Poetry Man
by Melanie Schuster, contemporary (2012)
Kimani, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-86285-6

If you think the slab of beef on the cover of Melanie Schuster's Poetry Man is a bit pale, well, that's because Jared VanBuren is white. This isn't just an interracial romance, people, this is Ms Schuster's rallying cry for everyone in the world to love without giving any concerns to one's skin color. It's a wonderful fantasy, especially when the guy in question has a flat stomach and fat wallet, but it isn't long before this story becomes way too corny for my liking.

The story is pretty simple. Alexis Sharp is busy expanding her successful chain of spa centers, but she is looking for love. Oh, she doesn't need a man, as she's financially stable and all that, but it is sure nice to have someone to love and share one's life with. Her best friend settling down in what seems like perfect marital bliss only makes her yearn for love, but so far, speed dating and going on dates with guys related to people she knows from church are not working well. At all. But you know how it is, just when she is not looking, it finds her. Or rather, he finds her. Celebrity chef and hot guy all around, Jared VanBuren, who claims to have fallen for her at first sight. Could this whole thing be too good to be true?

Poetry Man is a shameless wish-fulfillment story. Through Alexis, I, as the reader, am supposed to be swept away into this marvelous fantasy where I'm not only placed on a pedestal and nothing I do can be less than perfect in my hunk's eyes, he'd do everything and anything for me. I just have to wave my hands, and he'd make it happen. My pimples are dimples in his eyes, and my burps are throaty murmurs that inflame his desires. He's rich, his parents adore me, my mother adore him, my friends adore him, he writes poetry, and he has no annoying BFFs that will drag him off to football matches and such... what can go wrong in this story?

And, for the most part, this is a most heavenly vicarious adventure, made possible because Alexis is a wonderfully sane and normal heroine. Her insecurities feel real rather than contrived, and she has healthy relationships with friends and family members. It's also great to read an old-school romance where it's all about feelings instead of dead bodies or a parade of secondary characters marching into every scene to tell me that I need to buy their books next. There are sequel baits here, but they actually have roles to play in this story. No filler scenes of our heroine spending time with her girlfriends solely to regale me with these friends' back stories or anything of that sort here. It's all about Alexis and Jared first and foremost.

The thing is, Jared is corny. Seriously, that guy is unbelievably corny. I think Ms Schuster is aiming for gallant and gentlemanly with Jared, but I get Pepe Le Pew instead. He's constantly calling Alexis all kinds of terms of endearment - "goddess", "beauty", "my lady", and so much more - that, after a while... well, I don't deny that I'm a cynical old hag, but whenever I come across overly earnest guys like Jared, my spider senses start to tingle and I begin to wonder what he's really up to, plying people with so much flattery. I know, I'm such a horrid human being.

At any rate, late in the story when I finally do get inside Jared's head, I don't know whether to be relieved or dismayed that he's really such a shallow, er, earnest young puppy. He really, really, really loves Alexis. He makes love solely to please and pleasure her. The sight of her in the morning floors him because she's so gorgeous in his eyes. The fact that she's a successful businesswoman amazes him and fills him with pride. Everything she says is so brilliant, so amazing, so remarkable... This guy is also very pushy, often forcing their relationship to move quickly, so poor Jared comes off as a pretty suffocating and overly earnest guy that I personally would find unbearable to be with. I'd be like Pink in that song, screaming at that guy to get lost so that I can start to miss him enough to beg him to come home, and if he doesn't leave - me - the - hell - alone for even a second I am going to do something violent.

I know, guys reading this would probably nod their heads and go, "See, I knew it! Women don't like it when nice guys treat them like goddesses!" But there's a difference between being a sweetheart and being too full of cheese, and poor Jared is definitely too corny and cheesy for my liking. Still, there is a nice escapist fantasy here to forget life's little blues for a while, so don't let me dissuade you if you think you'd love to take a ride on the VanBuren merry-go-round. Just remember, he's, uh, an acquired taste of sorts.

Rating: 75

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