I’ll admit to loving any romance that has a university somewhere in it. It’s probably my being a librarian, but being surrounded by the world of conjecture and hypothesis is easily the sexiest thing (you know what they say about your biggest erogenous zone being your brain). When I read the NetGalley description for Anne Browning Walker‘s debut novel, The Booby Trap, and realized that it involved a Ph.D. candidate named Bambi working in a Hooters-like atmosphere and trying to teach a rich playboy about the danger of making assumptions, I thought, “Hmmm…this could either be really good or the worst thing ever.”
It’s really good.
It takes a talented writer to build the characters sufficiently to make this work, and new fiction author Anne Browning Walker does it well. The setting of Boston is well-drawn (it’s my favorite city, so I’m super picky) and the characters, including secondary ones, are fleshed out while experiencing real conflict. This is a very impressive debut book!
The unfortunately named Bambi Benson is in fact a women’s studies Ph.D. candidate trying to make ends meet while starting her dissertation interviews with the other women who work with her at The Booby Trap, a sports bar featuring scantily clad beautiful waitresses. Luckily for all of them, the owner of the bar is a sweetheart of a man who has known Bambi since she was eight, but even his influence isn’t enough to stop the annoying comments and come ons by the men who come for sports and “atmosphere”.
Trip Whitley comes from a prominent Boston family, albeit one that owns an extremely high-end dating service. Heading for thirty, his family is a little tired of Trip taking advantage of the never-ending stream of hot women who come through expecting to land Trip, the highly visible cornerstone of their marketing campaign. He’s incensed when a PR consultant tells his father that he’s becoming a liability and he needs to have a visible relationship with the same woman for nine months to not damage the business.
Pissed at the decision, Trip heads to the bachelor party for his best friend and co-worker, Pat, which happens to be at The Booby Trap. As the bourbons continue to flow, he realizes the blond, busty waitress named Bambi is the perfect female to flaunt as payback for his family’s manipulation and he propositions her with an acting arrangement. She’ll pretend to be his girlfriend for the next nine months on a series of public dates and he’ll pay her a generous amount for her time and trouble.
Bambi is incensed at the offer; it’s very clear that the semi-drunk Trip has written her off as some kind of bimbo who would be willing to do this publicity stunt, but the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes she needs the money to get to London where an important women’s studies conference is being held. The head PR consultant figuring out that she isn’t as dumb as she’s acting is icing on the cake – they are both a little fed up with Trip’s behavior and realize he needs a reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Anything that smacks of a revenge theme usually makes me uncomfortable, but the fact remains that Trip initially does nothing to find out more about Bambi, making it quite easy for her to continue her ruse of being vapid and shallow. The themes of Bambi’s intellectual interests and the scenes with her thesis advisor and department head are excellent and add a nice view of both the heroine’s prodigious brain and insight into her ambitions.
It’s easy to see that Trip is reaping what he has sown with his family. He’s been a jaded bachelor for so long that no one takes him seriously, despite his MBA, and he’s feeling dissatisfied in the family business as a result. Hiring Bambi is a rather immature act of revenge (further building on that theme in the book) and karma comes home to roost with a vengeance for everyone concerned.
The emphasis is not on the physical side of Trip and Bambi’s reactions since the sex scenes are rather tame and perfunctory (this is at the level of a Harlequin Presents novel, not a Blaze romance) but rather on the emotional journey of the hero and heroine outside of the bedroom. I think if Browning Walker would consider seeing how scenes of physical intimacy can advance the emotional plotline while they occur, she would find even more of a readership who like things a little closer to the Blaze end of the scale! I did feel like there was a loose end regarding what actually happened with Bambi’s stepfather – I’m still freaking out not knowing if she was assaulted or manipulated into a situation and it would greatly help me to know what age she was when it happened. And what was the deal with Trip’s ex-girlfriend Connie? Did she really want him back or was she working with the paparazzi to sabotage his relationship with Bambi? I swear, I’ll be awake at 2 am tonight thinking about this.
Those extremely minor notes aside, The Booby Trap represents a fresh and unique novel to hit the world of romance fiction. After all, any contemporary romance that manages to footnote the Transcendentalists and deal with the grabby hands of sports bar patrons is carving a niche that didn’t previously exist.