as stunned that I actually enjoyed Sun Valley, the third in Gena Hale's romantic suspense series. The first two books in the series, Paradise Island and Dream Mountain, aren't even worthy of being my toilet paper, but Sun Valley hits all the right notes. For a bad, campy cornball salted popcorn read reminiscent of the most lurid of Ian Fleming's poppy dreams, this book is alright.

Yes, I have no idea what is going on half the time, except that some shadowy evil organization called the Shandian Corporation is out to make the world its toilet bowl. Thrust into the middle of Murder, Evil, Conspiracy, and Lurid Red Dresses is our heroine Neala "Neal" Delaney, who has actually - gasp - a brain. In fact, she's the smartest brick in the outhouse, not that that's something to be proud of, to be honest. She and somebody stumble upon a dead body, happily pretend that she has stumbled upon a murder when she actually knows more than she lets on, and have our typical braindead hero Will Ryder, who hateshateshateshates all women because of some bitch/skank/ho in his past, bodyguarding her.

As a romance author, Gena Hale has her nose stuck up the, er, armpits, yeah, armpits of Diana Palmer and Catherine Coulter - her heroes are really ridiculously misogynistic. Will Ryder is a date rapist in the making. His first thought upon seeing Neal in a revealing red dress are (a) slut and (b) car thief and (c) making her do lewd things to his Mr Wonky. Only in a bad, lurid James Bondian story, really, that the hero will assume that the heroine will rob a car in a revealing split and body-hugging red dress just to tantalize and tease him. Yeah, I mean, we all know the world rotate around the axis that is the Penis of Man.

In fact, having Will actually getting Neal is the most depressing aspect of this novel. For that, I've deducted lots of points and pinned that "Kick Me" sign on Ms Hale's bum. What's up with romance heroes who think so little of women? Will treats Neal no better than one would treat a sack of dirt, and Ms Hale makes him a hero. I don't want to say anything more, really, or I'll really get flamed and sued for libel.

So what I did is to take my trusty black marker, which I have called Suzanne's Navy SEAL Blacker (sorry, inside joke, although if you have read some of my reviews of Suzanne Brockmann's latest books, you may get what I'm saying) and happily black out Will's name and replace it with Big Stupid Prick. Suddenly Sun Valley is fun all over again.

I mean it. The whole action and conspiracy theories are over the top in a fun way, and Neal, when one gets her far, far away from that Big Stupid Prick, is one fun and hardy Jane-Bond-meets-Brenda-Starr-like interesting mix of bimbo and intrepid Nancy Drew kinda girl. There are equally over the top and ultra talented, omnipotent secondary characters and villains (I'm particularly interested in that Chinese guy who - believe it or not - will be getting his story too) to add in the whole silly fun.

There are some parts of this book that are so bad that they are laugh-out-loud funny. Likewise, Neal is an endearing heroine and the whole silly world domination thing is so precious. If Ms Hale has made Big Stupid Prick walk out of the sea wearing Ursula Andress' white bikini, this book will score a home run in the popcorn goodness factor.

As a chauvinistic, lurid, frivolous fun tale of nonsensical shadow organizations and mega-over-the-top heroes to the rescue, Sun Valley ain't too bad. Now if only Ms Hale will quit watching those daytime talk shows and stop believing that romance heroines are future abused wives waiting to happen, if she creates a hero who, for once, isn't an asshole, she may just be the new Queen of Popcorn in this genre.

Rating: 81

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