Chasing Rainbow

Letting Loose

As Rachel Lee

After I Dream

Before I Sleep

Caught

A Conard County Reckoning

Cowboy Comes Home

A Fateful Choice

Involuntary Daddy

Mistletoe Kisses

Nighthawk

 
Catching Kelly by Sue Civil-Brown
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80061-6
**
Catching Kelly strikes me as a book that suffers from trying too hard. It could have been a light, fun little story about an unlikely pair of lovers, with some matchmaking relatives thrown in for flavor and color. Certainly, that’s what it tries to be. Instead, it overdoes itself to death, and in the end, it’s hard to care about a story in which nothing seems real.

Let me give you an idea of what I mean. A smart-alecky, wise-to-the-world heroine might be engaging. A rude, childish heroine is not. Colorful secondary characters might add a dose of fun. Overly broad, cartoonish secondary characters do not. Sly, clever humor might make me grin. “Wacky” antics and “zany” adventures do not. So when Kelly Burke heads home for the first time in eight years to face off with her supposed nemesis, I was in for a bumpy ride.

Home for Kelly is Paradise Beach, Florida, where her fabulously wealthy extended family includes a grandmother, two aunts and two uncles. Understandably, Kelly has always felt overshadowed by these outrageous relatives, who can be easily categorized as the glamorous ex-movie star past her prime, the colorful ex-circus performer, the flamboyant opera singer, the free-spirited artist, and the eccentric musician. (See what I mean about cartoonish characters? And I haven’t even mentioned the drunken butler, the cross-dressing handyman, or the temperamental cook).

Even after eight years of living on her own and starting up her own successful web design business, Kelly still feels suffocated by the thought of going home to her famous and decidedly wacky family. But home she must go, because a charlatan is evidently trying to bilk the family of its fortune.

The charlatan is Seth Ralston, a famous ex-football player who’s currently staying on the Burke family’s private island as he recuperates from a knee injury and deals with the aftermath of a nasty divorce. Kelly gets an e-mail from her aunt Mavis (opera singer) hinting that Seth is helping the family “sort out [its] finances,” and she’s off like a shot, ready -- without a shred of proof or any reliable evidence -- to take down the con man who is out to hurt her family.

Now, that’s understandable, I suppose -- she’s just protective of her family. But if you want to catch someone in a dishonest act, you’d better have a little more patience and discretion than Kelly Burke. Rather than trying the quietly-getting-to-know-you style of investigation, she hits town (or rather, island) with both guns blazing, and the two have a less-than-friendly initial encounter. Later that same night, she decides that “if she didn’t start being pleasant to Seth, there was no way she was ever going to find out what was really going on with him.”

My thoughts exactly, but her resolution to be pleasant lasts about a page and a half, and the next thing you know, it’s “I know what you’re up to, mister, and you’re not going to get away with it.” Very smooth. Seth reacts to her suspicion with amusement, and the tone of their relationship is set: she insults, he deflects; she accuses, he amiably denies.

Even when Kelly’s suspicions begin to ease, she isn’t much nicer to Seth. Why he puts up with such a defensive, unpleasant, childish person is beyond me, and it’s just too much of a stretch to believe he’s falling for her. All I know is that I was supposed to believe it, and I was supposed to fall on the floor laughing at the antics of the relatives and the servants, and I was supposed to be highly entertained by self-inflicted prison stays and elephant rescues and alligator wrestling. But it all just left me cold because I could almost hear the strain of trying creaking through every page.

More effort should have gone into building likeable characters and crafting realistic encounters between them. That might have made for an enjoyable story with a satisfying romantic relationship. Catching Kelly does not.

-- Ellen Hestand


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