Chances Are

Dear Lady

The Forgiving Hour

Hometown Girl

In His Arms

Kiss Me, Katie

Patterns of Love

Taking Care of the Twins

Daddy Claus by Robin Lee Hatcher
(Sil. Sp. Ed. #1288, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24288-3
Get ready, people. Holiday warmth and joy are coming your way in full force. Daddy Claus is the first Christmas-themed romance I’ve read this year, but I daresay it won’t be the last. And unless you’re an absolute sucker for the cute and cornball, I’d advise you to limit your intake of these hearts-and-holly romances, or else you’re liable to spend the season as a misanthropic lump of cheerless irritability. Or maybe that’s just cynical ol’ me.

I preface my review of Daddy Claus with all this gloom not to indicate that I hated the book, because I didn’t. In fact, there are lots of things to like about it -- the writing is clean and skillfully unobtrusive, the characters are well-developed, consistent, and sometimes mature, and there are some charming moments of humor and affection that pepper the story nicely.

Unfortunately, there’s also a pretty implausible plot and a heroine I had a hard time respecting. This last was the most difficult for me to handle, and though I tried very hard not to be judgmental, I still closed the book feeling that Alicia Harris was silly, impulsive, and disturbingly naïve.

You see, Alicia’s gotten herself into a rather tricky situation. She’s divorced, pregnant with her ex-husband’s child, and facing an inevitable meeting with her sure-to-be-disapproving grandfather, who doesn’t even know she’d gotten married, let alone divorced or pregnant. How could this be, you ask? Well, Alicia had a whirlwind, three-week romance that led to a nightmarish, three-week marriage. After the divorce, she’d hoped to hide the whole ugly incident from her grandfather, but found herself pregnant.

And now grandpa is coming to visit Alicia in Idaho for several weeks. Recently recovered from a heart attack, he’s still weak and in danger of a second attack, and Alicia fears that if the tradition-bound man finds out his only grandchild is about to be a single mom, “he’ll worry and fuss and stew. That’s not good for his heart.”

But what can she do? The baby’s due in a couple of months -- there will be no way to hide her condition. What she needs, her friend Joe Palermo teasingly suggests, is a “rent-a-husband.” Someone to pretend to be her spouse and her baby’s father while grandpa visits, so that he’ll go home feeling Alicia and the baby are in good hands.

Isn’t that the way it always works? Whoever makes the suggestion gets stuck with the job. Joe is a childhood friend of Alicia’s that she recently reunited with via the Internet after a nineteen year separation. By coincidence, he’s now moving back to Idaho and in return for acting as her “holiday husband,” Alicia offers Joe a place to stay.

And so begins the charade, and along with it, a lot of my problems with the premise of this book. Yes, grandpa is in a rather fragile condition, and yes, the truth about Alicia’s situation is bound to upset him. But would it really cause a serious risk to his health? Perhaps, Alicia is just too afraid to face his disappointment, but she never owns up to this selfish motive.

And then we have Alicia herself. Again, I tried not to be judgmental, but getting married after a three-week “wining and dining” type courtship? The whole thing made her seem pretty foolish, and when she begins to fall for Joe, after knowing him for, surprisingly, about three weeks, I was seized with a sense of “here we go again.” It was hard to have any faith in a heart that had recently given itself away so carelessly.

Joe, thankfully, is a bit more cautious -- in fact, he’s fundamentally opposed to the whole notion of marriage (not counting pretend marriage, of course). His parents were rich but cold to him, had a bad marriage, etc., etc., etc., so he’s determined to remain the same workaholic bachelor he’s always been. But there’s something about Alicia’s warmth, her cozy home, her wise and good-hearted grandpa… etc., etc., etc.

Yes, it’s all pretty predictable, but the author pulls it off in fairly good style. There are some nice, appealing interactions between Joe and Alicia, and a few instances of mature and surprising honesty from both of them -- surprising coming from two people who’ve gotten themselves into a situation full of lies.

But it was a bit too cute, too contrived, and too saccharine for my taste. For readers less jaded, more forgiving of characters’ foolish mistakes, and more tolerant of improbable plots than me, it might be just the way to start warming those holiday cockles of the heart.

-- Ellen Hestand

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