Love In Bloom
by Francine Craft, Linda Hudson-Smith, and Janice Sims; contemporary (2002)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-319-X


Eeeuw, what's that smell? Oh, right, Love In Bloom, and what a bloomin' stupid affair it is. Of all three, only Janice Sims' novella passes the grade, and even then it is a very average piece of work from this author.

Francine Craft's Love's Masquerade is supposed to be about high school acquaintances Maya Williams and Christopher St John meeting again to mash their groins and do the wonga-conga they never did when they were younger. It's supposed to be a love story.

But what it is, however, is a Bitch Is Back story. That's right - Chris' ex. Every other page is spent telling me what a Bitch she is. Every page that's not devoted to telling me is spent showing me what a Bitch the Ex is. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Put in Chris' kid trapped in a manipulative Bitch vs Single Daddy sobfest, and I want a lobotomy. Now.

And the biggest tragedy of all is, Maya doesn't need to act as a foil for the Bitch. She is actually a very well-done heroine in her own right, but thanks to Ms Craft's insecurities and dragging the Bitch's character and reputation down the smelly farm and up again, the whole novella is the pits. It's perfect for the recently jilted who wants to read about what a bitch all man-stealing hos out there all are, but for me, no thanks.

At least Ms Craft could've put a fun, witty Bitch - that'll be nice - but no, we have a Caricature Bitch instead. Bah.

Linda Hudson-Smith's Forbidden Fantasy is a hero-worship peaen gone all wrong. If the heroine Ashleigh Ayers is twelve, now, this novella would've been creepy and fun, but Ashleigh is way legal, so her addle-pated "I love footballer Austin Carrington, I HATEHATEHATE all his hos, I'm been saving myself forever for him, even if he, like, doesn't know I'm alive and I don't really know him BUT I LOVE HIM AND I WANT TO MARRY HIM AND I HATE THOSE SLUTS AND WHY CAN'T HE MARRY A PURE WOMAN LIKE MEEEEEEEEEEE?!!!" act is one for the loonybin rather than one for the Scary Carrie Hall of Flames.

For Austin, Ashleigh dresses pretty. And her face changes color. I think the author means that Ashleigh has a beautiful blush or something, but her overuse of purplish adjectives make it sound as if Ashleigh is a human chameleon and her face is turning into a bright shade of gold.

For Austin, anything. Foreva. For Austin, she'll spread, hang upside down, bark like a dog, and wear a spiked dog collar. Nah, I'm kidding about the dog part. This is a romance novel, and football jocks don't ask groupies to do nasty stuff like checkin' out the brown alley or givin' head, you know? Besides, this is Ashleigh, close to snapping into loonybindom Ashleigh. Oral sex may send her into a permanent catatonia.

But the author doesn't spare Ashleigh in any other way. Oh, Ashleigh is framed by Austin's enemies! Austin hates her now! Watch as Ashleigh shrieks as they drag her away. Austin! Austin! Oh, she is so pure and true, why do you hate her so? She loves you, Austin! She loves you! Whhhyyyyyy?!!

Someone kick her in the ribs for me, will ya?

Ashleigh, Austin, Forbidden Fantasy - pathetic.

Janice Sims' Teacher's Pet seems the only novella here with characters resembling human beings. Bethany Porter and Colin Armstrong met long ago when they were teenagers and Colin and his friend helped Bethany get back at a nasty boyfriend. Today, Colin is going back to school. Guess who's his teacher?

Bethany and Colin are nice people with chemistry, although I find it quite frustrating that I don't get to know Colin that well. He's a nice man who decides to go back to school to complete his long-delayed education, and I love a man who knows that the real sex organ is the brain. Bethany isn't that bad, but she's a rather stock heroine type, and this novella is so focused on her that it's not as interesting as it could've been.

And I could do without the Nasty Woman subplot, although Ms Sims tackle this subplot with more finesse than Ms Craft. It's my blind prejudice, but I just don't like Evil Shrew plots. Always think of them as a cop-out on developing the heroine's character ("See, she's much better than the Other Woman, so she must be good!").

One in three doesn't really cut it, especially when that one is actually an average story made to look like Pulitzer prizewinning material by her sister novellas. The only blooming here is a patch of bad writing and inept characterization.

Rating: 48


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