by Julie Ortolon, contemporary (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98349-2
If the characters in this book actually react like normal human beings would instead of sticking to the handbook of Romance Novels Behavioral Ethics 101, Don't Tempt Me would be an enjoyable book. Instead, what I get is a very artificial story filled with transparently contrived characters acting in ways that only make their lives more difficult. Ms Ortolon is not doing her job well as a storyteller when I can practically see how the wheels turn in her head before Ms Ortolon even reveals her cards on the table.
Many things don't make sense. Oh, they make sense as romance novel clichés ever could, if this book isn't part of series, if the author knows when to stop making her characters' behaving in a cliché manner when it no longer makes sense for them to do so.
The hero Adrian St Claire, for example, is the womanizing playboy chef of the Pearl Island B&B in an island off Texas. He has the predictable commitment-phobic baggages. But he is surrounded by loving family members who found love in the previous book in the author's St Claire series. Shouldn't this guy's views regarding relationships be mellowing even a little in this circumstance?
In this story, Adrian needs the letter of a pirate that is in the possession of Jackie Taylor to excavate a sunken ship and put the ghosts of the long-dead pirate and his just as long-dead paramour to rest. Don't ask - it's the idea of the kooky women who starred in the author's previous books, which could be an incentive or a warning to those that haven't read this author's St Claire books, depending on taste. Jackie is reluctant to pass the letter on as she fears... er, well, Jackie is an irrational woman (I'll explain later). These two are attracted to each other, but there are so many contrived baggages between them. How will they find a middle ground?
Jackie is, in one word, contrived. This character is a one-dimensional mess of insecurities and nerves. She keeps punishing herself because she, when she was a young kid, unwittingly helped her late father conned some people. Boo hoo hoo, so now she is not worthy of love and she will never be loved - she will make sure of that! I guess asking her to get over her issues is too much to ask. Likewise, Daddy betrayed and hurt her so love hurts, boo-hoo-hoo, and she must - she must! - stay away from Adrian. Her incessant and tedious whining will be even a little palatable if she isn't whining about how she must never have love as she can never be loved in one minute and then flirting with Adrian the next.
Adrian, likewise, is equally tedious, flirting with Jackie until he has reeled her in and then deciding that she's off-limits the very moment she's reeled. You can imagine her reaction to his rejection. Boo-hoo-hoo! Ms Ortolon is practically grasping at straws to prolong her characters' story using painfully tedious and petty reasons. He can't commit! She's a martyr to her past! She will commit if he will love her! He loves her but he can't commit! She thinks he doesn't love her so she really must be unlovable, boo-hoo-hoo! At the end of the day I can cheerfully watch these two characters die slowly and painfully the way I feel my brain cells do so during the reading of this book.
Not that this book is a total loss - the author can build her scenes very well. The scene where Jackie feels welcome for the first time by the St Claires can be very moving, for example. But on the whole, a few good scenes are not enough to salvage this tedious and utterly artificial story. I really wish that the author will be "original" and let her characters do and act "different", in this case has her heroine stop overly inflating the degrees of her sins and flagellating herself for them, and her hero wising up and stop acting like a stereotypical commitment-shy playboy.
Even when the story would suffer from her characters acting like preprogrammed robots, Ms Ortolon still charges ahead, apparently unable to stop deviating from the behavioral formula handbook for whatever reason, and the result is Don't Tempt Me. This book will be pass the grade with flying colors if the only criteria one needs to declare a romance novel wonderful is the absolute adherence to stereotypical characters and behaviors regardless of context and situation. With regards to being a story of people falling in love, however, the characters' unnaturally stilted behaviors and the author's contrived attempts at conflict make it well-written a failure.
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