by Johanna Lindsey, historical (2004)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-5635-1
I am half-ashamed to say that for the last few weeks, I was caught up in a very stupid soap opera called Secreto de Amor. It's a train-wreck of stupidity that makes the cast of Passions come off like Mensa members. Among my favorite scenes include: a stupid man in tiny swimtrunks catching our villainess in his changing room and then insisting that she come meet his wife and her friends when these women knock on the dressing room door; this man telling his friend once he was robbed by the villainess, "Oh no, she can't be this professional thief you're telling me even if she fits the description of Vilma the Thief because she told me her name is Veleria!"; another villainess blackmailing our hero's five-year old Creepy Midget daughter to tell daddy to marry her or else; Creepy Midget begging her father to kiss the heroine before this Creepy Midget and then getting a truly terrifying orgasm face when daddy obliges; and countless scenes where the characters turn to the camera and explain their plots and thought processes to the audience. I never fail to howl with laughter at the end of the day at how bad the show is. And I must confess I'm quite impressed that somebody is getting paid to write this crap.
Why am I saying all this? Maybe it's just me but I've been reading more and more books where the plots are becoming more and more indistinguishable from a typically awful soap opera. Maybe one day "Soap Opera Romance" will be a recognized subgenre, I guess, but for now, books like Johanna Lindsey's A Man To Call My Own make me marvel that wow, somewhere, somebody is getting paid to write this kind of badly-plotted stories too! It makes me want to pull up my roots and migrate to America where hopefully I can get paid for writing bad scripts for soap operas too. How hard can it be? I have a marvelous story arc about psychotic midget rampages and alien probes. Any takers, New York?
A Man To Call My Own is a one-dimensional good twin sister versus bad twin sister story. What makes this story quite sleazy is that the hero Chad Kinkaid isn't entirely sure all the time whether he's kissing, or worse, sleeping with good sister Marion Laton (the sexy one in dowdy clothes) or Amanda Laton (the sexy one with pretty clothes, so naturally she's spoiled and nasty). Sometimes I'm not sure myself which sister he's doing things with, if truth be told. I'll just make my life easier and assume that he's really sleeping with Marion in that rather unromantic First Time Love Scene thing.
What happens here is that Marion is kind and selfless while Mandy is a spoiled bitch that makes Marion's life difficult. Marion decides to play the dowdy one so that Mandy will get all the men, get married first, and then leave Marion free to find her own boyfriend. Seriously! I don't know why Marion would assume that being married will stop Mandy from poaching her turf, but I've learned long ago never too expect too much in terms of brainpower from romance heroines. Chad, the son of the neighbor, is dragged into an advantageous arranged marriage with one of the Linton sisters. He doesn't want anything to do with it, naturally, but one look at Mandy and his little head tells him to come out and play. Meanwhile, Marion takes one look at Chad and experiences a Kundalani explosion in her loins. Being a selfless woman, she decides to hide her, er, true love from Chad so that Mandy will never step in and poach. Or something. All she wants is That One Special Time. Which she gets. With Chad thinking that he's doing the nasty with Mandy.
Unsurprisingly, Chad decides to marry Mandy out of obligation, obligation being the new word for "paying the consequences for having no control over my zipper", leaving Marion heartbroken. Alas, Chad starts having the hots for Marion now (his body somehow can sense that Marion is the hot chick that he did the wazoo with - if only he is this intuitive in other aspects of his life). But he is honor-bound to marry Mandy! And Marion can't tell him because she is a Selfless Braindead Doormat that insists that Everything That Is Wrong In The World is Her Fault! Oh, the pain!
Perhaps wisely, the author reduces characterization to a minimum and pad this story with the usual Western fun like train robberies and what not, unless "dumb" is now accepted as a legitimate form of characterization. Frankly, Chad is dense and is led by his penis all the time because he really has no clue what he is doing, much less which sister he is sticking it to. I don't find rampant mule-like stupidity an attractive trait in romance heroes. Mandy is spoiled and shrewish in a very annoying manner but worse is her rushed redemption and her unconvincing turnaround into a goody-two-shoes. Marion is the most irritating of them all as she is simultaneously a martyr as well as an egghead. There's nothing more painful than reading about a heroine who suffers for the most stupid of reasons.
Normally there would be some guilty pleasure to be derived from a book this bad, but I've been reading too many badly plotted and worse written books that it's hard to try and find any redeeming camp value in yet another badly done book. I want to read a good book but this book is far from being one. In fact, of all the horses in the stable, I can't help feeling that Chad sticks it into the wrong one.
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