by Kasey Michaels, contemporary (2004)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7119-1
While I am reading the first few chapters of This Can't Be Love, I'm sure that this book will be a keeper. While my estimation of this book has plunged down a few notches by the last page, I still find this book one of the more enjoyable, wacky takes on Mary Poppins. The heroine is smart and funny, the children are bratty yet adorable, and the story brims with fun, maybe too much fun, because if there's one thing I find lacking in this story, it's romance.
Margaret "Molly" Applegate is a rich woman. Or she will be, if she can stay employed for ten months this year, or she will not inherit the mountain of money from her late parents. Yes, Molly is the usual "poor little rich girl" type forced to do things by an unreasonable will, but the author does a smart thing by downplaying the little rich girl part and ramping up Molly's easy-going outlook in life. For one, she wants the money for herself - no nonsense about wanting to donate everything to charity, no siree. If she can't stay employed for more than a few weeks, there's no clause in the will saying that she has to be employed by a single employer for the whole ten months. So in the last few months Molly has been everything from a professional dog-walker to a lingerie model. Now she's a stand-in daycare manager of sorts for her cousin Jane (who is off on her adventure in last year's This Must Be Love) after quitting her job at a newspaper.
It is while closing up for the holidays that she meets Dominic Longstreet, a Broadway producer who is so hot that everyone wants to be in his good books. Dom is mad that the daycare centre is closing up when he's already paid for three months' service. His nephew and niece Tony and Lizzie drive him up the wall and he is not looking to having them back under his care when he's trying to pound his latest musical into shape. Molly sees another opportunity to stay employed and hops along with Dom, Lizzie, and Tony as their new nanny. With feuding primadonnas, two leads that can't make up their mind whether to hate or love each other, and the musical shaping up to be a disaster, the last thing Dom expects when the crazy nanny crashes into his life is love.
Molly could have easily been a ditzy idiot if Ms Michael hasn't instead written this character as just someone with a short attention span and without any professional training who as a result doesn't really manage to stick to her jobs long. While she lacks training at being a nanny, Molly doesn't automatically turn into an all-sage, all wise fount of maternal wisdom. Instead, she treats the kids as, well, kids, remembers herself being a kid and hence understands and respects the kids when they do the things they do, and as a result, the kids adore and listen to her. Am I making sense here? I'm sure readers that encounter the scenes between Lizzie and Molly will understand. There's a Lorelai-and-Rory-Gilmore vibe to these two's relationship, only Molly is more grown-up than Lorelai Gilmore can ever be.
The children are adorable. This book is one of those cases where the children actually complement the story instead of being intrusive as obvious plot devices. Lizzie and Tony may be a means for the author to get her two main characters to meet, but these children don't act cute and they have their own priorities and these don't include matchmaking Uncle Dom with Nanny Molly. They act their age and they remain so throughout the book. I find them quite adorable and the relationship between them and Molly is one of the best reasons to read this book.
The secondary characters - the prima donnas and the man who loves one of them - provide some moments of frivolous fun that often have me chuckling. The prima donnas never bleed into being Other Women caricatures, although they aren't exactly angels either. Likewise, this book is filled with very amusing one-liners. Ms Michaels actually manages to sound close to being hip when it comes to urban lingo and comedy.
What I don't actually get though is why Molly will want someone like Dom. He's such a big crybaby that spends nearly the whole book complaining and whining about how things are making his life difficult. He lacks what Molly has in abundance - a sense of humor. It's obvious that Dom is supposed to be the Von Trapp killjoy in this story, but the author has Dom acting like a big baby for so long that I am hard-pressed to understand what Molly sees in him other than (supposedly) mind-blowing sex and a great body. Molly is intelligent enough to love her for herself and never letting Dom get to her about being born with a silver spoon in her mouth (another reason to dislike Dom here - he acts as if Molly being born rich is an excuse to think lowly of her). She is also intelligent enough to let no one treat her badly. I love the scene where she tells off a secondary character who claims to love the primadonna only to walk away because he's too self-absorbed in his own heroic posturings to see that he's hurting the woman he claims to love even more.
The only things that make her look stupid are her ending up as Dom's wife and oh yes, that stupid love scene where she tells Dom that it's okay if he doesn't have a condom because she's on the Pill. But I blame that last one on the contrivances of the romance genre, where apparently you use condoms only to avoid a pregnancy - the fact that Dom is a playboy in the show business and who knows where he has been sticking that thing into don't matter because STDs don't exist in Romance Novel Land. May I ask romance authors to please don't even bring up condoms if they are going to go down that No STDs Ever Existed route because I really hate being jarred out of my reading when they do that?
The romance is lacking because Ms Michaels rarely focus on the relationship development between Molly and Dom. This story is filled with amusing and sometimes wacky antics by everybody and anybody, which make for some very enjoyable reading nonetheless, and when there is some quiet time between Molly and Dom, these two are lusting after each other. As a result, I don't see anything actually going on here except lust. Factor in Dom's wussy crybaby act and I get a painfully chemistry-free love affair. I feel that Molly could have so much better than sticking with Dom.
Still, plenty of effective comedy and a larger-than-life utterly fun heroine allow This Can't Be Love to be a very entertaining romantic comedy. Apart from the romance, everything works wonderfully to my delight. This Can't Be Love can't be wrong for me in that respect.
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