by Lori Foster, contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0338-1
The perfect word to describe Lori Foster's The Secret Life Of Bryan is "affected". Everything about the big secret premise feels contrived. The characters' motivations and behaviors rarely fit rational human behavior as much as they behave to conform to the author's need to create more conflicts for her story. All in all, this is one book that seems to be written to fit the need to sell two books at one go in some "twins exchange places" series to the point that this book feels utterly artificial in nature.
Bryan Kelly decides to step in and pose as his identical twin brother Bruce when the latter encounters some troubles with the shelter he runs for prostitutes and needs to lay low for a while. The trouble is, Bruce is a preacher while Bryan is a bounty hunter. One day Bryan brings a woman that he believes to be a prostitute to the shelter because she is alone in the night at an area where she can easily fall prey to lecherous men that double as convenient plot contrivances. This woman is Shay Sommers who is out on a mission to save her latest pet streetwalker. She could have told him who she really is but when he badmouths Shay to her, Shay realizes that she's better off keeping her real identity a secret so that she can prove to him that she is not some shallow patronizing dingbat like the media made her out to be. Oh, and she also wants to see how this shelter is run so that she can incorporate it in her own plans for the betterment of society everywhere. And she also wants to sleep with him.
How do all these necessitate the need for deception? Don't ask me, I didn't write this story. Likewise, when he discovers her real identity, he just has to go on a predictable and childish sulk. The characters here react in very predictable "this is how everybody seems to behave in romance novels, so we'll behave likewise!" fashion to their problems, but their behaviors and reasonings don't hold up to logic or mature adult behavior. Nothing screams "plot contrivance" like characters that behave out of whack in a set-up composed of unnecessary deceptions, and contrivances are what The Secret Life Of Bryan has in spades. The suspense subplot is pretty average and ordinary, serving no purpose other than to set up Bruce for his upcoming book.
With its generous dose of stilted scene set-up, awkward plot developments, and characters that behave in ways more for the sake of conflict than anything else, The Secret Life Of Bryan doesn't manage to shrug off the calculated intent that seems to permeate every word in this story. That's a pity because Bryan and Shay display very nice chemistry in the bedroom, which is alas the only place where the author allow their rapport to flow spontaneously and naturally for once.
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