Paperback Hero
by Antony J Bowman, contemporary (1999)
Penguin, 5.99, ISBN 0-14-026500-6


Spoilers are present in this review

Hugh Jackman on the cover. How can I resist? But since Hugh's hair is rather off in the cover - actually, come to think of it, he should fire whoever it is that does his appearances, because Hugh's hair is awful most of the time (Hugh in a goatee during the Swordfish premiere is something I don't want to see ever again) - I can safely say I'm not under the influence of the Hugh Jackman drug when I am reading this book.

I'll get back to you if I ever see the movie based on this book though.

Anyway, yes, a man wrote this book. No, it's not Nicholas Satan Sparks redux. It's pretty good, even if it has I AM MAN, COME WORSHIP ME vibes emanating from every one of its pages.

See, our hero Jack Willis is the hero. He lives in the small town of Lucktown somewhere in the Aussie outbacks, and he drives a rig (a truck) for a living. He talks with his old doggie, loves nature, the natives, and sunrises, and in all those lonely nights in his rig drives, he penned a romance novel called Bird In The Hand.

Yes, that's the title. Snigger all you want. I sure did, until I remembered the guy on the cover... well, let's just say Hugh + bird + hand = close call to a fatal heart attack.

Our hero submitted the book for publication under the name Ruby Vale. Ruby Vale is the woman running the local eatery that treats Jack like her annoying big brother. They bicker and banter like siblings.

Trouble comes when Catherine "Ziggy" Keane comes to this pace looking for Ruby Vale. See, she is an editor who believes that "Ruby Vale, author of Bird In The Hand (heh)" is a potential hot stuff, and she wants to talk to "her" personally before they both chart "her" path to superstardom.

Ruby learns from Jack that she is now an author of romance novels. Ooh, ain't that funny - real men like Jack writing romances! Or I suppose I'm supposed to find that funny. Anyway, as they play along in this deception, feelings start to flare between them, but alas, Ruby is marrying her guy Hamish soon (with a name like Hamish, you know he is going to get ditched soon - I mean, what's Hamish compared to Jack, right, Mr Bowman?) and Ziggy is trying to get her hands on Jack. I mean, Jack - a real man, rugged, hero, nature lover, romance novel author, sensitive stud, macho stud, poombah hero, his bird in his hand - wow.

Newsflash to Mr Bowman: romance readers don't fall in love with male authors. Romance readers don't read romance novels to fall in love with the author. And romance readers won't do your laundry, sleep with you, and clean your fridge.

Still, there's a charm to Jack and Ruby. Jack may be a male's wet dream of what a man would like to imagine he is to women, but he exudes a certain Malboro Man charm. He's nice. The author doesn't make Jack talk smarmy I'm-a-sensitive-dude talk only until the last few chapters, so for a long time, Jack is okay. Ruby is also okay, only a little bratty, not as deep as she should have been written, but her chemistry with Jack is there.

I am hoping the author wouldn't go there, but he did. Jack starts an affair with Ziggy even as he pines for Ruby. This immediately derails my allegiance to Ruby and Jack and makes me emphatize with poor Ziggy. She does Jack's laundry, sleeps with him, dresses him up nicely, but what does she get in the end? Screwed - in every way you read that word - and dumped. But the author redeems the story a little by letting Ziggy keep her dignity. She isn't a nasty bitch - she's just a woman who happens to fall in love with the wrong guy.

So in the end, well, I like this book. It's still too heavy on the male-machismo-worship thing for my liking, but the author still manages to create a charming, entertaining romance story. It's not perfect, it's flawed, but in the end, it's rather fun.

Now someone get Hugh Jackman a decent haircut.

Rating: 76


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