The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack





The Paid Bridesmaid by Sariah Wilson

Rachel runs a business in which she manages a bride’s wedding for her, playing the role of bridesmaid, and generally making certain that every part of the wedding celebration goes as planned. She’s a sweet, dedicated, and a very hard-working woman who has developed a few rules to keep men from interfering in her business. Since she works all the time, that means her rules keep men out of her life.

While managing a wedding for a bigtime social influencer, she finds herself very attracted to Camden, the groom’s best man. Camden also seems to be super interested in Rachel (although the blurb gives away the fact that he actually fears she’s a corporate spy), but his many questions threaten the confidentiality clause in her contract with the bride—the clause in which she must keep the fact that she and the bride are not actually best friends a secret. This leads to a metaphorical dance in which Rachel has to fend off both Camden’s interest and her own developing feelings for him.

If that was all the novel was it would have been a lot of fun, but Wilson has created a cast with quite a lot of depth and their little quirks and secrets add an extra layer of interest to the story. I’d also be willing to bet that Wilson has been to a very large number of weddings because she has figured out absolutely everything that can go wrong from jealous sisters and alcoholic mothers to evil ex-girlfriends and…that’s really just the beginning.

This is a very sweet tale as a romance should be. For my taste, Rachel was losing her self-control a bit quickly (chapter one) but within a few chapters she and Camden have had enough interaction to make the banter and the second guessing feel natural. If you like a feelgood book with a lot of humor, you ought to give The Paid Bridesmaid a chance.

Perfect Timing by Brenda Jackson

This was a genuinely interesting romance novel which, after a slow middle, dealt with some serious issues in the latter part of the story. The book is nominally about two best friends, Maxi and Maya, who drifted apart after high school, leading the reader to think that getting the two back together will be a major subplot of the story. (It wasn’t. It took one chapter and probably wasn’t worth mentioning in the blurb.) What was more interesting is that Maxi’s life has fallen apart after the death of her fiancé while Maya’s marriage to her high-school-sweetheart-turned-NFL-player is threatening to hit the rocks. Their troubles seem to be reaching a crescendo when they both agree to go on a high school reunion cruise.

That cruise was the weakest part of the story and takes up most of the first half of the book. Maxi is accidentally put in the same cabin as her high school crush, Christopher, who happens to have the same last name as her. This happened because they both, separately, ordered single cabins and the cruise line decided on its own that they must be married because they have the same last name so they would put them together. Then the cruise line refused to fix the problem arguing that since they had been in high school together it must be okay. For the record, this is totally unbelievable and was equally unnecessary to the story. The only thing it accomplished was to make it easier for the author to continually thrust these two together. Unsurprisingly in a novel with so much sex in it, there is a lot of thrusting in that cabin.

The only other thing the cruise accomplishes is to bring Maxi and Maya back together—something a phone call should have accomplished ten years earlier—and to drive home the fact (made before the cruise started) that Christopher was not respected in high school (and of course no one knows he is now super successful and super wealthy). It also leads Christopher, who has extraordinary commitment issues, to offer to father the child Maxi desperately wants before she has to get a hysterectomy.

Okay, so the book has a lot in common with some of the crazier soap operas, but stick with it because there’s a lot of good too. When Maya and Maxi get back to their lives, things continue to fall apart for them—and it’s in dealing with these problems that Jackson shows her strength as an author.

In the first plot, Maxi wants Christopher’s child, but she’s frustrated that he’s not part of the deal—as in marriage. Of course, he’s around for making the baby. (And yes, the sex is too good for them to seriously consider invitro fertilization.) Christopher clearly wants her too, but there are those very profound commitment issues.

In the second plot, Maya’s husband has strayed—not completely, but enough that any self-respecting person would be hugely upset by his actions. This is really the strongest storyline in the novel because it is the easiest for readers to imagine themselves having to deal with similar problems. There is a lot of pressure on Maya to simply forgive her husband including from her minister, but she’s upset enough that I couldn’t predict how the story would end.

The minister brings up another subtle strength of this story. These are people for whom religion and prayer is an important part of their lives. They are not preachy in your face zealots. They are everyday Americans who believe that God and religion have a place in their families. I thought this was a very well-done aspect of the story.

The narration was also very well done. Leon Nixon reads a good book, but I must admit to being surprised that a man was chosen as narrator when two of the three POVs were female. It makes me wonder if for the author, the Christopher storyline was the most important.

And I think that’s the key to why I liked this book so much, even though I have poked a bit of fun at it in this review. As I listened, it made me think—not deep profound thoughts—but about what was going to happen and whether I could imagine my high school class doing things like this. And when I am wondering that much about what a character should do, it tells me I’m really enjoying the book. I think you will too.

Alpha By Author

The Break Up Artist by Erin Clark and Lauren Lovely

In many ways this is a completely traditional and predictable romance. Woman meets man, they get interested, they grow romantic, a secret causes a rift, but loves wins out in the end. And on that level, it is really nothing to write home about. But the twist that makes this novel more interesting is that the sideline of the heroine, Zelda, as an anonymous internet personality who helps people who don’t know how to get out of their relationships. She’s “The Break Up Artist." Desperately unhappy people write to her with a list of everything that is wrong with the person they want to kick out of their lives, and Zelda writes a snappy email back that they can put their name on to sever the relationship. Many people, it turns out, just forward her letter complete with her signature, “The Break Up Artist,” so she is becoming a little bit infamous. There is also the impression that she is making money off of this, which is strange, since it’s basically a word-of-mouth business that started with a few flyers and she doesn’t charge.

