Body Check

Chasing Stanley

Fair Play

Just a Taste

The Penalty Box

Total Rush

Straight Up
by Deirdre Martin
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-425-23466-2
A fun setting (Irish village) is wasted on a tired, cliched plot that readers will see coming a mile off. Make that two miles. Some readers may be enchanted by the "hero makes a bet that he can get the heroine to kiss him/date him/whatever him" storyline, but anyone who has read more than ten romances will know exactly how Straight Up is going to play out.

Liam O'Brien, brother of the hero in Martin's last book, With a Twist, has run afoul of the Irish mob in New York and is hiding out in Ballycraig, Ireland, his parents' former village. He's tending bar at a local pub and attracting some interest as "the Yank." Liam's plan is to lay low in Ballycraig until it's safe for him to return to Manhattan, although he has no idea when that will be.

Enter Aislinn McCafferty, a local sheep farmer with a very big chip on her shoulder. Aislinn was dumped by her fiance when he came out of the closet just before their wedding, and now she hates all men, etc. She's tall and pretty, but her viper's tongue and waspish personality keep everyone at arm's length. Aislinn has heard rumors about the Yank and decides to stop in at the pub to see what all the fuss is about. This gives her the perfect excuse to knock back a couple of whiskeys in tiresome tough-girl style and be completely rude to Liam before stalking out.

Liam, dutiful romance hero that he is, is instantly fascinated by Aislinn and makes a bet with the guys in the bar that he can get Aislinn to go on a date with him. He takes a walk out to her farm the next day, and is treated just as rudely as the night before. Aislinn needs wooing, Liam decides, and he's just the man to do it.

Maybe a bar bet was the only halfway plausible reason the author could think of to get Liam pursuing Aislinn, because otherwise he'd look like a total fool for wanting to charm a woman who is a sarcastic bitch to virtually everyone she meets. Aislinn's motivations don't fare any better. Her former fiance at least had the decency to tell her he was gay before they married, and instead of reflecting on her lucky escape, she's decided it's much easier to just hate every man in town rather than grow up and be a little more introspective. Oh, and some of the local barflies used to tease her in school about being a tomboy and wanting to be a sheep farmer. Another reason to treat everyone like dirt.

Anyone want to guess what will happen when Aislinn discovers the truth?By then, of course, Liam has made some progress wooing Aislinn and they've managed to hit the sheets, giving her a reason to up the Martyr-Meter to "Overload" once the bet comes to light. By then Liam is desperately in love with her, yadda, yadda, and she reverts to being a prickly shrew in high dudgeon. Much easier on the plotting than having her think like an adult, I guess. Forget it. These two had no chemistry and their romance felt about as substantial as a wet tissue.

I miss Deirdre Martin's stories that had a sports theme at their core. They felt a lot more realistic than this, and a whole lot more romantic. Straight Up has a fun setting in picturesque Ireland, but the romance doesn't cut it. Approach with caution.

--Cathy Sova

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