Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Heiress for Hire, by Erin McCarthy [1]

*/***** (1/5) needed to love first, then love will come back to you. You couldn't take love or buy it or demand it, but once you gave it freely, without thought to yourself, you received it in kind.

Though more guy-friendly than most romance novels, I found Erin McCarthy's HEIRESS FOR HIRE mostly a one-sided affair. We can count on three elements in all romance novels: words of love, acts of love and finally marriage, although not necessarily in that order. I felt our slow-and-steady, Mr. Dependable, Mr. Unselfish, Good-Guy farmboy Danny Tucker not only initiated all three of these elements common to any romance book, but he also exhibited an enthusiasm in all three aspects far surpassing our heroine, Chicago socialite Amanda Delmar. So by a one-sided affair, I mean Danny first voices the I-Love-You's (and often thereafter), services Amanda passionately, again articulates heartfelt words of love during the act of love, and proposes marriage three times before Amanda finally accepts. Hence, I felt the giving from the quote was mostly a one-way street from Danny to Amanda. Peculiar then that the quote was Amanda thinking about love. Amanda loves Danny certainly, but true to chick-lit, not nearly as much as the other way around. The book appeared to ensure Danny's skewed love-sickness as a price for Amanda agreeing to marry him and move to Cuttersville, Ohio. There's two love scenes here, and during the second love scene, I thought the three consecutive climaxes Amanda experiences from oral sex proved lopsided. Add to that Danny's heartfelt words of love during this scene and I didn't feel Amanda really measured up. Just didn't seem like Amanda wanted to return all of Danny's giving (love). We received a 1-sentence retrospective postmortem of Amanda waking Danny later that night but it just didn't come close to Danny's servicing and love for Amanda.

I liked how both the hero and heroine harbored insecurities here, and I liked how a physical attraction initially played a role. Many historical romances detail a heroine's physical shortcomings from the hero's perspective and he's careful to avoid using the word 'beautiful' even though he instantly has a hard-on for her (SUDDENLY YOU, VOICES OF THE NIGHT). Here, since Danny is attracted to Amanda, I liked how McCarthy doesn't shy away from letting her hero use the word 'beautiful' to describe Amanda even though she isn't perfect . I also enjoyed everyone empathizing and caring for Danny's lovable 8 year-old daughter, Piper. Danny's mother Wilhemina "Willie" Tucker steals the show prompting fits of laughter, and I was hoping for more of her.

I thought a more spoiled, arrogant Amanda Delmar in truth could have made for an enjoyable reading experience and although Amanda and Danny shared some passion, I don't believe they're a good fit together long-term. A deeper, vulnerable Amanda simply hides behind a glitzy Barbie-doll facade and it takes Slow-and-Stead, Mr. Unselfish, Mr. Dependable Danny Tucker to recognize this deeper, affectionate side of Amanda Delmar. She has all of her father's money but really yearns for his love. I thought a spoiled Amanda scorning all things poor including country hicks like Danny would have made for a more entertaining tug-of-war between Amanda and Danny. Of course then you'd have to alter Danny's character a bit so he isn't so laid back. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of the movie OVERBOARD (1987) starring Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn where you have the rich girl with amnesia finding love amongst a poor family. Goldie Hawn's character in OVERBOARD really earned everyone's love in that movie hundred fold while Amanda never seemed like a good fit for Danny and his daughter on his farm. Sure, Amanda cares for Danny's daughter Piper but that was a given, Piper is the quintessential, lovable 8 year-old innocent.

That such a light, quick 300-page superior paperback conveys a rather protracted read confirms the book's absence of any captivating plotting even for the romance genre. I admit to finding Amanda's saucy-sassy traits appealing and funny at times, but I question the point of some of the scenes we find in this novel. For instance, Amanda, Danny and Danny's daughter Piper venture on a protracted shopping trip to Walmart in the beginning. The whole exchange at Walmart seemed long and off. Next, from Amanda's cottage in Cuttersville, we have paranormal elements in a story where they simply don't belong. There's a bawling spirit in the cottage Amanda stays in and pennies magically fall from the ceiling. Amanda shrugs off the spirit's wailing for her long-deceased husband and she finds the magically-dropping pennies more funny than anything else. These paranormal elements really have no place in the overall romantic story, and if they do, the book failed to mesh the paranormal elements with the romantic story. Then, there's this melodramatic affair of Amanda rushing to rescue her poodle Baby from a hawk. I think the episode was supposed to prove Amanda's courage and loyalty but it was just stupid. The plotting which has Danny and Amanda thinking they're not right for each other and Amanda consequently rejecting marriage was a contrivance for Danny's "last-time" lovemaking. Danny performs oral sex for Amanda three times in a row thinking to give love and cherish her with everything he is for the last time. As it turned out, I think they had it right initially: I don't believe they're right for each other long-term because it's so one-sided, and I think Danny should find someone who would appreciate him more. Finally, Piper's stepfather returns and it's just more melodramatic nonsense as Amanda defends young Piper.

I was reminded of a couple other superior contemporary novels reading this one: TALK NERDY TO ME (**) where both leads are humble and likable, and INTO THE FIRE (****) which also contained paranormal touches but appropriate there. Anne Stuart's INTO THE FIRE is especially memorable for its decided dark and gritty feel, and yet conveys a passionate intensity like you've never read before. I think INTO THE FIRE is the only 'romance' novel I've read where of the three certainties in the romance genre (words of love, acts of love and marriage), marriage was no longer a certainty.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Chicago socialite, twenty-five year-old Amanda Delmar has it all: money, designer clothes and shoes, and lavish handbags. Everything except the one thing she covets most: her father's love. A vulnerable, compassionate woman resides underneath the rich, spoiled and high-maintenance facade and she longs for love. After she follows her friend Boston to Cuttersville, Ohio, and drops two grand on a manicure and a designer handbag, her father decides to employ a policy of "tough love" with Amanda. Her father cuts her off from all her money and her credit cards and compels Amanda to find a job and earn money for herself. In the process, she wouldn't mind hooking up with one of the brawny farmers in Cuttersville which may help her forget her cruel ex-boyfriend. I found some of Amanda's early bimbo comments very funny.

Enter Slow-and-Stead, Mr. Dependable, Mr. Unselfish, All-American-Farmerboy Danny Tucker. Danny has seen Amanda around town and finds himself attracted to her after a relatively recent divorce with ex-wife Shelby. Danny's wants and needs are simple: he wants a wife and family after his first marriage doesn't pan out. After just discovering the existence of his 8 year-old daughter Piper, Danny has what he's always wanted, though not exactly in the way he wanted it: a family with his daughter Piper. Since Amanda is looking to earn her way out of Cuttersville, Danny hires her to babysit his reticent daughter who warms up to Amanda. Amanda and Danny's attraction resonated although their long-term prospects on Danny's farm did not. Of course, I also thought the lovemaking was heavily one-sided in the second love scene (Danny doing all the giving). A one-sided love scene contrived by plotting which has Danny and Amanda believing they'll go their separate ways once school starts for Piper. The one-sided love scene would be fine if there was any love scene afterwards which wasn't such a one-way street. Alas, not to be.

The book concludes on copious words of love and affection from Danny as he proposes for a third time, this time on bended knee. All this after a lot of heartfelt words of love from Danny from before. Again, I didn't feel Amanda reciprocated Danny's words and acts of love in kind and that makes the entire "love" seem like a hoax concocted for a girl's delight.

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