by Julie Elizabeth Leto, contemporary (2003)
Harlequin Blaze, $4.50, ISBN 0-373-79096-1
Sometimes it scares me just how authors make their characters do really bizarre things for sex. It's actually simple, the act of sex. You can have sex with someone you like or someone you don't, you can have sex with yourself if you can't find anybody, and you can also have sex with cantaloupes, apple pies, and fruits if Hollywood is to be believed. The complicated part is the hormonal and intellectual going-on that lead one to love someone else after having sex ten thousand ways to the wazoo.
In Julie Elizabeth Leto's Looking For Trouble, however, the main characters treat sex as if it's the starting and ending of the universe. Sure, good sex can make the earth seems to be spinning off its axis, but come on. Aurora "Rory" Carmichael is a good heroine who is described as "innocent" by the back cover and "moron" by me. Using the usual Momma Was A Slut excuse to be a moron, she is the prim and frigid sort. Naturally, she is looking to lose her inhibitions, et cetera, in some wild escapade and fulfill-her-fantasies nonsense. Naturally, she has to hit on the son of her grandmother's friend when she rents his room. And predictably, he doesn't think she's all that until she tries to play the seductress (read: let hair down, wear sexy dresses, voila). Alec Manning however doesn't want to play - he had an affair with the wife of the dean and now this Sociology professor intends to be a good boy and restore his reputation with a Very Important Thesis.
Er, a Sociology thesis that actually has any practical value? That is news to me.
To help her get naked, Rory rips two pages from a sex manual called Sexcapades (those people at Harlequin are so creative, I tell you) when she is sniffing around at a bridal shower. You know, it's probably not surprising that they have to give away free porn at weddings of series novel characters, if the general IQ of the characters of this book is anything to go by. Although I can testify from my experience that free porn and lousy porn is generally one and the same.
Tortuous and hilariously, unnecessarily convoluted seduction tactics and psychobabble - it's just sex, for goodness sake, not brain surgery - make Looking For Trouble a painful read. Things get a little more readable towards the end when the characters finally have sex and all that stupid "I'm Hot, I'm Sexy, But I Need A Manual To Get Me Laid!" nonsense is done with. Rory and Alec confront the predictably vapid issues about love, including Rory's very brilliant deduction that she can only keep Alec by her side if she pretends not to love him (what happened to self-respect, girlfriend?). However, it's a better read than Rory's horrific seduction trip that is the first half of this book. Of course, everything's relative, and next to a pile of steaming fresh compost, everything seems nicer in comparison.
The author has written better books before and hopefully she will in the future. These books come with plots that are more than mere contrivances for stupid people to have sex. Everything about Looking For Trouble feels forced, illogical, and even idiotic, so much so that this book is another textbook example of an author shooting herself in both her knees by creating a barely palatable story out of bad calculated gimmicks created solely just to move books - any books - off the shelves with minimum fuss and time.
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