Take My Breath Away
by Tina Donahue
(Brava, $14.00, R) ISBN 0-7582-1078-7
This book will only take your breath away if you read it while climbing several flights of stairs.

Cole Ryder is an ex-Marine who works as a film consultant on military operations. Based on that experience, Cole has written his own action screenplay and plans to direct the film himself. Before production begins, however, he needs advice from Thaddeus Leigh, the “globally recognized expert in wilderness survival.”

Cole goes to Thaddeus’s island paradise, only to find that Thaddeus is retiring and turning the survival expert gig over to his niece, Ariel. Before she arrives, however, Thaddeus warns Cole that, while it’s inevitable that Cole will come to “dearly love” Ariel, he’s not to “romance her, nor seduce her, nor lead her on, nor touch her in any way.” If Cole fails to obey these instructions, Thaddeus vows that Cole will “never make another film or work in this business or any other again – not even the Marines.” Ariel is 27, by the way.

Obeying Thaddeus might be a bit tough, since watching Ariel bend over causes Cole to fantasize about licking his way up her legs and develop an immediate erection. In fact, the condition of Cole’s penis is mentioned so often in this book (he gets a woody about every other page or so) that it’s almost a character unto itself. Cole is 33, by the way.

Inflated egos run in the Leigh family. While Thaddeus is apparently in charge of world employment, Ariel isn’t just the “go-to person for survival skill research,” she also fancies herself a film expert. Within hours, she’s extensively re-writing Cole’s screenplay to fix everything that’s wrong with it, including adding characters, re-naming everybody and making wardrobe suggestions. Then she informs him that, in order to ensure his story is absolutely authentic, they must go into the rainforest (or jungle, the author doesn’t seem to be sure which) for three days and live the script (per Ariel’s rewrite) as the hero and heroine escaping from the bad guys.

Which sounds like it could be a really good story. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that Cole and Ariel are supposed to spend three days fleeing from the forces of evil, in actual fact they don’t seem to be headed anywhere. Their first stop for the night is actually within sight of Thaddeus’s compound (filling in as badguy HQ). After that, they just wander around, mentally drooling over each other’s bodies (‘butts’ get nearly as much word count as Cole’s package) while Ariel tells Cole which plant to use as insect repellant and how to figure out north and south using his watch. This is not a plot – this is an author killing time because she has nothing to say.

And they can’t have sex yet, according to Ariel, because “we haven’t even reached a location where we can build our beds or a fire, or made traps so we can catch fish, or collected fruit to supplement our diet, or located a dependable source of water, or cleaned our clothes or made—” They’re supposed to be fugitives, for pity’s sake, not Swiss Family Robinson.

Their endless conversations are inane and repetitive and there is absolutely no sense of connection between these two people. There’s also no sexual heat in spite of the relentless mental lusting. I’ve given this book an ‘R’ rating for sensuality because the sex (which we wait a really long time for, by the way) is described in graphic language. But the sex is mechanical rather than erotic – just two people rubbing pertinent body parts together – and some of it is actually perfunctory. (“He laughed, then gulped more air and found the strength to take her yet again. Once that lovemaking was over, he finally pulled out and sprawled faceup on the ground.” Wow, I feel like I’m right there with them.)

There is no character development; Ariel is a bossy know-it-all and Cole thinks with the head in his pants. After page 40, I started praying that the island was home to a heretofore undiscovered tribe of cannibals. No such luck.

What are the people at Brava thinking?

--Judi McKee

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