Love Sold Separately
Love Sold Separately gets a lot of credit for giving us a wildly imperfect lead – but it has some points subtracted for uneven plotting and characterization as well as unfortunate stereotyping that pulls down the grade.
Stoner actress Dana Barry has just been fired from her latest retail job (at a Hot Topic, for telling a customer he “wasn’t emo enough”) when her friend/manager Megan hooks her up with an audition for The Shopping Channel. Megan thinks slacker Dana would be perfect as a new on-air personality for them, and though Dana is uber-high as they rush downtown for the audition, she comes alive on camera and is soon on the air hawking sweaters, jewelry and salad shooters.
Dana’s life is in a bit of a disarray, what with her widowed father dating far below his age range (he’s in his sixties, his girlfriend is forty), and her shopaholic sister Chelsea continuing to be an otherwise-perfect spotlight -stealer, with her stable marriage and cute kid. But on her first day Dana manages to stumble onto a crime scene – the gruesome apparent attempted suicide of The Shopping Channel’s star host Kitty Todd, shot right in the head in her office. Kitty’s alive when she’s taken off in an ambulance but is soon dead, making Dana a useful witness. Her innate sense of curiosity results in her becoming deeply involved in the case – and developing an interest in assisting Detective Ari Marks, the head investigator. She’s also got a thing for her handsome camera operator, Lorenzo, a single dad who soon becomes the police’s chief suspect.
With all of the pressure Dana is under to perform and bring justice to Kitty’s case, will she manage to keep her job, choose between Lorenzo and Ari, and win her stripes as an amateur detective?
Love Sold Separately is more of a cozy mystery with a dash of women’s fiction thrown on top than a contemporary romance. Dana’s love triangle is mostly background to the investigation, so I did have to deduct some points for that, as it’s being marketed as a romantic suspense novel.
Otherwise, we have one wild, screw-up heroine to follow, and for some, her immaturity and irresponsibility will be hard to take. But I really enjoyed Dana’s outré ridiculousness and how she handled landing in a pot of jam that requires her to have a classy outer image while still being a stoner trashbag of a gal. I loved her. She may be a difficulty for others, but not me, though I didn’t entirely buy her altruism when she’d been introduced as immature, thoughtless and self-centered (and yes, I deducted points for that too).
The results of the mystery and triangle are less than easy to guess, as are the motives for Dana’s newfound work rival, Sherry. Most of the supporting characters are funny, except for Ollie, who falls into the Befuddled Foreigner category of characters. Meister never rounds him out nto a fully-fledged character, which is unfortunate because a big chunk of the plot rests upon his shoulders. Worse, the only notable character of color in the narrative is a Black executive whom the characters gossip about because he’s cheating on his wife.
Dana’s two romances take up too little of the narrative – and too much attention is paid to one of the pairings over the other, not giving enough time for the second to grow. Meister should have picked one relationship and stuck with it, because the notion that Dana would start dating the second guy after being with the first made little sense.
Meister has the talent to write something much better than this, and parts of Love Sold Separately work. But as is, it doesn’t have the perkiness needed to fly off the shelves.