All Shook Up

Baby, Don't Go

Baby, I'm Yours

Be My Baby

Bending the Rules

Burning Up

Coming Undone


Getting Lucky

Head Over Heels

Hot and Bothered

Just For Kicks


Present Danger

Shadow Dance


Playing Dirty
by Susan Andersen
(Harlequin, $7.99, PG13) ISBN 978-0-373-77589-7
Ava Spencer is our heroine with body image issues and a big chip on her shoulder in Playing Dirty.

Ava has had problems with her chubby frame ever since childhood, when her critical mother made her feel inadequate and heavy and every turn. In high school, Ava was lucky enough to have two very close, supportive friends to lean on. She needed them more than ever after a life changing incident with Cade, the boy of her dreams. Cade Gallari had never paid Ava much attention, but suddenly they are spending some time together after school, and being with Cade makes Ava feel good about herself for the first time. Teenage passion spirals and Ava surrenders her virginity to Cade on a special evening. Although her first lovemaking experience is both painful and brief, Ava likes Cade so much that she doesn't regret it, until the next day.

A popular friend of Cade's pays him for winning the bet of who can sleep with the fat chick in the cafeteria: in front of Ava and half the school. Ava's completely humiliated.

Fast forward to the present day, where Ava's in her thirties, she still thinks about that embarrassing incident, and has refused Cade's attempts over the years to apologize. Now, Cade is a very successful documentary producer with his own company and he needs to sweet talk Ava into letting him use her property as the location to shoot his new movie.

While she testily agrees because she needs the money, she also professionally accepts his offer of more money to act as his concierge. That means they'll be together nearly all of the time. Ava's determined not to show Cade any hint of vulnerability, but she sure doesn't know that Cade seriously regrets their high school drama. Cade's determined to get back into Ava's good graces, for another chance at the girl he's never forgotten, but Ava's not going to make it easy.

While there is a bit of a mysterious backstory involving Ava's inherited mansion in Playing Dirty, it's really Cade and Ava's tale.

I loved Cade. He's got just enough of the shame-faced, I can apologize for my mistakes boy in him, the rest of him is all man. A successful, self-made businessman with killer instincts and a bod to match, what's not to like? He also happens to be sensitive, kind, and hardworking. Unfortunately, Cade was pretty much the only good part in this book, but he was hard not to fall in love with regardless.

Ava - I see where Susan Andersen is having her come from, and while she has a few great aspects, there were so many annoying traits that I didn't like her. I loved that we have a full figured girl as a heroine. That's for sure. I understand that she has body image issues. I thought when it started out that it would be a great addition to the characterization. It wasn't, because Ava turns whiny, self critical and childish about it. So that kind of wrecked the great aspirations I had for Ava being a plus sized inspiration. Not only that, Ava has a prickly personality wrapped in a big dose of self pity. I really couldn't understand what Cade saw in her most of the time.

In the background, I found Ava's best friends bland, her family two dimensional, and there's also a bit about a backwards security guard adding "mystery" to the story that seemed to really interrupt the flow of the story.

I'm sorry I didn't like it. I wish Cade would have met his match in this book, but alas he's stuck with Ava and apparently happy about it.

--Amy Wroblewsky

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