Pandora's Box

Feet First

Leanne Banks
2005, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373770189
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Jenny Prillaman works in the design department of an upper-end shoe company, Bellagio shoes. When her boss checks into rehab, Jenny is suddenly thrust into a new position, leading the design team for Brooke Tarantino, a society belle who is getting married. Jenny is in charge of designing shoes for the wedding. As part of this process, she participates in a reality T.V. , show about the wedding. Both facets of her new position put her in close contact with Marc Tarantino, Brooke's cousin...Bellagio V.P.

Jenny boldy decides to throw caution to the winds and pursue an affair with Marc. He may be a little uptight, but he's rich - and hot! But after a steamy encounter in the butler's pantry at Brooke's home, both realize that their relationship may be more complicated. Marc is looking for a wife, and he doesn't think Jenny is his type. Jenny, on the other hand, discovers that her former boss embellished her resume, so she is working under false pretenses. She also discovers that perhaps there is no such thing as a quick, simple affair.

Blythe:   Leanne Banks has an extensive background in category romance. Of her nearly forty releases, I believe, this is just her third single title. I think I have a bunch that Sandi (our former technical editor) sent me. But I'd never read her at all until I picked this one up. Over all, I really liked Feet First. I think Banks has a humorous writing style, and I liked the characters. I found the business details a little havey-cavey, though. What did you think?

Linda:   I'm a long time fan of Banks and think I've read most of her category books. This book was very much in her subtly humorous writing style and typically the background can be a bit sketchy. This didn't bother me though, as the primary focus of the book stayed on the couple and their relationship. Honestly, I wouldn't have wanted them to get lost in a sea of corporate detail.

Blythe:   We refer to historical authors as writing "wallpaper history" - I think it might be fair to call this a "wallpaper contemporary". It does not stand up to close scrutiny at all; I essentially had to suspend all disbelief about the heroine's professional life - with regards to both the shoe company in general and the reality TV show in particular. I found that I enjoyed it enough that it mostly didn't bother me, probably because I liked the characters. However, I could see how it would drive some people absolutely crazy.

Linda:   I suppose if you really wanted to know how the shoe industry was run it might bother you - but I think if you were reading for a romantic contemporary love story, I think you will be quite happy. Banks is one of those authors, as is Jennifer Greene, whom I can always count on for an entertaining story and likable characters. I have read both of Banks' single titles and liked them. Moreover, I believe she's made a smooth transition to single title, which is not an easy thing to do. This book did not feel like a "padded" category book as some efforts by series writers have to me.

Blythe:  I don't think that I really wanted to know more about the shoe industry (unlike many - or maybe even most - women, I am not a big shoe shopper), but I think some semblance of reality is nice, and that was really lacking here. I didn't get much of a sense of how the company was run, or the feeling that it was a real company at all. I guess I prefer more of a Nora Roberts approach to stuff like this; I think she gives you enough detail to make it seem real, but not so much that you are bored. I know authors can err in the other direction, with characters that sound like museum guides and entire paragraphs that read like instruction manuals. When I reviewed one of Elizabeth Lowell's Donovans Gemstones series, for instance, I thought I was reading a cross between a boating instruction manual and a treatise on the amber industry. Finding the right balance is probably harder than we think sometimes. Anyway, I agree that this didn't sound like a padded category romance. Usually those are the ones with lame and predictable suspense plots. I thought the romance here was pretty solid, and Marc and Jenny spent plenty of time together. The got to know each other and fell in love in a way that was completely believable to me - even if the business side of the story wasn't. And to be fair, I would rather have a believable romance than a believable story about shoe designers. <g>

Linda:   LOL, I agree completely. Jenny was just a delight and reminded me of a character from one of Banks' books featuring a heroine who had been verbally abused by her family. Jenny's family of over achievers has belittled her to the point that she even looks at her remarkable artistic gift is just "doodling". I loved the hero, Marc also - his realization of what Jenny's life at home must have been like, as he watched the scene with Jenny's sister and his empathic ability made him a very cuddly alpha and I just adored him.

Blythe:   Jenny's sister makes the briefest of appearances, but she is a complete snot - and IMHO, a realistic one. It's completely understandable that Jenny preferred her surrogate family - her gay friend Chad, her neighbor Anna, and Anna's daughter.

Linda:   I loved Chad, a gay man who was not turned into a cartoon figure and was a believable best friend for Jenny. I also liked the secondary romance between Anna and Marc's cousin. This was very sweet and I hope we see more of this couple in the next book in this series. But, I want to mention with kudos for Banks the character of the "spoiled" debutante Brooke. This character could easily have been a Paris Hilton style bimbo and a complete caricature. Admittedly spoiled, Brooke is also a smart and savvy lady. I look forward to her finding true love with an alpha guy who will truly appreciate her for more then her money, social standing, and appearance. Brooke is a natural at publicity and her plans for the reality show were much better thought out then those around her - she knew her audience and how to play to them.

Blythe:   I liked Brooke, but I didn't like the reality show concept, at least as it was portrayed here. The whole concept confused me a little, even though it sets up some major plot points. Brooke is Marc's cousin, and she's chosen Bellagio shoes to design shoes for her wedding. Marc is a vice president with the company, and apparently the liaison for the show. The heroine gets thrown on at the last minute; she works under one of the head designers, but he's in rehab. Jenny gets invited to participate and goes along for the ride, designing Brooke's shoes, and appearing in various reality segments. But while Brooke was interesting, I didn't get what the point of the reality show. I guess it was supposed to be about her entire wedding - but then why were shoe designers intimately involved in the whole show? Initially I was confused because I thought the show was only about the shoes.

