Outside In and Entitlement.
Given Courtney Thorne-Smith's history as an actor, it's no surprise her foray into fiction writing would be mediocre. There was never anything offensive about Thorne-Smith, who starred on Melrose Place and Ally McBeal, but there was never anything remarkable about her either. Blond, square-faced, curt or sweet, she never found a role with depth or shading. Perhaps rather than being the fault of her agent, it's a problem with Thorne-Smith's outlook, which is decidedly bland--at least if measured by her debut novel, Outside In. Despite the parallels between Thorne-Smith and her protagonist, Kate Keyes-Morgan, who stars on a nighttime soap called Generations, Outside In is a preposterously implausible Lifetime- channel narrative that's poorly rendered and studded with criminally bad attempts at humor. Keyes-Morgan's husband, Hamilton, has married her to transform her into a product, and she's devastated when his affections drift. At work her nemesis, Sapphire Rose, gets more tempermental by the day, so our pretty, dull heroine confides her problems in her makeup artist/BFF Paige, who always has salty wisdom to dispense. Each plot development can be anticipated at least 10 pages beforehand, but is sadly so terrible when it arrives, you'd rather watch five hours of Melrose Place standing on your head naked than finish the book. � For more robust intellects, there's Entitlement by Jonathan Bennett, a brisk Canadian page-turner about the complex relationship between a poor boy and the wealthy, famous family that adopts him. At boarding school Andy Kronk meets Colin Aspinall, the son of a Kennedyesque family. Colin falls in love with Andy, and when Andy's father dies, the Aspinalls take him in. Like Charles Ryder among the Flytes in Brideshead Revisited, Andy is both one of the family and forever outside of it. He's finally decided to shuffle off the privilege the Aspinalls thrust upon him when a biographer starts digging around in the Aspinall legend. At the same time, the family--including Fiona, Colin's sister--determines they want Colin back from his purgatory, and Andy feels compelled to get involved again. Entitlement embraces the Brideshead themes, but with suspense and drive; I read it in mere hours. n