Zelda seems to do this because she finds writing the letters cathartic and believes she is helping people. In a life that is basically falling apart, writing a break up letter or two each night reenergizes her. Her mother has just died and within a year her father married a former classmate of Zelda’s and unfortunately, there is lot of evidence that they have sex all the time. (And isn’t that a little creepy to think your parent is having sex with someone your age.) Her work situation for a marketing firm is unrewarding with her boss taking her ideas but refusing to give her any credit. And apparently the first thing every guy who takes her on a date wants to know is can she still have sex since she needs a wheelchair to get around.

So, her life sucks, and then she meets a wonderful guy whom she learns was the recipient of one of her breakup letters. I never really understood why this was a potential problem. After all, she only put into words what the ex-girlfriend told her. I think that on date number two, if I was Zelda I would have brought a printout of both the ex-girlfriend’s email and the breakup response and given them to Jake with a little explanation of how she got into doing this and then I think they would have quickly moved on. But there is no drama in my solution so of course she holds off until the ex-girlfriend decides she wants her ex-boyfriend back so she can spend his recent inheritance money. (That’s not really a spoiler. It was obvious it was going to happen right from the beginning.)

But Zelda isn’t me and she can’t solve things that easily (although she does solve her problems with her new “stepmom” pretty easily—and I think unrealistically). So we get a little drama which frankly makes the book more fun even if I think the idea embraced by so many in the book that the Break Up Artist is somehow evil was more than a little crazy.

You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harms

If you’re looking to get into the mood for Thanksgiving this year, this short novel by Kelly Harms is a great way to start. It traces a family through several Thanksgiving dinners, moving from tragedy to anger and finally to healing. The great strength is that Harms has created a family you will feel that you know. They’re instantly likable and very empathetic—which is important since you’re about to spend three Thanksgiving dinners with them.

The tragedy of the novel is the death by cancer of the protagonist/narrator’s best friend, who also happens to be her sister-in-law. When her brother begins to move on, the narrator is not ready to let him do so. This must have been the toughest part of the book to write because the new girlfriend (who admittedly has a laundry basket full of problems) is clearly trying hard to make a good impression and everything she does becomes another stroke against her in the eyes of our heroine.

Rather than make things come to an easy conclusion, Harms ratchets up the tension considerably, even as she cleverly lays the groundwork for the eventual coming together of the once-happy clan. It’s quite likely I’ll read this book again next November.

Let Me Be Your Motivation by Tay Mo'Nae

Let me start out by saying that I know that I'm not the target audience for this novel. Yet, the blurb about a woman (Jordyn) finding out at the altar that her fiancé (Mason) is already married and his wife is pregnant was such an emotionally powerful premise that I decided I had to read it. I think we can all imagine that scene playing out in a half dozen ways and I really wanted to see how Mo'Nae handled it.

The answer--it was all right--not great, but all right. Mason (the already-married-dirt-bag) is looking uncomfortable as the minister guides them through the ceremony and then his wife stands up and--you guessed it--gets mad at the poor woman he's just made a fool of, not him.

Unfortunately, I find that believable. I would have preferred a little more build up and I was shocked to find out that Mason had married the other woman only two weeks before, but the scene definitely succeeded in creating the emotionally damaged heroine that Mo'Nae needed for the rest of her story--but it's that story that really makes me question this author's idea of the perfect man.

Jordyn, our heroine, reeling from this horrible betrayal and being humiliated in front of family and friends, goes on her honeymoon without Mason where the very first night she gets blackout drunk. She's not a drinker to begin with and she's staggering when the "perfect man", professional wide receiver, Amir, encounters her, and feeds her more drinks. He then brings her back to his room where she sprawls her signature on a nondisclosure agreement she never reads, has very graphic sex with him, and then wakes up in the morning not remembering who Amir is or how she got there or really anything except drinking the night before.

She flees from the perfect man in shame. Wait a minute? The perfect man? The perfect man takes advantage of totally drunk women? I don't think that fits most of our definitions of perfection.

Jordyn, of course, ends up having sex with him again, and I feared that this novel was going to go the route of good sex equals fantastic relationship, but Mo'Nae finally got her author's feet beneath her and started developing a nice vacation-relationship with give and take between woman and man and some genuinely fun times. It was good to read and actually worked to make me believe that this couple had a chance despite tremendous differences in personality.

Then the two exes (Amir had just broken up with his longtime girlfriend) reenter the picture to cause more trouble. I thought that Amir's ex was well handled, but frankly I did not for a moment find Mason (Jordyn's ex) credible at all and can't understand why Mo’Nae didn't embrace the fact that she had successfully sold him to the reader as a Grade A Jerk. Trying to make him nice in the end was jarring, not credible, and not needed.

Overall, I think this story could have been truly great, but only comes out being okay.