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Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson

Dear Ms. Gibson,

Though I have read all of your books, in all honesty I’m not sure why. I liked your first book, Simply Irresistible, quite a bit, and loved your second, Truly, Madly Yours. Since then, your books have ranged from mediocre (I show five B- grades in my book log, which goes back to 2002) to something less than mediocre (Daisy’s Back in Town and last year’s Tangled Up in You barely eked out C range grades from me).

Your latest book is the last in a quartet about four female friends finding love. The series is based on a rather contrived conceit: each of the women writes in a different genre: mystery, romance, true crime, fantasy (the heroine of Not Another Bad Date, Adele Harris, is the fantasy writer). It’s not actually the conceit itself that has felt contrived in the series, but the way that each author mirrors rather stereotypical views of the genre she writes in. This was particularly aggravating in Tangled Up in You, with the true crime-writing heroine; she constantly wanted to pepper-spray everyone. That may explain in part why I disliked that book so much. Thankfully, Adele in Not Another Bad Date is not portrayed as being too obsessed with fairies, unicorns and the like.

Adele Harris returns to the small Texas town where she grew up to help her pregnant sister, whose husband has just run off with his assistant. She is not there long before she encounters the erstwhile love of her life, her college boyfriend Zach Zemaitis. Zach, a former NFL star who is now coaching high school football, is not so much the one that got away as the one that was stolen away by the mean girl who made Adele’s high school years hell. Adele has, of course, never quite gotten over Zach, and he is now a widower.

What worked for me: your books are very readable, and Not Another Bad Date is no exception. I read relatively few contemporaries, but for some reason when I do read them I find them easier, quicker reads than historicals, generally speaking. I’m not sure why – it’s not like the historicals that I read are that taxing. Perhaps it’s just that the more familiar setting makes the reading a little easier. Anyway, I appreciate it because it means that I don’t tend to get bogged down in even sub-par contemporaries the way I sometimes do with historical novels.

So, Not Another Bad Date was very readable. I didn’t hate the characters or their behavior (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment); their HEA was pleasant.

My lack of enthusiasm is, I think, reflective of a certain thinness of characterization found in both the hero and heroine. As I said, I’ve read all your books, and if you strip away a few superficial traits, Zach and Adele are not noticeably different from most of the couples in your other novels.

This may be what some romance readers prefer – predictable characters meeting (or re-meeting in this case), feeling attraction, having conflict, breaking up, making up, HEA. Some minor trust issues on each side, fear of commitment yadda yadda yadda. Though it can be comforting to pick up a book knowing what you’re going to get, I usually prefer a little more variety in my reading.

There is a small paranormal element in this book that I found cheesy at first but actually ended up liking. The aforementioned mean girl – Devon Hamilton-Zemaitis, Zach’s dead wife and Adele’s high school tormenter, is stuck in purgatory (for her, it takes the form of endlessly stocking shoes at Wal-Mart). Her machinations in the afterlife are directly responsible for Adele’s bad dates. This element of the story was hokey, but it at least gave some context to Adele’s bizarre bad luck with men, and ultimately I thought it was kind of a cute touch.

Oh, and my complaint – the one aspect that I found truly unlikable in your characterization, in this case, of the hero. Zach is a former NFL player who was in an unhappy marriage for a number of years. He lived away from his wife during the football season. Okay, I understand, intellectually, why in such a situation, the fact that he was routinely unfaithful is probably pretty realistic. But it still bugged me. Even though we know that his wife was indifferent to it (we’re told this in one of the sections where we are privy to Devon’s post-mortem thoughts).

But still. I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of the double-standard. Can you even imagine a romance where the heroine is in an unhappy marriage and routinely has affairs, even threesomes, with her husband’s tacit blessing? I could borrow the infinite number of monkeys working on typing up the complete works of Shakespeare, pull them off that project and give them an infinite amount of time to write a romance with such a heroine. When one of the monkeys finally presented me with her finished work, I’d find that the heroine wasn’t actually meeting all those men in hotel rooms to have sex with them; she was actually teaching them to read. Also, she was a virgin despite being married!

I said I didn’t hate Zach, and I didn’t. But I did dislike him when he had thoughts like this:

He’d been around women like Genevieve all of his career and most of his life. Women who offered up their bodies, and while he’d sometimes taken what they’d wanted to give, he’d never screwed around with married women nor women he didn’t even like. He wasn’t desperate enough to start now.

