by Kasey Michaels, contemporary (2005)
HQN, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-77059-6
Stuck In Shangri-La is a fun book until Kasey Michaels decides that she'd rather write about the oh-not-so-funny "wacky" antics of the ghosts and miscellaneous "crazy" secondary characters to the point that the main characters end up being bystanders to what is supposed to be their story. You know what they say about authors trying too hard to be wacky?
Darcie Reed has a secret she is keeping from her ex, Cameron Pierce. You see, they were engaged once upon a time until she decides that she wants to do something more than to be the charming wife of Cameron. She wants her own career and all. Deciding that Cameron is not taking her seriously, she broke off their engagement. However, her secret is this: she has been let go from her recent job due to her creep of a boss and it's just the latest of the many jobs she is unable to hold on to. However, when Darcie and Cameron are forced by Darcie's late uncle to stay together in Uncle Horry's huge mansion called Shangri-La, she's determined to let him believe that she still has a job, a successful one at that.
Before you ask, yes, Stuck In Shangri-La can be a hot button pusher for some readers because ultimately Darcie realizes that she doesn't need to be that ambitious and she's better off being Mrs Cameron Pierce, thus validating Cameron's beliefs back then. I am not too happy with this development myself but since Darcie's excursions into the rat race are as successful as Tom Cruise's attempt at spreading the good word about Scientology, I see her deciding not to aim too high in life as a much better alternative to being a rat race klutz. Some romance heroines just aren't cut out for these things, after all.
Anyway, Shangri-La is a truly horrific monument of tackiness, bad taste, and more. It also embodies all the clichéd jokes you can think of about horny old men. However, it is also a setting for some most enjoyable verbal sparring and banters between Darcie and Cameron. Both characters are determined to be sensible, with Cameron even wishing to be a gentleman and live out the "stay in Shangri-La for 30 days with Darcie" thing so that Darcie can get to own Shangri-La that he believes she loves as much as she loves her Uncle Horry. There are no pettiness or silly "I hate you!" nonsense going on between our main characters, instead they have plenty of fun reconnecting and I have fun following them too. The unpleasant housekeeper Hecuba adds some pleasant comedic relief to the proceedings.
Then, quickly, the author introduces Horry's brother and his moll showing up to stay at the house. Uncle Horry's ghost is also around. From this point, the story shoves the romance to the backseat and trots out all kinds of "wacky" antics of Uncle Edwin, his "Poobie-Bear", and Hecuba as mysterious "accidents" start happening around Darcie. The "wackiness" aren't so amusing as much as it becomes tedious to watch Edwin and the rest steamroll over Darcie who just wants to be nice in an obvious manner. The small cast of characters also means that the villain is easy to deduce (particularly when the villain is a stereotype where the genre is concerned). As a result, Stuck In Shangri-La starts becoming really boring when it decides to be a "funny romantic mystery" with the emphasis on mystery and slapstick comedy rather than romance.
All in all, the main characters are very fun during the brief moment when they are allowed to have the story all to themselves, but ultimately, they are wasted in a story that doesn't seem to care about them all that much.
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