Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 255 Pages
Had Its Ups and Downs
While a bit uneven, overall these set of loosely connected novellas provided some entertaining hours. All set in Sacramento, you'll recognize a few recurring locations as four women and four men get set up for love.
The Boyfriend Bylaws by Susan Hatler
Rating: 1 Star
How hard can it be to find The One? Aerobics instructor Melanie Porter doesn't have any problem finding him, exactly, but getting him to stick around is another matter altogether. The latest potential The One fled from her as if she'd personally set flame to his boxer briefs...while he was still wearing them...as soon as she started talking about their future together. As a last resort, the disheartened if not quite heartbroken Melanie puts her teetering love life and any hope of future connubial bliss into the hands of her best friend and roommate.
Her best friend gives her The Boyfriend Bylaws.
Under penalty of losing her much beloved car, Melanie has to follow the bylaws to the letter. She would rather get a new best friend. When she starts to realize just how much a long-time friend and coworker means to her, though, Melanie finally understands that it's not a bunch of rules that will help her find her Happily Ever After...it's being true to her heart.
While the premise of The Boyfriend Bylaws is cute and the concept sound, I had several problems with this short novella from the start. I felt the first person point of view was too limiting a perspective and severely hampered the development of secondary and ancillary characters, including, to his extreme detriment, the male romantic lead. Worse, though, is that I found Melanie to be an unlikable and unsympathetic heroine, so a story told from her perspective was problematic.
Melanie's desperation and her shallow parameters for true love are a total turn off. Her issues with abandonment are valid motivators, but were brought up in awkward ways and didn't have enough room to develop to a point of satisfying resolution. She ended up seeming pathologically insecure and self involved, and very unhealthy emotionally. There were moments when a glimmer of sarcasm or sardonic humor showed through the desperation, which is always something I enjoy, but it was too brief for me to really warm to the character and she didn't have any other traits I found appealing.
I enjoyed what little I saw of Matt, though. He was cute, with his obvious attraction and dedication to Melanie, even as she was mentally criticizing him for assumed behavior that looked suspiciously similar to her own. They had a nice rapport as friends at the club, too, with their word of the day playfulness.
I wish the plot had developed a little differently. There were several plot threads that had potential but got snipped off at the end, and I felt like I'd been left hanging over the issue between Melanie and her sister. The ending was very abrupt and I was disappointed that there hadn't been more provided to redeem Melanie as a person or hold her accountable for some of her hypocrisy and shallowness.
Unfortunately, the problems I had with the story weren't improved by the manner in which it's told. The narrative and dialogue seemed stilted and jerky, and the inconsistent grammar made it often seem unwieldy. There were a couple of typos, but larger problems were the oddly disconnected thoughts from sentence to sentence, too many unsupported narrative tangents, and the inconsistencies in the timing of actions as they were described.
It was all just a bit too much for me to enjoy.
Blind Date/Check Mate by Delilah Sloan
Rating: 2 Stars
Nine years ago Shelby lost her high school sweetheart, Logan Starks, when his parents divorced and he moved with his father to another part of the state. A long distance relationship lasted for a little while, until a phone call that sent her dreams and their plans up in smoke and left her heart in tatters. Now, nine years older and wiser, she grudgingly accepts the blind date that her best friend sets her up on and comes face to face with a cold, hard, immutable truth: nine years wasn't long enough to get over the only man she's ever loved.
He thought he was doing the right thing for them both when he broke up with Shelby all those years ago, but Logan never stopped loving her. He knows now what a grievous mistake he made and it was one he had no intention of repeating. He was back in town, intent on convincing the woman of his dreams that nothing in his life was worth it without her. He knows she still loves him...but can she ever forgive him?
I've always been fond of romances like this, when the star crossed lovers get a second chance, and I thought this second story was more technically sound than its predecessor, with fewer grammatical errors and a smoother flow in narrative and dialogue. It has the same first person point of view as the first, though, and truly don't like that style for contemporary romance, especially those of novella length.
The plot was a little two dimensional, but pleasant, and I don't really expect much depth in novellas. That first person perspective is very limiting to character definition, and I didn't get much of an impression about any of the characters beyond Shelby. And that's a bigger problem than it could have been because I found her intensely unlikable.
