Nothing But Trouble
by Rachel Gibson, contemporary (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-157909-7


The greatest strength and biggest weakness of Nothing But Trouble is one and the same: it starts out with an amazing bang. When the story begins to falter, therefore, the disappointment I feel is more keen than normal.

Chelsea Ross is an actress in LA who dreams a dream of glittering movie premieres, critical acclaim, and bouquets of love and admiration. Alas, all she has on her resumé so far are some minor roles as the bimbo who dies first in some slasher movies, very minor "blink and you'll miss her" roles in respectable movies and soap operas, and an advertisement that she'd rather not brag about. When the story opens, Chelsea has been doing less acting and more temporary jobs to pay the bills. Knowing that her youth is fading, she realizes that it is time to pause and evaluate her life. She thinks that, perhaps, if she gets a breast reduction surgery, she will be taken more seriously as an actress.

Her twin sister, who works in the promotional department for the hockey giant Seattle Chinooks, lets Chelsea know of an intriguing job opening. The $10,000 bonus offered on top of the usual salary will be enough to pay for that surgery. All Chelsea has to do is to become the personal assistant to Mark Bressler, a star hockey player whose career came to an end a year or so ago when he was involved in an accident. He escaped with his life intact, but his legs were injured to such an extent that he will never play hockey again. When the story opens, he is still undergoing physical therapy.

Mark, naturally, feels crippled and impotent in his current state - in fact, he has problems getting it up, if you know what I mean, since the accident - and he doesn't want any nurse or personal assistant to smother him with attention. He contrives to be so disagreeable toward Chelsea so as to drive her away, but she is far more tenacious than he expects. You can guess what eventually happens between them.

Right from the start, Mark and Chelsea hit off with that rare kind of chemistry where everything feels right, wonderful... perfect. Mark may aim to be as disagreeable as possible, but he never really crosses the line to become cruel or abusive. Instead, he oozes charm like the bad boy that Mothers everywhere have warned their daughters about. I don't know how Ms Gibson does it, but when Mark manages to make me smile and even laugh as he acts like a grouch. I suspect that it's because he is never allowed to become intolerable. Instead, he and Chelsea play each other off perfectly. They both give back as good as they get, and it is fun to see Mark eventually come to soften and even fall for Chelsea.

Chelsea starts out great too. She's a heroine who has a healthy sense of self-awareness and she has normal relationships with other people. She may be an actress, but while she doesn't play the casting couch thing, at first she doesn't become Ms Gibson's poster girl for All Actresses Are Sluts - The Good Ones Must Repent propaganda. Chelsea dishes out the one-liners without becoming too annoyingly feisty. All in all, she and Mark hit off on the perfect note.

And then, the momentum begins to falter when I realize that the story isn't going anywhere. Mark and Chelsea have plenty of cute scenes here, but for a long time, the development of their relationship is stalled as these two go around in circles when it comes to their feelings for each other. Scenes begin to come off like padding. I begin to feel bored. Even the introduction of a kid for Mark to mentor feels pointless.

And then, late in the story, the author introduces a pointless conflict. This Harlequin Presents-style drama is one that I predicted will show up very early on and also one that I desperately hope will not show up, and wham, it's there. I'm sure you can guess what this conflict is, but I'm not going to reveal it here. Let's just say that it turns Mark into a jerk; the sort who, when the wife comes home from the supermarket a little later than expected, would come up with elaborate scenarios involving Chelsea, the bag boy, and a jar of pickles before lashing out at her for being a big whore. Chelsea goes from an interesting heroine who can hold her own against the hero into a weepy martyr who would happily give up her dreams in order to make a point when she should have just sued the hero for a million dollars or something. The conflict sets back the characters tremendously. At least the conflict is short, I guess, but like the scenes in the sagging middle of this book, that conflict is nothing more than padding. Pointless padding, unfortunately.

Nothing But Trouble could have been a great story, but it doesn't quite succeed in sustaining its initial momentum. It quickly fizzles out, sort of like an episode of Glee with all the fabulous music bits cut out and replaced by more tedious teenage angst moments. It could have been better, but it isn't. Oh well.

Rating: 76


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