Warner Forever, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61766-0
Fantasy Romance, 2006
There is a ringing endorsement from Katie MacAlister on the cover of Stephanie Rowe’s debut paranormal romance Date Me, Baby, One More Time. All I can say is, while both authors write about farcical comedies, Ms Rowe however doesn’t completely turn her heroine in this story into a shrewish Calamity Jane monster clearly in need of psychiatric treatment. Ms Rowe manages to create a pretty coherent story out of absurd situations and in-your-face low brow humor, although like too many stories that lack any substance, this book ends up being way too inconsequential to be as long as 319 pages. Frankly, by the time I am done with this book, a part of me is relieved that the story is over because I am starting to worry that it will never end.
This is one of those self-indulgent comedies in the vein of, oh, every other debut paranormal romantic comedy from LoveSpell featuring authors who believe that just because their husband and children clap politely at their dinner table jokes, they are now the new Kathy Griffin of the romance genre waiting to dazzle readers with their repertoire of scatalogical, puerile, and lowbrow one-liners. Sometimes these books work, sometimes they don’t. Stephanie Rowe’s book sometimes works.
Justine Bennett is a Guardian for the Goblet of Eternal Youth, called Mona, which is currently pretending to be an expresso machine. She cannot have sex or do anything that can distract her from her guardianship of Mona so she has been celibate for 200 years. She lives with a sports-bra wearing dragon named Theresa. It’s too bad that Justine isn’t a dragon-loving lesbian, really, because she would still be able to get some as clearly the heavenly Council are a bunch of antiquated twits who believe that the world operates in an exclusively heterosexual manner, heh. Anyway, she has to kill all those people who know about Mona but she can’t bring herself to kill our hero Derek LaValle who in turn wants to behead her because he believes that her death is the only way to break the curse of the LaValle men. You see, all LaValle men die at the age of 31 years, 46 weeks, four days, six hours, three minutes, and five seconds. For Derek, that means he’ll die in about a week. These two meet and end up trying to break the curse and find a way for them not to kill each other – kinda like a “make love, not war” thing – in an adventure that includes Satan and his angry relatives and other otherworldly creatures.
The plot is one of those “don’t ask” types where it’s best to just sit back and read without expecting too much logic. The plot isn’t logical or even sober, it’s packed full with absurd situations involving plenty of jokes mostly of the low-brow sexual situations, innuendos, or outright bawdy and even vulgar one-lines. For the most part, I find Ms Rowe’s one-liners and punchlines hitting me in all the right places: I laugh out loud and I generally have a terrific time reading this book. Humor is subjective, I know, but I especially like how there is an intriguing and darkly romantic “I’ll kill you… after I’ve boinked you” interplay going on between Justine and Derek.
But as the story progresses, I become frustrated when it’s clear that Justine may take care of herself but Ms Rowe is going to keep making Justine be so stupid at times to get some cheap laughs from the reader or to advance the plot in a too-contrived manner. I wish Satan is more like a smooth-talking seducer like he is supposedly the best lover in the Afterlife rather than a clumsy Rico Suave cartoon character here. The plot feels more insipid and ridiculous – okay, even more ridiculous – as the story goes on and on, to the point that any semblance of smart homages and tributes to classic paranormal movies and stories soon give way to dire predictability in the plot and an overreliance on silly sex.
At the end of the day, Date Me, Baby, One More Time is pretty fun when it is good. The humor is an uneven mix of sometimes funny parody and sometimes low-brow and tasteless jokes that depend too much on stupidity as a punchline. On the whole, though, the comedy works very well for me. It’s only that there really isn’t much to be discovered in this story beyond the superficial. The romance is pretty much stagnant and underdeveloped as are the characters and the plot moves from the first Austin Powers in its early one-third into the latest lame Austin Powers sequel in its last third in terms of quality. It’s not easy to be funny, I know, so on the whole, I do feel that this book is a pretty good effort indeed from Stephanie Rowe. Maybe it’s time to hunt down her chick-lit books to see if I’d enjoy the author’s stories in a different kind of setting and all.