Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7693-2
Contemporary Romance, 2005
There is something rather dirty about the title of this book, or perhaps it’s just my overactive imagination again. Shirley Jump’s third entry into her “food” series for Zebra, The Angel Craved Lobster, however does not have food playing a pivotal focus in the story unlike the author’s previous two books in the series. In fact, this book feels a lot like an expanded series romance novel that was initially meant for Harlequin’s special imprint Stupid Ways for a Virgin to Get Laid or something like that.
I don’t blame anyone who recoil from the book after knowing what the story is about. Our heroine Meredith Shordon decides to head out of the small town of Heavendale, Indiana, where she lives a truly sheltered life under the control of a suffocating, meddlesome, and germaphobe mother, to Boston. She’s supposed to help her heavily-pregnant cousin Rebecca in the gift store Rebecca runs with the two heroines of the author’s previous books in the series. However, she really has her own agenda for leaving the small town for the big city: she wants to experience being a woman and all that comes with that for a while before heading back to Heavendale. The lucky guy she chooses to become her guinea pig first lover thingie is Travis Campbell. However, Travis has just decided to give up his lifestyle of constant binging, drinking, and womanizing. While he’s attracted to this woman who proposes a business-like offer for him to show her the town, so to speak, he’s trying to curb his wild lifestyle. Meanwhile, there is a subplot involving Travis and his unscrupulous supervisor at the alcohol/beverage development company that he works at which also ends up involving poor unsuspecting Meredith.
The problem with such a silly premise that only works if we are supposed to accept that rampant stupidity is the way to go when it comes to being a romance heroine is that such a premise will not hold up under simple and logical questions. For example, why can’t Meredith just head over to Boston, get a nice job, and take her time in falling in love with some guy? What is with these silly women and their need to do stupid things for the sake of a memory of that One Special Moment that they will cherish for the rest of their barren lives? There are many things about this story that feel really contrived and even fake, such as the author’s industrious introduction of all sorts of methods to prevent the characters from having sex. After a while, there are only so many overprotective brothers and psychotically meddlesome phone calls from Meredith’s mother I can take without rolling up my eyes at how transparent Ms Jump is being when it comes to her plotting. This book starts out cheesy and contrived, becomes really agonizingly contrived with the author’s oh-so-obvious efforts to keep the two lovebirds apart in the middle, and only improve tremendously in the late quarter of the book.
The late quarter of the book is, in fact, Ms Jump’s valiant effort to cobble some depths into her story. Meredith, to give her credit, isn’t a stupid heroine despite her having to go through the motions of being a frustratingly familiar stereotypical ninny heroine in her quest to get laid, and in this part of the book, she undergoes a vast and convincing emotional growth that I simply have to root for her. Even before that, I find myself liking Meredith because while she is a sheltered smalltown gal, she has very good reasons to want to break out of her shell and find herself. I don’t blame her for wanting more than an embalmer ex-boyfriend who smelled of formaldehyde and a career involving her walking around in a bovine outfit. The only thing contrived about her is her belief that she has to come to Boston, do the wild thing, and then has to return home, and even so, I like how she doesn’t just pick the first guy she sees in some bar to be her first lover. I find myself relating to and understanding many aspects of Meredith. Yes, she’s a silly cow but I like her.
Travis doesn’t fare as well, being that his commitment-phobia is never developed into anything more than another convenient plot device to prolong the foreplay. I am so tired of him at that point after having to endure so many “I love her, I want her, but I don’t really want her, oh no, because my dad was a playboy” see-sawing antics from him. Still, Ms Jump has her secondary characters point out to Travis that he is treating Meredith no better than his father treated his girlfriends, so it’s not as if Ms Jump is blind to Travis’s faults. I only wish Ms Jump has actually worked a little harder to develop Travis as a character beyond his one-note “I miraculously manage to stop drinking despite being a chronic alcoholic before this” attempts at cleaning up his life while at the same time acting like some wishy-washy ninny.
By the end of the book, both characters learn the right lessons and grow in ways that convince me that they will be a happy couple for a long, long time. The fact that Ms Jump manages to get me so involved in the late portions of the book is a sign that she can come up with a good story with credible emotions and memorable characters if she has come up with a better plot than the dire, overused D-grade shtick overkilled by too many stupid Harlequin and Silhouette novels. Yes, it’s great that the characters finally learn not to be stupid, but come on, isn’t it better if the characters aren’t stupid in the first place? We need a better plot, Ms Jump, because right now the characters are delivering and the emotions are real but egads, you’re ruining everything with a plot that follows the stupid formula too closely at the expense of logic and common sense. I really, really love the good parts of the book because when Ms Jump is good, she’s on a roll and there’s no stopping her, but at the same time, getting to these good parts can be too nerve-grating for me to give this book anything more than a guarded recommendation.