Sinfully Sexy
by Linda Francis Lee, contemporary (2004)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-46272-6


Sinfully Sexy, the second book in Linda Francis Lee's Why You Shouldn't Write Like This trilogy, is a slightly better book than the 100% contrived and awkwardly written Suddenly Sexy but it still suffers from the same problems as the first book. The flow of the story is too stilted and every scene is telegraphed by the author so the reader can see all the "twists" coming from at least twenty pages earlier, the characters are cardboard stiff, and the heroine is an outdated relic from a particularly bad Harlequin Temptation from ten years ago.

Shouldn't heroines like Chloe Sinclair be extinct by now? I thought we readers have come a long way from these twiggy supermodel creatures whose ridiculous self-esteem issues mean that they spend the whole book insisting that they are ugly. Any attempt by anybody to tell them otherwise is viewed with suspicion because they are ugly, they know it, and they hate themselves because they want so desperately to be beautiful and loved. With this "I'm ugly" self-flagellation thing going on, it is inevitable that the "I'm frigid!" whinefest crops up too. When people say "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!", in Chloe's case, she's hated because she's one car crash short of a full-blown tragedy.

Anyway, Chloe manages the KTEX TV station with her friends Julia (the owner) and Kate (the heroine of the last book) and KTEX is heavily in debt. If these women spend more time actually working instead of taking long lunches, emailing each other quizzes from some stupid female magazines, and dissecting each other's answers in those quizzes, maybe the station won't be in trouble. But that's just me, I guess. Then again, Chloe doesn't seem bothered by her work. She isn't even searching the monster.com database for back-up career options. No, the moment she comes in to work until the moment she sleeps, she spends the whole day moping and wailing about her apparent lack of beauty and hoping desperately to be pretty and loved.

Of course, Ms Lee cannot have the characters in this book shower Chloe with praises enough. "Savvy" and "intelligent" are some of the horrifically inaccurate adjectives used to describe this woman. Our hero Sterling Prescott even says that Chloe is a different change from shallow society women he used to skank with. I don't know what he is talking about, unless somehow women knowing what they want (such as sex or career) are now "shallow" while Chloe, who can't do a job or make a decision to save her life, is now "intelligent" and "what a hero wants in his life".

Anyway, Chloe one day steps in for Julia to a company function. She dresses up pretty (after spending a few pages telling me how much she wants to be pretty) and somehow becomes paralyzed with fear of who-knows-what that the moment she steps out of the car, she falls into a tizzy and has to be rescued by Sterling, whom she then nearly does the yazoo with in the ladies' room.

"But she is intelligent! Savvy!" Ms Lee insists. Sorry, I can barely hear her over my howls of laughter at Chloe's tragic behavior. How can I be sure that Chloe isn't actually some drug addict whose addiction has destroyed the part of her brain that allows lucid thoughts?

To nobody's surprise, Sterling shows up at KTEX the next day and Chloe wants to die. Yes, she wants to die. She also gets angry when he doesn't seem to recognize her. Wait, she's relieved that he doesn't recognize her. No, she hates him for not recognizing her because that means he doesn't find her attractive! But when he tries to seduce her, she hates him because he has to be lying - she knows she is plain! Her grandmother told her so! She is plain! And nobody wants her! But Sterling says he wants her. But he must be lying because NOBODY WANTS HER AS SHE IS PLAIN! And Sterling is LYING when he says that she is pretty. This is Chloe's thought pattern throughout the story so if you cannot stand this kind of idiot heroines, give this book a wide berth. The more Ms Lee insists that Chloe is intelligent, the more braindead Chloe comes off as. There's a cautionary tale for authors everywhere in this, I'm sure.

Sterling actually wants to buy over KTEX. As to be expected in stories that are totally wrong like this one, Chloe is the kind of businesswoman who doesn't have a clue but acts solely on emotion. Sterling, under a false identity, decides to start a reality TV show to bring in the money. Chloe of course disagrees with him, not because she has a better business proposal but because she hates him (and when it comes to heroines, it's all about unthinking viscerae, isn't it?) even as she wants him bad. The show is called The Catch And His Dozen Texan Roses. I'm not kidding, that's the title of the show. I guess I can safely assume that Ms Lee has never worked in the TV industry before judging from how she believes that this title is the best ever, even better than The Bachelor or simply, The Catch.

At this point, Chloe's irritating neurotic behavior slowly gets pushed to the background to make way of some actual story taking place outside her head, but unfortunately, the story involves the filming of a reality TV show. And it soon becomes really obvious that Ms Lee's idea of a reality TV show in this story has nothing at all to do with how a reality TV show is made in real life. She seems to think that filming takes place at a fixed time every day like some soap opera instead of continuously 24/7. She has Chloe worrying about production costs when everyone who has anything to do with reality TV shows knows that these shows are dirt cheap to make. (Wait, then again, this is Chloe I am taking about.) Ms Lee has Sterling and Chloe pretending to be who they aren't on a reality TV show without any possible legal consequences, especially when in this case Sterling is the "bachelor". We aren't talking about a deliberate set-up like Joe Millionaire - we are talking about a TV station who just has someone step in to become the bachelor when the actual bachelor doesn't show up. Since there are actually other women who signed up to be on the show, they should be able to sue KTEX for breach of contract, at the very least. But for a station that wants to bring in money, KTEX and the supposedly brilliant businessmen Sterling and company don't seem to give any thought to this.

The moral of this story is: authors, please stick to soap operas and get your hands off reality TV shows when you have no clue or no intention to show that you have any clue about you are writing about.

Sterling is a decent character in the sense that he comes off as the only person who can string two rational thoughts in his brain. Chloe finally becomes slightly human in the later parts of the story when she deals with her feelings towards her previously estranged father but what she learns is very simplistic and dumbed-down pop psychology made easy so there is no genuine emotional payoff there. Chloe and the other women in this story are nothing more than cardboard characters with contrived one-note self-esteem issues. They are the hottest women in the world, it seems, but they also can author an university-level coursebook on self-depreciation, three volumes per person.

The author has to insist that these women are smart, clever, and - seriously - sassy and cool. Ms Lee gives off this impression from her story that she either has a very bizarre concept of an intelligent woman or she doesn't actually read what she writes; she just faithfully picks up pointers from the Bestselling Romance Formulae Handbook and strings them together without bothering to see whether anything makes sense. There is a very strong stench of desperation in this book as it comes off like a product created by someone who has very little idea of how to go about doing a contemporary story, but she goes about doing it anyway with over-the-top and awkward attempts at chick-lit speak to prove that her story is indeed sex-ay and chic.

Sinfully Sexy just tries too hard when it reeks of being nothing more than a wannabe. It's like getting a phone-call from some long-forgotten lover who calls for the sixteenth time in one week to insist that he has gotten over me, he is having a good time, life is great and he is sleeping with so many hot and wild women and ha ha ha ha ha, oops, nearly killed myself laughing there. Take it easy, Ms Lee, and write what comes naturally. Who knows, maybe the world will be a better place once that happens.

Rating: 49


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