Wanted: Daddy by Mollie Molay
(Harl. American #729, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16729-6
**
We all know the Big Misunderstanding plot (I'm going to call it "BM" for short) is frustrating. But I think, in reading Wanted: Daddy, I've crystallized, for myself at least, why it's so frustrating. Obviously, to have a BM, we've got to have two characters who can't seem to get their acts together enough to just sit down and talk. They start to discuss their problems and then get conveniently interrupted. They bicker instead of discussing their problems. They have sex instead of discussing their problems. Then they decide things would be better if they just didn't discuss their problems at all.

And there's the real problem when I read about characters who do things like this (which they have to do, of course, in order to sustain the BM), I don't like those characters. They frustrate me. It's not the plot that bothers me, it's these idiots.

Wanted: Daddy seemed promising from the back cover copy. Two little boys do everything in their power to get a daddy for themselves and a husband for their mama. Okay, could be cute, could be touching, could be a good read. It's not. Instead, it's you guessed it frustrating.

Leslie Chambers trusts no man, and she doesn't mind letting everyone know about it. Because her husband ran out on her three years before, leaving her with two sons to raise, she figures she's had about enough of males to last the rest of her life. This, somehow, means she feels the need to be only barely civil to any man she meets on the street. Heck, half the time she can hardly be civil to her own sons.

Now granted, her boys are no angels. In fact, they're nearly holy terrors. They're only ten and eight, but they've still managed to stir up plenty of trouble for Leslie and the entire town of Calico, California.

Calico, I should mention, is a reconstructed historical western town, a tourist attraction complete with a Wild West saloon, tours of old silver mines, and townspeople in period costumes. Leslie is the mayor of Calico This isn't really relevant to the plot, but it's a big part of the "color" of the story, so I thought you should know.

Anyway, back to the boys. They're really getting out of hand, so when the sheriff temporarily deputizes an old friend, one Drew McClain, Leslie turns to him for help. She wants him to use his lawman status to scare a little sense into the boys.

Drew, of course, wants no part of this he's only going to be in Calico for a week, during a major tourist celebration, and besides, he's no babysitter. The fact that he doesn't seem to be taking her or her problems with her sons seriously annoys Leslie to no end, so the two of them have a loud argument in public.

Now, Leslie, due to her man-hatin' ways, has gotten a reputation in town as an "ice lady." When the townspeople most of whom seem to be pretty nasty, gossiping, unpleasant people see the temporary deputy sheriff getting under her skin, a bet starts going around. Will Drew McClain be the man who finally tames the ice-cold mayor with the red-hot temper? Or will it be the other way around?

And that's the major point of the plot. Of course, the story moves forward, and Drew and Leslie find themselves drawn to each other, and Drew reluctantly, but with ever-growing enthusiasm, takes over the task of straightening out the boys. Things are looking rosy, but ever in the background hangs the threat of doom that darn bet.

Drew knows about it, of course. He finds out early on, but he doesn't tell Leslie because he doesn't want to embarrass her. Okay, fine, I can accept that... for a while. But at one point, he actually thinks to himself that the bet is "sure to end his new relationship with Leslie if she heard of it." At that point, he decides he'd better tell her before she finds out from someone else and thinks he started the bet. But they get interrupted, or something, and two pages later he decides "what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her."

Can you hear me screaming? This is only one example of the opportunities Drew misses to explain everything to Leslie. But he can't straighten things out too soon, because then the book would be over.

Wanted: Daddy is not a terrible book. While Leslie's brittle civility and hair-trigger temper get pretty irritating, Drew is actually a fairly likeable guy, albeit one who doesn't have any clue about how to communicate. Or even why he should communicate. But that aside, he wasn't bad. Leslie's out-of-control kids, too, are annoying in the extreme at the beginning of the book I love kids, but there were times when I would certainly have taken these two over my knee but they straighten out to a bearable degree by the end.

So my main problem with this book comes back to the BM. To be fair, there's a little more to the plot than the misunderstanding. Drew is a travelin' man who doesn't want to commit to home, hearth, and family, and Leslie is afraid to trust a man who seems likely to walk out like her husband did. But not much is made of this internal conflict, and if not for the BM, they'd have lived happily ever after quite simply. It's clear that there's not enough conflict between them to sustain a reader's interest, but throwing in a BM just to liven things up is not the answer.

Bottom line: (pardon the pun) I don't like reading about characters who irritate, aggravate, and frustrate me. If you don't either, think twice about Wanted: Daddy.

--Ellen Hestand


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