by Cathie Linz, contemporary (2009)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22648-3
Smart Girls Think Twice is set in a small town. I don't know why every other author is writing about heroines running home to small towns with their tails between their legs. It is either that or contemporary romances full of spies, secret agents, Navy SEALs, and ridiculously implausible terrorist plots. Things have been this way since 2006, and it looks like nothing is going to change, three years later. Sigh.
Anyway, I made the sign of the cross at least three times during the first 150 pages of this one because I was worried. Emma Riley, our heroine, is at the brink of losing her job - what else is new, really - so she comes back to Rock Creek, Pennsylvania, to do one of those ridiculous researches that will help her rejuvenate her career. Still, I have to give Ms Linz some credit - at least she didn't have Emma doing polls on how often romance readers have sex in a month like those bewildering self-proclaimed graduate students that email me every other month with all those ridiculous surveys that is supposed to be the foundation of their doctoral thesis.
Meanwhile, our hero is Jake Slayter. With a name like that, you'd think he makes a living getting naked with other guys in front of a camcorder, but no, he's a hot bartender. He is also... oh, let me see whether I have missed something. He's adopted, he's guilt-ridden over some accident during his days as an extreme sports fan, he doesn't want to be tempted by women, and he's emo about his past and present as well as love in general. Because even talking to a woman is a no-no as he will probably be too weak-willed to resist the call to shag, he is predictably surly when he first meets the heroine. Emma turns out to have every annoying clichéd trait associated with smart women in the romance genre. She is neurotic, she is literal to a fault, and frankly, she's pretty dumb way too often for my liking.
The story has everyone, including Jake, going pretty much, "Oh, how can a smart woman be so hot? And know kung-fu? And... and..." so often to the point that I find myself gritting my teeth in exasperation after a while. Come on, Ms Linz, Emma is supposed to be brainy, which does not mean "dowdy troll with limited intellect" the last time I checked my trusty Merriam-Webster.
To put it simply, this story is like the Harlequin Blaze from hell in its first half or so. Ridiculously emo hero, a heroine bordering on being too stupid for words, and a relationship that is way too clichéd for anything, this one has me wondering whether this was originally a Harlequin Blaze reject retrieved from the dark depths of Ms Linz's unsold manuscript drawer and padded significantly for Berkley.
In the second half of the story, however, it is as if I have suddenly been transported from a bad book into a book that is... well, considerably different. The characters being to talk, they begin to show signs of humanity underneath their clichéd exterior, and suddenly, they make sense. The romance makes sense. Everything makes sense. The silly conflict late in the story is a classic example of contrived plotting, but the hero ends up admitting to himself that he's an asshole and a coward before running back to the heroine with his tail between his legs, so things aren't so bad, really. Okay, the author ending the story with a sex scene has me rolling up my eyes - what a cheesy thing to do, really - but most of everything about the second half of the story is pretty good.
Smart Girls Think Twice would have been so much better if the author could have somehow rewritten the first half into something more comparable to the second half of the story. As it is, while I think the second half makes this book worth a look, I'd think twice about recommending this one to anyone who doesn't have a high threshold of tolerance for Harlequin Blaze clichés.
This book at Amazon.com
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