Oh, Mr. cheats-on-his-wife, has threesomes and random casual sex with women who "offer up their bodies", has standards. He’s not about to get with a tramp like Genevieve, who after all is married (doesn’t she know marriage is sacred?) and whom he doesn’t even like.

Ms. Gibson, I don’t want to place the burden of romance’s sexism all on your shoulders. But I’ve become increasingly intolerant of the way that female writers, writing for a female audience, continually reinforce sexist notions. Men who have sex with lots of women are heroes, even if they happen to be married while having it. Women who throw themselves at men (who don’t even like them!) are tarts and/or desperate and distasteful. Heroines are invariably unaware of their own appeal and semi-chaste. We have finally gotten somewhat away from the virgin heroine in contemporaries, thank goodness, but we have a ways to go before we get to heroines who actually own their own sexuality and aren’t just waiting for the hero to come along, flip the switch and finally give them an orgasm.

I will likely still continue reading your books; readability counts for something. But my grade for Not Another Bad Date is still a C.

Regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

17 Comments

  1. Robin
    May 23, 2008 @ 15:26:18

    Wooh, this is one sassy review; I like it!

    Though I have read all of your books, in all honesty I'm not sure why.

    I know exactly what you mean, lol. Rachel Gibson, Susan Donovan, SEP, and a handful of other authors fall into this category for me, although I found Donovan’s last book so offensive that she’s teetering at the end of the list right now.

    I think the readability in Gibson’s books comes from a relatively breezy voice she has, a tone that is friendly and accessible, and very tolerant of her heroine’s quirks. The thinness, though, has become more and more routine, IMO, from books like Daisy’s Back in Town, which even though you disliked, I think had much more depth than her more recent books. There’s still something in her books now that gets me through them, but they feel more and more like empty calories, and I’m in need of some nourishment in contemporary Romance these days. And, as you point out, there seem to be a lot of unexamined presumptions and stereotypes afloat in many of these books, which, IMO, are harder to spot when the book is so very readable.

    Oh, Mr. cheats-on-his-wife, has threesomes and random casual sex with women who “offer up their bodies”, has standards. He's not about to get with a tramp like Genevieve, who after all is married (doesn't she know marriage is sacred?) and whom he doesn't even like.

    And notice that he frames it in terms of “desperation,” which both distances himself from such nasty behavior and distances the whole pattern of infidelity from a moral or ethical context (i.e. oh, well, he was desperate, of course we forgive him).

    This book contained SO MANY elements of other Gibson novels, down to some exact phrasing from other books (especially during the intimate scenes), including, IIRC Daisy’s Back in Town and See Jane Score. The sister in distress, the sister’s jerky ex-husband who comes back to cause trouble, the heroine’s terror at seeing the old boyfriend, the crisis of trust around the heroine’s honesty and the hero’s trust issues, etc., etc. that I felt it was sort of a pale imitation of some of her older and more interesting books.

    I never decided how I felt about Zach’s ex and Adele’s curse. OTOH, it was a clever way to include the backstory and explain Adele’s bad luck in love, but OTOH it created a deus ex machina element I wasn’t sure I appreciated. Overall, though, I think your C grade matches me own response to the novel.

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  2. Janine
    May 23, 2008 @ 16:29:03

    Can you even imagine a romance where the heroine is in an unhappy marriage and routinely has affairs, even threesomes, with her husband's tacit blessing? I could borrow the infinite number of monkeys working on typing up the complete works of Shakespeare, pull them off that project and give them an infinite amount of time to write a romance with such a heroine. When one of the monkeys finally presented me with her finished work, I'd find that the heroine wasn't actually meeting all those men in hotel rooms to have sex with them; she was actually teaching them to read. Also, she was a virgin despite being married!

    LOL. I haven’t read Not Another Bad Date but this paragraph cracked me up. I hear you on the double standard. And I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a heroine except in cases where the husband was a voyeur or part of the threesome or otherwise encouraging or pressuring the heroine to participate in those extramarital situations.

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  3. Jennie
    May 23, 2008 @ 19:50:31

    I think the readability in Gibson's books comes from a relatively breezy voice she has, a tone that is friendly and accessible, and very tolerant of her heroine's quirks. The thinness, though, has become more and more routine, IMO, from books like Daisy's Back in Town, which even though you disliked, I think had much more depth than her more recent books.

