Kimani, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-335-43301-5
Contemporary Romance, 2019
Wait, didn’t they make a big deal ages back about how Kimani is dead? Now it looks like the line is back, as some kind of 2-in-1 thing. The rear end of this one is glued to Janice Sims’s Unconditionally, with some fuss being made about how people will be getting two novels for the price of one. Maybe they are just using this format to clear off the titles that they are still contracted to publish, who knows, although I’ve no doubt that should all the white so-called romance genre influencers pause a while in their constant “We need more diversity in romance!” scree on their blogs and Twitter channels to actually go buy these books, the publisher may be persuaded to keep the line going.
So, Shirley Hailstock’s Love in San Francisco. It’s linked to Love in Logan Beach, in that we have the same family-owned business staffed by the same stuffy-suited romance heroes, and the matriarch of course acts as overseer, nagger, conscience, author’s mouthpiece, and matchmaker in both stories. This time around, all eyes are on Blake Thorn, who… uh, does something in House of Thorn San Francisco, even as he has his eyes on Ellie Hamilton, the lady who manages the Thorn family’s CSR wing the Deborah Thorn Give It to the Girl Foundation. And let it be known right here that “it” has nothing to do with the stuff certain US politicians are rumored to have done to the hair and bosoms of women both young and old. It’s the nice kind of “it”, alright?
Now, let me go off tangent a bit. Shirley Hailstock is an old school Kimani workhorse, having written for the line way back when it was called Arabesque and was owned by first Kensington and later BET. Back then, the plots were more diverse (although there was still a noticeable formula followed by a number of authors in hopes of emulating the bestseller authors in the line), and there were more than a handful of plots repeated ad dead horse nauseum every month. Also notable was how there was a distinct style among certain authors, so much so that when I read something by a certain author, I knew at once after a few pages that yes, it was indeed a story by that author.
Back to present day, this story is structured similarly to practically every Kimani story of the last two years. The heroine meets the rich hot hero in some party (if it’s not a party, it’s a wedding of a sequel bait or a hotel in an island which the heroine fled to after a bad breakup), he is interested while she tries not to be too interested in response, the plot makes sure that they will keep bumping into one another so yes, those legs will splay open, yes baby, secondary characters that tell the main characters how they notice that the hero and the heroine somehow have “the look” for one another, some drama happens, the matriarch knocks some sense into the hero, the hero goes to reconcile with the heroine, the end, now buy the next book.
In this case, the heroine is involved in the accident that sent the hero into a coma and his girlfriend into Deadville. Does she dare to tell him?
Oh don’t get too excited. It’s not like she rammed the vehicle and sent the competition straight to hell. In fact, in the end, as the hero correctly comes to conclude, she actually can’t be blamed for the accident at all. Still, Ellie’s guilt is understandable, as guilt is rarely rational and I can only imagine the trauma of being in a vehicle that ended up taking the life of another person.
And this is where Shirley Hailstock and Insert Random Author Who Cut Her Teeth Writing the HQN-Kimani Formula Here differ, and the difference is like night and day with about 800 days standing in-between. There is no unnecessary “All other women are whores!” nonsense here, and no abrupt breaks in the story for the back stories of various secondary characters as well. Sure, there are obvious sequel baits, but they do have a natural spot in the plot – the author doesn’t just squat over the story and push them out and into it with a few pained grunts, so to speak – and I don’t feel even once that the author has given up on telling a story ten pages in to flog me the next five books in the series instead. Conversations feel natural, spoken like how real people might have done so, and there are no autistic blow-by-blow descriptions of all the mundane things the hero and the heroine do on a daily basis. The story actually moves in a certain direction on a decent pace, and rarely do I feel like I’m reading a checklist of the Kimani formula passed off as a romance novel.
What I’m trying to say is that Shirley Hailstock is a better writer than this story would suggest – she is doing her best to make her editor happy, and in doing so, she appears to be forcibly dumbing herself down in order to sit with her fellow Kimani authors at the bottom of the barrel.
So why is Love in San Francisco getting only three oogies from me? Sad to say, it’s still flogging the dead horse of a formula that killed the line as far as I’m concerned. The story moves jauntily to still a lackluster place, and as much as I don’t mind the characters, they are still Template Rich Black Dude and Template Working Class Lady in Emotional Distress. The whole thing is certainly one of the better rehash of the same old stuff, but it’s still a rehash nonetheless.