Make Me Over by Leslie Kelly
(Harl. Tempt. #1004, $4.50, R) ISBN 0-373-69204-8
***
Part Pygmalion, part The Bachelor, Make Me Over is much like the reality shows it portrays. A little on the light side content wise, but strangely enjoyable despite itself.

Professor Drew Bennett has agreed to take part in a reality TV show based on his book "Beyond Eliza Doolittle", but only because the producers agreed to make a hefty donation to his favorite charity. He figures he'll offer lessons to a few country bumpkins and stay off the camera as much as possible. What Drew doesn't know, is that the producers intend the handsome doctor to be the prize.

Tori Lyons isn't exactly thrilled to be part of reality TV either. She only agreed to come on the show to fulfill a deathbed wish of her father to get some education. Trouble is her father ended up not dying but is still holding her to the promise. Tori would rather be working on cars and riding the NHRA circuit, so she figures she'll just make sure she's the first contestant voted out of the house.

All this changes when Drew and Tori meet. Drew sees something special in Tori, aside from her really great bottom. Tori has a thirst for knowledge and a hidden genteelness under her rough and tumble exterior. Of course she does. Anyway, the sparks. Tori is reluctant to let anything happen because of the secret nature of the show (the winner gets Drew) and doesn't want to hurt him. Still, the attraction is irresistible and the inevitable happens.

The main problem in this book is that everything is written with such broad strokes. The other contestants are stereotypes of trailer trash women. They're either strippers or incredibly stupid, sometimes both. Oh yes, their also all raging sluts who flash their breasts and toss their underwear at Drew at the drop of a hat. Tori, being the heroine, has to be different from them. So instead, the author makes her a caricature of a folksy country bumpkin. She likes auto racing, she doesn't like to wear makeup or dresses and she likes to say things like "Shew-ee!" and "high falutin'." After all she's from Sheets Creek, Kentucky. One assumes that's supposed to be clever.

Drew is your standard drop dead gorgeous, yet conveniently single academic. Do those exist in real life? He is a pleasant hero, neatly avoiding the rest of the trashy women in the house and forming a bond with Tori. The author gives the two of them plenty of time outside of bed to get to know each other, so the formation of their relationship is realistic. When they do get in bed, or in the greenhouse as the case may be, it's satisfying and hot. The reader can see these two people together and they're well matched in both areas.

There is a brief subplot involving producer Jacey Turner and her own reality love story, which I suspect was covered in an earlier book. It's nice enough and doesn't distract from the main story.

The reality show backdrop isn't as successful, but to be fair it's not really the easiest thing to get right. For example, it's doubtful that a camera operator would have one drink, let alone enough to get drunk thereby leaving the contestants unrecorded and free to have sex in the bathroom undetected. Still, given that the reality genre itself isn't very real, one can hardly fault a book for it.

So, despite its flaws, Make Me Over was an enjoyable book. It's fun parts and good love scenes helped overshadow the weaker aspects.

--Anne Bulin


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