Maggie By The Book
It’s hard to tell exactly where Kasey Michaels is having more fun in this second entry in her Maggie series: Shining a spotlight on just how annoying a a suddenly-come-to-life Regency hero might be or skewering the world of romance writing, publishing, and – dare I say it? – online romance reviewing. Either way, Maggie By The Book is an amusing follow-up to its very worthy predecessor and a terrific second entry in a series I am growing to love.
Former mid-list historical romance writer Maggie Kelly has struck it big with a hardback series of Regency-set mysteries starring the devastatingly sexy, exquisitely condescending, supremely self-confident Alexandre Blake, the Viscount Saint Just, and his trusty sidekick Sterling Balder. Through the magic of Kasey Michael’s imagination and her alter-ego’s incredible skill, Maggie has so painstakingly created the characters of Saint Just and Sterling that they have suddenly come to life – most specifically, in Maggie’s New York apartment. Of course, the harsh reality of the situation is that devastatingly sexy, exquisitely condescending, supremely self-confident Regency heroes are one thing when happily occupying your fantasies and an another entirely when they take up permanent residence in your apartment. Our story opens when Maggie is staring at her computer facing the dreaded Chapter Ten – the chapter in which Saint Just makes love. While writing a hot love scene is hard enough on any day, the task is downright impossible when the object of Maggie’s lustful prose can – and does – suddenly pop up and look over her shoulder and purrs, “Good gracious, woman. I see I’m having an interesting morning.”
When Maggie receives an email from a close friend urging her to attend the upcoming convention of WAR (We Are Romance), the association of romance writers she helped to found, Maggie’s reluctance to attend is overruled by the masterful Alex who is convinced he can win the Cover Model Contest. Alex’s plan for the prize money is one even Maggie can get behind: he’ll use his winnings to rent an apartment for Sterling and himself.
So, with Sterling and Alex in tow, Maggie soon finds herself dodging rose-covered bullets from Felicity Booth Simmons, best-selling hack and Maggie’s former friend, and trying (and not always successfully) to make nice with writers, agents, publishers, and online reviewers. Matters take an unexpected turn when a series of nasty pranks disrupt the festivities, ultimately resulting in the murder of one of the conference’s most prominent attendees.
There is fun to be had on quite a few levels here. Of course, the interplay between Alex and Maggie is nothing short of delicious. Ms. Michaels is quite right in pointing out that our Regency heroes might not play quite so well in 2003, but, then again, a man with Val Kilmer’s lips, Sean Connery’s voice, Peter O’Toole’s artistocratic nose, and the body of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western days is – darn it – hot on any day. And, even more infuriatingly, this hero knows it.
It’s also fun to try to identify the players. Frankly, Ms. Michael’s dedication – in which she flatly declares that fiction is fiction and if you think you’re in the book, you’re not – is a shade disingenuous when one of the characters is a savage online reviewer who goes by the name of Lady Twitters. Okay, so the character isn’t the reviewer we all know and love (enough said, you’ll see when you read the book), but the name itself is clearly either a tip of the hat or a knife in the ribs. You decide.
Some of the characters here do seem to be a bit superfluous. Hey, we all know why attractive policeman Lieutenant Steve Wendell is hanging around both this book and the last, but even with that caveat, he still hasn’t advanced beyond the throwaway character we all know him to be. On the other hand, Sterling, Alex’s trusty sidekick, is both fun and funny and a indispensable asset to all the festivities. I have only one real complaint: Maggie’s crustiness is beginning to edge into unbearable territory. Frankly, curmudgeonly is fine – I’m a bit crusty myself – but Maggie is relentlessly irascible. I hope Ms. Michaels allows her to lighten up a bit in the next book.
Aside from that quibble, by all means, treat yourself to Maggie By The Book and its prequel, Maggie Needs An Alibi. Kasey Michaels is onto something fabulous here.