by Liz Ireland, contemporary (2001)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7115-9
Husband Material will be a keeper if it is 200 pages shorter. This is one rare contemporary romance that balances emotional poignancy with effective humor. The characters are real, the kids are real, and they face real problems. As real as romance novel problems can be, that is.
Riley P Lombard III is a psychic millionaire. No, he's not Dionne Warwick's stepson. Riley does a normal business job, but he has some mild divination skills. He first meets besieged single mother Kellie Sumner when he tries to photocopy some documents in Kellie's print shop. When his car does a fender bender on her battered Toyota, he gets a vision of her as his bride.
Oh, no! He is not ready to be married yet. See, he's not just your average rich man playboy. He's not even a playboy. He's just a man who once foretold the horrifying accident his wife and daughter would die in. He actually "lived through" the accident, and he wasn't sure if he could bear to suffer such pain again. But, as he will tell Kellie, he sees Kellie's daughter Tina, who is at the same age as his daughter would have been, and he starts to live again.
Kellie is a more familiar heroine. A lousy divorce a year ago (alimony - what's that?), ex-hubby ran through pretty much all the money, surly teenage boy who refused to believe that Daddy was really gone, blah blah blah. Still, Kellie is an intelligent heroine at first, as she tries to do her best. However, when Riley starts sending her lavishly expensive gifts (a Lexus to replace her Toyota, a grand piano for Tina, advertisement blitz for Kellie's shop), Kellie refuses to let her life be turned into a charity case. But when she and Riley keep bumping into each other, sparks fly.
The best thing about this story is Riley and Kellie's chemistry. They really do click. Their repartees are natural and the way they and those kids relate to each other is just perfect and heartwarming. It's not pure sugar, it's also filled with ups and downs. The author also has a way with description. My favorite has to be Kellie's first time in an expensive gourmet store and marvels at the sheer variety of cheese available. It reminds me of my own embarrassing attempts to go posh, and I have a great laugh. Using simple scenes and characters with down-to-earth problems I can relate to, the author easily persuades me to invest emotionally into these characters.
Riley is such a sweetie-pie too, as he sweeps Kellie off her feet despite their best attempts to keep their feet on the ground.
Alas, the author seems to lose the plot after the 100th page, and Riley and Kellie start to go around in circles. They will stay friends. They kiss. No, they must stay friends. He decides to pair her with his friend. Kellie's really stupid sister gets more limelight and I start to feel a headache coming on. By the last ten pages, these two are still at square one: "Let's just still be friends after a failed matchmaking session, a one night thing, too many kisses, and after it is so clear we are so right together".
Hello? Wake up, you two nitwits, and start doing something, damn it! By the last page I am so annoyed with the horrible inertia and lack of rhythm and pacing in the relationship that I almost forgot everything good about Husband Material in the first place.
Husband Material - the characters are the some of the best I have ever read, and for a while, I am so involved in their story. It's just too bad, no, very bad that the story soon loses all steam, falls into a standstill, and outstays its welcome. The first half is pure magic, the second half an excruciating test on my patience. Balance that out and this book is an above average book that fails to reach the lofty heights of greatness. A spectacular failure, if you will, but oh, what a story while it lasted!
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