Neck & Neck
by Elizabeth Bevarly, contemporary (2009)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22903-3


After two uncharacteristically entertaining romance novels, Elizabeth Bevarly unfortunately returns to her roots with Neck & Neck. The heroine is Ms Bevarly's typical inept twit whose stupid antics are meant to be part of her charm, while the hero is a bit of an ass.

Natalie Beckett is a professional party planner. For now, that is. Our trust fund darling wants to demonstrate to her parents that she can be an independent career woman, but so far all she has to show for her business track record is a string of horrific flops. Her recent vocation sees her trying very hard to fill up Clementine Hotchkiss's Kentucky Derby charity fundraising party and turn it into a success. However, with an absence of A-, B-, or even C-list celebrities to grace the roster of guests, the rest of the glittering and beautiful people who flock to Louisville that time of the year aren't enthusiastic about attending.

Natalie thinks that she has the solution to her blues. The reclusive video game maker Russell Mullholland is in town, and if she can get that billionaire to break his hermitage and attend Clementine's party, other people will surely want to attend the party too! Therefore, all she has to do is to get past Russell's very hot, very male, and very determined bodyguard Finn Guthrie...

Reading Natalie's antics in this story is painful. She is a master of self-sabotage - I cringe and don't know whether I should die of embarrassment on Natalie's behalf when she finally meets Russell, only to get so drunk that she passes out in Finn's arms. Her pattern of stupid antics continues pretty much to the last page, without any growing up or mellowing on her part, so I am not sure how she is going to be mature enough to handle a relationship with Finn. Finn is a typical manly man, commitment-shy and not trusting Natalie (Natalie's bumbling ways certainly don't endear her to him in that manner) but is willing to sleep with her nonetheless. The end result is like watching an experienced player reeling in a dingbat woman for the kill. The author has Finn deciding that he's in love with Natalie after all in a laughably fake epiphany on his part. Seriously, I give these two one more week before they go down in flames. He hurts her too easily and she is too much of a screw-up to do anything right. This one won't end well.

There is a secondary romance which is more interesting, if only in an academic sense, because it illustrates beautifully the double standards in the romance genre. Russell is a billionaire who has lost his wife previously, so, heartbroken, he neglects his son and spends his free time buying expensive toys, sleeping with floozies who want only his money, and generally behaving like Lindsay Lohan after hitting a billion-dollar jackpot in Las Vegas. On the other hand, his heroine, Ginny Collins, is also a single parent, but she has no social life, instead she works hard as a scantily-clad waitress in a night club to support her daughter. She is ashamed of her job despite the fact that she doesn't sleep with the men she meets - at least, not until Russell anyway, heh.

So there you have it - a single parent who, by virtue of having a penis, behaves like the worst father in the world, but yet, no one ever calls him on his crap. Instead, he is portrayed as a man who is lonely inside and really, all he needs is the love of a good woman. He is hot, which is why he isn't comparable to, say, Jon Gosselin, I guess. Ginny, on the other hand, has to play the selfless virtuous mother because, honestly, I can only imagine the shrieks of anger from hostile readers if she started skanking it up like Russell and let her kid play video games all day long. It's like how some crazy people out there actually view Jon Gosselin as the wronged fellow driven to cheat on Kate due to Kate's "immoral" unwillingness to sacrifice screen time to tend to her kids 24/7 like all good women should. And since Ms Bevarly tackles this secondary romance in such a sober manner, I don't think she's deliberately poking fun at the double standards in the genre.

Neck & Neck doesn't even come close to being as good as the author's previous two Kentucky Derby books. Please don't tell me the party is over and the author has reverted back to her old tricks. I have barely started to enjoy myself!

Rating: 64


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