Linda:   I think it was a deal where Brooke got things for the wedding for free while Bellagio shoes, along with her dress designer etc., got lots of free publicity. I thought Brooke's reality show concept was believable it rather mirrored Trista and Ryan's wedding on ABC. ABC paid for everything and got lots of things free for the loving couple in return for exclusive rights to the wedding. I remember shows where Trista shopped for her gown and trousseau, and I assume all of that was either secured as product placement for a fee, or was donated for the free publicity.

Blythe:   I didn't watch that, but I am not a "never watch reality TV" snob. I plead guilty to watching most seasons of Survivor and The Amazing Race, and even to watching Rob and Amber's (Survivor couple) wedding, which was apparently like Trista and Ryan's. I could see the call for this type of show, but I really didn't get how it worked and why Jenny and Marc were so frequently on it. I guess the sleazy producer constantly hitting on Jenny was in charge of it, but the whole thing just confused me.

Linda:   I think that Banks did assume a basic familiarity with the structure of reality shows by the reader. The whole concept worked well for me, but then I am a sucker for romantic reality shows. <g> I loved Trista and Ryan's wedding series (from The Bachelorette) and I loved the denouement of Feet First's reality show storyline with a clever twist that was true to both Brooke's and Jenny's character. I liked the relationship between Jenny and Brooke a lot and I think Brooke realized Jenny was perfect for Marc long before he did. This book was lots of fun and my only relatively small quibble is one we have voiced before: the constant horniness of the couple before they couple! It began to drag for me about halfway through the book and their hot sex at the party was kind of a relief. Poor Marc must have been in constant pain with his Johnson at the ready for most of the book LOL.

Blythe:   I kind of liked the sex, and liked that the book was on the hotter side. Lately it seems like lots of books are warm and lots are burning, but fewer are in the hot range. I thought this struck a nice happy medium. I really liked the sex scene in the butler's pantry - especially the fact that Jenny didn't come, and wasn't afraid to tell Marc so.

Linda:   Yes, I loved that scene and poor Marc's chagrin when he realizes he had most of the fun <VBG>. I liked the sexual level of this book also - the scenes enhanced the story and not the other way around. I have read several books lately (Romantica/Erotica, admittedly) in which the story is merely a framework for the sex. I personally prefer more fully developed characters and plot (not that I don't enjoy an occasional hot book).

Blythe:   I think the fact that I bought into the sexual relationship is one of the things that made the book work for me (in spite of the stuff I liked less, like the reality show/shoe business). Banks' humor also worked well for me; her style actually reminded me a little of Susan Andersen, who I also find funny (even though she writes a different type of book). But what did you think about Jenny's doctored resume with the faux design school credentials? I should be clear that Jenny was not the one who doctored the resume herself - her former boss did it. But the deception hangs over her for most of the book. Jenny is nervous about it and I couldn't help being nervous myself.

Linda:   Yes, I think Jenny was rightfully nervous about it and the result when it came out was honest - most people would lose their job for doctoring their resume. I cut Jenny some slack because she didn't even know about it until Marc mentioned her design school background. I could relate to not wanting to own up to the deception and giving up the opportunity of a lifetime. A real dilemma was presented in an honest way, IMO.

Blythe:   Since you've read so many of Banks' books in the past, it sounds like you will be keeping up with this series as well. I'm not sure if I will - I was interested and entertained, but I don't know that I feel the need to read anything else about these particular people. However, I'd like to give some of her series romances a try. Do you have a particular favorite or group of favorites?

Linda:   Yes, I will definitely read her next book, I am assuming Brooke will be the main character? But, I hope we get to see lots more of Jenny and Marc. As far as past books I highly recommend the How To Catch A Princess series with The You Can't Make Me Bride, The Trouble Maker Bride, and The Five-Minute Bride. I also like A Date with Dr. Frankenstein and The Lone Rider Takes A Bride, in which the heroine underestimates her motorcyclist hero and must go to great lengths to get him back. It was a nice switch reading about a girl letting down a guy and having to grovel to get him back. It's been years since I read these books and I still remember a lot about them, which is always the sign of a good writer. Some of Banks' recent books have been great too, especially the Dumont series with some fun royalty - a nice fantasy world for sure. I also liked her single title Some Girls Do, which actually made it onto my comfort shelf.

The real thing with Banks is that she really creates great characters that are memorable and books that one doesn't mind picking up a second time. Heck, after talking about these favorite old series books, I may just have to dig them out for a reread. <vbg>

Blythe:   I'll have to give some of those a try. Linda, next month it's your turn to choose what we'll be reading. What have you picked out?

Linda:   Next month we will be reading Surrender To a Wicked Spy by Celeste Bradley. Bradley is a new-to-me author, although I have several of her books in my massive tbr pile, it will be fun to actually read one.

Blythe:   Bradley is new to me as well. What's funny is that I really thought I had read her already...and then I realized I was confusing her with Cheryl Holt. I am looking forward to trying her as well. Happy reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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