Let Me Call You Sweetheart
by Nancy Gideon
(Silhouette Intimate Moments 851, $4.25, G)
ISBN 0-373-07851-X
***
Let Me Call You Sweetheart is one of the most aptly titled books I have read in a long time. (But unfortunately, not very original.) If you are not a raving beauty and insist on judging people for reasons other than the packaging, then this book has values you will enjoy. You will also like the characters. And I admit the plot is clever. So why the three heart rating? For me, the book was uneven and, in places, difficult to read. Let me illustrate with the author's own words.

First the hero: "Zach Crandall with his icy blue eyes shooting lightening bolts of intensity. Zach with his John Travoltaseque strut, cigarette dangling from the corner of a cynically curled smile, attitude sneering, "I'm good for nothing but bad."

Now the heroine, age 17: "Homemade clothes of plain, unflattering cut, hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, no make up, no trace of teenage vivaciousness, she had more in common with her peer's parents than the schoolmates who'd overlooked her."

Personally, sentences like these left me rather out of breath and suffering from data overload. Rest assured, the book is not all this way. This wordy style is often used in the narrative, but the dialogue style is much different snappy and enjoyable.

Seventeen years ago, Zach was suffering from the effects of having a drunken physically abusive father. The small town had judged his family harshly as trash, and he was treated accordingly and this same small town sat back and merely observed the effects of the physical abuse inflicted on Zach, his siblings and mother.

After one final fight with his father, Zach realized he had to leave. Bess had been his tutor, his friend, and his sweetheart. He stopped by her house to beg her to leave with him. They spent the night together, but Bess refused to leave with him, electing instead to stay and finish high school.

That night Zach's father was murdered; Zach's mother confessed to the crime, was tried and sentenced. The town assumed Zach had killed his father, and that his mother was taking the blame.

The book opens the weekend before Zach's mother is being released from the penitentiary because of a heart problem. Zach returns to town for the first time in 17 years and discovers Bess is still about the only person in town who will talk to him. Bess runs the family bookstore and has not dated since he left. Zach discovers her sole interest is Faith, a niece who is spending the summer with her.

This is the framework within which the author works: Let Me Call You Sweetheart is not about the road to redemption but the path to gain a town's respect. Having grown up in a small town I can certainly vouch for the fact that the author is dead-on in the characterization of people's reactions.

It is worth fighting past the excess verbiage to become involved in this intriguing story.

--Thea Davis


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