Adrianne Byrd, Comfort of a Man (Arabesque, 2003)
I'm not a big reader of romances. (In fact, this will be only my fourth romance review since I started documenting such things in 1999.) Adrianne Byrd is a regular on a forum I used to frequent, so when she announced the publication of this one, I figured I should check it out. But feel free to take all that follows with a grain of salt; for all I know, this is identical to other romances in the same vein. All I know is, it ain't like any romance I've read before. Or much of anything else I've read before, for that matter.
Comfort of a Man, despite being burdened with something of a cumbersome title, is one heck of a good ride. It's smart, funny, incisive, well-paced. Oh, yeah, and sexy. Sexy as all get-out. The story revolves around Brooklyn Douglas, a real-estate broker from Atlanta, and Isaiah Washington, a sales and marketing rep from Austin. They meet during a trip to New York (Isaiah's for business, Brooklyn's for pleasure) and, through the various machinations of Brooklyn's friends and an optimistic bartender, end up having a one-night stand. (The process of getting from meeting to bed could have been lifted from a Bunuel film. Byrd knows how to keep the tension high by throwing in all sorts of ludicrous, but realistic, delays.) Due to (imagine big roll of thunder here) a series of coincidences, the two find themselves thrown together again the next summer, and from there, well, you know the drill. If it doesn't have a lot of getting together, pushing away, and ultimately a happy ending, it ain't a romance, is it?
Where Byrd differs from the Steels, Cartlands, Blakes, et al. Of the world is in two very important places: her characters and her realism. The characters to be found in Comfort of a Man are not your usual cardboard cutouts, but real, multidimensional characters that a reader can identify with, instead of the paper constructs one has to stretch to even empathize with. Also, while the coincidences require suspension of disbelief (oh, my, do they ever), the situations Brooklyn and Isaiah find themselves in once the coincidences are past are realistic. Uncomfortably so, at times, for someone who's been there, done that, and bought the (ripped!) shirt.
The book's flaws are few, and the majority of them can probably be attributed to an editorial staff who weren't quite diligent enough. A few cliches here and there, some typos and grammatical flaws. Nothing, though, that really stops the book's flow. A few of the minor characters border on the cardboard (especially Brooklyn's son, Jaleel), but they only get a few pages of screen time. (In horror novels, they'd be the folks walking around with "KILL ME" signs.)
I really never thought I would so unapologetically recommend... a romance novel. But there it is. *** ½