Feet First
by Leanne Banks, contemporary (2005)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2222-X


A reality TV show, an affair, gay pets of the heroines, and designer labels. Any contemporary romance novel with these four elements are either a formulaic chick-lit book or a desperate wannabe of a formulaic chick-lit book. Leanne Banks' Feet First skirts dangerously close towards the latter especially when it is too ridiculous to the point of being absurdly contrived and at the end of the day I have no idea why the hero is such a catch.

The heroine in question is "plain" Jenny Prillaman who realizes one day that she can design magically beautiful shoes when her "doodlings" are forcibly shoved forth in place of her boss' designs, since the boss has gotten too inebriated for his own good and has to take a long, er, "vacation". As the assistant to Sal, the fashionable shoe designer of Bellagio Shoes, Jenny has gotten her big break here and to celebrate, she has a quickie with Marc Waterman, the VP of her shoe company. Marc however is looking for a wife and has a list of stereotypical qualifications that this lucky woman should meet. Jenny is naturally not a wife material for him. However, Jenny insists that all she wants is an affair. Ah yes, all those romance heroines who insist of having affairs - they always end up squealing when the man doesn't utter the three words that aren't "Let's be quick!" and pouting sadly and Jenny is no different. Marc is a really annoying hero: he wants a wife but he also wants to get laid and for a supposedly straight-laced prim and proper guy, he seems too happy to spread the love around in his workplace. If I'm Jenny - hey, wait a minute - if I'm the heroine I'd be keeping an eye on the hero when he starts working late two months into the marriage, I tell you.

It gets to a point where Jenny starts to come off as desperate in a really tragic way when she keeps pursuing a man who makes it clear that she is not good enough for him for anything more than an affair. It makes Jenny look even more sad when she starts insisting on having an affair because she believes that Marc will dump her once he learns that her boss has fudged up her qualifications a bit to cover up for Sal. So, in a way, this is not a heroine who really wants an affair as much as she wants to have as much "special moments" as possible with the hero so that she will spend the rest of her barren life happy because once upon a time, she got laid by a man who she believes will dump her because she's not good enough for him. How even more pathetic that he shares the same belief about her worth to him as well, eh? Ms Banks tries to cop out by using a very familiar and ultimately uninspiring justification for the heroine's actions and I find myself thinking that I may enjoy this book better if the heroine wants an affair because she wants an affair. Sometimes if authors and readers aren't so allergic to the idea of a heroine doing things that may not be too nice to some people, better romance stories will result. Or at least more books that won't have the author making absurd concessions in the story just to make the heroine a victim or a martyr when it comes to less-than-moral situations that she may find herself in.

The reality TV premise is an utter distraction. See, Jenny has to design shoes and please the bride-to-be whose wedding preparations are being filmed, and this Bridezilla does all kind of nonsense to bring on the "funny". As usual, the depiction of how a reality TV show is filmed and all is not credible, but that's what always happens when romance authors try to incorporate movie-making for TV or for big screen in their books, sigh. Jenny's friends are a gaggle of stereotypes. All these things come together to result in increasingly absurd and contrived scenes with our hero and heroine that are supposed to be funny but I don't know. There's something about Ms Banks' sense of comedy and style that feels affected and forced, like she's trying a little too hard, although thankfully not as hard as, say, Millie Criswell who always resorts to USING CAPS and italicizing her punchlines in a desperate attempt to get her readers to laugh along with her.

But hey, Leanne Banks has jumped Feet First into the chick-lit romantic comedy bandwagon - okay, it's more accurately face first, or bottoms up if you really want to be mean - and I guess we all have to start somewhere and just below average is not that bad a place to start.

Rating: 54


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