By Any Other Name

Mother of the Year
by Lori Handeland
(Har. Super Rom.#922, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70922-6
I've never been a fan of patronizing books. You know the kind: angelic, overworked, widowed mom still finds the time to organize the PTA, coach her son's little league team, lead her daughter's girl scout troop, sing in the church choir, and basically puts the needs of everyone else above her own. She meets the hero with the heart of gold who's been looking for the perfect woman all of his life. He's typically been divorced or widowed from a witch of an ex-wife who thought only of her career and never of him. (The two are always mutually exclusive in the patronizing genre.) The heroine is everything the ex-wife never was and so we, as women readers, are scolded thusly and told to emulate a perfect superwoman none of us can ever hope to be.

When I saw the title to this book coupled with the All-American cover art that came complete with smiling mom, yuppie dad, and two red-headed boys playing baseball in the background (the only thing missing was grandma holding a homemade apple pie and granddad waving a flag), I was prepared to spend the next few hours of my life rolling my eyes mentally and complaining about it afterwards to anyone who'd listen. Just goes to show that the old adage is true: never judge a book by its cover.

Thirty-five-year-old Evie Vaughn is a financially struggling, widowed mother of three who works as a teacher and a co-ed Big League baseball coach. She has wanted to coach the high school boys varsity baseball team for years now, but has had obstacle after obstacle thrown into her path because of her gender. The Oak Grove school board finally relents, however, and agrees to let her take on the position, so long as Evie proves herself capable. In order to do so, Evie's Big League team has to win the championship this year.

Thirty-six-year-old Joe Scalotta is a divorced, retired football player who moves to Oak Grove, Iowa, to get out of the big city and raise his daughter in a small town. He's made a lot of mistakes in his life, including not being there for Toni while she was growing up. Now Toni's sixteen, her mother is dead, and Joe finds himself wanting to be a better dad and friend to his adolescent daughter. Joe also realizes that he wants to remarry and experience the things he'd never gotten to experience when Toni was a baby.

When Joe meets Toni's baseball coach Evie, the physical attraction between them is mutual and instantaneous. Neither of them, however, believes that the other is the type of person they are looking for in a relationship. Evie has sworn to never again involve herself with a hunky man looking for a good time, and she's read enough in the papers about Joe "Wildman" Scalotta to surmise that he's everything she doesn't need. Joe wants nothing to do with an overly opinionated, domineering career woman who's more interested in her next big promotion than in him. The problem is, their minds might want them apart but their hearts and bodies don't. Evie and Joe just can't stop thinking about each other...

Ms. Handeland's characters have a great deal of depth to them. They are complex, three-dimensional people who have their good qualities and bad, their personal failures as well as their triumphs. In other words, they are real people that real readers can relate to. There is even a scene in which the heroine Evie went so far as to admit that in the seventeen years since she became a mother there were times when things got so tough and overwhelming that she wanted to walk away and not be a mother anymore. Bravo to Harlequin for printing this scene. Although polls and psychological studies show that this is a normal thing most mothers experience at some point, it's still not something a lot of us admit to out loud for fear of being labeled a "bad mom."

Ms. Handeland has penned a heroine all of us can relate to on some level. (And did I mention the fact that the hero is enough to make your mouth water?) The only complaint I have with this otherwise wonderful book is that the hero and heroine occasionally use cheesy language I've never heard any real person utter (i.e. "Hotdog!") Otherwise, Mother of the Year is a solid read.

--Tina Engler

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