You Made Me Love You
by Neesa Hart, contemporary (2000)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80789-0


I have no idea how the author Neesa Hart does it, but she takes a plot right out of a middling TV-soap-hour-of-the-week material and still manages to make me keep reading without me seeing visions of Oprah Winfrey floating and cackling around me.

You Made Me Love You has all the right ingredients: a romantic single daddy (who also happens to be super rich and super successful in his career), a heroine who is into Dance and Children, the man's Tormented Lil' Girl who will blossom under our heroine's TLC, and whoa, a bitter child custody fight between our hero and his in-laws. All that's missing is some musical chip that plays some muzak theme when I open the book, like the way they make those musical greeting cards.

Eli Liontakis, the hero, is a breakthrough researcher in the field of cancer study. I think he must be the only scientist in the world, fictitious or otherwise, to have women everywhere going crazy at the mention of his name. Go figure, really, I mean, most people know the names of scientists by heart provided these scientists are either at least fifty years dead or these scientists discovered the DNA. (Even then, some people still think DNA is those horrid lil' things you inject to reanimate hungry T-Rexes, a heinous misinformation Steven Spielberg will have to a lot to answer for.)

Anyway, I digress. I do think it's cool that someone decides it's time scientists become sex symbols too. How about a female femme fatale with a test tube next time, huh?

Eli may be on the verge of finding a new treatment for cancer (alas, the author never even hints at the nature of this treatment), but he has enough domestic problems in his hands to keep him occupied. His daughter survived a horrible car crash that resulted in the death of his wife, but she witnessed her mother's death. Result? Trauma.

Eli believes that perhaps enlisting her for a dancing program in a private school may be a way to help her get over her trauma. While doing some scouting around, he sees heroine Liza Kincaid dancing and - play some uplifting sea wave sounds here - it's love at first sight. (Really - even Eli admits it openly, he's heads-over-heels.)

So as they slowly bring lil' Grace back to her old happy self, Eli and Liza also take time to hug and cuddle. The usual things happen - healing, marriage, win custody battle, and oh, happy family once again.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with such Hallmark stories, especially when Liza and Eli, while bearing some emotional baggages, choose to move forward and embrace life instead of playing the same old sad music on their players again and again. Liza was an abandoned child, but now she channels her energy teaching children who badly need some TLC, so that they would be better off than she was. Isn't she noble? Likewise, Eli was born low at the food chain, and he never fails to remind himself to always lend a helping hand to the poor. Isn't he noble?

There are very few things more wonderful than to read about genuinely noble people who lets their baggages motivate them to be better people. Indeed, Eli and Liza's relationship is wonderful to read, and because of that too that I choose to forgive Grace, that manipulative Hallmark kiddie figure.

But I must say it can get very distracting when the author mixes in elements of public child welfare systems and courtroom custodial fight matters, because when the characters are talking about these matters, they switch into shrinks-on-TV mode. Conversations seem to come right out of some pop sociology magazine or book, never actually blending well with the less formal conversations preceding or proceeding them. It's like me watching a rather above-average Hallmark evening movie with interruptions from scenes of an Oprah episode, say, Child Custody: What You Must Know.

That and some obviously (very obviously) manipulative scenes aside, You Made Me Love You is a pretty slow but easy read. Despite the baggages that sometimes threaten to overwhelm the story, somehow it manages to remain sunny always, thanks to Eli and Liz and their determination to live life with a right attitude.

Maybe Hallmark should make a movie put of this book. Hmm.

Rating: 81


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