Opposites Attract
by Lynn Kurland, Elizabeth Bevarly, Emily Carmichael & Elda Minger
(Jove, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12865-1
***
Here's a popular romance staple: two very different people meet and discover that all they need in common is love. Given the right combination of two distinct personalities, sparks fly and the reader forgets the reality -- that sometimes even little differences such as a mate who doesn't roll up the toothpaste tube can spell disaster for a long-term relationship. Opposites Attract is an anthology featuring four mismatched couples who find their happily ever afters. Unfortunately, few sparks flew for this reader; my reaction was decidedly lukewarm.

Lynn Kurland's name on the book's front cover is prominently featured, but her story, "The Icing On the Cake," was probably the weakest of the four. Samuel McLeod is a wealthy New Yorker who escapes his stuffy family and flees to the wilds of Alaska to indulge his love of writing and cooking. Thanks to a matchmaking local, Sam winds up sharing a house with Sydney Kincaid, who -- surprise! -- is a female, albeit a rugged one who spends most of her time leading wilderness tours. Sam can bake a cake that will melt in your mouth, but he can't change the oil in his own car. Sydney can chop a winter's worth of firewood but can't make scrambled eggs. It's Northern Exposure all over again. Can they teach each other their own gender's more traditional roles, or will they find another way to blend their unique talents?

This story would have been perfectly acceptable except for one plot-hole that didn't make any sense. Supposedly the local townspeople shun Sydney because she isn't feminine enough, leaving her defensive and lonely. But this isn't antebellum Atlanta we're talking about here -- it's modern day Alaska. Seems to me that most native Alaskans would value Sydney's practical handyman skills. After all, no one can survive an Alaskan winter just because they can whip up a soufflé. The whole reason for her being alone was anachronistic and forced, jolting me rudely out of the romance.

From frostbite to sunburn: Elizabeth Bevarly's "The Short, Hot Summer" takes place far away from Alaska in Butternut, Alabama. Wealthy stuffed shirt Preston Atherton IV is rolling up his sleeves to survive the heat while he clinches a business deal. To his horror, there is no Ritz-Carlton or Hilton Hotel in Butternut, only a small bed and breakfast run by the down-home but delectable Mamie Calhoun. At first, Preston is scandalized as he deviates further and further from his all-important schedule. Then gradually he starts to relax and appreciate quiet summer nights on the porch swing with Mamie. But once his business meeting is concluded, he'll head right back where he belongs, right?

The Yankee/Southern belle combination has been done before many times, and Elizabeth Bevarly makes a good effort with one of her stock rich, handsome but befuddled heroes. There's a lot of heavy breathing and internal dialogue as the two characters try to resist their immediate and fierce attraction, but I couldn't help wishing for a little more plot.

Somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed Emily Carmichael's story, “Pride and Prejudice,” more than any of the other three in the anthology. Her story seemed longer than the others because she managed to pack a surprising amount of plot and character development into her allotted 80 pages. Things start out much like the first two stories - strangers brought together in close proximity thanks to a few wild coincidences. In this case, Josie Blake and Scott McBride have to share a double-booked hotel room together when both are in Chicago for a dog show. Josie's dainty papillon dog, Priss, is a beauty champion in the toy spaniel world, as well as the star of her own comic strip. Both Scott and his border collie, Iowa, value hard work and discipline, and have nothing but disdain for the seemingly useless Priss. But gradually Scott is won over by Josie's good nature, and Josie learns to value Scott's quiet but manly charms.

What elevated this story above average is that it goes beyond the anticipated "Oops, caught a total stranger naked in the hotel room" hijinks. Josie and Scott have not even kissed yet when a plot twist throws them together at Scott's Wisconsin farm for several more weeks. Then it's up to Priss and Iowa, who apparently are smarter than their owners, to make sure they get together. Thankfully, only a small portion of the story is told from the dogs' point of view, so the whole thing doesn't get bogged down into too much silliness.

"The Princess and the Adventurer's" title pretty much lets you know right off the bat what you're dealing with. Elda Minger's story is a direct descendent of Romancing the Stone, in which the naive but plucky ingenue teams up with world-weary adventurer. In this case, she's Isabelle Burke, who's in the Mexican jungle looking for her lost brother, the only family she has left. He's Matt Kincaid, who's looking for a quick way to get rich so he can retire to a remote Caribbean island. They travel together, have a few mild misadventures, then she works her plucky virgin ingenue magic on him and he becomes a better man.

This story might have been more enjoyable if the heroine didn't insist on calling the hero "Mr. Kincaid" -- honestly, how many adult women do you know that still call men by their last names, even if they are prim and proper? Also, Matt, like a good race car, goes from zero to sixty in about 30 seconds. His first reaction to Isabelle, that she's nothing but trouble, is almost immediately overcome by admiration, respect and lust. What kind of sparks can you elicit from that response? A little more bite would have helped this story.

The 80 page short story format of Opposites Attract makes it difficult for the romances to segue naturally from the initial sparks into true love, but the authors provide an entertaining, if unspectacular product. I'd give Emily Carmichael's story 4 hearts, Lynn Kurland's 2 hearts, and the others 3 hearts. Not bad for an average, but you could do better. If you want some contemporary mismatched couples that generate some real heat, I'd suggest any one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips novels instead.

--Susan Scribner


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