No Strings Attached by Judy Gill
(Lovespell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52366-3
****
“You can’t tell a book from its cover.” Oh, how true that is! The cover of Judy Gill’s No Strings Attached, with its muscle-bound hulk clutching what looks like surveying equipment, gives no hint of the romp inside. That’s too bad -- if I hadn’t been asked to review No Strings Attached, my aversion to beefcake would have cost me a charming read.

Cadborosaurus is a sea serpent reputed to frequent Cadboro Bay in Washington State, turning up every 37 years. This is the 37th year since its last appearance, and Luke Nathan is spending the summer in the big house overlooking Cadboro Bay, watching over a video camera which automatically scans the bay day and night. Not that Luke believes in sea-serpents -- quite the contrary -- he is only doing his mother a favor while he hopes that, by the end of the summer, he will have convinced her that Cadborosaurus is a myth.

Before Luke's mother left for Nepal, she asked Holly O'Mara to housesit the beach house, down the hill from the big house where Luke is on serpent-watch. Holly is a herbalist, and as soon as she moves in, she begins a daily routine of harvesting seaweed which she will dry, encapsulate, and sell…along with her other herbal remedies…in her two shops.

Holly's seaweed gathering looks suspicious to Luke, from his aerie overlooking the beach house. Perhaps his attractive neighbor is using the dried seaweed to fertilize a pot plantation on his property! As a lawyer and an officer of the court, Luke decides it is clearly his duty to investigate…and to introduce himself to the possible lawbreaker.

Even though Holly recognizes at first glance that Luke Nathan is…as she tells her sisters…a stud-muffin, she fights their mutual attraction. Her lawyer father deserted her mother when Holly and her two sisters, Rose and Lily, were less than a year old, leaving her mother to raise triplets alone. Holly's ex-husband also practiced law, so she's not about to get involved with another "cold, rational, unimaginative" lawyer.

Unbeknownst to him, Luke has a powerful ally supporting his campaign to get to know Holly better…Ted, a genie who lives in a jerry can…"one of those red cans with spouts that people get gasoline in for their boats or cars"…that Holly found on the beach. After Holly's first meeting with Luke, Ted tells her that Luke is her destiny, her karma, and from then on he does everything he can to encourage the romance.

Apparently having a genie of your own has its drawbacks, as well as its comic possibilities. For instance, Holly is compelled to take the jerry can everywhere she goes, no matter how inconvenient. Only Holly can see and hear Ted so that, when he annoys her, she occasionally addresses the genie aloud despite the presence of others, with predictably confusing results for Luke and anyone else in her vicinity.

Other, likeable secondary characters besides Ted complicate Luke and Holly's romance. There is Walter, Holly's Siamese cat, an animal with opinions of his own and the vocabulary to express them. Both Holly's family and Luke's provide light touches as they become unintentional obstacles to the progress of the affair. I particularly enjoyed Gill's depiction of Gerda Koenig, the man-eating nanny, a woman any right-minded female will love to hate.

No Strings Attached is, start to finish, fluff -- a fairy tale for grown-ups. Sure, I had some problems with Gill's plotting -- for instance, I wondered why Holly didn't smooth some of the bumps in her romance by using one of her three wishes -- but I found them easy to overlook. No Strings Attached makes its fantastic premise clear from the first page, and I never expected -- and didn't find -- absolute logical consistency in its plot. Instead, this is the book for that day when you need to escape to an untroubled world where everyone is attractive, the setting is idyllic, and the biggest problem anyone has is a meddlesome genie.

-- Nancy J. Silberstein


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