    Breezy is a good word. It does sometimes hit the spot.

    I think one of my issues with Daisy’s Back in Town had to do with the secret baby plotline. I have trouble with reunited lovers stories sometimes anyway, when it seems like the h/h did not part for good reasons (I have less of a problem when it’s obvious they both need to grow up before they can be together). But when you have a character missing out on years of his child’s life, that’s pretty serious to me. I don’t remember enough about DBIT to say if that was one of my problems, but I know that I often feel that secret babies are dealt with a little too lightly in romance.

    And notice that he frames it in terms of “desperation,” which both distances himself from such nasty behavior and distances the whole pattern of infidelity from a moral or ethical context (i.e. oh, well, he was desperate, of course we forgive him).

    Yes; I think “desperate” was a particularly ugly word choice there. Genevieve was a very minor character, but I didn’t see any reason for the hero or the author to view her with such contempt.

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  4. TracyS
    May 23, 2008 @ 23:43:52

    Wow. I usually like her books. See Jane Score is one of my favorites. I haven’t read this one, but I don’t think I will. I have a real hard time with a hero that had affairs and doesn’t seem to see that as a problem. Not gonna fly with me. I’ve read books in the past where the hero was unfaithful to a previous wife/girlfriend but was completely repentant and understood that he did something wrong. It doesn’t sound like Zach gets that. I’d spend the whole book wanting to reach into the pages an smack him around~hard. Not enjoyable reading LOL

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  5. Kirsten
    May 24, 2008 @ 00:21:16

    I think one of my issues with Daisy's Back in Town had to do with the secret baby plotline. I have trouble with reunited lovers stories sometimes anyway, when it seems like the h/h did not part for good reasons (I have less of a problem when it's obvious they both need to grow up before they can be together). But when you have a character missing out on years of his child's life, that's pretty serious to me.

    Heh. You’d think the stretch marks, sagging boobs, and flaccid stomach muscles would be a dead giveaway. Unless secret baby mama had the funds for serious plastic surgery or the funds for a gym membership.

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  6. Jennie F.
    May 24, 2008 @ 02:02:17

    And I don't think I've ever come across such a heroine except in cases where the husband was a voyeur or part of the threesome or otherwise encouraging or pressuring the heroine to participate in those extramarital situations.

    I still remember the one romance I’ve read – an old Sheila Bishop Regency – where the heroine cheats on the hero (her husband). It was kind of thrilling to read! She doesn’t cheat on him for noble or selfless reasons; she does it because she’s young and stupid and he’s not paying enough attention to her. I’ve read a few other romances where the heroine cheats with the hero, but the author usually goes to pains to villify her husband so that the reader doesn’t judge her too harshly. I think women should be allowed to make the same mistakes as men make and still be eligible for heroine status.

    I know a lot of readers disapprove of infidelity across the board, but for me it’s more a matter of the way it’s portrayed – in the case of Not Another Bad Date, I felt like it was thrown in to show how virile and studly Zach was, and what it showed to me was that he didn’t take his marriage vows very seriously and wasn’t responsible enough to get a divorce if he didn’t want to stay in a monogamous relationship. And then on top of that, he makes judgments about married women throwing themselves at him.

    That said, TracyS, if you generally enjoy Gibson, Zach’s marital infidelity is by no means a big part of this book. I might not have even paid it much attention if it weren’t for the juxtaposition of his behavior with those judgments.

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  7. Robin
    May 24, 2008 @ 11:50:52

    Yes; I think “desperate” was a particularly ugly word choice there. Genevieve was a very minor character, but I didn't see any reason for the hero or the author to view her with such contempt.

    Yeah, poor Gen had a tough role: she had to show that our hero had (relatively limited) virtue AND be a foil for the heroine — that is, in contrast the heroine isn’t desperate or calculating or cloying or unethical (fill in the blank with an unpleasant adjective). It’s a long, venerable tradition, after all, to offer up these “bad” women to add that much more luster to the heroine.

    But when you have a character missing out on years of his child's life, that's pretty serious to me. I don't remember enough about DBIT to say if that was one of my problems, but I know that I often feel that secret babies are dealt with a little too lightly in romance.

