Meredith's Wish by Karen Lee
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-505-52482-1
In the late 1980s, Mattel Toys introduced a talking Barbie doll that said, among other things, “Math is hard!” Outraged feminists protested vociferously that Barbie was pandering to the stereotype that all girls are math-phobic, and eventually Barbie changed her tune. I couldn’t help remembering that episode as I read the first chapter of And once that image came into my head, there was little hope that the rest of the book would satisfy.

Chloe Phillips inherited Creative Investments several years ago when her successful but emotionally distant father died. Chloe loves the part of the job that involves discovering interesting new products and mentoring aspiring inventors. Problem is, all of the inventions, such as the Spuddy Buddy, SatelHat and Frog Vision 2100, have glitches that prevent them from being runaway successes. And while Chloe has an optimistic outlook and a generous spirit, she is the “Queen of the Math Impaired.” If only that darn Board of Directors didn’t insist that she pay more attention to the finances of the business. If only she had that one sure-fire killer product…

Enter the mysterious Mr. E. Rose. He wants Chloe to invest in his “E-Cupid” software, which promises to connect people with their true love. Little does Chloe know that E. Rose is in fact the god of love himself, Cupid, and that he must fix Chloe up with her own true love to win a bet with his wife, Psyche. When Chloe takes the laptop unit for a spin, she is presented with a picture of a handsome dark-haired man who makes her pulse race. When the same hunk shows up in her office just a few minutes later, Chloe does what any rational person would do - she kisses him passionately. Unfortunately, she quickly learns that her alleged true love is AJ Lockhart, the no-nonsense financial consultant her board has hired to straighten out Creative Investments.

Things go from goofy to ridiculous when “E-Cupid” malfunctions and all of its test customers fall in love with Chloe instead of finding their own soul mates. The baffled but game AJ tries to help Chloe fend off her unwanted suitors and save her company as well, all the while wondering why his “locked heart” is so entranced by this cheerfully ditzy woman.

Granted, is supposed to be a lighthearted “love and laughter” type romance with a touch of fantasy, but I have to make some kind of connection with the characters, otherwise the story won’t be any more effective than a comic strip. And there was no way I could identify with Chloe. From her allegedly adorable math phobia to her impulsive kissing of a total stranger, she lost me in the first chapter and never got me back. I know not all of us can be accountants, but come on, lady, you’ve been in charge of a company for two years, shouldn’t you know something about balance sheets and profit/loss statements? Dumb is not cute or adorable. Dumb is just dumb.

AJ fares much better, and in fact he is a charming hero who is desperately trying to save his small consulting business and keep his two employees off the welfare rolls. While he says he doesn’t believe in love, he is never cruel to Chloe, even when her behavior is totally irrational. Frankly, his relationship with his beloved vintage Corvette makes a lot more sense than his attraction to Chloe.

Not much happens for most of the novel, other than one of those dreaded “fake courtships that turn oh-so-real” between Chloe and AJ. After a slow middle, the last 30 pages are suddenly packed with several completely unrealistic and wild scenes in courtrooms and boardrooms that aren’t half as funny as they are senseless.

Readers who are looking for a techno-romance should be warned - there is absolutely no logic to “E-cupid’s” operation. In fact, the book’s title is misleading - there’s no website, other than the online dating service advertised in the back of the book that offers readers a FREE 60-day Gold Membership ($39.90 value).

Several reviewers whose opinions I respect thought that Karen Lee’s debut novel, Meredith’s Wish, was cute and charming, but I found her sophomore effort too preposterous to enjoy. I wouldn’t mind having my own Spuddy Buddy, though.

--Susan Scribner

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