My Red Shoes
by Liana Merrill, contemporary (2005)
Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 0-8217-7893-5

I want to like Liana Merill's debut romance novel My Red Shoes because the heroine has been around the block, so to speak, when it comes to attending parties and waking up with men she can't remember picking up. I always love reading something different in my romance novels and struggling actress Carly Beck is definitely a refreshing change from the usual simpering goody-goody sort... or so I thought for the first five pages. After that, My Red Shoes proves to be the work of an author who mistakes childish adolescent antics as ritual courtship.

Simply put, this is the story of Carly losing her red shoes to the producer Evan McLeish although she has no recollection of how she lost them to him. The first sign of trouble is that Evan has spent his time and gone out of his way to make her feel low even before the story begins and when Carly calls him for her shoes, he demands a night of sex in exchange for those shoes. Later, he tones his demand down to Carly being on his latest project for free. And Carly, because she cannot live without her lucky shoes, soon find herself at the receiving end of some truly heinously adolescent insensitive boyfriend behavior from Evan.

I don't know. Some readers may start having traumatic flashbacks to being used and humiliated by lousy first boyfriends while reading this book because Evan is such a guy who sleeps with Carly (and is sweet to her in the process) before lashing out to her with vicious cruelty in the morning. The trouble here is that there is no credible motivations behind Evan's hideous behavior other than inherent jerkhood and misogyny and there is also no reason for Carly to keep being stringed along unless Ms Merrill really wants me to view Carly as a spineless enabler of a doormat. Perhaps if the author tries a little more than to merely put her characters through a painful merry-go-round of "Hate/Love" childish antics, I would be more patient with the main characters.

As it is, Carly is seriously lacking self-esteem. Late in the story, she tries weakly to stand up to Evan, but even so, the motivation for her doing so is because she is convinced that he hates her - funny thing is, I'm convinced of that too! - and therefore she doesn't want to see him anymore. Does this mean that she'll go along with Evan's treatment of her if he pays her lipservice and says that he loves her? From Evan's asshole behavior to his magnificently unromantic and boorish "declaration of love" (give me a break) to Carly within the last few pages of this book, I'm convinced that there is no redeeming feature at all to this schizophrenic sociopath. What's the point of him giving great sex if dealing with him outside the bedroom is an ordeal on the blood pressure? An alpha hero can only work if there is some hint of decency in him. Here, Evan experiences bizarre mood swings without credible rhyme or reason, so much so that he isn't a character anymore as much as another one of the author's inept ways to prolong the story to meet the word count.

If my reaction upon closing this book is to shove those stupid red shoes, one for each character, down their throats until they choke, I think Ms Merrill really needs to work on making sure that her characters' conflicts are fuelled by realistic motivations. Just making the birdbrained characters bicker and fight, Rosemary Rogers style, doesn't cut it with me.

Rating: 37

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