Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-09137-9
Contemporary Romance, 2013
Island Love Songs claims to have “three scintillating stories that lead to ‘I do’, island-style”, but from what I can see, it’s more like they all feature the name of an “exotic” island now and then. Three very typical stories ranging from okay to awful, and yes, many people who write back cover blurbs are all talented liars, sometimes even better at spinning fiction than the authors they are bigging up.
Kayla Perrin starts the show with Seven Nights in Paradise, where a perpetually neurotic and insecure Melanie White manages to have a best friend that doesn’t push a pillow over her face while she sleeps. That annoying woman is in Fiji to attend a “simple wedding” of this best friend and a “multimillionaire” retired NFL player. The fact that the author describes an obscenely expensive wedding as “simple” is a sign that very horrible things are yet to come: Melanie’s ex-fiancé Lawrence is at the same resort too, on holiday with his BFF.
Melanie dumped Lawrence at the altar because she can’t believe that she, a drop dead gorgeous darling, can get any man to desire her, and it takes only a few pages for her to realize that she had been a brain-damaged, er, little bit hasty to ditch the millionaire stockbroker. If this is the end of the story, great, but no. The story goes on and on, with each character taking turns to make stupid assumptions about the other person. Throughout it all, Melanie’s “I’m so sexy and hot, but I am so bloody insecure that all of you have better feel sorry for me!” drama becomes tedious really quickly. Lawrence isn’t any better, as he sure doesn’t think much of Melanie’s sincerity for all his claims to love her, but at least he doesn’t act like he’s a twin brother of Quasimodo.
By the time the story ends, I feel more relieved than anything else. It’s like, “Honey, the kids are finally asleep, now we can finally start torturing the cat to exorcise our bitter hatred for imbeciles in our fiction!”
Carmen Green’s The Wedding Dance is actually the best story of this lot. Vivian Franklin is hired to teach Jay Smith and his buddies how to dance fancy on a friend’s wedding day, only to have her and Jay fall in love. Both characters are funny, smart, and they have oodles of great chemistry together. While this story isn’t long, the quiet moments shared by Jay and Vivian are so fun to read.
Unfortunately, the author’s idea of drama is to have Jay’s two-week fling show up and act like a complete lunatic. Never mind that the crazy jealous bitch from hell thing is beyond clichéd now. This story doesn’t need this cartoon train wreck to work, as the main characters are good enough to carry the story. The “bitch be cray cray” thing only brings down the story.
Finally, Felicia Mason’s Orchids and Bliss. I want to like this story, I really do, because the man the heroine Baden Calloway left at the altar used to be a woman. Unfortunately, this man has been dead for six months when the story opens. While Ms Mason’s portrayal of the dead transgendered gentleman is quite respectful in many ways, her execution of the story leaves a lot to be desired.
Upon hearing of her ex-fiancé’s death, Baden’s angst is all about her. Worse, the dead guy’s cop partner Jesse Fremont, who shows up to hand Baden the dead dude’s final letter to her, feels bad because he lusted after his buddy’s girl, but it doesn’t take much for him and her to start shagging and giggling and more. Both characters come off as horribly self-centered, and I find myself wondering how the poor dead guy Sean must have felt in the time between his dumping at the altar by Baden (an event that Jesse recalls fondly because he found Baden so “courageous” back then – honest) and his death.
From his letter, it seemed like he was cut up because he felt so bad about not telling Baden about his past, perhaps even believing that Baden dumped him because she found out. I cringe because Baden dumped Sean as she wasn’t feeling it long before they ended up deciding to get hitched. Don’t ask me why she didn’t break it off back then. And of course, she feels it – and it, and it, and that too – with Jesse, and it is all I can do not to wonder whether it’s because Jesse is a “real” man in Baden’s eyes.
Like I’ve said, there are many unfortunate implications here, due to the author’s execution of the story. Try not to wince when, by the end of this story, Baden thinks that she doesn’t love Sean like that. If she has thought this before she discovered Sean was once a woman, that won’t be so bad. But she thinks this after she has found out, and it’s like the author is trying very hard to make me feel offended on Sean’s behalf.
While this story isn’t the worst – the honor goes to Kayla Perrin’s painful effort – it’s easily the most uncomfortably awkward tale of them all.
At the end of the day, Island Love Songs is a take it or leave it anthology, leaning closer towards the leave it territory.