by Helen Brooks, contemporary (2010)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.30, ISBN 978-0-263-87849-3
I had high hopes for Helen Brooks's Snowbound Seduction at first. The hero is a millionaire, but his name is Zac Lawson instead of something hard to pronounce like Xanathos Ubekukumalachavros and he's not planning to set the heroine Rachel Ellington up in some weird plot involving revenge, turkey baster pregnancy, mistress sex, and other Modern tropes. However, things go wrong quickly enough.
The story is pretty simple: Zac Lawson wants to know Rachel better, but Rachel spends the whole story whining in a most blistering manner that she is... well, she has pretty a laundry list of issues. She's not pretty, she's not ready for love, her ex cheated on her, she worries that having sex will turn her into a whore, and more. The catch here is that, at the same time that Rachel is whining, the reader is clued in pretty obviously by Ms Brooks that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Rachel's looks.
For example, Rachel has had "lots of boyfriends" in the past - don't worry, she didn't put out to them - which is not possible for a butt-ugly chav like Rachel claims to be (especially for a butt-ugly chav who is not putting out). It turns out that Rachel is just whining because she thinks that her family members and best friends are prettier than she is. This also becomes Rachel's excuse to indulge in some petty jealousy over her best friends.
Meanwhile, Ms Brooks blatantly puts down those friends in a most bizarre manner just to make Rachel look good. Apparently, just like how heroes now have to be billionaires instead of mere millionaires, it isn't enough for heroines to remain virgins anymore. Therefore, the author not-very-subtly condemns Rachel's good friends for being flirty, outgoing, secure, confident, and - gasp - wearing low-cut dresses. Of course, to someone who isn't a "committed Christian" like Ms Brooks claims to be in her biography, such as this particular grandmother, the result is what they call "value dissonance". I find myself wondering why a woman who is outgoing and confident enough in her looks to wear low-cut dresses should be condemned. If you ask me, I'd rather be stuck in an elevator with that woman than someone like Rachel, who has everything but instead spends all her time whining about her imagined shortcomings, judging her friends in her mind very badly, and using her neurosis to play cruel teasing games with the hero.
Snowbound Seduction also sees the author going on her soapbox. The first few pages of this short book see her condemning the commercialization of Christmas, for example. Ms Brooks's turn at the soapbox can be inadvertently hilarious too. Clearly she disapproves of skinny women - pretty skinny women who wear immodest clothes are such skanks - so she has Rachel sighing that she has to gorge on "chocolate éclairs and other calorie-packed treats by the bucketful" in order to regain her "modest curves" that she had lost during the moment when she was rending her clothes and wailing buckets over the cheating ex-boyfriend. Naturally, her skinny and immodest best friends are jealous of Rachel since those loose women diet to keep their weight down. Zac marvels that Rachel eats like a ravenous horse because, you know, good women who actually eat are so hard to find nowadays. And on and on this story goes.
Anyway, to cut the long story short, Snowbound Seduction isn't a story. It's instead a cheap form of therapy, designed for readers who are overweight and without boyfriends in their lives to read this story and find some transient validation from the fantasy that somewhere in the world, a billionaire will find their weight and plain looks a virtue. Well, I'm too old to buy this fantasy and, truth be told, I can smell cow offal from a mile away. And that's what this book is: a cow offal of a "story" strung together from cheap tropes to sell me a hypocritical fantasy.
The biggest joke is, of course, the "Modern" label slapped on the cover.
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