One Summer's Night
by Mary Alice Kruesi
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81433-1
****
Author Mary Alice Kruesi has two identities. As Mary Alice Monroe, she creates "women's fiction" novels, and as Mary Alice Kruesi she writes light-hearted contemporary romance with fairy tale themes. I prefer this persona because it provides her with more of an opportunity to carve out a unique niche for herself. One Summer's Night is a worthy follow-up to the first Kruesi novel, Second Star to the Right.

Laurel Carrington has a secret weakness for sentimental and fanciful things, despite the efforts of her father. Noted scientist Arthur Carrington eschews any reminders of his carefree wife who left without explanation when Laurel was born. Laurel's practical plans to attend graduate school in biogenetics have just fallen through, but an unexpected letter opens up an intriguing new opportunity. The famous painter Maybelle Starr has invited Laurel to her secluded home in Vermont as an apprentice artist. Painting is another impractical hobby that Laurel abandoned years ago in favor of helping her father catalog his rare rose collection. But Maybelle's entreaty for Laurel to "do what your heart -- and your instincts -- command" proves too strong to resist, despite objections from her father and his stuffy protege Colin.

At Fallingstar, Maybelle's home, "things are never as they seem." Valuable objects mysteriously disappear. Sparkling lights that aren't fireflies are spotted. Laurel discovers a hidden talent for relating to wild animals. Meanwhile, the beautiful and fey Maybelle refuses to teach Laurel anything concrete about art, encouraging her instead to walk around the forest for inspiration.

Dane Walden, who farms the adjoining property, isn't happy to see Laurel at Fallingstar. He and his sister Daphne were raised for several years by Maybelle after their mother died and their abusive father disappeared, and he doesn't want to see Maybelle hurt by this city girl outsider. Yet gradually Dane is forced to admit that, although Laurel may be ignorant of rural life, she has potential. His protective sister Daphne isn't so sure that she likes the way Laurel and Dane are starting to look at each other. And while Maybelle watches the dawning romance with delight, she worries that Laurel will reject her when Maybelle reveals the truth behind her seemingly random invitation.

The reader will appreciate watching Laurel blossom in her new environment as she gradually accepts long-denied parts of her personality. And if you can swallow the idea of a farming Adonis who is also a secret genius, then you will go for Dane as well. The most three-dimensional character, however, is Laurel's father, Arthur, who is straitlaced and serious without being cruel or negligent. The villains, unfortunately, are ludicrously flat and cartoonish.

Kruesi's standout strengths are her plotting and her creative use of whimsical fantasy elements. There are some aspects of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the story, but Kruesi uses that only as a reference point. She nicely blends touches of fantasy with the more down-to-earth issue of Laurel redefining herself, into an original, not always predictable story.

There are some romances that you can imagine sharing with your husband, but One Summer's Night isn't one of them. It is definitely a feminine, almost Victorian romance, full of hearts and flowers. Although it is set in the present, it could easily take place in the late 19th century. If you're in the mood to be charmed and can set aside any lingering New Millennium cynicism, you will probably get more than one's night's pleasure out of One Summer's Night.

--Susan Scribner


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