Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-20848-6
Contemporary Romance, 2006
Good Girls Do is Cathie Linz’s Berkley Sensation debut after having written predominantly series romances for nearly twenty-five years. Therefore, I am not too surprised to find that this one has polished one-liners and well-crafted scenes of comedy that mostly work very well with me. The problem is that the actual romance between the pages will probably fill at most a standard category romance format. The author pads the pages with increasingly outrageous and over-the-top farcical scenes to meet the word count and unfortunately, these scenes become so outrageous and even obnoxiously in-your-face that I soon become mentally exhausted.
Before the story becomes a painful Looney Tunes cartoon that goes on and on interminably, Julia Wright is a determined good girl heroine that I have encountered way too many times in series romances, to the point that I can probably shoot them to death with a trusty AK-47 even if you blindfold me. I’m sure you are familiar with Julia’s tics and baggage: her mother is this determined hippie whackjob that didn’t provide Julia much in terms of stability and security when Julia was younger, so Julia is now determined to the very model of a Stepford Wife minus the nympho.exe file that these robot wives are supposed to have. Julia moves to a small town called Serenity Falls to become a librarian.
However, don’t cringe yet, people. At the start, Julia seems wonderfully human for the kind of stereotype she is created to be. She isn’t some ridiculously ignorant and antisocial creature, for example, and she seems nicely at ease with her naturally perfectly formed and buxom body. She speaks normally, she thinks like a reasonably intelligent young woman, and she doesn’t announce to herself that she must get laid and have sixteen chubby babies by the time she hits the big three-oh. I like her. Little do I know that things will eventually change for the worse, sigh.
Into Julia’s life vrooms Luke Maguire and his Harley. Don’t worry if you forget about the Harley, Ms Linz will remind you of it so often that I won’t blame anyone who gets confused and assumes that Luke names his own little buddy Harley instead. Luke returns to this town only reluctantly. His late father, who whacked him good behind closed doors while the other townsfolk assumed that Luke was the troublesome son while his father was the good guy, had left Luke the family bar with the provision that Luke must run the bar for six months before he can sell it. He cannot tell anyone about this provision in the will. Luke needs the money badly so he reluctantly returns to run the bar for six months. He runs into Julia on his first day here and the attraction flares up at once.
There is no major plot in this story. The “plot” is more accurately described as “an interminable chain of increasingly wacky events” that kicks off when Julia’s mother, Angel, and Julia’s sister, Skye, show up at her doorstep with Skye’s kid Toni and two llamas. These two women start doing all kinds of ridiculous stunts that end up dragging in Julia and Luke as either unwilling participants in the tomfoolery taking place or as mere helpless observers. These wacky events serve as an excuse to pad the pages as Julia and Luke take their time to circle each other.
Weeks can pass before they follow up a kiss with something more. Chronology is vague in this story and I often have no idea how many days or weeks have passed from events to events in this story. But it does feel a very long time for those two to move from flirtation to their first kiss to their first shag. After they hit the sack, the predictable “But I WANT TO BE A GOOD GIRL!” hysterical whine fest begins from Julia. She acts as if sex has short-circuited her completely to the point that she will now die, because she loves Luke but she can’t be with him because he doesn’t match her idea of a perfect guy as per her dumbdecisions.exe file. Just once it will be nice for a heroine to get over her sleeping with a guy that she feels is not right for her – sheesh, it’s just sex, for heaven’s sake. If it’s good, good. If it’s a mistake, then hey, put that behind her and move on with life. Is that so hard? Julia however starts running around acting like she’s hysterical because the moral police are going to come over and rip out her kidneys. And here I am thinking that Julia is going to be smarter than the rest of the “good girl librarian heroines” of the genre.
It gets better: her mother later drops a bombshell on her. It’s a pretty big one in the sense that it only confirms what I believe about Angel – that she’s a vile and monstrously selfish mother from hell and I won’t blame Julia if she, as a girl of five, took a pillow and choked her mother to death with it. However, Julia takes this bombshell as befits her increasingly eroding state of intelligence – she overreacts and becomes irrational.
