The Hidden Heart
by Candace Camp, historical (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-922-6

Our heroine Jessica Maitland is a homeless, penniless woman. However, rescue comes when her late father's superior General Streathern asks her to be the companion and megananny of his great-niece Gabriela. No sex is involved, by the way, not between General and Jess and definitely not between Jess and Gabriela.

Well, the story starts with our General coughing his way to his grave. He has the obligatory nasty nephew trouble, and this nephew is a pedophile while the wifey is a slut. All that are missing are floating speech bubbles over Leona and Hubby proclaiming "Cardboard Villains Here!" When the General dies, Jess and Gabriela flee to the house of Richard, some Duke or other who is suffering from clinical depression. Streathern has named Richard the guardian of Gabriela, you see.

Richard is really depressed, and he fully intends to join his late wife and kid. Needless to say, he isn't pleased to see Jess and Gabriela charging in. But when Vessey and Leona, Cardboard Villains of Skank, cause trouble, Richard will have to ally himself with Jess. Love will happen, of course, even if love, in this case, happens in a most unconvincing manner.

Now, I like Richard. When he's depressed, he really is depressed. This is no "I blame you, you, you, and you for my screwed-up life" whine, he really has lost it. He wanders around early in this story in a dazed funk of deep depression, so much so that I am salivating in anticipation of a dark, dark hero. Alas, what happens next is our Ms Sunshine Jess here, Megananny and Superhousekeeper, Mary-Poppining our hero in an amazing Barney-like happy trip, abetted by the happy, happy household staff who just wants to see Master Dick here happy. Hold hands, people, and dance around the fat purple dinosaur!

One day, someone will have to sit me down and tell me how these heroines with their perpetually distressed life circumstances can pull off that supernanny, talk show shrink, and megahousekeeper stunt out of the blue. Who taught them these things? Are they born that way, to suffer, mother, and clean forever and ever amen? Richard, my promising Dark Tortured Hero, turns into a poster boy of dumbed-down armchair psychology. All you need is hugs and kisses, Full House style, and voila! Depressed? Go pop a virgin for an illuminating trip of soul-searching and self-discovery.

I'm not annoyed by the use of villainous skank stuff to pad the sex quota of this book as much as by Jess the Sunshine Cow here. Seriously, she is amazing. Innocent yet sexually responsive, penniless yet an expert in economizing, sheltered yet a keen shrink, homeless yet a super housekeeper - seriously, is there anything that this walking dichotomy can't pull out of her contradictory bum?

The Hidden Heart has a potentially interesting hero, but the annoying wonder-woman heroine and the lazy use of skanky villains make The Hidden Heart nothing more than an average and forgettable book.

Rating: 65

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