Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7512-X
Contemporary Romance, 2003
It will be so tempting to just write down “No” and be done with the review, isn’t it? But here’s good news to fans of Lori Foster: Say No To Joe? is one of her better books in a long time. And here’s also some bad news: I doubt readers not keen on this author’s repetitious style will be won over. Joe Winston, the hero, is pretty much like every hero the author has ever written, so much so that the singular parameter I use nowadays to gauge whether a Lori Foster book sinks or floats is the extent of the heroine’s smarts. And other than one huge dubious action, Luna Clark is smart, she is funny, and she and Joe – ooh.
Joe and Luna are the best things about the author’s Wild. I’m glad to say that these two are still fun to read and their chemistry still resonate clearly in or out of the bedroom. Luna, a fortune-telling kind of gal, and Joe, who has been a cop and a PI and a bounty hunter and who knows what else, meet in Wild and now they are still squaring off. Luna is the woman who tells him no, and you know how guys are about the women they can’t have. Of course Luna wants him – Joe is everything a walking lollypop of testosterone should be – but she thinks she’s smarter than all the silly women that throw themselves at him. In Say No To Joe?, Luna has sort of inherited a nephew and niece from a deceased relative. The brats are living in a town where there are mean people trying to drive the kids away. Luna decides to step in and put an end to the nonsense while making sure that the kids will get all the love and happiness Auntie Luna can supply them. To do this, she will need Joe to come with her, look mean, and scare people away from giving Luna and the kids too much trouble. A subplot revolves around baddies out to beat Joe to a pulp.
The plot of this book is nothing to shout about. Or to whisper about even, come to think of it. And I have my doubts about Luna taking Joe along to keep her brats safe when she knows that masked violent men are out to beat Joe every chance they can get. Won’t it be easier to just get the kids out of that town and bring them somewhere else? Is a house and staying put in the house that important? The brats are just like most of the brats in romance novels: annoying to the extreme.
What works beautifully though is Joe and Luna. They really are fun together, so much so that their chemistry carries the story even through the slow pace the story can be bogged into at times. Luna is the rare heroine that – bringing a freak-magnet along to safeguard her brats aside – doesn’t indulge in painful too stupid moments. Even more enjoyable is Joe. Okay, I’m a sucker for Lori Foster’s heroes. Get me really drunk – or pay me a lot of money, say, half a million – and I will confess that while I can go on and on about Ms Foster’s repetitious plots and characters, I really don’t mind reading about the repetitious heroes. Maybe not too often, though, but while Joe is fun, his predictable characterization stands out like a sore thumb. He’s in love with her first, as always, as he goes along because he is hoping to seduce her, like the author’s heroes always do. He is very protective of the heroine, like they always are, and he gets fiercely possessive and jealous when he perceives that some upstart is sniffing around his woman. But I must confess that I enjoy reading about Joe interacting with the brats and realizing that the one thing missing in his life is a loving family of his own. Awww, that’s so sweet, especially coming from a predatory love-struck sex-fiend alpha male.
Joe and Luna are definitely one of the author’s best couples in a romance novel. These two are evenly matched in terms of smart, looks, libido, and the ability to stand, deliver, and receive repartees, banters, and quips. Because the couple is so likeable and their sexual chemistry is so palpible, the love scenes are extra spicy to read as a result. This is what makes Say No To Joe? more successful than the author’s Brava trade paperbacks – in the Brava books, the main characters tend to be as dull-witted as worn-out doorknobs and reading about them going at it is like watching a painful scene between two zoned-out porn stars. But when we have a couple as fun and fiery as Luna and Joe, the love scenes become more fun, more exciting, more right, it feels like.
Lori Foster is an uneven author and despite her prolific output of books, she misses as often as she hits. This one is where she hits, although the cringe-inducing plot of the story means that she misses the bullseye. Still, it’s close enough. Say yes, people.