    Considering how little play this issue usually gets, I thought DBIT actually had *some* serious attention on this issue, with Zack (or Zach?) actually having exactly that reaction. It was not an instantaneous reunion, and the situation was even more complicated by the fact that the man who raised the child had been the hero’s best friend and had also been in love with Daisy (he dies of cancer, which is what brings her and her son back to the hometown). Not, by any means, War and Peace, but I actually thought Gibson did an okay job on this aspect of the book. But it disappointed me to see so many aspects of it show up in NABD.

    I don’t know if there’s a point at which an author had said all she has to say in her books, but I’ve definitely asked that question through the last few Gibson books I’ve read. As you said, there’s something still quite readable about them (i.e. sellable?), but, yeah, there are some significant problems, too.

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  8. TracyS
    May 24, 2008 @ 12:07:37

    I know a lot of readers disapprove of infidelity across the board, but for me it's more a matter of the way it's portrayed – in the case of Not Another Bad Date, I felt like it was thrown in to show how virile and studly Zach was, and what it showed to me was that he didn't take his marriage vows very seriously and wasn't responsible enough to get a divorce if he didn't want to stay in a monogamous relationship. And then on top of that, he makes judgments about married women throwing themselves at him.

    (emphasis mine)

    That’s what I have a hard time with. I’m supposed to believe in an HEA with a hero that doesn’t take marriage vows (or any fidelity vow) seriously? Even if it’s not a main part of the plot, it’s part of his character and it would prevent me from believing in their HEA.

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  9. Janet/Robin
    May 24, 2008 @ 12:20:14

    I still remember the one romance I've read – an old Sheila Bishop Regency – where the heroine cheats on the hero (her husband). It was kind of thrilling to read!

    I forgot to mention that this comment reminded me of LaVyrle Spencer’s Spring Fancy, in which the heroine meets the hero in the midst of planning her wedding to another guy. And she most definitely cheats on her fiance. I really love this book, as it dealt with class differences, a career-oriented heroine, single motherhood (the heroine’s mother), infidelity, and a heroine who had an athletic physique rather than all those “feminine curves.” I know that Spencer can be very moralistic, but this book — the very first Harlequin Temptation — really felt disruptive (in a good way) to me.

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  10. Janine
    May 24, 2008 @ 15:42:04

    I know this is OT, but have you read more Spencer since then? In her day, she had some books I really loved.

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  11. Jennie F.
    May 25, 2008 @ 02:38:21

    Yeah, poor Gen had a tough role: she had to show that our hero had (relatively limited) virtue AND be a foil for the heroine -’ that is, in contrast the heroine isn't desperate or calculating or cloying or unethical (fill in the blank with an unpleasant adjective). It's a long, venerable tradition, after all, to offer up these “bad” women to add that much more luster to the heroine.

    That’s what kind of gets to me. Why can’t the hero be shown to have healthy friendships with women, even attractive women? Why do women have to either be portrayed negatively (if they’re attractive) or be completely desexualized so as not to be a threat to the heroine? I guess this is where the fantasy aspect of romance comes in – the heroine represents the only woman who is worthy of the hero. But wouldn’t it be more romantic, in a way, if there were other women who were smart and attractive and nice, and the hero *still* preferred the heroine? I mean, preferring her over married skanks isn’t really such a sign of devotion, is it?

    That's what I have a hard time with. I'm supposed to believe in an HEA with a hero that doesn't take marriage vows (or any fidelity vow) seriously? Even if it's not a main part of the plot, it's part of his character and it would prevent me from believing in their HEA.

    I agree, but I also think it’s part of the fantasy aspect of romance I mentioned above – the reader is supposed to believe that of course the hero wouldn’t cheat on the heroine, because she’s The One. Which, in a way, puts the onus of the cheating not on the hero, but on his first wife, for daring not to be The One. Also, while I’m playing the “isn’t it more romantic?” game – while I’m uncomfortable at times with heros being attracted to other women, I think it is more heroic for a hero to be tempted and resist cheating than just not to be tempted because no one else is the heroine (and they’re all skanks or old ladies, anyway).

    Maybe I should try Spring Fancy. I think I’ve only read two Spencers – Morning Glory which I liked but did not love the way some people seem to, and one other one that involved yachts and boat building in Minnesota, which I honestly found kind of boring.

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  12. Suze
    May 26, 2008 @ 13:30:34

    Gibson had another hero cheat on his wife (before the story starts) in “Trouble with Valentine’s Day”, but he got shot by the woman he was cheating with. Which was actually kind of enjoyable, and set up some fun conflict between him and the new heroine, ’cause NO WAY was he going to risk his life for some random sex.

