You Remind Me
by Linda Walters, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-356-4


Linda Walters' follow-up to her dismal debut On A Wing And A Prayer, You Remind Me is an excellent example of an author making a tremendous improvement in prose, characters, and description. There are some problems, but nonetheless, I'm impressed. Most of my enjoyment of this book comes from how the author has improved tremendously in the space of just one book.

The story is familiar. Sloan Whitaker and Norwood Warren are both photographers that end up in the same press team covering the Barbados Jazz Festival in, er, Barbados. In case you're not sure, Sloan's the heroine and Norwood's the hero. Yes, I miss the days when the heroes and the heroines have names that don't make me stop to wonder who is the man and who is the woman. Anyway, both have been hurt by cheating exes, and now both are convinced that marriage is not worth the pain and effort, cue the violins of self pity, blah blah blah. He saves her from the advances of a slimy freak and of course he has to suspect that she leads the freak on (all women are bitches, you know). But he changes his mind when he kisses her and she's so hot, so he decides to seduce her. When he gets her, then he decides that she's the one. If you say so, Norwood.

And here's the surprise of the book: the secondary romance is between the two unfaithful dogs that are our main characters' exes. I have a hard time believing that the world is so small that the exes of our main characters just happen to be conducting an affair in New York at the same time that our main characters are getting it on in Barbados. But Kassandra Warren and Karsten Whittaker are actually well-written characters that actually click together, much to my pleasant surprise. The author makes no apologies for these two: Kassandra and Karsten are characters with flaws laid wide open to the reader's scrutiny and condemnation. Kassandra is hired as to play the sexy female starlet in an upcoming R&B act's music video which Karsten is also working on. (Maybe Ashanti and Beyonce, everyone's favorite Scantily Clad Hos in bling-bling videos, are too busy - or too expensive.) When they meet, sparks fly.

While it is easy to condemn Kassandra and Karsten and dismiss this book entirely - and judging from some reviews I've come across, there are readers already doing so - I find Karsten and Kassandra much more interesting that the formulaic Sloan and Norwood. Indeed, I prefer Karsten's moral flaws, laid bare to me, to Norwood's hypocritical male antics, passed off as "romantic". Norwood and Sloan are big bores, to be honest, especially Norwood. The author tries to pass Norwood off as a smooth charmer, but Norwood's clumsy pick-up lines - such as telling Sloan of his sexy dreams of her - come off as amateurish and crude instead. It is not good when I end up thinking that I know why Kassandra flees from this man and I actually feel some empathy for her. Norwood is just unintentionally funny and his clumsy attempts at being a smooth operator has me rolling up my eyes and wondering, "Does that actually work on women?" Apparently on Sloan, it does, by the way. Norwood also has a military background that really adds nothing to the story, and the whole deal ends up feeling like a gratuituous "jump on the action man bandwagon" throwaway insertion.

There is a hurricane towards the end of the book to create some drama in Sloan and Norwood's story, but I end up wondering how a hurricane can hit Barbados in January. But it really doesn't matter, because by then I'm more engrossed in the secondary romance. It's like watching a train moving along the tracks and knowing that it will probably derail soon, but the author really does a good job with this one. The ending is somewhat open-ended. I don't know whether the author will actually continue this story in a full-length book. But I find the ambiguous ending fitting for the story of our two tomcats here. I still think they can't last. Despite my reservations, Kassandra and Karsten are more fully-fleshed than the main characters, and their story resonate more with me.

I find You Remind Me a much better written book than On A Wing And Prayer. The pacing is slow, but the secondary romance between two well-defined characters really impress me. It's a risky move, writing a story about the exes when most authors - and readers - prefer to just demonize the exes as cartoonish caricatures.

In all honesty, I can't give You Remind Me my full recommendation. The main characters' love story is tepid and predictable and the hero's "smooth playa" antics often come off as unintentionally hilarious and eye-rolling ridiculous at the same time. Sloan is a better written character, but she pales in comparison to Kassandra. I can't help thinking that this book would be better if the author switches the places of her characters and make the two K lovebirds the main characters instead.

Still, after all that's been said, at the end of the day You Remind Me is still a vast improvement over the author's debut. Take a bow, Ms Walters. You've earned it for a job well done.

Rating: 75


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