Secret Fantasy

Simply Scandalous

Simply Sinful

The Bachelor by Carly Phillips
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61054-2
More heavily padded than Calista Flockhart in a Santa suit, this full-length book (if you can call 300 pages “full length”) reads like a cliché-laden category over-stuffed with wordiness and repetition.

Faced with their mother’s frail health and burning desire for grandchildren, the three Chandler brothers do what any loving sons would for their beloved parent. They flip a coin to decide which of the confirmed bachelors would “sacrifice his freedom in order to provide Raina with a grandchild.”

The loser is the youngest, Roman. Reluctantly, the foreign correspondent for AP will stay home long enough to sacrifice some lucky young woman on the altar of Raina’s selfishness (she isn’t actually ill. She’s lying to get what she wants and telling herself that it’s for her sons’ own good).

Roman will look around for a “babe” who “doesn’t expect too much” for a “nice, long-distance marriage that doesn’t change [his] life much at all.” Someone “who’s willing stay at home and raise the kid, who’ll be happy seeing [him] whenever [he] can make it back.”

Sure hope the lucky girl appreciates the honor. His choice, by the way, must be willing to be a stay-at-home Mom because “Roman wanted any kid of his to know a loving motherly upbringing.” Apparently to make up for the absentee father. She also can’t be dumb or shallow because Roman has his standards. Presumably once she discovers what an obnoxious, selfish jerk he is, she’ll be glad to pack him back off to Bosnia or wherever.

While Roman’s looking around for the beautiful, intelligent doormat who’ll go for this deal, his eye falls on Charlotte Bronson, the only girl in Yorkshire Falls who ever turned him down (the Chandler brothers are all famous chick magnets). Charlotte, a homebody whose father deserted her and her mother years ago for the bright lights of Hollywood, she returned to Yorkshire Falls six months ago from New York City to open a classy lingerie boutique.

In addition to the usual silk and lace, Charlotte’s shop sells bras and panties she hand-crochets. Apparently they’re so sexy the town’s women are lining up for them and a mysterious “panty pirate” is stealing them from their owners. Because Roman pulled some kind of juvenile panty theft as a teenager, there’s a thin subplot in which he is suspected of being the current thief.

How is the story repetitive? Well, for starters, the book is full of interminable introspection on an extremely limited number of topics. Roman can’t be tied down. Charlotte can’t get involved with a man who’ll be gone most of the time, like her father. Raina must have grandchildren. We are treated to endless one-note ruminations on these subjects and they eventually reveal the characters in question as shallow and self-obsessed. This is particularly disappointing in Roman; you’d think that someone who writes about poverty, famine, death and injustice would have a tiny bit more perspective on his importance to the universe. Hearing Charlotte’s fear repeated over and over robs it of whatever slight plausibility it might have had and makes it sound feeble and trite.

As for the writing: “Her garments were exclusive, fashionable, personal, and not meant to become an object of obsession or ridicule for a perverted man. She had her reasons for pursuing the hobby that had become a staple in her business. But Charlotte couldn’t imagine divulging personal secrets with Roman when distance seemed the safest route. Not when the details connected to those garments would lead to an emotional minefield.” Too often, the author just wanders in these prosy circles, apparently hoping that there’ll eventually be a point.

And don’t get me started on Charlotte and her assistant closing the shop and trying on all the underwear. Not only does that sound more like an adolescent boy’s fantasy than a romance, but in the middle of it Charlotte gets aroused thinking of Roman. I mean, is she going to mark that stuff “used” when she sells it? Yikes.

There are more differences between a category and a full-length book than using a lot more words to describe the same thing. Unfortunately, Ms. Phillips hasn’t yet figured out what those differences are.

--Judi McKee

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