First-Class Male by Donna Valentino
(Loveswept 911, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-44626-6
****
Short and sweet! This is my reaction to Donna Valentino's second (and I regret to say, last) Loveswept Romance. If you like sweet romances about ordinary people who have the kinds of ordinary problems that threaten to destroy relationships, then you will like this book.

The story begins with the hero in a pickle. Connor Hughes organized a charity picnic to raise funds to repair the fire damage to his aunt's house. His aunt is known to her own nephew, as well as to every person who went to fourth grade in town, as Miss Stonesipher. He thought he made it clear that it was a potluck picnic and that everyone should bring a dish. But this message didn't seem to have gotten through. Instead, he has one tuna casserole and two dozen brownies and 200 people who are beginning to as where their dinner is. Since he already spent the money, he is in big trouble!

Just as the crowd is about to turn nasty, up pulls a caterer's truck and out pours enough rigatoni, green beans, rolls, butter and the like to feed an army. There is also a wedding cake. Connor's rescuer is Shelby Ferguson and the food was meant to celebrate her sister's wedding. However, the groom hightailed it out of town. Shelby just knew that the picnic would be a flop because, after all, a man planned it. Just one more demonstration of the fact that men cannot be trusted to do anything right or to keep their promises.

Connor is immediately attracted by the lovely young woman and upset by her low opinion of his sex. He wants to show her that men indeed keep their promises, and before you know it, he has invited Shelby to see just how willingly he will keep his promise to fix up his aunt's house. Shelby decides she might as well help, and the two share the misadventures of sharing the joys of home repairs and do-it-your-selfing. (This is written in admiration by a women who heads in the other direction the moment her husband picks up a hammer.)

As you can gather, the tone of Donna Valentino's book is predominantly light and funny. The author handles the humor with a deft touch. Miss Stonesipher, Shelby's flighty mother and sister, Connor's accountant friend, even the stray dog who adopts Shelby are drawn with humor, but it is a kind and gentle humor, not the biting kind.

But behind the humor there is a sweet love story about two people who have rejected the idea of falling in love, falling in love. Shelby has watched her mother and sister disappointed again and again by the men in their lives; Connor lost his fiancée in an auto accident and refuses to love again because he so fears that he will lose what he loves. Both the hero and the heroine must confront their fears, perceive that life alone will be but half a life, and learn to accept that neither they nor the one they love should be expected to be perfect.

Valentino manages to create fully developed characters within the confines of the short novel and to let the reader watch them grow and change. The sparks that fly between them seem as hot as the fire that destroyed Miss Stonesipher's kitchen.

Short and sweet indeed. I spent a couple of pleasant hours with First- Class Male and, if you like a tender and humorous love story, you will too.

--Jean Mason


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