Letting Loose by Sue Civil-Brown
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-72775-7
****
I have just come to the profound but undoubtedly far from original conclusion that nothing is more individualistic than one's sense of humor. What led me to such deep thinking was the experience of reviewing two humorous romances in a row. As I evaluated my response to these two books, I realized that while many (if not most) readers would find themselves "rolling on the floor, laughing out loud" at Alice Duncan's Secret Hearts and Sue Civil-Brown's Letting Loose, all they called forth from me was an occasional giggle and a frequent slight smile. But then, I am a dour and phlegmatic Scot who can't tell a joke, who dislikes the Three Stooges, can't stand Jerry Lewis or Laurel and Hardy, and prefers the self-deprecating humor of Bob Newhart.

Yet, although broad humor is not my cup of tea, I think I can recognize when it is done well. And, Sue Civil-Brown does it well in Letting Loose.

The book opens with the hero, Paradise Beach, Florida's police chief, Blaise Corrigan arresting the heroine, Jillian McAllister on suspicion of drunk driving. You see, new arrival Jillian had run over a mailbox - Blaise's mailbox while avoiding a pesky dog in her driveway. She smells like a brewery, having been doused with a beer by an over-friendly customer at the cocktail lounge where she was working. And since her job has left her with blisters, she can't pass the "walk the straight line" test. Jillian passes the breath test, but this is not an auspicious way to meet one's handsome next-door neighbor.

Jillian is not really interested in meeting anyone. She has fled Massachusetts in the wake of a nasty divorce from her philandering spouse. She has come to Paradise Beach to start over and hopes to open a bookstore in town. The next to last thing she wants is to get involved in a new romance. The absolutely last thing she wants is a reconciliation with her erstwhile husband. Yet, suddenly, to her dismay, Fielding Wainwright is on her doorstep, demanding a reconciliation. What's worse, his mother arrives in town, moves into Jillian's house, and insists that they should all become one happy family once again.

Blaise is likewise a survivor of the divorce wars and has no intention of becoming involved with another woman, especially not one with Jillian's baggage. But there is something that keeps throwing them together. That something (or somethings) is Rover the pesky dog, Mary Todd, the mischievous social leader of Paradise Beach, and a compelling mutual attraction. But before love can conquer all, the dogs of Paradise Beach must be saved from the machinations of Fielding (Rover bit him and he wants revenge) and the corrupt mayor. And Jillian must discover why Fielding is trying to woo her back into wedlock. The opportunities for humorous situations are endless, and the author takes advantage of them all.

As the cover indicates, Sue Civil-Brown is also well-known category and romantic suspense author Rachel Lee. Lee fans who pick up Letting Loose expecting anything like her traditional stories will be shocked and surprised. But if those readers can enjoy a lighthearted romantic romp, it will be a pleasant shock and surprise. And they will, like me, be impressed with the breadth of this author's talents. Hey, even a dour, phlegmatic Scot enjoys a slight smile and an occasional giggle, although we wouldn't be caught dead "rolling on the floor, laughing out loud."

--Jean Mason


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