by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2006)
Harlequin Blaze, $4.75, ISBN 0-373-79284-0
Leslie Kelly's Asking For Trouble is her second effort to be set in her Pensylvannian town called Trouble. There is a Gothic overtone to this story since it is set in a spooky building that was once a hotel co-owned by a serial killer which may or may not be haunted. The hero, Simon Lebeaux, was first introduced in the book that introduces Trouble, Here Comes Trouble, and this is his story.
Our heroine is Lottie Santori, the youngest sister of those Santori men in some of the author's books in the past. She shows up at Seaton House to help her psychology professor (she's his research assistant) gather information on Josef Zagara, the serial killer that once owned this place and got away with quite a number of murders. Simon doesn't want visitors but Lottie and circumstances manage to get her to stay around whether he likes it or not. Attraction flares between the two of them but Simon has issues and strange and even sinister things start happening to Lottie as she explores Seaton House. What is going on here?
Asking For Trouble is one of those books that nicely blend chick-lit sentiments with more conventional romance novel elements. Simply put, this is another one of those "heroines wanting to get laid by the hero" stories but Lottie isn't a simpering silly woman who wants to get seduced only to act like some nitwit in the process. She has an attitude towards sex that is very refreshing: she's not some super-nymphomaniac machine but she likes sex and she isn't afraid to be attracted to a good-looking and sexy man. When Lottie wants to seduce a man, she goes full blazes ahead. I like a heroine that knows what she wants in life. Lottie's point of view is delivered in chapters written from a first person's point of view and her point of view is most enjoyable as Lottie has a buoyant and fun sense of humor. Her desire to change and take care of Simon is a little worrying though: in that aspect, Lottie reminds me of one of those women who goes on talk shows in episodes such as Acrimonious Divorces Or Why I Plant A Machete Into My Husband's Skull because she entered a marriage hoping to change the man only to grow dismayed when the man not only doesn't change, he expects her to never change, never grow old, and never grow fat.
The spooky Gothic atmosphere is well done. While this book doesn't have much space or room for the townspeople of Trouble to show up and cause, er, trouble, Ms Kelly manages to describe the atmosphere of Seaton House as well as she described the rest of Trouble in the previous book. It's a spooky house and I can definitely feel that.
The only issue I have with this book, and unfortunately it's a pretty big issue that hampers my enjoyment of this book, is the hero. Simon and Lottie are pretty unique in that these two are a complete reversal of the typical roles played by a coventional pair of hero and heroine: here, Lottie is the aggressive pursuer while Simon is the one clutching at straws to find reasons why he must not give in to the sexual attraction between them. And frankly, Simon's reasons are a little too ridiculous for my liking. You see, early on it's apparent that Simon is nursing from a Traumatic Incident. A hot woman he picked up in a bar showed up with her man and they tried to kill him. Simon ended up causing her death in self-defense and now he's beating himself up about Lottie being too good for him because he once killed a woman as well as how he shouldn't trust himself to act on sexual attraction again. It is only so much of his nonsense that I can take (which is for about three chapters) before I want to go, "Oh, for heaven's sake! This is a case of self-defense! What's there to beat yourself up about?" It is not as if Simon is traumatized by the act of causing the death of a human being, which will be understandable, he is instead claiming that he is now a terrible person for protecting himself in self-defense. He claims that he is now a murderer. Give me a break, really.
Good for Lottie for pointing out that he did what he did in self-defense but really, she learns of Simon's baggages way too late in the story. By then, Simon has played one too many hot-and-cold push-and-pull stunts to come off like a total wet blanket. Lottie is fun. Lottie is a great heroine. What she sees in such a high-maintenance guy in need of shrink is beyond me. I'm convinced that it's her need to mother a puppy that leads her to fall in love with Simon. I blame those rules in apartments that forbid the keeping of pets. If Lottie has a puppy, she'll fall in love with a much less drippy dope of a guy.
In the end, it's a question of which outweighs the other. A very fun heroine with a contemporary and realistic attitude about love and sex that doesn't insult anyone who doesn't believe in utter celibacy for women before marriage as well as very well-defined atmopshere and sexual tension versus a mopey dope of a hero and his tendency to ruin the sexual tension with too many push/pull games. Ultimately, I feel that the good outweighs the bad by a significant margin - after all, I have a great time reading this book - so here you go, my recommendation that this book is worth a look. Just keep in mind that you may want to roll your eyes at the hero's ridiculous melodrama now and then as you read this book.
This book at Amazon.com
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