Hot
by Julia Harper, contemporary (2008)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61917-2


Hot is very different from the sensual historical romances of Julia Harper's other pseudonym Elizabeth Hoyt because this one is a quirky romantic comedy tailored after crime capers where the heroine is an adorable type who just happens to be a criminal, that sort of thing. I've seen such stories more in movies made by folks like Kevin Smith than in romance novels so I'm intrigued by the premise enough to give this book a try.

It all begins with a really amateurish robbery in the only bank in the sleepy town of Winosha, population three thousand, in Wisconsin. At any rate, the robbers wear Yoda and SpongeBob SquarePants masks, which should tell you something. It's a comical farce of a robbery were not for one small matter: librarian Turner Hastings who happens to man the counter that weekend takes the opportunity provided by the bumbling bank robbers to empty the contents of the safe deposit box of the bank president, Calvin Hyman, into her bag before going MIA. All this is caught on the surveillance tape. As it happens, FBI Special Agent John McKinnon is on the case and he also happens to discover Turner's cell phone number. They strike up an unexpectedly easy rapport, thus making this one of the more unusual romance novels in that the hero and the heroine don't actually meet face to face until later in the story.

Sounds interesting? It is, at least enough for me to give this book a try despite its generic cover. I am personally hoping that Turner is an unrepentant criminal, but it turns out that she's just out for a little payback for Calvin Hyman framing her beloved late uncle a few years back for embezzlement when Calvin is the one who is dirty. Still, that's not so bad were not for the fact that this story suffers from really slow pacing that causes the story to just meander on and on. For example, Turner's destination is Calvin's cabin but chapters after chapters can pass before she begins to make her way there. Due to the agonizingly slow pace of the story, Turner spends most of her time hiding out in her borrowed Chevy to chat on the phone with John and sighing over her past instead of doing something about her vendetta.

It also doesn't help that I begin to feel exasperated about Turner as the story progresses. As cute as the idea of her on contact with an FBI agent who gets increasingly smitten with her bad girl on the lam image can be, it doesn't speak well of Turner's state of intelligence that she doesn't change her cell phone number just in case the FBI are tracking her calls. But it really doesn't reflect well on her at all when she doesn't even consider that Calvin will retaliate by hiring people to kill her so she blithely walks up to Calvin's cabin without any precautions. This is after she has happily taunted Calvin by breaking into his place and leaving behind a message that he can't miss, mind you. Turner ends up being more like brain damage walking than a quirky mastermind.

But I do adore Jack to pieces. Ms Harper can give Susan Andersen a run for the money in creating deliciously masculine heroes who feel like real guys, although not that realistically enough to deviate too much from the Prince Charming ideal. Jack speaks, thinks, and behaves like such an adorable man rather than a romance author's idea of what a man should be, and I like that very much. He does have his annoying "martyr gone emo" moments, especially when it comes to his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter, but on the whole, I think he's too adorable for words. At the very least, he's not walking on empty when it comes to his brainpower.

I also find the Silent Bob and Jay equivalents in this story too adorable for words. I can only hope that whichever Canadian that adopts them will feed them well and give them a good home because these two are not meant to wander onto the streets on their own.

Hot operates on a most refreshing and rarely-encountered concept and the hero is fantastic woobie material, but unfortunately, the slow pacing means that apart from the first few and last few chapters, the story is way too easy to put down because nothing much really happens then and when things do happen, these things are pretty stupid. Words cannot express how disappointed I am that things turn out this way for Hot because I am really hoping that it will turn out to be better than this. How sad that this book isn't so Hot after all.

Rating: 72


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