Who Gets to Marry Max?
by Neesa Hart
(Harl. American #843, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-16843-8
**
The first chapter of Who Gets to Marry Max? started out just fine. The story gets moving very quickly as our heroine, Sidney Grant, and hero Max Loden, are thrown together by circumstances almost from the first page.

Sidney has known Max since she was an unhappy, lonely teenager but has only met him occasionally over the years. However, she’s always had a thing for him. And, as it turns out, Max has had a thing for Sidney, too. This is the story of how they finally act on their feelings for each other.

Problem is, we’re not really shown so much as told about these feelings and after the nice fast start in chapter one, the story often bogs down with long passages of internal monologue: there’s one of Max’s in chapter two that runs to nearly four pages. We have long passages where Max thinks about Sidney and why she’s so great. We have long passages where Sidney thinks about Max and why he’s so great. But we just don’t have enough passages where we, the readers, get to see those qualities in Sidney, and especially in Max.

Which brings me to my second stumbling point with this book: I had a real problem with the hero. Max is a very successful multi-millionaire. At a very young age, he inherited the family’s failing company and rescued it from near bankruptcy. Most people, especially his family, consider him to be a control freak. He takes care of everything and everyone around him and makes sure everything turns out the right way. This is all very nice in theory, except that he’s the one who gets to define what the right way is. Of course others resent this and aren’t necessarily grateful for all the meddling in their lives, even if Max is the one responsible for saving the family firm and making sure they all live the high off the hog.

Sidney is one of the only people who sees that, underneath it all, what Max really needs is someone to take care of him once in a while. It’s a tried and true premise in romance, and, at times, Hart makes it works. However, although I think we are meant to think that Max is really a great guy and is trying his best and isn’t really a control freak, as written, Max’s actions often do come off as both controlling and manipulative.

Truth is, if I had someone like Max in my life, I’d be running for cover from him. I know, I know; this is fantasy, but even in fantasy the characters have to ring true and be consistent with the plot and action. In Max’s case, we see him behaving heavy-handedly and then we have Sidney giving us her sympathetic version of Max’s motivation, but it doesn’t always ring true.

On the plus side, Sidney is a likeable heroine. She’s had some rough breaks in life, but manages to pull herself out of tough times and has built a good life and a successful career. She’s just the right combination of independence and insecurity that readers can identify with.

There are some nice individual scenes in this book, but it never really comes together to make a satisfying whole. The supporting characters are somewhat one-dimensional, especially Sidney’s evil ex-husband who is unrelentingly creepy, and her kindly Uncle Philip who is a little too perfect to be believable. By the way, Philip is Max’s butler and it’s his (Philip’s) clever little scheme that throws Max and Sidney together.

The title of the book has a double meaning tied into the reason for Max’s financial success. He saved his toy company from ruin with a wildly successful line of male dolls that are mates for all the female dolls who, naturally, all want to marry Max. It’s a cute premise but unfortunately, by the end of the book, the answer to the question, Who Wants to Marry Max?, no longer interested me.

--Tina Nigro


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