Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-46273-4
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Simply Sexy is Linda Francis Lee’s conclusion to her abysmal attempt at a romantic comedy trilogy. This book is like the hand that finally pulls the plug on the vegetable lying on the hospital bed. Unfortunately, the plot of the story makes sense only in an alternate universe of some sort.
An author needs to convey her passion about her subject to the reader in order to make the story credible. In this case, the impression I get is that Ms Lee doesn’t like the TV industry that much. The fact that the heroines work in that industry only to treat their jobs as a self-imposed test to prove themselves to their fathers who don’t care, coupled with some obvious disdain exhibited in the author’s writing towards reality TV shows all suggest to me that she would probably be happier writing about a different subject. There is no joy at all in the author’s use of the TV industry as a backdrop for her stories. The reality TV genre in this author’s series is at best an ill-developed platform that exists solely to get the characters arguing and having sex or at worst a soapbox for the author to talk about how frivolous and cutthroat that industry is. Unless I’m supposed to pick up a book and find joy in disapproval of the subjects, I don’t think Ms Lee has the right idea when it comes to writing about things that she should be excited about.
In this book, Julia Boudreaux’s workplace KTEX has just been bought over by the hero of the previous book Sinfully Sexy and now she wants to prove to her new boss that she can come up with some great ideas that can rake in the money. Her idea? A Queer Eye for the Straight Guy clone, only this time she will make the show right-wing friendly by getting rid of the homosexuals and making herself the makeover guru instead. And nobody bats an eyelid when this woman comes up with this idea. Why her? What makes her so unique to stand out as a host? It’s not as if she is Kathy Griffin or something. She’s a humorless wannabe pretending to be some “bad girl”. And does anyone, apart from the more delusional right-wing types, seriously believe that a show about a straight woman making over scruffy men (in short, a show with no gimmicks) can actually become a surefire hit?
Since heroines who are rich will not do, Julia is broke. Since heroines who are bad girls won’t do either, Julia declares at the start of the book that she will be a new woman and by this she means that she will be a “good girl”. Early on, Julia starts insisting to herself (and therefore reassuring the reader) that her reputation is exaggerated, she is not that promiscuous, she is not like that or like this, oh no, oh no. Since it’s obvious that Ms Lee has no enthusiasm or even intention to go beyond lip service when it comes to Julia’s “badness”, Julia will be a disappointment to anyone expecting a heroine who is halfway human when it comes to having healthy outlook about life, sex, and men in general. Julia apologizes way too much about herself to qualify as a halfway genuine “bad girl”.
Julia meets the hero Ben Prescott in the previous book. I am still suffering from the ridiculous plot of the previous book so I will just leave it at that. Ben is an undercover cop who has told Julia that he works in… er, never mind, let’s just say that Julia doesn’t know that he is a cop. She thinks he is a white-collar guy. But when he shows up with gunshot wounds, Julia offers to take him in so that her friend (Ben’s sister-in-law now) can proceed with her honeymoon. Julia doesn’t seem to question too much as to why someone would shoot at Ben but that’s to be expected. Like the previous heroines of this author’s tragic romantic comedy trilogy, Julia doesn’t seem to have any thought in her head that doesn’t revolve around her love life. She wants Ben to be on her show but Ben balks.
Ben is determined to play vigilante and investigate and avenge the death of his partner. In a way, Ms Lee is wise to keep Ben’s subplot and Julia’s subplot separate for most of the book because like Ben said, it just won’t do for Ben to be on her show, with him being an undercover cop and all. However, Ben’s subplot has him searching through Google for clues to the murder. Now, I understand that some person may be dumb enough to advertize his shady services and deal with fellow criminals on a public message board or in an online discussion group that has been listed on Google but Ms Lee assumes that criminals do this every day and Ben really should expect to find the answer after a few days’ work at surfing the Internet. Sorry, Ms Lee, but I don’t think I can be that stupid in order to find this subplot even remotely plausible even if I try by braining myself with a baseball bat. Also, I don’t know why Ms Lee can use Google in her story but she changes Yahoo! to Yahgoo (without an exclamation mark). Since Yahgoo is a mp3 site (hey, I know how to use Google too, Ms Lee!) while Yahgoo in the story offers discussion groups, I don’t know what the story is here but I think it will be a more interesting story than Ben’s “exciting” adventure.
Ben, by the way, is an unpleasant jerk. Instead of even showing some decency by being nice to Julia who has taken him in when she doesn’t have to, he repays her by mocking her while messing up her house and acting like she’s deliberately goading him when she tries to get him to clean up his mess. He calls her “cupcake” but it’s not an endearment as much as an insult. When he’s not being a crude misogynist Neanderthal towards Julia, he is waxing lyrical about his “hard-on” for her. Ms Lee assumes that just because Ben has some stereotypical cop baggages, it is okay for him to be an ass because Julia understands and therefore so should I. There is nothing that irritates me more than lazy and inept “she understands and therefore forgives him even when he does nothing to earn that forgiveness” cop-out resolutions to emotional conflicts. Also, I don’t find a hero with a permanent sneer on his face remotely attractive, no matter how much Julia admires “the strength that seeped through him as the food began to sink in” (page 69). No, Julia is not viewing into Ben’s rectum straight up into his colon via an endoscopic device like the quote seems to be suggesting, in case you’re wondering.
The romance between Julia and Ben are banal and unoriginal, being mostly familiar lust-hate-lust merry-go-rounds in motion. Because this book operates on the principle that a man can do anything as long as he can claim to be hurt inside in some way, Ben doesn’t have to work at maintaining the relationship. Julia has to be the one who can’t resist him because he is so hot, et cetera, and she is also the one who sets up some contrived internal conflicts, chiefly about how she actually isn’t a slut but a woman who drives the men away before she breaks their heart because she knows she is a heartbreaker. Uh, what is that again?
It is bad enough that the romance is contrived in a transparent way, filled with tedious psychobabble and phobias and other nonsense that really don’t make much sense and are just incorporated nilly-willy for the sake of having “tortured” characters in the book. But the suspense subplot makes no sense at all while the TV subplot, while credible, comes off as superfluous filler scenes that unfortunately expose how ill-equipped Julia is, brainpower-wise, to do anything that requires actual thinking and decision-making. Simply Sexy exposes the author as someone who just cannot plot credibly suspense or police (or even vigilante) procedures, craft realistic female friend dialogues (emails to a honeymooning friend asking about the sex is not “hip” or “cosmopolitan” – try “trying too hard to be hip” instead), or even a whiff of realism when it comes to having a career in the city. In short, Ms Lee is completely off here. Maybe it’s time to go back to writing historical romances?