A Second Chance At Love
by Janice Sims, contemporary (2001)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-153-7


How will you forgive a man who left you pregnant and slink off to marry someone else on his parents' orders? For Toni Shaw, the best revenge may be taking Charles Waters back as a lover - strictly a lover. Then Charles pops the question. Will Toni marry him? Toni sees her life flash before her eyes and decides to put some distance between herself and Charles. But Charles is determined not to let his woman get away again this time. If he has to prove to her that he is no longer that weak, sniveling Daddy's boy he was, he will do it.

That's the premise of Janice Sims' latest novel, A Second Chance At Love. And get this: Toni's 51, and Charles is a few years older. Who says fiftysomethings can't have fun?

Unfortunately, Ms Sims can't seem to make up her mind whether she wants to put Charles and Toni in the limelight or one of the many other couples in this story. Let's see, Toni's daughter Georgie is trying to have a baby with her hubby Clayton. Another daughter, Bree is trying to get her man Dominic to commit. A researcher, Solange, encounters the mysterious Rupert Giles (no, not that Buffy librarian hunk), and sparks fly.

There's also a subplot involving thefts of fertility goddess statuettes.

Well, I can read A Second Chance At Love as a family saga instead of outright romance, but the Georgie/Clayton and Bree/Dominic pairings can be tedious because all they mostly do in their quiet times is to make love, make love, make love, and make more love. Charles and Toni are way more interesting than those two youngster couples gettin' it on like there is no tomorrow. I want more of Charles and Toni, and there is just not enough of them here, much to my disappointment.

That's because in Charles and Toni's story, the author's writing style truly comes to life. The gentle weaving of Toni's memories from the past to the present are beautifully done. From the moment of Toni's first meeting of Charles to the painful break up, Toni reveals what a strong and remarkable woman she is. In a way, the weaker Charles is unworthy of her, but heck, if this woman wants him, who am I to disagree with her? (A delightful plus: Toni isn't just waiting like some celibate nun for Charles to come crawling back to her - she is in a relationship with a man before she sees Charles again and it is made clear that the relationship is sexual in nature - can you imagine? Wow. And for a 51 year old woman too!)

Charles has some work to do. He thinks a manly "Woman, I'm comin' to get yoooou!" macho attitude will win her back. Fat chance. Toni is torn between her heart and her pride. Can she really marry this man without feeling as if she has betrayed her family and even herself? For this second-chance relationship to work, Toni will have to learn to let go and forgive. I wish the author has spent more time on Toni's soul searching instead of Bree/Georgie's happy bed bouncing or Solange's rather whiny "I can't have kids" pity party.

But this story reads like a beautiful work of art. When it comes to family stories, this author sure knows her stuff. Toni and her daughters are remarkable characters and their men... er, they're nice guys. The family interactions are some of the finest I've read, liberally sprinkled with humor and warmth. The first few opening paragraphs alone are worth the price of this book.

Hence, A Second Chance At Love is a very, very strong just-missed-the-keeper-grade book. If only this book has a clear direction - whose story does it really want to focus on? - instead of running all over the place and hence shortchanging every remarkable character in the story, I will have a keeper in my hands.

Rating: 84


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