Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of Stephanie Bond’s Irresistible?

Harlequin has begun re-releasing some of its “Presents” lines from the 1990s in ebook form under the name Harlequin Treasury, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well these books hold up 16 years later. Generally I tend to steer clear of category romances, because many times the hero’s presented as an alpha male when he’s actually just a jerk, but I’ve read a couple of these re-releases and that hasn’t always been the case. Last month I did a guest review of Janice Kay Johnson’s Beauty & the Beasts for  and really enjoyed the book, so I requested a couple of other Harlequin Treasury books from authors I recognized.  In the case of Stephanie Bond’s Irresistible? I knew the book was going to be a winner when I saw that it was set in Atlanta. Like most Harlequin Presents books, this was a short read, but it had some hilarious moments that reminded me of the film Some Like It Hot and you just can’t go wrong there, can you?
The novel begins with artist Ellie Sutherland losing her job to budget cuts. She’s been working at a federally funded arts center in order to pay the bills and generate some commissions for her paintings, but the funding is decreasing and they can’t afford to keep her. Her bad day gets even worse when she’s jostled by an uptight yuppie in a coffee shop at lunch, spilling her drink all over her skirt. When she gets back to her soon-to-be gone job, she discovers an ad calling for volunteers for a scientific study. Since she needs the money, she decides to give it a try, but she manages to announce to her entire office her lack of a love life while answering the basic interview questions on the phone. Clearly, Ellie is having a rough day.
The plot thickens when Ellie presents herself at the clinical study and learns that they are conducting a trial to see if oral pheromones have any effect on a woman’s ability to attract male interest.  She decides to participate in the trial, and lo and behold the first day she takes the pills she notices an overwhelming difference in the amount and quality of male attention she receives. She’s also excited because she’s received a commission to do a portrait of the newest partner for a local law firm. Unfortunately, said partner turns out to be none other than Mark Blackwell, obnoxious yuppie from the coffee shop. Sparks definitely fly between the two, but disaster seems to follow Ellie wherever she goes. The two gradually learn that neither is exactly what s/he appears, and despite Mark’s best efforts to keep Ellie at a distance, he finds himself attracted to the carefree artist.
This is a fun, lighthearted romance that’s full of slapstick moments that can be blamed equally on hero and heroine. Mark’s decision to invite Ellie as his date to the family picnic in order to horrify his mother into leaving his love life alone is hardly flattering to Ellie, but it sets up some hilarious situations. And Ellie’s decision to paint Mark in the nude, while clearly a bad decision to the reader, helps create a resolution to their romance that’s "well hung."
For me Ellie’s character was the real selling point of the novel. She’s a bit flighty at times, but she’s goodhearted and very likeable. You can definitely relate to her doubts about Mark’s attraction to her, since she’s taking the pheromones from the clinical study, but to the reader it’s clear that Ellie’s loyalty and personality are the real attraction. Mark is an appealing hero as well, since he starts out looking like a yuppie jerk but soon reveals himself to be something more complex. Despite his allergic reaction to cats, he shows a softer side when he takes in Ellie’s pregnant cat Esmerelda and helps nurse her and Ellie back to health. Both hero and heroine are engaging, and you’ll enjoy rooting for them.
The one criticism I have of the novel is that Ellie’s roommate, Manny, is little better than a stock figure. He’s a transvestite who performs in an Atlanta club, and the Some Like It Hot moment I referred to earlier takes place when Mark mistakenly sets up a double date with his boss and Ellie’s roommate, little realizing that “Molly” is the same person as Ellie’s roommate Manny he met a few days earlier. Manny’s character reminded me a lot of the character of Jack in the TV show Will & Grace. He’s outrageously flamboyant, bordering on campy, which would be fine if this were camp, but I think we’re supposed to take him seriously. Given the lack of nuance in his character, he fell a little flat and seemed like the stereotypical gay friend telling the heroine, “You go, girl!” or something equally hideous. However, given the original publication date of 1997 and the fact that the author is referred to as "newcomer Stephanie Bond” in the Letter to the Reader, I’m inclined to be a little lenient. I do like how the hero seems perfectly comfortable with Manny/Molly once he learns the truth, only getting upset about how his straitlaced boss will react if he learns of the deception. Also, Mark’s willingness to switch clothes with Manny in the bathroom so he can fix the situation is pretty darn funny. Frankly, Manny’s character is really the only thing that dates this book, and that’s pretty impressive.
Overall I feel this book was a fun read, and it certainly piques my interest in Ms. Bond’s subsequent books, especially since she favors Atlanta locales. I suspect many authors would love to be able to point to an early novel that, while flawed, is an engaging and fun read.

I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

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