by Alison Kent, contemporary (2010)
HCI, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7573-1535-0
Michelle Snow, our heroine, is at a crossroads of sort when it comes to her life. She wants to open a shop that sells adorable and overpriced cupcakes. In the meantime, she is also tentatively taking the plunge in Match.com at the urging of her friends. Like all demure and virtuous heroines, Michelle doesn't play around much but with the 3-0 thing doing crazy things to her circuitry, she figures out that Match.com may be a good way to help her find her soul mate.
Todd Bracken is a successful entrepreneur, kung-fu master, athlete hero, and he's also funny and witty and adorable. He and Michelle are soon bonding like nobody's business.
Todd took another minute but finally relaxed, grinning, his dimple deepening as he blurted out, "But you do like sex, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, laughing, so glad they'd gotten that out of the way, but beyond embarrassed now as a flush crept up her neck. "I like sex."
Pushing further, he arched a brow. "And you're not into using it as a weapon or a bargaining tool?"
I admit that I am pretty out of the loop when it comes to dating nowadays, but I personally won't be laughing when a guy I barely know asks me whether I use sex as a weapon or a bargaining tool. I'd probably tell him that my vagina has teeth before pushing a pillow over his face and sitting on it because I find Todd's questions, accompanied by his deep grins and brow arches, pretty creepy. But perhaps it's just me - I am, after all, rusty when it comes to using sex as a weapon or bargaining tools on strangers I meet online.
That is pretty much the story - the courtship between Michelle and Todd. There is no significant conflict to keep things interesting, just two rather contrived stereotypes trying to convince me that they have a love of a lifetime. The lack of conflict may work in a story where the process of falling in love is enjoyable to read, but here, with the characters being rendered in monotonous shades of perfection, their falling in love is actually pretty boring to follow. Michelle comes off like a stereotypical character usually portrayed by Meg Ryan in romantic comedies while Todd comes off as a guy who can do everything. Of course, he often comes off as creepy and even controlling as well, but I think that's unintentional on Ms Kent's part.
Perhaps this is a fundamental problem with the premise of HCI's True Vows books. Supposedly based on the romance of real life folks, the stories are no doubt vetted of anything that could paint these people in a deliberately negative light. This also means that the characters come off as unrealistically and one-dimensionally perfect. Their perfection prevents any conflict from occurring, only lots of rambling conversations and meandering scenes that suspiciously seem like padding. Subsequently the story is a complete snooze of a read.
It doesn't help that this book is written like a book report with far more telling than showing. I have not read Ms Kent's recent books because my budget doesn't allow me to indulge in trade paperbacks often, but I don't remember her writing in such a meandering manner. Many scenes don't really do anything other than to reinforce the main characters' tedious aura of perfection. Conversations tend to go on and on about things that have little to do with the flimsy excuse of a plot. The first five pages of Chapter Five, for example, serve only to show how perfect and adorable Michelle's parents are - and these characters play little part in the story.
The Icing On The Cake is a story that puts Michelle, Todd, and their family members and friends on a pedestal that marks them as superior life forms compared to mere carbon-based organisms like you and me. This is good should the lovely couple want a thousand copies of this book to be given to their friends and family members. But for a reader like me who has no clue who these people are, the story is way too superficial and self-congratulatory to be of interest.
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