Dear Ms. Hubbard:
When I first started this book, I thought it had a lot of promise. It featured a romance author heroine and had kind of an insider’s tone to the story which I thought romance readers would get a kick out of. But then it took a turn, a nose dive even, resulting in one of the most unlikeable heroines I have read in a long time. I know that we women are accused of being harder on other women and I asked myself this question as I wrote the review because we essentially have a role reversal in this book. The heroine is the bitter wealthy asshole and the hero is the doormat. In some books, I can stomach this combination. It’s fairly prevalent in Harlequin Presents books. What makes the asshole character acceptable is some recognition in the end that the character is being an asshole, some kind of redemption. This never happens in this story. In fact, the story is written as if the asshole is the victim and the doormat is the one constantly at fault. It was a strange lack of self awareness on the part of the characters.
Khela Halliday is a famous and successful romance author who is suffering a crisis of confidence. She is not in love in any longer and she feels like she doesn’t believe in love or the happy ever after that she writes about. She feels like a fraud particularly when she has to get a date for an annual writer’s award. Her good friend, Daphne, suggest she ask the hot handyman to pose as her date. Khela, desperate to keep up appearances eventually caves.
We find out that Khela is not just a woman with a crisis of confidence, she’s also one who too many men have come onto because of her money. Thus, her knee jerk reaction is to treat men like shit. When Carter, the handyman, shows up to her townhome with a tux, this is her reply:
"This looks really good," Khela said, examining the tux through its plastic. "I’m impressed."
"Whoever gave you this tux has excellent taste." She ran her fingertips over the finely woven wool. "I’ve seen designer tuxes that aren’t this nice."
"It’s Calvin Klein."
"Who did you get it from? The concert pianist in unit C?"
Which is followed by:
"Is something bothering you?"
"Why do you ask?"
"A lot of people get hives when they’re stressed out," he explained.
"How ’bout you get to fixing my busted hotbox and leave my ugly welts to a dermatologist?" She pointed to the light fixture centered in her ceiling fan. "The lights went out for no reason."
"I’m sorry I dawdled back there," he said as the driver smoothly eased the limousine into traffic. "Jerry makes a lot of runs to and from the brownstone, so I see him fairly often."
"Was he surprised to see that you were a passenger this time?" Khela uncrossed her legs …
Khela is constantly insinuating that he is of a lower class and wouldn’t know the finer things in life unless someone gave them to him. The story is full of contradictions and dropped plot threads.
For example, Khela is initially angry that Carter isn’t more interested in her writing career or that he doesn’t realize what a famous person she is.
"It doesn’t mean anything," he said. "I knew you were a writer, but I didn’t know that you were so big."
Stung, Khela stared at him. She’d been amazed and gratified that he had accepted her invitation, but now a stab of regret made her head slightly achy. It wasn’t her style to flaunt her career or her success, but for reasons unknown even to herself, she wanted him to be impressed. She would have settled for interested. Or at the very least, she’d hoped that he would have asked her about her work.
Then a few pages later despises his nosiness:
"I didn’t know you were a hotshot romance novelist."
"I like to keep my business my business." She stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. "More people should try it. It’s fun."
. . .
"Why do you care?"
He braced his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together. "Call me interested."
She gave him a toothy, artificial smile. "Hello, Interested. I’m Minding My Own Business. Pleased to meet you." She crossed one leg over the other and turned one shoulder into the back of the sofa to fully face the television.
. . .
Then Carter is complimented by Khela in a very offhand way. He treats this nonchalantly which is totally at odds with a later assertion that he is tired of being someone’s pretty boy:
"Don’t apologize. I’m flattered." He flexed his biceps, then his triceps, exaggerating the poses until Khela gave him a reluctant smile. "I’ve never been the pretty thing on a successful professional’s arm."
That plan fell apart when he discovered that his own fiancée wanted him for the only reason so many other women had-‘because he looked good. His love for her had not mattered, nor had his earning potential.
He needed Khela to see him differently than everyone else did, certainly more than Savannah did.
The romance author having a crisis of confidence is totally dropped and it becomes some . . . story about Khela not finding Carter to be the man she thinks he should be. Ultimately the message isn’t that a writer can write anything even if you don’t live it because writing is about creativity. Instead, the message must be (because it isn’t addressed conversely) that you must be in love to write about love.
Second, I thought Khela’s existence as one of the super rich romance writers was overblown. She has the best of everything (Prada handbags, designer clothes, stove from France, toilet from Japan) and her books are so successful that they are on the bestseller lists before the book is released due to the outrageous number of pre orders. Plus, we are treated to granular details about the writing business. There is even an explanation of the term “newbies” along with a whole two pages devoted to how Khela’s signings are structured down to the exact “schwag” that is given out.
Khela always provided her own signing favors-‘promotional materials designed to stand out from the usual bookmarks and ballpoint pens other writers typically offered their readers. Taking her time so as not to forget anything, Khela positioned stacks of oversized refrigerator magnets, Post-It pads, boxes of wooden matches, miniature chocolate bars and tea bags adorned with the images of her book covers. One of her handlers questioned her choices of promotional schwag, noting that the items didn’t seem to go together.
Khela’s explanation had been simple. "I want people to think of my books at times when they aren’t typically thinking of books. If my book cover is on the fridge, the reader will see it every time she opens the door to take out milk or eggs. The next time she’s at the bookstore, hopefully she’ll have my name, if not my book cover, in her head.
"As for the other stuff, I like to give people things that are useful. It’s always nice to have matches in the house, and Post-It pads are handy in your purse, on your desk, or by the phone. And I’d love it if someone relaxed with a hot cup of tea brewed with one of my custom tea bags and munched a few chocolates while reading one of my books. Everything actually does go together because it all has something to do with my books."
Khela rose to greet and kiss the cheek of a reader named Mary, who always turned up at her signings no matter where she appeared in New England. Khela signed Mary’s book after writing a long personalized message, and then placed a gold star on the book. Gold stars signified a complimentary copy of the book for which the customer was not to be charged.
This overly detailed style of writing really bogged down the book. I wondered why I needed to know who the heck Mary was and why gold starred books were complimentary when there were storylines incomplete.
The book ultimately became a tosser when Khela’s arrogance and condescion was overwhelming. Khela never came to any understanding of her writing and role as an author and what impact her life makes on her stories. Neither did she come to any awareness that worth isn’t measured by dollars even when given the opportunity to do so:
“No wonder you never seemed interested in money,” she said. “You’re probably worth more than I am.”
He shook his head vigorously. “Nope, never. You’re worth a hundred of me, Khela.”
“So underneath that cool and confident faÃ§ade, you’ve got the same insecurities as everyone else,” Khela said.
She doesn’t even get that worth isn’t the constant measurement of finances. What is the point of making that the center piece of the story without some realization by the protag of her myopathy?
“Someone who accepts me whether or not she understands me. Someone who’ll accept me for my faults and not punish me for them. And who’ll make me a better man without changing who I am.”
“Why?” he asked against her lips.
“Because that’s what I want, too.”
Carter offered her a sweet smirk. “You want to be a better man?”
“I want you to be a better man.”
Why does Carter have to be the better man here? He obviously doesn’t care about wealth and outward trappings. But Khela does and she thinks that everything revolves around her? What had an intriguing beginning ended up being a trainwreck for me. The last five chapters meandered in an emotionally meaningless wilderness and what passed before it was just full of wtf-ery for me. D