by Christina Dodd, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-5617-3
Christina Dodd's alpha males don't translate too well in her contemporary settings and most of the contemporary elements in this, Just The Way You Are, seems like a throwback to those 1970s and 1980s millionaires-working-class-girl contemporary romances. If the author has studiously watched every annoying romantic comedy role ever played by Mog Ryan as an inspiration for our heroine Hope Prescott, I won't be surprised, because Hope Prescott is so annoying that way.
Those fragile old-movie heroines need a Tortured Background to explain their endless selflessness, devotion, purity, and make us sympathize for her tinky-la-la-wee ways instead of wondering who her street dealer is. So for Hope, she and her sequel-ready siblings are torn apart when their parents died and Evil Melodramatically Nasty Religious Hypocrites throw them to the Merciless Social Services. Awww. Today, Hope spends all her time fending matchmaking attempts by every Old Woman Who Magically Likes Our Ingenue while seeking for her siblings and catering to the needs of everybody she comes in contact with, while blabbing the "charming and quirky" personal details of her employers' lives to our hero, Zachariah Givens, a man whom she doesn't even know. Hope has a Sexually Active Best Friend to complete her accessories. Oh, and Hope doesn't date. No time, too busy, no libido, it's all about Saving The Old Ladies, Making Them Happy, and Finding My Siblings (And If You Want To Find Out How I Did It, Buy The Next Ten Books). Sick? She'll make you chicken soup. Sad? She'll cheer you up.
For some reason, she assumes that our hero Zack is his butler. Zack is a ridiculous cold-hearted character. He is also a ridiculous Luddite - an excuse for the author to throw Hope and Zack together in a contrived set up of mistaken identities and possibly also to get the author off the hook from being too, er, "contemporary".
The set-up is cracked, and if I have my way, Hope will be screaming as she is trampled by a stampede of evil pink and orange Carebears. But there is one good reason to read this book. Okay, two. The author is well aware of how ridiculous Zack's misogyny is, and yes, she isn't afraid to blame Zack or call him out on his nonsense. Hope does an amazing turnaround, growing a metallic spine like some Terminator special-effect creature, as she really makes Zack eat humble pie again and again when Zack tries to plunge the story into a ridiculous big misunderstanding. Not as much as I'd like, and the author has to make Hope get So Weak For Sex to give Zack the upper hand again soon after their confrontation - big sigh. But there's some humble pie chewing, at least, so that's not so bad.
The secondary characters can't be more transparent as bad Mary Sue cheerleaders if they get naked and do the pom-pom dance with bells hanging from their saggy and dangling bits.
This book isn't bad, it is in fact very well written and enjoyable at places. But overall, I can't help feeling that the heroine, the hero, and the contrived set-up all combine to result in Just The Way You Are coming off like some 1950s time-warp sweet nostalgia moments, only with graphic sex thrown in. Nobody today can be that self-absorbed (Zack), not with so many popular pop-psych books around - someone would have suggested that he check into therapy long ago. Likewise, it is hard to imagine someone like Hope will be so all-rounded talented and smart and sexy while being so cluelessly selfless, invading personal spaces and crossing privacy lines without much thought. Hired helps have been fired for being even a little indiscreet with their babbles. It is even harder to imagine that Hope will have so much difficulty getting reunited with her siblings when she is studying to be a computer whiz - what, she hasn't heard of the World Wide Web yet? Just what did she do anyway? Ask Zack - needless to say, he gets to solve all of Hope's problems because he's a rich man who's going to be her true love. Or something.
I hope the next few contemporaries from Ms Dodd - let's face it, there will be at least two more, because nowadays authors don't create stories unless they can spin at least three books out of the deal - will be a little more hip and in. This book is readable, but I'm a bit too old for nostalgia-tinged selfless-ingenue-working-girl/millionaire-boss rescue fantasies. The strengths that distinguish this book from, say, Joan Wolf's train wreck contemporary romance novels is the fact that there is hot good sexual chemistry and tension and some accountability on the hero's nonsense. It may be enough for some authors, but for an author who has delivered the goods before, settling for this little just isn't worthy of Christina Dodd.
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