Beauty Queen

The Dangerous Gentleman

The Devil's Love

The Ruthless Charmer

The Secret Lover

Wicked Angel

Wedding Survivor
by Julia London
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20631-9
This is the second book by this author that I’ve reviewed recently and a pattern has definitely emerged. Both feature a gruff, likable hero with more sense than all the other characters put together; a self-centered, not terribly bright heroine; a silly situation that strains my personal ability to suspend disbelief; and swiftly paced writing that pulls the reader along, regardless of how you feel about the other stuff.

Marnie Banks lost her job and her six figure salary when the dot-com company she worked for went bust. Now, she’s decided she wants to be a wedding planner. Not just any wedding planner, mind you, but wedding planner to the stars, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, planning their nuptials and dating their “A-list stud friends.”

When she overhears at a wedding trade show that Vincent Vittorio and Olivia Dagwood – “the two biggest stars in the universe” – are remarrying, she just knows this will be her big opportunity. She’s never actually planned a wedding on her own before, but she’s done “puh-lenty of apprenticeships” so she feels totally up to the job.

Fortunately for Marnie, bringing off the wedding is in the hands of a company called Thrillseekers Anonymous. TA, the “premier L.A. boys’ club” caters to celebrities who like their sports extreme and their vacations out of the limelight. It was started by four lifelong friends as a way to get paid for indulging their own fun and games. They’re horrified at the prospect of having to deal with all the frou-frou wedding nonsense, but, well, sometimes you just have to go where the money is.

Eli McCain loses the game of rocks-paper-scissors by which the T.A. partners make their business decisions, so it is his job to hire the (shudder) wedding planner. Once that’s done, he will plan and lead the canyoning expedition by which the bride and groom will reach the remote “dale at the top of the San Juan mountain range” where they’ll be married. (Canyoning includes “riding waterfalls and rappelling down rock faces or jumping in Alpine pools so that they could slide down a water chute to the next foaming pool, only to climb out and up the next rock and do it again.”)

The T.A. brain trust has decided that an unknown wedding planner would be ideal for the occasion, because it has to be completely secret. Then they “audition” the hopefuls by asking them to climb a rope. Marnie can’t climb the rope, but she is the only wedding planner who even tries, and she gets the job.

So, obviously, we’re not dealing with an exactly realistic situation here. On the other hand, the author does a very, very good job of showing us how someone like Marnie gradually learns the difference between the fantasy world she creates for herself and the reality she actually lives in. Although the book is lighthearted, Marnie definitely loses her rose-colored glasses at the hands of the two spoiled movie starts.

Unfortunately, the reason it takes so long is that Marnie is one of those perky twits who doesn’t listen. “She hated it when people – okay men – talked to her as if she were a turnip.” But it never occurs to her to wonder why it happens so often.

Eli does have a completely grounded perspective on dealing with wealthy celebrities, and he does his best to help Marnie avoid the more hurtful pitfalls, which made me like him. But because their growing relationship is told to us mostly in physical terms I found the romance unconvincing. This was not helped by the fact that Eli is avoiding female entanglements like the plague after being left at the altar a year ago. This felt contrived and false, partly because Marnie is clearly nothing like his starlet ex-fiancée, and partly because it’s such a romance cliché.

Based on two books, I venture to suggest that this book is entirely in Ms. London’s style. If you’ve read and enjoyed her in the past, this will be right up your alley. My alley, I’m afraid, goes in a slightly different direction.

-- Judi McKee

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