The Playboy
by Carly Phillips, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61055-0

If Carly Phillips has done a fat suit, put on crutches, and does her best Tourette Syndrome act in a Barbie sorority meeting, she couldn't have done a better job in getting herself booed and jeered out of the house the way she did with The Playboy. I'd expect that she'd take the time to polish up her book after more than one person claims that The Bachelor reads like a very bad Harlequin Temptation padded up for mainstream publication. The Playboy does improve towards the end, but the beginning is so awful anything short of a nuclear war would be an improvement.

It still reads like a very padded series novel. In fact, it is a series novel.

The story begins with a school teacher calling up the police only to have hot cop Rick Chandler drop by so that she can seduce him. Apparently Rick is so holy-bamami mama-bamama hot hot hot that every woman just has to have him. As a husband, of course - what are you thinking? (Shame on you! You're too slutty to be a romance reader, you must repent!) His mother is still obsessed in seeing her sons wedded and bedded and if she has to rope in the entire town to do it, she will. Into town zooms Kendall Sutton, still in a wedding gown (because you don't change out of that dress even after you've just broken up with your guy at the altar - romance heroines love their wedding gowns and they define their lives around one), penniless (as usual), car broke down (yeah, yeah, yeah, next we'll see a fake engag-holy croppomomo no!)... let's just say there's a big neon sign over her head and that sign is saying "I left Originality far behind and I never looked back".

Yeah. Rick decides to pay her to be his fake girlfriend. He gets this brainwave while he is trying to unbutton her gown (strictly innocent, of course, just don't mind that bulgie winkie). Some men get very creative when they're aroused. Rick, frankly, worries me if Silhouette Desire clichoplotpoopies are all he can think of in the heat of the moment. Kendall wants to be independent, and since she has no money to fix up her house (it's always about the house), yeah, she'll do this. She'll play his fake girlie, no problem.

Rick's mother, upon seeing Kendall for the first time, surmises that Kendall is intelligent and compassionate. Then again, the old coot's senile enough that her sole motivation in life to see her sons wedded. Apparently in these kind of novels, good women worthy of love lose all their braincells and go senile the moment their sons hit puberty. I look at Kendall and I say she's already on her way to getting there.

Kendall and Rick are stock characters with enough superficial bad family sob stories on her part and his, um, his occupation, I think, to commend him. (Heaven knows, a cop is all a man needs to be nowadays in a contemporary romance to be a hero. A cop, or a Navy SEAL, that is.) Fans of these types of smalltown stories (or horrified bystanders as I like to think of myself as sometimes) will see the plot twists, privacy invasions, and Mary Sue machinations coming a zillion miles away.

When things can't get any more lower, then comes Kendall's sister, fourteen and described as a hybrid of Britney and Christina (ahem, Ms Phillips, Britney's uncool now - it's that pathetic Avril Lavigne that's all the fad now). At first I like this sassy lady. If I'm her, I'd steal sis' car and run away just like she did. Who wants to stay in this town of ghoulish women and scary player heroes and macabre old ladies who just want to see everybody shagging? Alas, the sister Hannah soon turns into one of those annoying wisecracking precious tykes, weeping tears or acting like a brat just to get Uncle Ricky and Sister Kendall naked. See, this girl also wants to see everyone shagging. This town must be filled with swingers if there is an iota of realism in this story, but I guess romance readers have fragile psyche and need to be protected from terrible things in real life like sex.

When I say things get better, it's "better" as in the more ridiculous and transparent plot contrivances to get Kendall in Rick's personal space (and vice versa) are set aside for some genuine attempts at conversation and bonding between these two. Okay, so what comes out from their mouths are more like hackneyed pop "misunderstood old me" stories of woe and even more hackneyed feel good replies to such stories, but at least they are talking, you know. Talking's good, much better than fake relationships, right?

But the ridiculous Mary Sue matchmaking antics just keep coming. The psycho Matchmaking Mommy gets her own man, but the silly old fool just cannot distract her from her nonsense, more the pity. In a less contrived, padded, hackneyed book, Rick and Kendall may be fun - if unoriginal. But the plot and secondary characters of The Playboy are relentless in their contrived actions and machinations, it is as if Ms Phillips has used glow-in-the-dark extra-large wire cables to manipulate her puppets in this story.

Some authors that graduated from series romance are doing pretty well spreading their creative wings (Deborah Smith) while others like Christie Ridgway seem to have eased into the art of writing longer novels. Carly Phillips however seems to be playing it safe to the point of desperation. Maybe someone should tell her that mainstream romance shouldn't be written like a series novel and sometimes it is much nicer to let the characters fall in love instead of having the whole world forcing them to while watching and leering voyeuristically. As it is, The Playboy is like a bizarre showcase of an author who seems to be out of her league, lost, and trying her best to fly with the big gals. Without Big Mommy Ripa to give this book her thumbs up, all the safety nets are off. It's sink or fly now, Ms Phillips. What will it be?

Rating: 49

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