The Best Man
by Brenda Jackson, Cindi Louis, Felicia Mason, and Kayla Perrin; contemporary (2003)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98218-6


This is supposed to be a sexy anthology. And it is, if I have a sexual fetish for awkwardly plotted novellas filled with weird concepts of romance. All four novellas focus on second chances at love, but Kayla Perrin's Kidnapped! is the most convincing because at least it tries to address the issues that cause the relationship to break down the first time and shows the couple doing something about these issues the second time around. The other three novellas seem to believe that second time love can be achieved if the hero barges his way into the heroine's life again and bonks her into seeing the light amidst happy Mary Sue matchmaking devices by nosey secondary characters.

Men, I hope you don't do this to your ladies. Contrary to what romance authors sometimes say, we ladies like it better if you men use the "Sorry" word, buy us some flowers, and give some smoochies before whipping that big ugly hairy thing out and ram it home with the finesse of an overheated bull while your grandmother cheer you on from the sideline. Romance isn't called romance for nothing, you know?

Brenda Jackson - well, I love her Madaris books, but seriously, novellas are not the place to cram in as many characters as space can allow. I don't know if there is any newspaper out there that prides itself on good journalism that will send the ex-wife to interview the ex-husband, but there you go. In Strictly Business, Gina is assigned to interview her ex-husband Mitch Farrell in his luxurious super ranch. They broke apart two years ago because he was too committed to his work while she wanted a family. Mitch has never gotten over her, and it takes the Sept 11 tragedy to drive home that if he wants her back, he better get working that mojo now. Life's too short and precious for trivial angsts.

But instead of letting these two people work it out, the author brings in overprotective brothers and male friends and blindly matchmaking-friendly sisters and female friends to overwhelm the romance. In the end, these two get back together because they are pretty much forced to mash lips and groin by their relentless friends and families.

As always, Ms Jackson has a nice ear for dialogue and her characters sparkle. But this is also a case of too many characters overwhelming a romance that need space to work. The main characters need some privacy to work out their issues. The secondary characters intruding on every other page only drive home the sad fact that Gina seems to return to Mitch because they all make her believe that she must. After all, Mitch tells everyone but her the words that really count.

Also, by deliberately making the heroine "wrong", ie making her acting like a childish snit at times, this second time go at love only feels more forced than it should be.

Next is Cindi Louis' Catch Me If You Can.

Heh, Cindi Louis.

If Ms Louis wants to do a comeback after the scandal revolving her debut, ie if she wants to put off those mean sniggers when this one comes out, the last thing she should do is to put out a novella filled with category romance plot devices like secret babies and evil mommies. Emphasis on "category romance", naturally.

Lonzell Jenkins and Leesa Fairchild start out having unprotected sex in this novella. Cut to four years later, when Lonzell and Leesa are no longer together. He comes home from the air force to attend his friend's wedding. He meets a cute four-year old boy whose momma turns out to be... oh, shall I spoil the story, people? Okay, it's Leesa and Lonzell's the daddy. Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?

Lonzell's momma is the evil bitch behind the whole break-up, of course, and naturally, Lonzell sides with his momma until the bitter end. I don't know why any sane woman would even want to get close to a man who is a Momma's Boy in the creepiest sense of the word, especially a Boy whose momma actually physically assaults the heroine, mind you. But in the end, the hero kicks the mother out to the curb and I feel really sad that the author has to make the hero choose either the heroine or his mother. Why can't we ladies get along?

An uninspired story that is nothing more than a Bollywood melodrama of literally catfighting females, Catch Me If You Can is the thing to read if you're really hating your insane mother-in-law at the moment. It may inspire you to divorce that man as well, so be warned.

Felicia Mason's Promises And Vows is sad. The heroine is really pathetic and she single-handedly causes the marriage to almost fall apart. Elise Gregory is born at the bottom of the food chain and apparently she cannot - cannot! - believe that her husband Jerome loves her even after he has married her so she treats him cold and then weeps and moans when he withdraws, hurt. See, he withdraws! That means he doesn't love her! She is right! She must drive him away! And see, he has been driven away! That means it's really true - he is no longer in love with her, she knew it, so oh, she must drive him away! And see, he recoils and no longer kisses her, so that means... well, you see a pattern here?

I give the author plenty of credit for making Elise wail at the end that she needs therapy and she will check herself in ASAP. Some self-awareness never hurt. But to get there, I have to endure these two pretending to be in love again when his darling elderly aunt (yes, the dotty, sage filled-with-sage-wisdom anvil plot device aunt) drops by and work some magic to get these two back together. I really roll up my eyes when Elise laments at one point that she wants to give Jerome up but she will really miss Jerome's money and the big house and all. If anything, at least this woman is honest to herself in this aspect.

Jerome is so patient, he is a really good man. Good luck with Elise, hon - you'll need it.

Kayla Perrin's plot in Kidnapped! is so ridiculous and the hero is almost offensive in his sense of self-entitlement, but in this case, the heroine is a rare Kayla Perrin creation that stands up to that piece of crap, even if she stands up to him almost too late in the story.

Jamal Simpson broke up with Nia Copeland when she wanted to marry and he refused to work at her rich father's place because see, he has pride, you know. He has no ambition or direction, but a man must have pride, you see. See this screwdriver, you mechanic bum? Now bend over, spread 'em, and let me shove it up, you selfish crackpot loser. Then when he hears that she is marrying your usual Much Older Guy Who Is Willing To Settle For Less, he decides to kidnap her on his bike right before the wedding, shag her one last time out of his system, and then drop her back at her husband-to-be. Gee, what a selfless guy. Forget the screwdriver, hand me a stone drill.

This story is filled with familiar plot devices including overreliance on sex to carry the relationship, but kudos to Nia, at least, to have the sense to walk away when she realizes that it isn't worth it to waste her time with an ambitionless arrogant SOB. And kudos to Jamal for growing balls at the last minute to admit his mistakes and ask for a third chance. I do feel sorry for the Other Man, but hey, there's always a sucker born every minute and he won't the last, I'm sure.

Despite being filled with familiar plot devices and the plot being completely predictable, at least this novella recognizes and addresses the issues that keep the two lovers apart before giving them a happy ending. In this respect, crackpot set-up and 100% predictability snoozebore factor aside, Kidnapped! is the strongest of the four novellas here.

Uninspired plots, uninspired characters, uninspired romance - The Best Man is hardly a showcase of the authors' best abilities. Best stick to their longer works, unless you're really curious about Cindi Louis' novella. Admit it, you are curious, aren't you?

Rating: 51


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