The Charm School

The Drifter

Enchanted Afternoon

The Firebrand

Halfway to Heaven

The Horsemaster's Daughter

The Hostage

Husband for Hire

The Mistress

Passing Through Paradise

A Summer Affair

The You I Never Knew

Table for Five by Susan Wiggs
(Mira, $19.95, PG) ISBN 0-7783-2167-3
Susan Wiggs may write tear-jerkers, but at least theyíre honest ones.† This story of two different people brought together because of three orphaned children avoids manipulative sentimentality because of its emotional accuracy.† It doesnít hurt that Table for Five features the most endearing hero Iíve encountered this year.† †

Lily Robinson has a perfectly well-ordered, predictable and secure life as a third grade teacher in Comfort, Oregon.† After growing up in an unhappy family, she has avoided intense emotional relationships, channeling her nurturing instincts towards her students.† Her only close friendship is with childhood friend Crystal Holloway, and she has always been fond of Crystalís three children, especially in the past two years since Crystal divorced her cheating husband, Derek. †

Sean McGuire has recently returned to Oregon after a scandal cost him his professional golfing career on the Pan-Asian tour.† Always in the shadow of his more famous half-brother, Derek Holloway, Sean hasnít a clue where to go from here.† Suddenly, he has no choice but to take on an enormous and overwhelming responsibility.† On a rainy night, Derek and Crystal are killed in a car accident and Sean is appointed the guardian of teenaged Cameron, eight-year old Charlene (ďCharlieĒ) and toddler Ashley.† Sean accepts the awesome responsibility with surprising maturity, but also realizes he has no idea how to be a parent, especially in this tragic situation.† †

Grief-stricken but determined to help the Holloway children, Lily also turns her quiet life upside down to spend as much time as possible with them.† Her carefully scheduled, neatly ordered parenting style contrasts wildly with Seanís spontaneous, casual attitude, but as the two work together they slowly realize that theyíre becoming something they never imagined Ė a new family.† But itís a constant struggle and there are many challenges in addition to helping the three children process their almost unimaginable grief and anger.† Sean, at a professional crossroads, realizes he has a tremendous financial responsibility on his hands and wonders how he can resurrect a golfing career that would require long trips away from home.† A long-held secret about one of the children could threaten the custody arrangement.† And Lily gradually realizes that her fear of becoming involved emotionally may not be a match for her growing feelings towards hunky, commitment-phobic, out-of-her-league Sean McGuire. †

Okay, itís a hokey and predictable plot, but Wiggs writes so well that itís easy to get caught up in the drama.† Although she hammers home the message a little too strongly in the first chapters about Lilyís emotional isolation, she lets her heroine gradually change and relax.† For a woman who eats only organically grown food and drinks only herbal tea, itís both hilarious and touching when Lily finally lets loose in a surprising yet absolutely genuine way.† †

The primary reason for the storyís success, however, is Sean McGuire.† What could be sexier than a man who is forced to become Father of the Year and does so without complaining or trying to foist his responsibility on someone else?† He knows he is completely in over his head, but he keeps making the effort knowing that the childrenís needs come first.† Iím not a golf fan Ė I canít stand the sport, in fact Ė but I rooted for Sean during the inevitable golf tournament that has major repercussions for his career and reputation.† No wonder single women from all over the country send him marriage proposals and underwear in the mail!†

† The three children are portrayed realistically, especially 16 year old Cameron, whose grief at first is overshadowed by his anger.† Their gut-wrenching and multifaceted reactions to the death of their parents never hit a false note.† The only minor misstep Wiggs makes is to assume that two-year old Ashley would be unaffected by the loss.† She might not be able to verbalize it as clearly as her two older siblings but she would be devastated in her own way.† †

The relationship between Sean and Lily doesnít gather steam until the last fourth of the book; it would have been inappropriate to start it any sooner when everyoneís grief was so raw.† In a sense itís more of a story of five people falling in love with each other than a simple romance, but you never get the feeling that Sean wants Lily to be part of his life just because she is a good mother.† †

If you like Lifetime TV movies in book form, donít miss Table for Five.† Itís the best kind of tear-jerker, one that leaves you feeling reassured and hopeful when you finish the last page.† †

--Susan Scribner

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