Getting It Good!
Rhonda Nelson has a fresh, vibrant, often bawdy writing style that’s a perfect fit for the Harlequin Blaze line. It’s always nice to find an author with a distinct voice, and I wish I could recommend Getting It Good! based on that alone. But this book exhibits the same problem I’ve found in the other books of hers that I’ve tried: it’s too short to give her ideas the space they need and deserve.
This is the second in Nelson’s Chicks in Charge series, which began last month with Getting It! The main characters from that book (whom, I suppose, were merely getting it okay instead of getting it good) begin this one by making a bet. Zora Anderson-Hatcher is the founder of Chicks in Charge, or CHiC, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women. She has one steadfast rule: she will never hire a man. She’s so open about the policy it seems like she’s just asking for a discrimination suit, but I managed to get past it. One night over a round of dirty poker, Zora’s husband Tate bets her that if he wins the hand, she has to hire his friend Ross Hartford for one week. Of course Zora loses, but it’s not such a bad thing. She’s determined to fix up Ross with her friend Francesca “Frankie” Salvaterra, and forcing them to work together seems like the perfect way to do that.
Ross and Frankie can’t stand each other. The only way Zora can get Frankie to work with him is to remind her how much he’ll hate having to take orders from her. The only way Tate can get Ross to agree to the arrangement is to blackmail him, offering him a business account he desperately wants only if he’ll work at CHiC for a week. Frankie is the resident sex expert for CHiC’s magazine, which started out as an eZine and just turned into a monthly glossy. She’s being sent on a national tour to talk about her column, and Zora assigns Ross to go with her as “The Duke of Desire,” offering the male perspective on sex. Of course, the time they’re forced to spent together has the intended effect, and the attraction they’ve both been trying to avoid boils over.
This is certainly an entertaining book. Ross and Frankie are two strong characters with distinct personalities. It’s a hip, clever, sexually-charged read that’s really fun. Nelson has a great voice and writes with a lot of flair. I liked the concept behind Chicks in Charge and the book’s unabashedly open and guilt-free attitude toward sex, established from the very beginning with Zora and Tate’s game of Dirty Poker, where they play for things like fellatio (complete with fellatio chips). In many ways, this is exactly what a Blaze should be: fun, cool and sexy.
The book’s problems are its length and speed, with too much happening in too little time. The book clocks in at 249 pages, but it’s clearly much shorter than that. Like most of Nelson’s books, the text looks like it’s been typeset for the blind. The print is huge. Yet the story has about the same amount of plot as a regular Blaze, so it all happens much faster and is developed less. The result is a book that often feels like it has attention deficit disorder, not to mention some serious mood swings, whipping back and forth from serious moments, sexy banter, character development, and hot scenes so fast that none of it is able to gain much traction or make the impact it should. Nelson hits all the right character notes and says all the right things, but it’s all delivered so quickly that it comes across as shallow and not entirely believable.
Frankie, for instance, has some serious issues with men, to the point where it seems like she hates them early on. In the first chapter, the author writes: “In fact, as a species in general, Frankie didn’t have any use for men at all. In her experience they were all untrustworthy, thoughtless, scheming, dick-driven bastards–and her father had been the worst of the lot.”
It’s no wonder she feels this way, since her father is pretty much a monster. He was so determined to turn her into the son he always wanted that when she was a kid, he took her to his barber to receive a boy’s haircut, chopping off her beautiful long hair in the process. When she cried at losing her hair, he savagely whipped her for humiliating him in front of his barber by “crying like a little girl,” which is exactly what she was. I thought that was pretty horrifying, but right after sharing this terrible memory, Frankie went back to ogling Ross’s body as though it were nothing. Her father is also a serial philanderer, which contributed to her issues. Yet by the end, she’s pretty much over them, all too easily when I couldn’t see how that was the case. Nelson tries to sell it, but doesn’t take the time to develop Frankie’s character growth in a believable way.
Some books are breezy. This one’s like being caught up in a hurricane, plot points flying fast and furious. The characters go from antagonism to lust to love with neck-snapping speed. There’s a minor subplot (if it can even be called that) about one of Frankie’s CHiC friends who hasn’t been able to “get off” in a while, except it’s so briefly mentioned and haphazardly handled I couldn’t figure out why it was here at all. Ross also has a stalker, a woman he compares to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. The scenes with this woman are terrifyingly real, yet they appear so abruptly and over so quickly they’re just jarring.
Despite some of Frankie’s initial abrasiveness (including jumping to all the wrong conclusions about Ross), I liked these characters. But what’s the point of good characters if the reader doesn’t get to spend some time with them? This book is so frenetically paced that the reader isn’t afforded the chance. There are some amazing moments here. Ross takes on Frankie’s father, a scene that should have many readers thinking, “Wow, what a hero.” Ross has an alcoholic dog that he rescued from the pound that is nicely used in the story. The glimpses into Ross and Frankie’s childhoods are touching and emotional, very effective. But the moments are blowing by too fast to make the impression they should.
Getting It Good! is a good story, but it was too fast and underdeveloped to be as satisfying as it should have been. Rhonda Nelson is a talented author who I’ll definitely continue to read. I have high hopes that eventually she’ll really let her great characters and strong writing have the space and development they deserve.