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Only in My Dreams by Eve Byron
(Avon; $5.99; PG) ISBN 0-380-79311-3
**
It has taken me an almost unheard of 6 days to read Only in My Dreams. I kept falling asleep and dreaming about things better left mentioned only in my dreams (wink-wink). That is unfortunate because there is one particular element of author Eve Byron's book that should have fascinated me into staying awake the fact that the heroine is far from the run-of-the-mill perfectly beautiful Regency goddess. She is simply, big. Tall and a little on the meaty side, the Baroness Winters, Lorelei or Merry to her friends, has carved a unique niche for herself in society. Thanks in part to a close friendship with George "Beau" Brummell, she's one of London's most famous "characters," quick to poke fun at her size before anyone else can do it for her. But Adrian Rutland, the American-raised Viscount Dane, takes one look at this magnificent woman and loses his heart. He spends the next 350 pages trying to prove it.

Lorelei's size is in sharp contrast to the usual long and lithe or perfectly petite creatures that inhabit romance novels. But because her size is an issue from the beginning, the author is loath to abandon it through the course of the book and further explore the heroine's character. This leads to a rather one-dimensional device being stretched woefully thin across material that is devoid of any real conflict or action.

Adrian does his best to one-by-one dispel Lorelei's fears of inadequacy and abandonment, but nothing seems to work. A handsome shipbuilder who wears spectacles and is often preoccupied with matters of a nautical nature, Adrian intrigues Lorelei with his persistence and his candor. Page after page (after page, unfortunately) of Lorelei's inner thoughts reveal her attraction as well as her complete distrust of the affable Adrian. But he is determined to prove himself different from the social hangers-on who cozy-up to Lorelei because it is the thing to do. Adrian takes matters into his own hands and announces that the two will be married. Lorelei goes through with the wedding though she remains unconvinced that Adrian won't wake up one day and walk out the door.

Maybe because, like so many American females I could stand to lose a few pounds, I became more and more uncomfortable with Lorelei's complete and utter distaste regarding her appearance. Lorelei is a wealthy woman who, as far as we are told, does nothing useful with her money or time except take in stray dogs and make sure they get good homes. She doesn't like the way she looks but instead of dealing with it and moving on to some sort of fulfilling endeavor, she chooses to parody herself and make herself the object of ridicule. She uses her quick wit and intelligence only to belittle herself. That the hero is able to see through Lorelei's well-disguised self-pity is a testament to his affection and patience. But my 20th century sensibilities screamed with a desire for the heroine to release her core inner strength and find acceptance within herself.

The issue of Lorelei and Adrian's love takes a backseat to action only when the two embark on a voyage to rescue Adrian's cousin, who has been impressed on a British ship. Finally, the reader gets to see Lorelei do something with her talents rather than bemoan her bad genes and doubt Adrian's affections. Though it occupies only the last third of the novel, I found this to be the most readable portion of the book except for a rather fanciful confrontation scene that read like a 19th century intervention of wounded "inner children".

Fans of historical accuracy may take interest in the author's inclusion of one of the era's most famous faces and her depiction of him as something more than just a foppish Regency caricature. The Beau Brummell portrayed in Only in My Dreams is still a trend setter and confidant to future king, but he is also a sensitive and caring friend. This may or may not have been the case. But it brings added dimension to a real-life figure often featured, or at least mentioned, in Regency-era romances.

I consider myself a proponent of romances that "break the rules" or at the very least feature characters that aren't direct from central casting. But I was disappointed by Only in My Dreams and its ultimately bland depiction of a heroine who could easily have become a trend-setter in her own right. An overweight heroine about time! One who chooses to view her size a detriment and therefore considers herself to be without value no thanks.

--Ann McGuire


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