by Carolyn Neal, contemporary (2004)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-477-3
Carolyn Neal unfortunately chooses to have a really tiresome premise for her debut romance novel - a very indecisive heroine who takes ages to see the hero as a really nice guy. Kayla Marshall, the heroine, often makes bizarre and illogical choices during this story solely for the sake of a few padded conflicts, these conflicts unfortunately being the dreaded Very Silly Misunderstanding scenarios.
Kayla, after discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her, decides to give up men and focus on her advertising executive career. However, Michael James is attracted to her and he will not give up on them so easily. When Kayla's old boyfriend shows up, Kayla will have to make a decision as to whom she will choose for her happily-ever-after. To any rational person, it's like having to choose between a cozy weekend for two in a spa with Hugh Jackman and a month of digging ditches while being leg-cuffed to David Spade.
Kayla, however, can't put two and two together. Then again, she spent three years with Justin who treats her like a third-tier shagbuddy instead of a real girlfriend, and she can't muster the will to toss that jackass out when he comes back asking for humble pie. In the meantime, she lumps the nearly-saintly Michael with Those Bastards and blows hot and cold where the man is concerned until poor Michael can't sleep easy. I am especially annoyed by how Michael has to be the one to make all the concessions in this relationship just to accommodate Kayla. I've seen enough daytime talkshows to know that one day he will wake up and resent Kayla for forcing him to be someone he's not just to win her affections.
With Kayla's behavior, it is not surprising that the relationship is riddled with petty arguments and tiresome miscommunication issues. She and Michael are completely wrong for each other. Michael pushes too hard and too fast for a commitment, Kayla is just too indecisive and even clueless to commit herself into a relationship this soon. When it comes to portraying a convincing relationship, Flawless falls flat on its face.
What save this book from being a complete flop are the secondary characters that steal the show. The cast of friends and family members are obvious sequel baits or matchmaking plot devices, but these people are so refreshingly normal and likeable compared to the tiresome main characters and their chemistry-free relationship. Ms Neal does a better job portraying friendship between females and family interactions, and I am at loss as to why she doesn't apply the same workable principles into the relationship of her main characters.
While Flawless won't be living up to its title anytime soon, Ms Neal shows that she may have a good book or two up her sleeves in the future. This isn't enough to salvage Flawless completely, but enough to suggest that I probably shouldn't dismiss Ms Neal entirely at this early stage of her career.
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