HQN, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-77058-8
Contemporary Romance, 2005
At the core of Leslie Kelly’s latest full-length romance She’s Got the Look is a very familiar issue that eventually overwhelms everything else about this story and I suspect that the reader’s tolerance for this will greatly determine how much she enjoys this book. Speaking for myself, I find myself feeling indifferent to the heroine’s insecurities because the author, in keeping to the formula, introduces some contradictory elements to the story, therefore making the whole premise come off as rather contrived and unrealistic to me.
You see, our heroine Melody Tanner was the famous Peacock Feather Girl – the front model of a lingerie line that catapulted her to the masturbatory fantasies of men young and old – when she was younger. Because our heroine is a rather stereotypical woman who approaches sex with the gravity of Moses contemplating the parting of the Red Sea, she spends the rest of her time trying to turn herself into the something different from the Peacock Feather Girl. I’d therefore expect her to be thrilled to be called a dud in bed by her ex-husband (a cartoonish figure who turns out to be the dud in bed who also has an inexplicable success rate in cheating on his ex-wife, an “only in romance novel” caricature whose Mr Wrong traits are telegraphed in the prologue during the heroine’s pre-nuptial hen party with her friends), but this is just another excuse for Melody to experience the famously predictable “I learn that I can be sexy and still be me, wheeee!” come-to-my-senses ritual with the hero.
In the meantime, Melody and the hero Nick Walker spend a huge chunk of this time indulging in circular mental tortuous lusting. She doesn’t want to have sex because for her, sex is a very big thing and she doesn’t want to have sex if she isn’t emotionally relating with that guy. But she is in lust with Nick Walker so oh, she wants to have sex with him! But sex for the sake of sex isn’t her thing and besides, she’s sworn off men! But, really, surely sleeping with Nick Walker won’t hurt? Repeat and rinse and this makes up the bulk of Melody’s circular mental babbling in this story. Nick has issues with a cheating ex-wife whom he married when she was pregnant only to have him learn later on that the kid wasn’t even his and this is the country song he will be singing while he indulge in a repetitious thought pattern of lusting and withdrawing that is similar to Melody’s. Nick’s issues are more realistic and less contradictory than Melody’s in the sense that there are some depths to them: he regrets running off to join the Marines instead of trying to bond with the kid when he was younger and he admits now that perhaps both he and his ex-wife were too young to handle their troubled marriage well, for example. Also, Nick doesn’t have that guilt over a dead partner thing, so there’s at least one aspect of his personality that doesn’t conform strictly to the action hero stereotype.
But these two main characters’ mental foreplay moves too much in circles and for a long time go nowhere. I get impatient with them fast just as I get frustrated with Melody’s very formulaic characterization that makes her come off like some blank slate template character straight from central casting. To be fair, Ms Kelly tries to get Melody to grow as a character but the lessons Melody learn are very simple and obvious and therefore I can’t say that I find her journey compelling. Melody is a stereotype and her growing up is equally stereotypical. The problem here isn’t that Melody is a generic character as much as she is an uninteresting one.
There is a suspense element in this story. Before she married Dr Bill Todd despite her reservations, Melody made a list of men she’d like to have sex with at the urging of her friends. (Of course, Melody acts like making such a list is a big sin.) Six years later after her divorce, the guys on her list start to die. Due to her friend Rosemary’s machinations, Melody ends up trying to contact a cop about this hopefully coincidental matter. In one of the many pile-up of coincidences that Rosemary tries to call “fate” or “destiny”, this cop turns out to be Nick Walker, whose undercover stint is accidentally disrupted by Melody a few weeks earlier, who happened to be featured on the cover of Time six years ago as a kiddie-saving hero in Kosovo, who happened to be Guy #1 on Melody’s list, and whose partner Dex is dating Rosemary at that moment. I’m sure if this book goes on longer than it does, Nick may turn out to be the prom date that took Melody’s virginity while they were playing a blindfolded doctor games even as their parents happened to be feuding Romeo and Juliet style, and this was right before Nick and Melody discovered that they are actually destined to save the world by having magnificent sex that tilted the earth’s axis by forty-five degrees and producing some Golden Super Baby that will be the new hope for a post-apocalyptic future, Terminator style. Back to the suspense, a politician that is on Melody’s list shows up in her life as well and since he’s a politician, of course he is smarmy and sinister, and therefore could prove to be another sinister element in Melody’s increasingly hectic social calendar. Poor Melody. In-between all these villainy going on and her constant mental anguish over whether she should sleep with Nick, will she finally get laid?
She’s Got the Look, is frankly, too formulaic when it comes to the romance for me to really get into. There are times when the characters really come off too much like very obvious stereotypes to the point that I find it really hard to view them as characters to root for, and this is one such time. While Ms Kelly tries to make her characters grow, their growth come a little too late. The suspense could have been interesting but Ms Kelly has a tendency to shove it to the background too often early on for the tedious circular mental lusting and silly games of Melody and Nick. The resolution of the suspense is yet one of the many instances of coincidences that plague this story. But really, the fundamental problem with this book is that the characters are too obvious as stereotypes and this creates an effect where I cannot care too much about what happens to them.