Third Time Lucky by Claire Cross
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12979-8
*****
Claire Cross has dabbled in a little bit of everything, most notably in the time travel and fantasy genres. Read Third Time Lucky for yourself and see if you don't agree that Cross has found a secure niche in writing contemporary romantic comedies. This book is hilarious.

Thirty-five year old Nick Sullivan fled Rosemount, Massachusetts, and wandered the world - literally - for fifteen years. He made no true friends nor did he give anything of himself away to another person in all of that time. Leave nothing behind but a footprint is the motto Nick lives by. He takes his credo seriously, refusing emotional closeness with anyone.

Nick's way of life is put to the test when he is called back to Rosemount by his estranged and eccentric grandmother Lucia. Lucia is angry at Nick for lying to her fifteen years ago, as well as for staying away all of this time, so the ornery and feisty matriarch of the Sullivan clan decides to teach her wayward grandson a lesson he won't soon forget. Lucia stages her own "death" (Cross carries this off much more humorously than it sounds!) and Nick is sweating it big time, figuring he'll be the one who ends up taking the rap for her murder...just as he had taken the rap for another crime he didn't commit fifteen years ago.

Distraught and uncertain what he should do, Nick turns to Phil, a person he hasn't seen in over fifteen years and the only true friend he has ever really had. In some ways Phil hasn't changed a lick, but in other ways she's changed big time. Gone are the frumpy sweats and the extra pounds. In their place are business suits and designer skirts that show off killer legs up to here. When Phil agrees to help him just as she had all those years back and they end up spending all their time together, Nick has to rethink his motto. For once, a footprint just doesn't seem to be enough of an impression...

Phillipa "Phil" Coxwell has loved Nick Sullivan for years. Every time he enters her life, he changes it profoundly and always for the better. The first time, Nick taught her how to love herself. The second time, he taught her how to be true to herself. Both of the lessons, however, were hard won, as Nick has a tendency to up and disappear when emotions are running high.

And now he's in Phil's life for a third time and she isn't certain she can handle it. She mounts all her best defenses and determines not to let Nick Sullivan steal her heart again, but when push comes to shove, there isn't much Phil can do besides hang tough and hope that the third time around will prove to be a charm.

How many romances have you read lately where you could either take the heroine or leave her, and don't really care which option is exercised? More than once I've gotten the feeling that romance authors don't put as much depth into the heroines they pen as they do the heroes. Why is difficult to say. Perhaps it's assumed that we're reading the books solely for the heroes so more effort needs to go into creating them. In some ways that presumption is no doubt true because let's face it, we'd be haunting the straight fiction sections of our local bookstores if we wanted to read about Thelma and Louise instead of Thelma and Bob. Third Time Lucky forces us to remember, however, that there is much to be said for a spunky female lead.

Phil is one of the few heroines I've ever read about who stole my heart and ran away with it. She's not a great beauty, but neither does she care. She's a dreamer, but also a realist. She's a woman who rolls with the punches, but doesn't forget to bring her boxing gloves into the ring with her. She's hilarious and charming, but also down to earth and modest. As a reader, Phil is easy to identify with. You have no qualms about rooting for her because you want her to win.

Nick is hot stuff too. He's the perfect hero. He has a lot of emotional issues he's dealing with, but he's loyal to Phil and to their relationship and never once wavers in that respect. Later, when he decides not to let the past dictate his future any longer, he's firm in his resolve and doesn't teeter totter back and forth. Nick never says anything he doesn't mean. It might take him a while to figure things out, but you enjoy reading about his evolution. You want Nick to find peace and you want him to find it with Phil and only with Phil.

The story line to Third Time Lucky is quite simple. In other words, this isn't a book to read when you're in the mood for an action packed thriller or an on the edge of your seat suspense novel. This book is the one to crack open and grin over when you're in the mood for a lighthearted romantic comedy. Oh sure it has a few emotional moments, but for the most part it's a cross between a Julia Roberts romp and an episode of Seinfeld.

One thing worth mentioning that might throw a few readers for a loop at first (it did me) is that although Nick's perspective is voiced in the third person, Phil's perspective is voiced strictly in the first. It takes a chapter or two to settle into this method, but once you do it's smooth sailing from there. Looking back, the first person fits Cross' writing style to a tee. Reading the book through the heroine's eyes is different, but in this situation it works.

If you're a fan of lighthearted romantic comedies, you will love Third Time Lucky. Claire Cross has proven that she's nobody's knock-off, for her writing style is reminiscent of no one's. She has a unique and quirky style all her own and one that will leave more of an impression behind than just a proverbial mental footprint.

--Tina Engler


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