Bad Boys Down Under
by Nancy Warren, contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0585-6

Don't get so excited about Bad Boys Down Under, it's not about some naughty woman who keeps a harem of hot studs "down under", although I'm sure that's what the person who comes up with the title expects naughty-minded people to think. Nancy Warren's latest effort is actually three short stories collected in one volume (let's hold the "Harlequin Blaze rejects" jokes for now), all stories having a similar theme of - what else? - Australian hunks (or in the case of one story, an American hunk in Australia) seducing American lasses into orgasm-induced stupor.

To be honest, I never get the appeal of "Australian men". "Texan men" conjure up images of broody Marlboro men ravishing shivery Elizabeth Lowell heroines in isolated ranches, and I guess that - along with the idea of having no decent modern plumbing, ventilation, or lighting in some smelly ranch - can be quite romantic. "Latin men" or "Mediterranean studs" can sell the whole "si, si, me amor you" perfumed, pina colada colored mmmmm Raoul Bova MMMMM orgasm-under-a-coconut-tree thing well. But what do "Australian men" have to sell in terms of romantic fantasy? Crocodile wrestling? Hugh Jackman is Australian, but he'd still be hot even if he's from Andorra. Mel Gibson is just a creep who refuses to practice birth control and forces his wife to pop out a thousand babies. So really, I don't get the Australian men thing in Romance Novel Land.

Nancy Warren doesn't quite succeed in telling me what these Australian men have in terms of selling that sex fantasy thing, I'm afraid, as apart from mention of surfing and some hackneyed Australian dudespeak, these guys could have easily come from Texas. And I don't have a thing for surfer boys because I'm long past the stoner-babe stage in my life.

Sizzling In Sydney has Jennifer Talbot, a marketing executive from San Francisco, flying over to Sydney to negotiate with surf and boogie board tycoon Cameron Crane on some lucrative business deals. Cam is one of those weirdos who like to be in control of everything and he somehow decides that seducing Jennifer will be another way for him to be fully in charge of his conquest of the American surf turf business. Jennifer's instincts warn her to stay away from him (even if she can't seem to remember for long that she is about to marry another guy back in America) but she wants to be bad and - I'm sure you can guess the rest. This is another "hard-willed hard-balled zillionaire seduces his shivery employee" story, with very little new offered in terms of execution or interpretation except for the potential hot button issue of infidelity thrown in.

Steve Jackson of Surfer Boy is chosen to be the hot model in the ad blitz of Cameron Crane's latest onslaught on America. He's a steelworker so he needs some makeover. Since the Fab Five are too expensive though, I guess the responsibility has to fall on Lisa Atwater in San Francisco. Steve has only disdain for the modeling business as he's all about "honest" work but he needs the money. Haw, haw, I guess even "honest" work has its drawbacks, eh, Steve? I give him three months before he gets involved in gay adult films. Of course, he'll probably do his thing because he needs the money while moaning all the time that all he wants to do is "honest work", just like he moans all the way through his thing with Lisa here. Lisa adores Steve's luscious surfer-boy hair and his muscles (great, now I have that Men At Work song playing in my head) and his face and that muscle but ooh, she just wants a guy who looks like that from doing "real" work instead of modeling. Goodness, what is with all this model-bashing, Ms Warren? I give Lisa three months before she starts fluffing for Steve in his gay porn job, while moaning that she too can't wait to get back to dealing with "honest" and "real" men. Ms Warren's refusal to acknowledge that Tyra Banks and Travis Fimmel are real people who demand our R-E-S-P-E-C-T aside, this is a standard "blue-collar hunk drafted into modeling or posing for calendars falling for the woman involved in his new gig" story, again with nothing new in the execution or interpretation.

Finally, the last story, The Great Barrier, the jilted dope from the first story, Mark Forsythe, decides to head to Australia after his engagement with Jennifer Talbot gets perforated by a big Australian irritant. He's a good guy and in Australia, he decides to be bad and shag every Australian woman in sight. Hmmm, we should practice this kind of diplomatic payback instead of bombing countries that annoy us. I volunteer to mend the goodwill between France and America by heading over to France and shagging every French man that captures my fancy. Who's with me? Unfortunately, instead of breaking the great barriers of unsuspecting Australian women everywhere, he instead falls for the first woman that captures his fancy: Bronwyn Spencer, Cameron Crane's stepsister. Unknown to Mark, Bronwyn is charged by her stepbrother to keep an eye on Mark. I guess Cam is afraid that Mark may end up sleeping with Pauline Hanson by accident or something. She gives Mark a guided tour of Australia and they end up breaking the great barrier between them. I have a tear in my eye.

Bad Boys Down Under are standard "erotic" stories that one can find in short books that Harlequin insists are sexy. The same silly storylines that has been used at least two times every month, the same template characters, the same tired manner these relationships always develop, the three stories here are Just The Same Old Stuff. Which means that they aren't particularly awful in the sense that there are many Harlequin Blaze or Temptation books past and present that are as "good" or "bad" as Bad Boys Down Under. The only thing that is holding the author back, apart from her lamentable adherence to series romance formula, is that her alpha males often come off as forced - she noticeably writes more natural dialogs and her characters actually resemble human beings a little when her hero isn't trying too hard to act like a domineering control freak and forcing the heroine to bicker with him. I suspect that books like Bad Boys Down Under aren't what she writes best as much as they are just books that she needs to write in order to stay in the business.

Rating: 68

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