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In Memory's Shadow

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The Last Two Bachelors
by Linda Randall Wisdom
(Harl. American #774, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16774-1
Imagine one day a friend comes by and says she's taking you for a ride, and she's not telling you where you're going. So, curious but optimistic, you get in the car and depart. Your friend stops in at a 7-11, picks up her dry cleaning, and goes by the post office, and still you wait patiently. You have your suspicions about where you might be headed, but one by one, your friend passes all the expected turns. Hours later, you're barreling down a lost highway with no exit ramps in sight, and even now, your friend won't give you a clue. Sounds frustrating, doesn't it? Not to mention bewildering and aggravating. And that's a lot like the experience of reading The Last Two Bachelors.

I know I've written reviews in the past that said that the books in question had no conflict. I now see that I must clarify – what I really meant was that those books had weak conflict, or implausible conflict, or contrived conflict. But they did indeed have conflict, an essential component of story. Their authors at least made an attempt, however unconvincing, to give the reader a reason why the hero and heroine couldn't be together. So in a way, The Last Two Bachelors breaks new ground, but it really wasn't worth the cost of the shovels.

Let me try to summarize this plot that isn't. Sandi Galloway is a kindergarten teacher who has recently moved back to her hometown, Montgomery Beach, to start her life over after a bad breakup. While temping during the summer as a waitress for her sister's catering business, she meets Patrick O'Connor at a wedding reception. This adorable five-year-old and Sandi hit it off immediately, and Patrick convinces his dad, Jack O'Connor, that Sandi should be his nanny for the summer.

Jack and Patrick have also recently moved to Montgomery Beach – so recently that they're still living in a hotel. Jack does need a nanny for Patrick, and Sandi could use the generous salary (Jack's fabulously wealthy, of course), so the deal is struck. For the next million pages or so, Sandi and Patrick get along famously, go to the park, and explore tide pools. Meanwhile, Sandi and Jack have a few conversations, inexplicably enter into a fake engagement, and start sleeping together.

Want to go back to that fake engagement part? Well, I'd love to provide you with more information, but I just never understood the situation. Here's what I know. Patrick's mother is out of the picture – she never wanted to marry Jack or have a child, so she is simply not a part of their lives. But her mother, Patrick's grandmother, keeps in touch, and Jack gets the idea that she might want to send Patrick to boarding school, as she did with her own daughter. I don't know why this strikes him as any kind of real threat, since he has full and legal custody of Patrick, and especially since the grandmother is just a really nice lady who clearly has no intention of making the slightest attempt to interfere in the way Jack raises Patrick. Furthermore, I have no idea why Jack feels that pretending to be engaged to Sandi will have any effect on the situation.

But whatever, he suddenly announces that they're engaged. Sandi plays along, and plays along, and plays along…. I kept waiting for her to ask him what the heck was going on, but she just doesn't. News of the engagements gets out, and Sandi's friends and family members ask her what the heck is going on. Each time this happened, I'd get excited, thinking finally the mystery would be solved. No such luck – Sandi manages to divert their questions, and mine, every time, probably because she doesn't know the answers.

And really, that's it. No, no, you're saying, there must be something else, some obstacle standing in the way of true love. Sorry, nope. These are just two nice people who have no hang-ups, no dark secrets, no crazy first wives locked in the attic. Now maybe that's nice for them, but does it sound like fun to read about? Where's the story? Where are we going? When can I get out of this car?

So complete lack of conflict pretty much makes this book a nonentity, but I suppose it could have been improved by interesting, well-developed characters. Unfortunately, Sandi and Jack are shallow, generic, and bland. Patrick fares a little better – at least he's cute without being precious – so the scenes he's in are fairly bearable. But the book is further dragged down by awkward, heavy-handed writing. The author seems to feel that her readers aren't sharp enough to get her clever double entendres, so there are lots of passages like this one where Jack thinks about Sandi:

She most definitely smelled good. Looked even better . . . . Patrick told him she read great bedtimes stories. The latter brought a lot of interesting activities to mind.

Get it? Well, just in case, there's more:

Except, when it came to the idea of bedtime activities, Jack had something entirely different in mind.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Geez, enough already, I get it! I have more complaints about this book, but I think you get the idea. Just trust me – when your friend drops by, lock the doors, turn out the lights, and for heaven's sake, stay out of that car.

--Ellen Hestand

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