Talk Of The Town
by Sherrill Bodine, contemporary (2008)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61858-8

Talk Of The Town shares the same title as Karen Hawkins' contemporary romance which was also released at about the same time, but the two books could not be any different.

Karen Hawkins' story is a clichéd story that is fun but not very emotionally satisfying. Sherill Bodine's story on the other hand boasts a heroine that is very different from the usual colorless good-girl types, although judging from the reception by some people out there, you won't like Rebecca Covington if you can't look past the fact that she isn't above considering herself gorgeous and indulges in some beauty treatments here and there. Oh well, such is the lot of the poor romance heroine in the genre. At any rate, this book is certainly more memorable than Karen Hawkins' effort, but the author's storytelling style leaves much to be desired.

Rebecca Covington, at 45, is Chicago's society darling. A very popular gossip columnist of the Daily Mail, she is at the top of the world despite having endured a messy divorce some time in the past. Rebecca hides it well, but she is actually still hurting and feeling quite insecure about the fact that her ex-husband tossed her aside for a younger woman. When she mentions a cheating politician in her column and the politician exerts some pressure on the new management of her paper, poor Rebecca feels that she is experiencing a horrifying kind of déjà vu when she is replaced by a younger woman and she finds herself demoted to Home and Food.

Very well, if Martha Stewart can bounce back from adversity, so can Rebecca, she decides, and so she sets out to conquer her new job to show her new boss that he is so wrong to toss her aside for a younger woman. Little does she know that she will also conquer the heart of the said boss, 49-year old media mogul and widower David Sumner.

This story is far more optimistic than a typical chick-lit novel would be, but the structure is somewhat similar to those novels, so if you are not fond of stories where the hero and the heroine don't meet face to face within five chapters, this one is going to be a tough ride for you. The setting is in the city, which is a very nice change from small towns full of ex-cops/secret agents-turned-sheriffs. Ms Bodine also has a very effervescent and bubbly voice here - I find it hard not to cheer Rebecca on because she is such a never say die heroine.

I like Rebecca because, at the end of the day, she is a great heroine. She has great self-awareness about her own faults, she has a most healthy outlook in life (like how she feels that deserves the best in life and she shouldn't settle for second best) despite having had some setbacks in her past, and she certainly doesn't apologize for loving to shop for clothes and glittery stuff. She is also good at her career, which is nice considering how rare such heroines are in this genre. Rebecca is everything most heroines in contemporary romances aren't, and I really like her because of that. And she's a very fun character to root for as well.

But her romance with David is pretty dull because Ms Bodine doesn't show me why these two would ever fall in love. Instead, she tells me, no, she insists to me that right from the start, those two are already attracted to each other and the relationship doesn't progress much further than that, unless you count these two moving to the bedroom as some kind of "relationship development". It also doesn't help that Ms Bodine puts in some contrived conflicts in this relationship, such as the silly misunderstanding and the jealous and nasty younger woman.

The rest of the story is readable, but it's not very interesting because it's a mix of clichéd scenes and high-handed soapbox preaching. When it comes to clichés, we have scenes like Rebecca trying to keep her head high after her humiliating demotion only to suffer some contrived additional embarrassments like her credit cards getting rejected at that very moment as well. There is also the gay man who has no life other than to be at the heroine's beck and call when she needs help. There are many other clichés in this story inserted so obviously that the story ends up coming off as trying too hard to be a more optimistic and bubbly take of Sex And The City.

As for the preachy moments, I don't mind them too much as I generally agree with the messages, heh. I agree with Ms Bodine and Rebecca that, for example, women tend to treat each other really badly over a man and we really shouldn't be like that. I also agree that women over the age of forty have nothing to feel ashamed of and certainly they should not feel as if they have no longer any right to be loved or to consider themselves sexy. I love the fact that in this story Rebecca has no problem in attracting younger lovers. Even better, in this story it's been weeks since she had sex before she met David, which is rare considering how more romance heroines in the contemporary genre tend to go for years without physical intimacy because they are so "virtuous" that way.

And yet, sometimes the story becomes so heavy handed that it does seem as if Ms Bodine is having her characters behave in a certain manner so that she will get the change to make them experience a dramatic epiphany and hammer that message into me at the same time.

I really like how different the heroine is in this story, but the rest of the story is too uneven for me to recommend this one as a solid read. If you like the kind of heroine that Rebecca is, do read this one anyway, if only to enjoy knowing her for a while. I certainly won't mind reading another book by this author, but I do hope her next book will have a plot that is worthy of the heroine.

Rating: 79

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