The Lipstick Chronicles
by Kathryn Shay, Fiona Kelly, Vivian Leiber, and Lynn Emery; contemporary (2003)
Berkley, $13.00, ISBN 0-425-19175-3


The Lipstick Chronicles contains the stories of four women working at the online greeting card company Allheart. All stories take place more or less simultaneously after the wedding of Emma, one of the employees. I assume that this anthology takes place before the onset of bankruptcy and unemployment once they realize that giving things for free isn't the best way to make money. But don't worry, genteel readers: the guys these women marry are more loaded than a coal truck coming out of Newcastle.

Kathryn Shay's Men At Work tells the story of the CEO, Elyssa "I Bet You Can't Guess That They Call Me The Ice Queen" Wentworth, meeting a potential sucker, sorry, venture capitalist that will help plug the hole in which her fundings are burning through. Joe Monteigne of Highwire Industries turns out to be hot, sexy, and loaded. The chemistry between them can cause sparks to break out in the air. What's not to stop them from ripping each other's clothes off and sending for oysters in that six-star hotel penthouse suite they've rented for three weeks straight? You tell me.

While a really enjoyable story between two people with combustible chemistry, Men At Work really suffers later on when Ms Shay just keeps building up small and silly excuses for the main characters to stay away from each other. They finally get their happy ending and by then, I'm not as eager as I am just glad that these two have finally come to their senses. Losing twenty pages just may be what this novella needs.

Fiona Kelly's By A Nose is about Robyn Barrett, the romantic and idealistic PA of Elyssa, falling for Steve, a talented pianist who is also a very rich programmer at some ISP. All that money can't buy common sense as this story demonstrates, when Steve and Robyn soon embark on a whirlwind courtship of petty little bickerings and childish jumping-to-conclusions best described as "insipid beyond belief". By the end of the book, I can't help thinking that By A Nose is a booger of a story.

Vivian Leiber's Landslide, however, is excellent. It has everything I enjoy in a romance story: a sensible heroine and a gorgeous hero whose heart is as big as his money bags. Thirty-eight year old Carole Titus, the sales rep for Allheart, is thrown out of the office of Madam's Closet, an unfortunately-named lingerie company, when her sales pitch fails and her attempt at some business-school coercion fails (to say the least). On her flight out of O'Hare Airport, however, she meets a handsome senator's aide, Mitch Evans, and sparks fly. He asks her to show him around and she finds herself very tempted to show this younger man around the block indeed.

Carole is a very nice heroine. How can I resist a heroine that has this philosophy in life?

She thought women who dreaded the big four-oh, or who shaved a few years off their total - oh, they were being so silly. The years should be celebrated, because after all, the alternative was dying young, or dying old, but fearing life. So two years from now, she would light up all the candles on her cake with joy and gratitude.

As for Mitch, he wants to be a good politician for the sake of the electorate's welfare. How... idealistic, and how sweet, really. And I'm won when he says the following to Carole:

"Carole, I'm not looking for a nanny. I already have a mom and she's awfully good at being one. Hal (the senator) might need a groupie, but I don't play it that way. And I already have a doormat outside my house that says Welcome."

"Then what are you looking for?"

"I'm not looking for anything. And that's always the moment when you find a diamond."

Landslide is a romantic story that chronicles how a man and a woman can fall in love without any plot clutter in the way. It helps tremendously that I adore both Carole and Mitch. If Mitch seems a little like a larger-than-life Captain America, hey, I'll take him as the hero of a romantic escapist fiction anytime. Any guy that wants to save the world, or at least, Colorado - even if he's an independent Republican - for all the right reasons is okay with me.

I would be remiss though if I don't point out that Ms Leiber takes a few delightful potshots at both right-wing crazies and sell-out liberals in this story. There is also a very, very stinging jab at Laura Bush that can really, really hurt or delight depending on which side you lean towards while standing on the political fence. I also find that this novella comes really close to being a political soapbox towards the end of the story and really, what on earth is that outdoor disaster thingie all about anyway? Is the latter just a way of padding the novella?

Still, a truly memorable and great couple and a nicely done romance make me overlook the flaws of Landslide to consider this one easily the best story of the bunch. I wish my being thirty-eight was as fun as Carole's.

Lynn Emery closes the anthology with Tumbling Down. Alix Harris, the graphic designer, loves Hal, her live-in partner, until he realizes that he's gay and leaves Alix in shell-shocked dismay. Still, life takes a turn for the better when she begins dating Marc Preston. But as it turns out, he's the sales executive at one of the top advertizing agencies in town and he's looking to woo Alix over to work for the agency. Oh no, is Alix being taken for a ride one more time by another lousy no-good cheating son of a dog?

Lynn Emery has her characters talk to each other to solve their misunderstandings, which is always a good thing. Unfortunately, this novella has to follow Vivian Leiber's really fun story and its familiar and ordinary premise doesn't allow it to come close to matching Landslide in any way. Alix is described as the gullible one but she's actually a strong woman that takes control of her life once she gets over Cal. I like her. Marc, however, is a stereotypical sort of hero and some of the plot elements in this novella (like Marc's ex-girlfriend) come off as unnecessary clutter. The ad campaign that ends up attracting customers from the adult industry is hilarious, though. It has me in stitches.

Despite its flaws, Tumbling Down boasts some really good zinger lines. Lynn Emery is turning into a pro at taking familiar premises or characters and making them her own in a fresh and vibrant way.

Oh, and one more thing I enjoy about this anthology: the women here are friends. No silly catfighting or petty jealousy here. Also, these are career women that make no apologies about not choosing hearth and babies.

With two very entertaining novellas by Ms Shay and Ms Emery and an excellent one by Ms Leiber, leaving only Fiona Kelly's novella as the weakest link here, The Lipstick Chronicles is an enjoyable anthology indeed. There's a book two in the works, I think, as born-again virgin Dana is still unaccounted for here. I'll be very interested to see if book two will be as good as book one here.

Rating: 87


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