    I also enjoyed the reactions in Daisy. The hero was really hurt by Daisy cheating on/abandoning him and the whole secret baby thing didn’t even twig as a secret baby to me. And I LOVED the scene where he took a chainsaw to the kitchen table because he couldn’t look at the furniture after they’d had sex on it and she proceeded to hurt him again. Man, that Gibson hurts her heroes.

    I like Gibson’s style, and I enjoy her in the same light & easy way that I enjoy SEP. In fact, when her first book came out, I remember reading all these reviews that started with “She’s no SEP, but…” It irked me, because when SEP started out, SHE was no SEP. Fancy Pants? Honey Moon? Bleh!

    There was another LaVyrle Spencer book where the heroine slept with her husband’s brother (?) while hubbie was away, and he guessed because she’d changed the sheets out of her regular laundry schedule. And I think the husband died, and she ended up marrying the fellah she slept with. Long long time ago, details fuzzy. It was made into a rather bad made-for-TV movie starring Cheryl Ladd.

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  13. Janine
    May 27, 2008 @ 12:27:26

    Maybe I should try Spring Fancy. I think I've only read two Spencers – Morning Glory which I liked but did not love the way some people seem to, and one other one that involved yachts and boat building in Minnesota, which I honestly found kind of boring.

    That was November of the Heart, one of my favorites of hers! I found it more gut-wrenching than boring.

    I do think you might like Spring Fancy, Jennie. It’s a contemporary and I wonder if her contemporaries might work better for you than her historicals. Another one I like a lot is Family Blessings, which matches a 45 year old heroine with a 30 year old hero who was a friend of her deceased son.

    There was another LaVyrle Spencer book where the heroine slept with her husband's brother (?) while hubbie was away, and he guessed because she'd changed the sheets out of her regular laundry schedule. And I think the husband died, and she ended up marrying the fellah she slept with. Long long time ago, details fuzzy. It was made into a rather bad made-for-TV movie starring Cheryl Ladd.

    I believe that one is The Fulfillment, Spencer’s first novel, which I didn’t care that much for. IIRC, it starts out with the husband encouraging his wife and his brother to sleep together because he is incapable of siring a child but he wants one. I was pretty young when I read (or tried to read — I didn’t finish) it, and kind of icked out by the heroine sleeping with two brothers while married to one of them. But I don’t think that would bother me as much now.

    Spencer wrote a lot of books that revolved around triangles or infidelity. I really liked Vows, another heroine-cheats-on-her-fiance book, but with a historical setting, and I was loving Bitter Sweet, in which the heroine was the other woman and falls in love with her high school sweetheart while he is married to another woman, until the hero’s wife was portrayed in a negative light. Then there was Twice Loved, about a heroine whose presumed-dead husband returns when she is married to another man who was his childhood friend (I liked the concept, but she didn’t pull it off for me). I think there are other Spencer books with these themes, too.

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  14. Kristinah
    Jun 08, 2008 @ 00:31:02

    After reading these reviews, i have to admit that i’m beginning to get curious. I’ve seen this book, and i’ve wanted to read it, but i havent gotten a chance to buy the book yet. However, i do want to say to Jennie, that if you’re looking for a good romance novel, you should DEFINATELY read My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson. It’s one of my favorite novels, despite a few things i found that i didnt like. Overall, however, it was definately a good novel.

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  15. leslie
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 21:51:32

    She lost me on page 87 when her niece refers to things she really dislikes as “gay”. What does Adele think about this? She thinks it’s a little un-P.C.? Are you f…ing kidding me? A slur like that is just a little un-P.C.? She never even says this out loud to the 13 yr. old niece either. No admonishment, nothing. Hey, maybe in her next book she’ll have a character throw out the “N” word and quickly move on.

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  16. REVIEW: Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Jun 19, 2008 @ 04:00:40

    [...] Jennie did a review of “Not Another Bad Date,” I saw her grade and mentally wilted a little. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to [...]

  17. Sandy D.
    Aug 06, 2009 @ 11:33:02

    leslie, I was annoyed by the tacit approval of “that’s so gay” (which a lot of teenagers do say), but really a lot more pissed early in the book (p. 22, first chapter even!) when Adele thinks “Obviously, he was retarded or just superficial. Maybe both.”

    I’m even more pissed now that the book has won a RITA.

    ReplyReply

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