Pretty Bad
by Shirley Jump, contemporary (2007)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-7949-1


Pretty Bad is a vast improvement after The Bachelor Prefers Pastry, where everything that could go wrong did just that like a most spectacular kind of trainwreck, but it's still handicapped by some of the most embarrassingly contrived use of plot devices.

Madison Worth is a successful print and runway model until a cake in Kate Moss' face and a few other incidents make her a pariah in the industry. As a result, she is now signed on as the spokesperson for the Cheese Pleese Company while hoping that none of her colleagues get wind of her latest assignment. Her job, however, takes her to the Pleeseman Dairy Farm in Togo, Massachussets where there are actually cows and manure waiting to make her stay a most welcome one. Fortunately, Jack Pleeseman, the current manager of the company, makes a nice distraction.

After a most contrived start where Ms Jump makes the two characters' first meeting go wrong just for laughs, Madison and Jack start displaying some convincing chemistry and most enjoyable banter outside of a Jayne Ann Krentz novel. Madison is a most enjoyable heroine to read about since she has a sense of humor and brainpower that goes well with her privileged upbringing - she's a most convincing spoiled tart with a heart of gold. Jack is a more familiar romance hero (rich, sexy, the usual) but he plays off Madison very well in their interaction.

However, this book is mired in really embarrassing subplots that make Ms Jump look like an amateur. Jack has a daughter who is currently staying with his ex-wife and Jack naturally has to keep Madison at arm's length because he is this close to getting bitch ex-wife Alyssa to give him custody of young Ginny. But now Alyssa wants to take Ginny with her to live in Europe with her new husband so of course we can't have that. Yet at the same time, Jack wants to keep Ginny at arm's length too because he doesn't want to be distracted from his plans to make plenty of money to prove to Alyssa that he too can be a great father. How strange that Ms Jump still insists that Jack is still so much better a parent than Alyssa is.

Oh, and to keep her role in Jack's Secret Marketing Strategy under wraps, Madison blurts that she's Jack's new fiancée. This leads the secondary characters to huddle close for a cheerleading and matchmaking session. Throughout it all, nothing unexpected happens as the story is pretty much made up of clichéd scenes, one after the other. Some of the expected developments don't make sense within the context of this story and reflects more of Ms Jump's own soapbox rantings. For example, Madison is always urged to eat more since we all know models are evil creatures with eating disorders but no one seems to consider that should Madison put on the extra pounds to look like the rest of us, perhaps she won't be so hot anymore in Jack's eyes. Oh, and Madison perdictably learns that she'd rather live a more fulfilling life than that of a model, which we all know is such a horrid lifestyle that forces the women to look pretty and vapid. Modeling is evil, although for some reason modeling for your boyfriend's company isn't.

Ms Jump does one thing unexpected, at least - towards the end, Alyssa becomes more human rather than the evil cartoon character she started out as. But in the meantime Ms Jump has Madison and Jack going through some truly painful moments as by the late third of the book Madison and Jack are taking turns coming up with excuses why they have to let the other person go for this person's sake. All these annoying conflicts feel so contrived and they make the main characters behave silly for what seems like an attempt to pad the story to meet the word count.

I really like the relationship between Madison and Jack. In their quiet scenes when they are just letting their hair down and enjoying each other's company, these scenes are really sweet and humorous at the same time. But egads, the author forces these two to go through some of the most transparently contrived plot developments to be seen outside of a really amateurish Silhouette Desire book by a first time author. If you want to read this book, just watch out for some of the more contrived use of plot devices that crop up as a way to prolong the story rather than as natural consequences or events to arise in the storyline. Sometimes this book is pretty good, but watch out when it's Pretty Bad.

Rating: 74


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