by Celeste Norfleet, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-402-1
Celeste Norfleet has dropped the "O" in her name for Since Forever. Maybe it's just coincidence, but as it turns out, Since Forever is also the best book by the author to date. Still, it's still not good enough. The biggest problems of this book are lousy editing and amateurish characterization.
Alexandra Price is a former Oscar-winning child actress who is now living a life as a recluse. She writes bestselling books for a living. When she encounters hot movie star Lance Morgan who has just signed up with her mother's career management agency, she thinks she's in love. Boy, she'll be in for a shock when Lance turns out to be just seducing her in hope to gain clues to this mysterious author Mason Turner's whereabouts. He wants to obtain movie rights for an adaptation of one of Mason's books for his production company. Along the way this story is filled with secondary characters out of a reject Jackie Collins novel - Lance's secret bastard evil brother, womanizing movie stars, gullible dimwits that love them, stupidly evil agents, and more.
Let's start with the good stuff first: Ms Norfleet has removed most of the silly Evil Other Woman nonsense that plagued her previous books - thank you. Lance and Alex's romantic scenes resonate with credible tenderness and chemistry - thank you. Unfortunately, there are still problems with characterization, with many of the characters in this book still remaining one-dimensional. Alex is one-dimensionally beautiful, a Poor Little Rich Girl gone Halle Berry minus the traffic convictions. Lance is one-dimensionally hunky and boring. Unfortunately, Ms Norfleet is so in awe with her own hero that she, without irony, has Lance prostituting himself and deceiving the heroine while exclaiming that he has never done anything unscrupulous in his life. There is also not enough grovel. Alex gets angry and for, oh, a few pages, she does the reasonable thing and just drops that guy without much drama. Then she's putty in his hands again and I sigh. I don't think he even apologized. All he does is to save the heroine in some silly contrived kidnap drama and that's it. She better get kidnapped more often if she wants this marriage to last.
There are also severe problems with logic and background. One, I have no idea why a former child-actress can remain a cult-like figure today. I'm told Alex won an Oscar, but what she did, I have no idea. Two, the main conflict that leads to Alex being blackmailed towards the end is that the Evil Agent threatens to expose Alex's identity as Mason Turner. I still have no idea why being exposed as Mason Turner will be such a bad thing. It is not as if she writes manuals for home-made explosives. Even better, the agent blackmails Alex for only a percentage of her earnings. Why not everything? Talk about America's Most Stupid Criminals, oh boy.
And then there's the editing. There are too many scenes in this book that just take up space and serve no purpose. Chapter One alone sees Alex going to a party. This chapter does not offer any illumination on Alex's character, does not contribute to the plot, it's just there. There are many other scenes like this one just hogging space in the book. Just like how I don't need to read about characters in a romance novel using the toilet, I don't need to read about their schedule for the entire day either. Why aren't all these unnecessary scenes removed? These scenes make the book feel even more amateurish.
Obviously Celeste Norfleet's best is far from being good - she still has a long way to go in banging the bolts and tightening her characters so that they at least resemble human beings a little bit. All those one-dimensional characters and awkward plotting really have to go.
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