The Dare

The Fling

Rescue Me!

The Kiss by Elda Minger
(Berkley, 6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-20681-5
Tess Sommerville, the heroine of Elda Mingerís The Kiss, is having a drink with a friend on the night before Tessís wedding when an old flame walks into the bar. The old friend is Will Tremere, a British exchange student that lived with Tessís friend and her family for a time when they were all teenagers. Will is in town for a one-night stop, on his way to Los Angeles to deliver a van for a friend. Tess takes one look at Will and the tremendous crush she had on him back then reawakens. Will remembers Tess as a shy, awkward teenager and is intrigued and attracted by the grown-up Tess. They dance one dance and Will finds himself pressing his phone number into Tessí hand, asking her to call him if for any reason she needs him the following day.

Confused by her feelings, Tess stops by a church on the way home from the club, to pray and hopefully reach some peace of mind about her coming wedding. Hearing a suspicious noise in the supposedly deserted church, Tess investigates and finds her fiancť going at it with the preacherís daughter. She quietly backs away, goes home to collect some of her things and her dog, then goes to her friendís house to find help. Tess has to face some very hard truths about her life, and of paramount importance is avoiding her fiancť and her domineering stepmother so that they canít force Tess to marry the next day. A plan is conceived and Tess ends up accompanying Will on his cross-country trek.

Like the little girl with the curl on her forehead, when this book is good itís very, very good, but when itís bad itís horrid.

The characters of Tess and Will are definitely good. Since her parentís divorce during her early teens, Tess has been reared by her emotionally distant father and her domineering, controlling stepmother. Because of her upbringing, Tess has had little say in the major decisions of her life and has spent a lot of energy trying to be the perfect daughter. Watching Tess grow and break the chains of her childhood is gratifying. She doesnít have one epiphany and immediately become a different person, but goes through a painful process of gradual self-realization, mourning and stressful change. Willís patience and care for Tess help immeasurably. Heís a sensitive, sweet-pea hero, but doesnít come across as emasculated and weak. Will very clearly intends to help Tess work through her problems because he feels for her, but especially because he wants her to get better so he can claim her for himself.

One of the things about the book that wasnít enjoyable was the concentration on the two dogs that traveled with Will and Tess. The reader spends a lot of time reading about the characters getting the dogs in and out of the vehicle, walking them, feeding them, and talking to and about them. An animal lover will understand the authorís intent in making the pooches such major characters, but the constant anthropomorphism of the dogs detracted from the rest of the story.

One character from whom the dogs couldnít detract enough attention was the friend for whom Will is driving the van. Sheís a popular LA psychic, who, when she talks to Will on the phone, makes dire predictions and communicates with Tessí dog.

At the risk of spoiling a little, I have to mention that the solution to Tessí most major problem is unbelievable and hackneyed, and Willís secret identity would have been a secret for about 5 seconds in the real world. These two factors killed what little respect I had left for The Kiss. Tessí emotional and physical journey is very touching, but just couldnít stand up to the psychic, the dogs and the silly ending. Give this one a pass.

--Wendy Livingston

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