Love Lessons/Lecciones Amorosas
by Diana Garcia
(Encanto, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-786-01020-7
**
Love Lessons starts out with a near-bang. Susannah Diaz is on her way to her daughterís junior high, to discuss a problem with the principal, when she nearly rear-ends a pickup truck driven by a handsome Anglo. After venting her frustration by yelling at him and laying on the horn, Susannah proceeds to school only to find that Mr. Blond Hair/Blue Eyes is Daniel Stephens, father of another student. His daughter Terry is supposed to be a study partner to Susannahís daughter, Katrina. The girls are refusing to cooperate.

Daniel suggests that the girls spend some time together over the weekend, and he brings Terry to Susannahís house. Heís already noticed that she has a great shape, and Susannah isnít immune to those baby blues of Danielís. Soon the two of them are warily establishing a friendship, built around their two daughters, who have something up their sleeves.

Susannah settles down, thankfully sheds the stereotypical ďhot-headed LatinaĒ image, and readers begin to understand her a little better. Daniel is always a hunka-hunka type, but readers get to know his desire to have a decent conversation with a woman, not just a dinner date full of meaningless chit-chat. There are real possibilities for this couple.

Unfortunately, Love Lessons then descends into predictability and plot machinations to keep the story going. Thereís a Big Misunderstanding between Daniel and Susannah, involving another woman, and Susannah makes up her mind that Danielís a no-good cheatiní type, and then refuses to stay in one place long enough for Daniel to explain. Or just as heís about to reveal the truth, they are conveniently interrupted. This carries on until the end of the book. A school camping trip, used to throw the two of them together, is set up in an awkward and implausible fashion. This camping trip occupies a good third of the story.

Newcomer Diana Garcia offers creditable characterizations; the two girls are as strong as the hero and heroine, and natural-sounding in their interactions. Whether itís due to the restrictions of the publisher of just lack of seasoning, the plot fails to live up to the characters. And I think it will take more than some Spanish sentences and a reference to a quinceanera to bring a Latino flavor to Encanto romances.

Love Lessons is a mixed bag. A forced and predictable plot overshadows characters that are fun and full of potential. Hopefully Diana Garciaís next effort will overcome these deficiencies and let her characters shine.

--Cathy Sova


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