Warner Books, May 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
College professor Molly Shaw lives a secretive double life. To her friends and family she is the highly respected Professor Shaw of Belden College, but she is also the enigmatic, reclusive, best-selling historical romance writer, Sandra St. Claire.
Carter McKee, a journalist and her closest friend, needs Molly's help. Carter once helped Molly get her first manuscript to a publisher and now he's calling in a big favor. He wants Molly to pose as a jet set vixen to help him snag an interview with billionaire businessman Jake Berenger of Gold Bay Resorts. Jake is a well known playboy and Carter thinks by giving Molly a 'Victoria's Secret' makeover he can use her as the bait.
After Molly reluctantly agrees to go along with Carter's outlandish scheme, they schedule a three week stay at Berenger's Resort in Antigua. She submits to a makeover and coaching by Carter's sister, Elaine McKee Culpepper Von Reinholz Newberg, the author of How To Meet And Marry The Rich. But when the Gold Bay Resort sends flowers to their cottage to welcome the reclusive Sandra St. Claire to their island, Molly realizes Carter has outed her. Molly looks great, but unfortunately for Carter, she's a terrible actress, and soon Jake is on to her scam. However, Jake may have another use for Molly.
Jake Berenger is being hounded by the tabloids because an ex-girlfriend is publicly airing her anger over their breakup. The constant stream of negative publicity is impacting Berenger's stock prices, but Jake refuses to defend himself. He hates the press, and except for using them from time to time, he won't agree to talk to them...until suddenly Berenger becomes the focus of a hostile takeover attempt. He can avert disaster if he stabilizes the stock prices. The consensus of his mother Cora, and his PR people, is to present a more stable family picture rather than his wild playboy image. Jake's answer is to produce a fake fiancée, Sandra St. Claire, to help revamp his image. Now Jake and Sandra are the focus of a PR campaign to save his business and the sparks soon start flying.
MAN TROUBLE is an offbeat romantic comedy filled with quirky characters. At first this plot seemed an unlikely set up, but soon the honesty and appeal of the main characters began to shine through. I had to question why Molly would go along with such wacky schemes, but readers will soon come to see she is living a repressed life as a college professor and longs to break out. Jake is practical and hard working despite his playboy image, and becomes an anchor of sanity in an insane world. His hidden depth and this author's refusal to turn him into another wacky character grounded the story. I grew to like these characters and found MAN TROUBLE very entertaining.
Melanie Craft's personal life adds an interesting mix to the release of this novel. In December 2003, she married Larry Ellison, the billionaire software tycoon of Oracle Corporation. You have to wonder if some portions of this story line weren't tongue-in-cheek tales of life in the fast lane. The scenes involving public relations and image spinning had an authentic feeling about them. I imagine life in the spotlight could very well be just as slick and manufactured as she portrayed it to be.
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