Whatever Lola Wants
by Niqui Stanhope, contemporary (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98624-6


Readers who don't like reading about a heroine who lies, manipulates, and run rings around a befuddled hero to the tune of "The Tables Are Turned, Sucker!" will not enjoy Niqui Stanhope's Whatever Lola Wants, I hazard, if the last three "the heroine doesn't get punished for her actions, this book is a disappointment!" reviews of this book is anything to go by. Personally, I don't see any reason why the heroine has to be punished for doing what nearly every romance hero does in a typical romance novel. Speaking for myself, I find this book a rather delicious twisted tale. The heroine's actions don't make sense half the time but in a way, the story makes sense at the end. Am I making sense here? No? Let me try and explain.

But first, the story. Lola St James, in a previous life filed in the bottom drawer of the Freaks and Geeks file cabinet, used to be overweight Sadie Green, a teenaged girl who had such a big crush on football captain Chaz Kelly that she was heartbroken when he went and marry that popular gal Veronica Simms. Today, Sadie is Lola. She is drop dead beautiful, with brass, knockers, and a man-eating reputation to complete her Lola persona. Since she is rich, she decides to kill two birds with one stone by getting the now-divorced Chaz, who is now an interior decorating after his NFL career was cut short by injury, to renovate her place. She will seduce him, get him to fall so hard for her, and then magnanimously reveal that she is in love with him all these years so they will live happily ever after. She doesn't count on his monster son or that Other Woman who wants Chaz for her own.

I don't know what Lola is thinking when she pulls off that hambrained plot of hers but what I really like about her is that she's the real deal. Ms Stanhope doesn't cop-out and change Lola into a simpering wimpy milksop loony. Lola remains as she is by the last page, a brassy and take-no-prisoners lady whose reasons for her actions are often opaque to anyone but the author. At first I wonder what women see in Chaz because he married Veronica for all the wrong reasons and took Sadie, his friend, for granted. Ms Stanhope, that devious woman, however has Chaz happily admitting that he was young, foolish, and selfish back then. He even - gasp - admits that he married Veronica for all the wrong reasons and - oh my - he has not even one drop of anti-woman sentiment in him. While Ms Stanhope allows Veronica to have some depths, the Other Woman in this story is strictly a caricature. I do have a laugh though when Chaz wonders at the end what he sees in that Other Woman in the first place. A hero with self-awareness is always too cool for words, heh.

Even Lola's relationship with that monster kid Jamie is quite realistic, with her calling him the demon seed. Jamie is also well-done as a badly-behaved kid who mellows when he finds a surrogate mommy figure (and this person is not Lola) - he doesn't annoy and he doesn't pull on too-cutesy ersatz give-me-sympathy stunts to pull the reader's heartstrings. Other secondary characters exist solely to provide comedy and they do that very well.

A refreshingly, unapologetically in-your-face heroine, a hero who openly admits to his faults and makes it clear that he is sensible enough to fall in love when love comes and makes a fool out of him (literally in the case of this book), and plenty of laughter and fun - why then isn't this book a keeper with me? Ms Stanhope has only herself to blame. This book is 249 pages long. In such a short length, Lola and Chaz never have the opportunity to become more realized characters. They are fun characters to read about, but they are also superficial characters. Lola, who is supposed to drive this story to the finish line, remains a question mark when it comes to her motivation behind her every action. The resolution of the story is so rushed that the story leaves me dissatisfied with how it ends.

If you think you're up for Lola and her often puzzling but entertainingly irrascible antics (antics which include attempts to sabotage Chaz's relationship with the Other Woman) and won't find such antics offensive to your sensibilities, take a peek at What Lola Wants. It is a rushed effort with only the embryo of its potential half-formed by the last page, but what is there could hopefully provide you with as much fluffy entertainment as it does for me.

Rating: 82


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