by Julie James, contemporary (2008)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22420-5
I love stories with rock stars and movie stars. Sometimes it is nice to just sit back, relax, and imagine that one is a glamorous woman being wooed with diamonds, trips in his private plane to marvelous places where one can stop till one drop using his unlimited credit, and hot sex in locales that one only reads about in Judith Krantz's novels. Yes, sure, three months later you will stumble upon that rock star dying of an overdose while a naked fifteen-year old girl is running around the room in panic or you will realize that for all his groomed hotness, the actor in question has an allergy to bathing. But who cares? It's all about the escape, the vicarious fantasy of the whole romance. Every woman deserves to be pampered and savored on a pedestal like that at least once in her lifetime.
So, here I am, with Julie James' debut effort, Just The Sexiest Man Alive. Call me cynical, but before I open this book, I expect the following to happen:
(a) Heroine will moan and whine while being a hopeless mess in her job, only to realize at the end of the day that what she really wants is to have a baby and a husband. She will realize that her job is a terrible one so she will be glad to hang up the whole career thing to become a pregnant housewife living in a small town somewhere in Utah.
(b) Hero spends the whole time moaning about his fame until I roll up my eyes and say, "Bitch, please. Given that you make enough in just one movie to feed a starving family in Africa for their entire lifetime, you can bloody well shut up and pout to the camera now, buddy. You can nurse your tragic life over your bags of thousand dollar bills later." Hero claims to have a poor and terrible childhood and he swears eternal gratitude that he is saved from a lifetime of having sex with cheap anorexic skanks with fake breasts by our 100% naturally big-breasted and gorgeous virtuous heroine.
(c) The story ends up being a big morality tale about how fame sucks for him and having a career sucks even more for her so we really should embrace the homely values of Middle America, leaving me to wonder why these authors don't follow their own advice and hang up the writing career so that they can spend the rest of their lives cleaning after their precious babies and getting knocked up by their precious husbands.
None of the above happens in Just The Sexiest Man Alive. Okay, the hero talks about having no privacy at one point, but I chalk that up to him trying to score some brownie points with the heroine in order to get into her pants. Men will be men, after all.
The story here is simple. Taylor Donovan is a hotshot lawyer specializing in winning sexual harassment cases. Ambitious and determined to climb up the career ladder in her firm, she thinks nothing of leaving Chicago for LA in order to step in and handle a big case for her LA colleagues. Perhaps one day, Taylor will be able to sit down and work out what really happened that day, but she soon finds herself not only working on a case that will make or break her career, she is also dating two of Hollywood's hottest leading men, and one of them, Jason Andrews, just has to be the one to penetrate her defenses and make her consider the possibility that one can really find happily ever after with Hollywood's most notorious womanizer.
If this seems like a movie, in a way, it is. Reading this book is like watching the sweetest romantic comedy while having unlimited boxes of Godiva chocolates within easy reach. I seem to be reaching for unrealistic hyperbole here, but this is really how I feel about this book, so please bear with me. I don't get to gush over a book like this every day, after all. I apologize in advance if this review sets up unrealistically high expectations about this book, but you can send me your irate emails later. Right now, I'm still floating in a cloud of bliss thanks to this book.
Now, where do I start? Okay, let's start with Taylor. She's sharp, funny, and very good at her job, a combination of traits very rare in heroines in this genre. I love how this story allows Taylor to have both her love and career in the end, just as I adore how Taylor is allowed to have ambitions and the ability to go along with them without having to somehow apologize for not wanting to have babies and such. Also, Taylor doesn't act as if having sex means that she is necessarily married to the man so it's time to panic over whether he loves her. Instead, Taylor has realistic issues about trust, and when it comes to a man like Jason Andrews, only a fool will not harbor those doubts that Taylor has about a relationship with that man. In other words, Taylor isn't just a smart, capable, ambitious, and all-around awesome woman with a great sense of humor and cool, she's the woman that I want to be when I grow up. She has no weird hang-ups about life, love, and sex. Nothing about her feels contrived or clichéd. She's not a typical Harlequin Blaze heroine, she's Taylor Donovan, one of the best heroines I've ever come across in a romance novel.
Let's talk about Jason Andrews. He starts out as this awesomely incorrigible guy who is so sure that the sun rises and shines from his rear end, but as the story progresses, the poor man is so taken by Taylor that he doesn't know where up or down is anymore. And oh my, what a man he is. The fact that he is so willing and generous with his money and time, showering Taylor with all the perks that his money and fame can buy to the point that a trip to Las Vegas, of all places, turns into a dream vicarious getaway to remember... why, that makes him at the very least boyfriend-for-a-year material. But by the last page, he has transformed into this spectacularly infatuated man who rushes from a movie shoot right to the hospital because he has heard that Taylor may be in trouble. Ms James has me convinced that, because Jason behaves as if Taylor has become the start and end of his very life, he may just be the perfect husband-for-a-long-time material after all. It's hard to describe Jason. He's naughty, arrogant, exasperating, and cocky, and yet, for the right woman, he's also the most attentive, romantic, caring, and desperately infatuated knight in shining armor. He may just be the perfect bad boy.
And let's talk about how this book makes me laugh. I love it best when an author allows both the hero and the heroine to verbally spar on equal grounds, and here Ms James allows Taylor to give back as good as she gets from Jason. This only makes their verbal banters and sexual tension even more enjoyable to read. Every time Jason catches Taylor off-guard only to have her turn the tables on him, I laugh out loud in delight even as I revel in how much I enjoy watching these two drive each other crazy. And let's talk about how this book makes me sigh in delight. Okay, so the premise of the story is a fantasy, but oh my, what a wonderful fantasy this is. There are so many scenes here that are so magical, so romantic, that I feel as if I'm a dreamy young girl once again, giggling in delight over how awesome romance can be in stories like this.
So, what else is there to talk about? There are good books that I love to read, and then there are books that make me feel as if I've been transported into a fantasy that feels so real, it is as if I'm personally experiencing the magic, the rapture, and the heartbreak of these characters. These books are the ones that grace my hollowed keeper shelves. Just The Sexiest Man Alive is just one of those books that make me feel as if I've just fallen in love all over again and, gloriously bruised and glowing from the experience, I can't wait to get back up and have another go. At the risk of coming off like a song by Kelly Clarkson, I think my life would suck without this book.
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