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Blue Clouds by Patricia Rice
(Fawcett, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-449-15063-1
Ever get in a car, arrive at your destination and have no idea how you got there? That's how I feel about Blue Clouds. Patricia Rice is a gifted wordsmith. Her imagery is vivid, her main characters are multi-layered and her dialog is lively and realistic. Blue Clouds is a beautifully written story, but – I had no clue as to the story's theme, purpose, thrust or ultimate goal. On page 204, over halfway through, I was still clueless and in limbo. I hate feeling clueless. I kept wondering if I had missed the Big Picture. I think I'll blame my confusion on El Ninő. Why not? It gets blamed for everything these days.

We first meet Pippa Cochran as she's being fired from her job as a hospital administrator. She's thirty, her mother has just died, and now she's a victim of downsizing. As she walks to her car, her boyfriend Billy, a policeman and an abusive SOB, is there. When she declines a ride home, he backhands her viciously. With the help of a security guard, she escapes. Arriving home, she finds it trashed and her kitty lying in a pool of blood. It's time to leave Kentucky in a cloud of dust.

Traveling circuitously to California, Pippa is hired by reclusive mega-millionaire Seth Wyatt, sans an interview. She's to be his right-hand man while his trusty assistant takes temporary leave. In order to protect herself from Billy, whom she fears may be following her, she moves into Seth's estate. The other employees fascinate her: a drunken football player, a maniac gardener and a Nazi nanny. There's also a town full of people who alternately hate Seth or are afraid of him.

Pippa and Seth are both jack-of-all-trades and good at everything. There is apparently nothing that they can't or don't do. Pippa is a registered nurse, a hospital administrator and is hired by Seth to care for his crippled son, be his assistant, sort and answer his mail, answer the phone, screen all calls, and help him edit his latest best-seller-to-be. She also becomes a child psychologist and family counselor. She alternates between being a steamroller and Casper Milquetoast. Seth sees her as a combination of Pollyanna, Pippi Longstocking and Lewis Carroll's Dormouse.

Seth runs a multinational corporation out of his home, writes bestselling horror novels, is a single parent fighting a custody battle with a stereotypical ex-wife, is in a battle with the town regarding some land, is receiving death threats and is teaching Pippa self-defense – all before lunch. Silly me, I kept wondering where all his other assistants were. With his financial empire, he needed lots of help, not just one newly hired temp.

Chad, Seth's six-year-old son, starts out as a tiny tyrant. He's confined to a wheelchair and has been spoiled and coddled for all of his short life. Seth, driving the car that crippled Chad, is wracked by guilt. Seth's guilt and wealth have conspired to keep his son in a protective environment, so much so that Chad is in danger of becoming an emotional invalid, too.

Pippa's got a lot on her plate, all of a sudden. The townspeople have asked her to intercede in their behalf. They want her to convince Seth to reopen the town's main industry, thus revitalizing its economy. Seth has already put her in charge of the details of building a rehabilitation center in town. In addition to dealing with the Wyatt household and its myriad demands, someone sends poisoned candy. Is it for her? Has Billy found her? Or does someone hate Seth enough to want to kill him? When a mail bomb explodes, is it intended for Seth or Pippa?

It takes far too much of the book for a romantic attraction to develop. I did find it humorous that Seth was either firing Pippa or being befuddled by her, but humor and befuddlement are not the primary ingredients I need in a romance.

The first half of Blue Clouds drags, while the second half just speeds along. New plot devices are seemingly pulled in, willy-nilly. Perhaps tighter plotting would have helped. Certainly more love scenes, ones written with oomph, would have made Pippa and Seth's relationship more engaging. Their awareness of each other grew slowly and could have been the basis for a dandy love story, but too many peripheral story lines cluttered the plot. The mailbomber, the poisoned candy sender and the stalking ex-boyfriend are explained with almost a finger snap.

Everything is resolved right after Pippa saves a hospitalized Seth by helping subdue the murderer. When they aren't saving the town, writing best sellers or running big bucks corporations, they're saving each other from crazed killers. Still with me?

I've heard good things about Patricia Rice's books, and do want to read more of them. Blue Clouds might be a keeper for the right reader. El Ninő still gets my vote as the cause of my confusion.

--Linda Mowery

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