Love in Reality
While not perfect, after several not so great books, Love in Reality was like a breath of fresh air. If Magdalen Braden’s third book, Blackjack & Moonlight, due to be published later this year, is as good as this one, then I can understand why it was a 2012 finalist in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® contest.
Twin sisters Libby and Lissa normally don’t switch places often, but after Lissa falls in love and her boyfriend moves back to Alaska, she just has to follow him. The only problem is that she promised Barney, a family friend, and owner of County Cork, a local neighborhood bar, that she would help him out while his wife, Sheila, has chemotherapy. Lissa didn’t have to do much arm twisting to convince Libby to take her place. Libby loves Sheila and Barney as much as Lissa, and they wouldn’t have accepted her help because of her heavy law school schedule.
The subterfuge has gone surprisingly well. Oh, their Uncle Jack, aka Blackjack McIntyre, Philadelphia’s U.S. Attorney, is on to them but he is willing to keep quiet for now. So Libby is unprepared when Rand Jennings, a producer from the reality show, offers the person he thinks is Lissa a spot on The Fishbowl.
Though it was mindless garbage, Libby and Lissa watched the previous season of The Fishbowl together last summer. Nevertheless, Libby has no intention of doing anything as idiotic as joining a backstabbing television program. But after her summer internship falls through, she re-thinks her position. She is really attracted to Rand, and while she doesn’t expect to win the million dollar prize, the money is appealing too.
In order to prove that he can make it in the entertainment industry on his own without relying on nepotism, Rand Jennings painted himself into a corner. Because his father, Alan Jennings, is such a force to be reckoned with in television, Rand decided to work in the one area his father hated – reality television – even though he longs to work in films. His egotistical and self-important boss, Marcy Edelstein, has Rand visualizing the perfect cinematic ways to kill her off. Mafia-execution-style while satisfying, is too quick, Psycho-type stabbing is more like it but a bit awkward, since he assuredly doesn’t want to picture her bony, Botoxed body naked in the shower. He has had enough of her abuse, but knows if he leaves, she will only pick another whipping boy. At least his father’s reputation keeps her somewhat in line.
For this year’s show, Marcy has Rand crisscrossing the country looking for her warped visions of the ideal contestants such as the dimwit, band geek, Girl Next Door, and the codger – all the while she demeans and belittles him via test messages. Lissa’s audition tape seemed to have potential, and at times she does seems like a scatterbrain, but other times, her quick wit and intelligence shine through. He reluctantly accepts that Marcy would reject her as being too normal. However, with that thought, Rand comes up with his ultimate revenge. What if he highjacked the show by casting educated, successful people? Since Lissa is his inspiration for not only this vision but also his new screenplay, he wants her on the program so he can continue his research. At least that is what he tells himself, downplaying how attractive he finds her.
Libby and Rand’s secrets do cause some awkwardness in their relationship, but they are more gauche about the simmering attraction between them. And of course with Libby in lockdown, and wearing a mic all the time, there is no way that they can act on this temptation – or can they?
I found both Rand and Libby delightful because of their authentic characterization. They are written as normal people, albeit in a unique situation. And the relationship – attraction, flirting, making out – develops in a conventional fashion. And while both make some missteps in the relationship, I never felt that they acted in a “too stupid to live” manner.
I found the theory that twins allow the other to own a certain attribute interesting. Libby is the smart, quiet and more responsible one, while Lissa is more gregarious, daring and unpredictable. But when Libby is impersonating Lissa she assumes some of those qualities. But then again maybe she doesn’t. Maybe they are more similar than they think.
The other characters are pleasing too. As of right now I do plan to read all the books in the series, especially book three. Blackjack McIntyre, even with very little page time, captured my imagination.
Toward the middle of the book, the story dragged a little. While I was pleased with the progression of Rand and Libby’s relationship, I didn’t find their circumventing the contest rules all that riveting. And I felt sort of lukewarm about the realty show angle.
Also I found Rand’s motivation for staying on the show weak, as well as his “being the son of a famous man is so difficult” attitude. His strained relationship with his parents is too easily tidied up.
Still I am very pleased to have discovered Ms. Braden’s books. Unearthing stories with smart, intelligent characters in plausible plots can seem like a scavenger hunt, but sometimes you win.