Not at first. At first I found her reaction to coming face to face with the boy - now a man - who broke her heart was realistic and understandable. But she was so inflexible and cold to him all the way through that I quickly grew tired of her bitchiness. And I found her actions hypocritical, criticizing the overtures he makes to her just as vehemently as she criticizes him when he doesn't make any; desperately searching for proof of his love, and denying it when she sees it. By the end, I was left wondering why Logan still loved her at all...and that probably wasn't what the author was going for.
There were a few plot holes and some things that didn't seem too logical, and I dislike when authors have their protagonists act duplicitous when they're trying to stand on their moral high ground, though that was an issue that was quickly resolved and lead to more evidence of the larger hypocrisy. The first few chapters of Logan's manuscript made no sense to me, unless that manuscript was an autobiography...which would have been pretty arrogant, really. That whole part seemed like an ill conceived plot contrivance to force the characters towards a resolution unsupported by previous character thoughts and actions.
Despite all of that, I don't believe this was a bad story, really, but for me it lacked a bit of sophistication and polish technically and had a female lead who I sort of loathed by the end.
Wild for Him by Virna DePaul
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Deputy District Attorney Bryn Donovan has the hots for the gorgeous Daniel Mays. He's good looking, charming, and judging by his apparent dating habits, a bit of a player. But that's not a crime...at least not the one that convicts him. The fact that he's a defense attorney, on the other hand... That's nearly a hanging offense, as far as Bryn is concerned. Driven by guilt and with a bit of a prejudice against criminals, Bryn has no room in her life for...well...much of anything beyond her work, and certainly no time to dally with a man who gets those same criminals out of punishment for their crimes. And if that zeal has segregated her, leaving her feeling lonely and unfulfilled at times, it's just the price she has to pay.
Daniel Mays had always known that the woman nicknamed Justice was a hell of a litigator, but he hadn't really thought of her as a woman until he overheard a conversation about him between Bryn and a friend of his. Since then, he hasn't been able to think of much of anything else. When he tries to court her, though, she shuts him down. But Daniel argues for a living, and he's determined to convince this particular jury of one to take a chance on love.
I really liked this novella! Both characters were well defined within the parameters of the story, and I found them both likable and sympathetic. I was impressed with the balance in Bryn's character, and appreciated her depth and the reasons provided to explain what has made her the woman she is. I also liked the fact that she's an intelligent, highly successful woman who recognizes some of her less beneficial traits, and takes steps...though they may be small...to change some of them. It showed a nice evolution in her character that's surprising in a story of this length.
The dialogue was solid, felt natural and organic to the characters, and was full of great repartee, especially between Bryn and Daniel. I was also impressed that DePaul managed, with seemingly little effort, to add that southern flavor to Daniel's dialogue. It provided a genuine feel to his character definition.
This was a novella that worked for me on just about every level, telling a solid story with believable characters in a realistic setting with an appealing style. The narrative had a typo or two, but the grammar was solid and overall it was technically sound.
I thought Bryn's stance was a bit too hard core sometimes, but it was so well tempered by the motivation for her feelings that she never became unsympathetic, and that was a surprising treat. I was also very impressed with the level of sensuality in this story that was lacking in the first two. I appreciated the sex scenes and thought they were very well written, though I did think it was odd how Bryn chose to initiate it. I loved how the ending evolved, and found the events leading up to the resolution to be gut clenching. On an emotional level, it was very successful, and I liked that by the end, both characters had been affected.
This was a very complete feeling novella and honestly, I wish it had been longer, just because I was enjoying it so much. Nice.
Bonus Short Story:
My Last Blind Date by Susan Hatler
from Better Date Then Never
Rating: 5 Stars
Rachel Price is dateless for Valentine's Day, but dateless has to be better than getting set up on another lousy blind date, right? Especially since she overheard that the man she's been dreaming about for two months, Noah Peterson, has big plans of his own. Talk about depressing news. Still, Rachel caves to her best friend and decides to show up. When she realizes Noah is the one waiting for her, Rachel knows it was the best decision she'd ever made.
Short, sweet, and so much fun! This short story was perfect. Characters were likable, plot was simple but sufficient, and the dialogue was quick and funny. Short stories falter when they're overdone, but this one was sleek, slick, and well written. I enjoyed it a lot. It ended the anthology on a very high note.
Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by one of the authors for the purpose of an honest review. All ratings, comments, thoughts, and opinions are my own.