But a part of me can’t help feeling some empathy for Julia because if I have to live with Angel and Skye for one week, much less six months, I’d personally gag and tie those two women up and happily burn the house down while those two are trapped inside. I have never encountered two hideously intrusive and vilely selfish creatures like those two. They show up, crash into Julia’s place without a by-your-leave, bring along two llamas, and then proceed to criticize and mock Julia’s diet and daily habits. It never occurs to those two stupid women that if Julia isn’t the kind of capitalism-embracing pig that they claim to dislike, she won’t have a roof to take them under and they will be forced to sell their hippie organs to the black market for money.
But at the same time, these two women expect Julia to listen and kowtow to their bullying ways, as if they are entitled to respect even if that they do not bother to give Julia any respect in return. When Angel decides that she wants to become a better mother to Julia, what she does make me give up completely on seeing any chance of this woman becoming even a little less odious by the last page. Angel also gets her man in this story, although since her “love story” is developed in a number of scenes that I can count in one hand, I’m not too touched by the “poignancy” of this hag claiming another victim. As for Skye, she is getting her book next. I hope she meets her hero when his truck crashes straight into her and sends her flying right into the ICU and she will wake up from her coma a completely different person from that horribly shrill and self-absorbed sister-from-hell that she is in this book.
And after six months of living with these two in a town where the mayor forces every house to have the same paint and even the same length of grass in the lawn, and oh yes, where I’m also too spineless to stand up to the library supervisor who takes potshots at me, I’d be crying and lying in the middle of the highway begging for a bus to end my miserable existence quickly. So, in all honesty, even if Julia turns completely bat crap shrill and irritating during the late third of this story, a part of me doesn’t have the heart to blame her for her behavior.
Because this story is so preoccupied with cartoon scenes of people behaving most outlandishly (people storming to see what they believe to be the face of Jesus in the fur of one of the llamas, for example), character development is poor. Who has the time when people are too busy behaving stupidly? Ms Linz, however, decides that she wants to develop her characters a little deeper by the late third of this book. That’s fine with me; I welcome that, in fact. Unfortunately, Ms Linz takes the worst approach possible in this. She doesn’t show the main characters experiencing epiphany or learning from their mistakes as much as she has the townspeople of Serenity Falls always showing up at convenient moments to deliver a didactic, patronizing, and heavy-handed lecture to these main characters. It is hard to believe that a town filled with people who are prone to acting like Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck in a free-for-all can miraculously come up with relationship advice to force the main characters to do the right thing. At the right time as well, mind you.
The ending is very rushed, although I appreciate how Ms Linz leaves the ending open-ended enough so that readers can easily imagine that soon Julia and Luke will leave this utterly creepy place of Serenity Falls for a new life and never look back, just as other readers can as easily imagine that Julia and Luke will live happily ever after in Serenity Falls. With Angel, who hasn’t learned one damned thing, living nearby, mind you, in a town where nothing changes apart from the fact that Serenity Falls is now awarded for its ridiculousness.
It’s not that everything about this book is bad, of course. I like Julia during the first half or so of this story. She actually does something right at the end by deciding to stop crying and instead start taking charge of her life, starting with her telling Luke that she loves him and she’s going to get him to come back to her. Luke is a poorly-developed character whose FBI agent past is nothing more than a contrived plot device, but despite his obligatory protests about wanting to leave Serenity Falls and wanting Julia only for sex, he does some very romantic things in this story for Julia. Underneath his grouchy exterior, he may be a one-dimensional cardboard character but he’s also more than happy to do grand romantic things for the woman he wants to sleep with. I also like some harmless but amusing digs at Republicans, although with Angel and Skye being the representatives of the Green Party in this story I don’t know how left-leaning readers will be laughing for long. The poor Green Party. They will never recover from the punchline that is Ralph Nader, although I can’t say the Party didn’t bring that onto themselves, so Skye and Angel are like two extra hard kicks into a sucker who is already lying battered and in pain on the floor, so to speak. I think Cathie Linz must be a Democrat.
Cathie Linz really overplayed her hand in Good Girls Do. The farcical humor, the secondary characters behaving outrageously badly, the heavy-handed lecturing from these characters when they are not being too stupid for words, and scenes that don’t make sense (such as Luke needing money but donating all the furniture in his establishment to charity – I wonder where he gets the money to replace the furniture) – all these flaws suggest that Ms Linz spends more time finding ways to meet the word count rather than making sure that the story retains a semblance of readability.