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Staying Single coverStaying Single was the début novel of the short-lived Harlequin Flipside series. Like the later Next series, this was an attempt to incorporate, as the preface states, the best of chick lit with traditional romance. It promises edge, attitude, and fun along the way to happy every after. Prolific romance writer Millie Criswell wrote this, in 2003, and from the arrangement of the cover it’s clear that Harlequin was promoting the series first, the author second, and the title barely.

Francesca is a twenty-nine-year-old publicist in Philadelphia. She’s just walked out of her third wedding, and the groom’s step brother Mark, who she has never met, has vowed to get revenge by seducing her and then leaving her at the altar. Structurally, this is a great plot – it sets up a reason for the meet, provides the hero’s motivation for pursuing a relationship, has a deadline, and a big conflict.

As a comic plot, it’s a little dark, but as soon as the characters meet, Criswell gives them other motivations and goals – they each find the other extremely attractive. When they end up in bed, the sex is mind-blowing (as usual). The final conflicts, where Mark must tell his brother-in-law of the relationship, and confess his original intentions to Francesca, are weakened by our knowledge that Mark and Francesca obviously love each other, and that his brother-in-law and Francesca were obviously not that close.

Edgy seems to mean over the top. Francesca has no interests apart from dating. She lives with Leo, a charming gay man with oodles of money to buy her clothes and send her on trips. She suffers from an overbearing mother who wants to see her wed, and shares secrets with her sister, who has a wild dating life. Mark is a freelance photographer, with lots of time on his hands, who somehow has the funds to send his family out-of-town and rent an apartment in Francesca’s building, as part of his plan. Despite all this edginess, there are odd traditional romance flourishes. For example, though Francesca is not a virgin, she never “consummated” her relationship with her third fiancé, and Mark is the first man to give her oral sex.

This was a well written story, but the lack of character development and stereotypical supporting characters made it light, low stakes, and easily forgotten. It would work very well as a film, where you can enjoy the snappy dialogue and fast pace, without enough time to consider the lack of depth. It’s probably also a tribute to the author that I could so easily visualize much of the action. Another case of like the author, not so keen on the series.

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