April 2008, Series Romance
Harl Blaze #389, $4.99, 209 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373793936
There's a reason I'm attracted to Harlequin Blaze titles, and it's not the sex; it's the settings. They are more likely to be unusual, urban, and contemporary (in the truest sense of the word). French Kissing is set in Paris during fashion week - give me that over a ranch any day.
Kimi Renton looks forward to couture week in Paris every year. As a confirmed fashionista and magazine editor, she knows her designers and revels in all the pageantry and trappings. When she discovers Holden MacGreggor at an event, she knows he's completely out of his element. One look at his rumpled Eddie Bauer ensemble and she knows he needs some serious help.
Holden is in town because he's a private investigator and photographer. He's been hired because beautiful couture creations have been disappearing before they even hit the runway, and he wants to get to the bottom of the mystery. Posing as a fashion photographer, he hopes to gain the entrée he needs so he can get to know the power players and solve the mystery. But before he can do that, he must look the part. Kimi takes him shopping and buys him real clothes so he can fit in at all the fashion functions, and she tutors him so he'll fit into her world. Meanwhile, both of them find out that they are perfectly compatible with their clothes off.
There is a secondary subplot featuring Kimi's father, an Italian nobleman who had a college fling with Kimi's mom. She's never met him, but he is in Paris with his daughter (Kimi's half-sister) to buy her a wedding gown. His presence creates a stir in Kimi's life, and Holden helps her through it.
What worked here? Well, the setting was fun and unique. I've never been to Paris, but I felt like a got a nice tour with Holden and Kimi, who find the time between important events to truly enjoy the city. The fashion/shopping angle added to the unique setting and kept the plot moving forward.
I also liked both Holden and Kimi, quite a lot. They are the classic "opposites attract" hero and heroine, and both of them have to give a little as they get to know each other. What nice about it is that they also respect each other; though there's some good natured ribbing about clothing choices, each appreciates the finer points of the other's personality and lifestyle. Kudos to Ms. Warren for writing a heroine who enjoys clothes but is not a self-centered twit. The love scenes are in the same fun, casual spirit as the rest of the book, and I found them both sexy and believable.
So what doesn't work? The mystery plot, and the whole ruse that has Holden posing as a fashion photographer. Considering the magnitude of the theft, it seems like any undercover operation would be run by the government, not some guy off the street. Holden's need for decent clothes is a cute set-up, but it really underscores the believability issue. These dresses are worth thousands of dollars, and they (I never was sure who "they" were, by the way) throw a totally unprepared guy in there?
When the real villains are revealed, they are not any more creditable. One of them is involved with another character in the book, a nice person who would be sure to have noticed that she was hooking up with a low class thug.
That said, French Kissing mostly falls into the "pleasant diversion" category. It's not perfect by any means, but the setting is fresh. It may not be ultimately very satisfying, but fashonistas may find it worth a look.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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