By The Book
Whatever else a book has to recommend it, I personally never trust a book in which the heroine is described as having long legs, “that look like they started at her neck.” Not only is this a physical impossibility, it is horribly cliched and reminiscent of the dark ages of romance.
Ellen Webster, the long-legged heroine, is tired of being too nice. While running yet another errand to the grocery store for an elderly neighbor, Ellen spies a rack of mini-books while waiting in the checkout line. You know the kind of book I’m talking about. The little books that promise everything from “How to Lose 100 Pounds in Ten Days” to “How to Toilet Train your Dog”. Ellen is intrigued by one entitled, “Have It Your Way”, and tosses it into the pile of groceries.
Jonah Blake, U.S. Government Intelligence Employee, is back home in Quincy, Indiana, running his ailing father’s camera shop, which happens to be directly across the street from the bank where Ellen works. He has been secretly lusting after her for about a month and has been trying to figure out a way to meet her when fate intervenes. Ellen’s grocery bag breaks as she is walking to her car. Jonah, who must have been lurking in the shadows, is at the ready to assist Ellen in her moment of need. They meet and it is love – and lust – at first sight.
The mini-book premise is unique and the “Have It Your Way” theme is emphasized throughout the book – every chapter starts with an excerpt from it. Jonah and Ellen’s relationship and how they interact with each other is another strong point of the book. They confront their feelings straightaway with no holds barred, which I tend to like in my romance novels. What I didn’t like was the oft-times hokey language and how women, in general, came across as stupid.
Some of the purple prose that turned me off: Ellen and Jonah share a particularly long, passionate kiss. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I thought so too until Ellen thinks to herself that the kiss is so hot that it just might melt her . . . panty hose. Another one of my “favorites” is when Jonah and Ellen first meet and she thinks that his hazel-colored eyes look, ” . . . like a pair of mystical stones from another time and place.” Ick!
Alcoholism is incorporated into the story, which is commendable. What isn’t commendable is how women are depicted in the process. Ellen’s brother is an alcoholic who owes a bundle to the local loan shark. Ellen is portrayed as an enabler, but comes across as just plain stupid in her efforts to help her brother. Her sexual awareness quotient is also nonexistent. As Ellen prepares for a big, romantic evening with Jonah she tosses a sexy nightgown and an extra toothbrush into her purse. She doesn’t seem at all concerned about birth control or sexually transmitted diseases. Ellen is worried that she is too nice but is that any excuse for ignorance? I guess I prefer the romances where the hero and heroine deal with realities of being sexually active.
By the Book was initially very charming, but its strengths were far outweighed by its weaknesses. While the straight-forward behavior of Ellen and Jonah was a plus, the purple prose, along with the perpetuation, however inadvertent, of potentially damaging feminine stereotypes, turned me off.