Reading Between The Lines
by Vicki Lewis Thompson and Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2004)
Harlequin, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-83633-3

Reading Between The Lines is actually Vicki Lewis Thompson's 1997 category romance Mr. Valentine repackaged with Leslie Kelly's brand new Thrill Me. Both stories share a similar trait: one of the main characters lead a double-life as an author that they conceal from others for one reason or the other.

Vicki Lewis Thompson's Mr. Valentine has a premise that will thrill fans of a certain book that was later made into a disposable Hugh Jackman movie. Note though that this book came first so I'm not accusing Ms Thompson of doing anything funny. Here, dock worker and macho man Jack Killigan wants to write. His mysteries are pretty awful, his science-fiction is credible only to Luddites, but he hits jackpot when he submits a romance novel to Manchester Publishing's Valentine Day contest under the pseudonym Candace Valentine. Now he has to meet the publisher so he has to persuade his female friend Krysta Luekenhoff to pose as Candy. They go down to meet the publisher together and get into all sorts of contrived scenarios that force them to encounter each other in minimal clothings (read: sleeping arrangements). Sparks fly, the usual.

The biggest and most annoying problem with this book is Krysta. She's very predictable, not to mention gawdawfully tedious, in her usual blabberings about how they must stay friends, how they will never have sex again, okay, maybe now they will never do it again, oh what the heck, let's just moan and whine for the sake of padding the pages. Along the way, her boring boyfriend - not Jack, the Other Man - turns into a ballistic fiend and Krysta is dumbed down even worse so that Jack can step in to make things right for her. Did I mention that Krysta is also the provider character so she has this irritating tendency to boss everybody around? Mr. Valentine is readable at first, but the pace really begins to drag and the characters become frustratingly obtuse and irritating, thanks to the author's reliance on tedious commitment issues to keep the hero and the heroine apart that eventually kills all momentum in this story.

Leslie Kelly's Thrill Me is meant to be a light-hearted romp, but the whole story doesn't come together as well as it should. Sophie Winchester, the sweet and malleable good girl of smalltown Derryville, Illinois. This church secretary, however, hides her often acerbic wit and a career as bestselling author of murder mysteries from everyone else in town. This fear of losing the routine of her current lifestyle is what keeps her from succumbing to her attraction to the new police chief Daniel Fletcher. When Daniel discovers Sophie's handwritten notes for her latest work in progress, he assumes that Sophie is being targetted by a killer and that's when things get really complicated for poor Sophie.

Sophie and Daniel have great chemistry together, but the story feels disjointed and incomplete. I am often bewildered by the actions of these two characters. For example, Daniel wants to tell Sophie that she is the target of a killer, but he actually wastes time dallying with her before telling her the bad news. If this news is about, say, Sophie's nude photos being published on, I can understand his reluctance to create a complicated scene. But we're talking about a possible murder case waiting to happen here.

Likewise, Sophie doesn't seem concerned that she is wasting the law enforcers' precious time in staking her out as she dithers and worries about her secret. When I take into consideration that she doesn't like her job that much and she's rolling in money from her books, it's a little extreme that she will not trust anybody with her secret career. It's not as if she's writing books about humans having sex with gorillas or other topics that will make her friends and families go "Eeeeuw!" so what is the problem here, exactly?

Despite the author's putting in lots of great sexual chemistry between two likeable characters, the premise doesn't hold much under scrutiny to work even as a farce and the heroine and the hero's reactions to what I find a trivial matter seem a little too exaggerated at times (Daniel's reaction upon learning about her double life, for example) while a little underwritten at other times (for instance, Daniel's reaction upon learning that someone is out to get Sophie). Thrill Me is a book that may be better if it is a full-length book, where the kinks in the premise and the plot could have been worked on better in the longer length format.

Mr. Valentine will probably be a bigger hit with readers that are more amenable to the usual silly play-too-hard-to-get contemporary heroine antics. Personally, I find Thrill Me more enjoyable than Mr. Valentine because I actually find it funny and sexy, as opposed to me finding Mr. Valentine too annoying half the time. Unfortunately, the premise and the execution of Thrill Me work against it. All in all, this compilation is a quick and breezy light-hearted read that may be what some readers in need for some easy pick-me-ups are looking for, but the stories within are far from the authors' best works.

Rating: 74

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