Man Trouble
by Melanie Craft, contemporary (2004)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61284-7


Molly Shaw is in a dilemma. As Sandra St Claire, she has written a romance novel, Pirate Gold, which hit the New York Times bestseller list, and now everyone is clamoring to know who Sandra St Claire is. Yes, it is such a wonderful world when the media actually care about romance authors for their books and not for - ahem - other reasons. Anyway, Molly is a prim and proper history professor and she knows that her reputation in the conservative academia will take a beating when she's exposed as a romance author.

Meanwhile, Jake Berenger is also facing a problem. He often dates models and socialites for publicity purposes (those fame-hungry ladies are always ready to oblige) but one of his latest "dates" is not taking her kiss-off too well and is running to the press slandering and libeling him for all and sundry. Because a powerful hotel tycoon has no clout to sue the media, poor Jake will have to resort to unorthodox ways to boost his PR. No, I am not referring to a starring role in a reality TV show where he gets to fire fame-hungry aspiring businesspeople. Although that may make a pretty interesting story, come to think of it.

A mutual friend of theirs manage to coerce Molly into vamping up her image and trying to get close to Jake on his island resort so that she can get Jake to agree to cooperate on an authorized biography. It isn't difficult to coerce romance heroines into doing what you want them to do, as any veteran reader can testify. Molly also wants to be a "bad girl" so it's off she goes into the land of two-piece bikinis, padded bras, and blondehood galore. She actually succeeds in getting Jake to propose that they pretend to be engaged for a while just to ward off the hungry press. You can guess what will happen next.

The set-up of this book is ridiculous with a capital R, no, make that all in caps. But underneath the nonsensical set-up and increasingly implausible and even ludicrous events to follow, there's a decent romance going on here. Jake and Molly, despite being set-up as clichés, actually have a sweet romance brewing between them. I like how Ms Craft actually allows Molly and Jake to actually experience some growing-up and realize that it's more important to be who they really are instead of conforming to the image other people have of them. The romance is quite slow to build-up thanks to the wacky antics running wild in this book, but once Jake and Molly embark on a relationship, it's a convincing one because the author allows her characters to develop into something more than mere clichés.

I have some doubts about this book. I'm all for wacky antics in a story, but I'm not sure if I want to see more books like Man Trouble that don't even try to have a halfway plausible set-up. I don't find many of the wacky antics as humorous as I should have because I can't help wondering why these people even have to do these things when there are other sensible recourse available to them. It is one thing for readers to suspend disbelief, but it is another thing altogether when authors start writing with the assumption that readers will suspend their disbelief and so they can write anything they want without putting one foot on the ground where the logistics of their story are concerned.

Jake and Molly are likable characters that attain some two-dimensionality by the end of the story and their romance is sweet and funny. They work for me despite the set-up which often tries to force them to behave like addle-brained Harlequin Temptation clichés. I can't help thinking that Ms Craft can do better than this story.

Is Man Trouble funny? Yes. Is the romance fun yet convincing? Yes, I believe so. But while I am entertained, I am a little disappointed that Ms Craft doesn't try to do more with this story. If you ask me, this book is fun because the author has a witty voice, a nice way with sexual tension, and a welcome knack to develop her characters beyond the superficial, and this makes Man Trouble a much better book despite the unworthy set-up and the lamentable adherence to some of the more unrealistic formula of the romance genre.

Rating: 82


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