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Amazing Gracie by Sherryl Woods
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-5905-1
****
Sherryl Woods delivers the goods again with a goofy screwball Southern contemporary romance. It's kind of like a sloe gin fizz bubbly and sweet with a little bit of a kick.

Gracie MacDougal abruptly quits her job as manager of a luxury French hotel when her boss' excessive cost-cutting gestures start compromising the hotel's quality. Gracie has no family, no roots and no personal ties. For many years, her workaholic tendencies have kept her too busy to be lonely. But now she's forced to stop and evaluate her life. To do so, she chooses to relax in rural Virginia, the only place where she ever had a happy family vacation.

Gracie considers Seagull Point to be a temporary haven while she decides which hotel chain to join next, but then she notices a beautiful, if neglected, Victorian house that appears to be abandoned. The words "bed and breakfast" immediately start tantalizing her fantasies. To make this new dream come true, however, she has to buy the house and the owner is no pushover.

Kevin Patrick Daniels appears to be the epitome of the good old boy, handsome and lazy. Beneath that veneer, however, is a successful estate attorney who also bears the burden of emotional and fiscal responsibility for his somewhat daffy great-aunt Delia and a host of no-good, money-grubbing cousins. The Victorian used to be Aunt Delia's home until she became too infirm to live alone. He doesn't want to sell Gracie the house because he's afraid Delia will insist on moving back. But he sure likes the looks of Gracie and doesn't mind stringing her along for a while until he decides exactly what to do with her.

Woods utilizes the familiar combination of Southern scoundrel and Yankee tight-ass and imbues the two characters with her trademark snappy dialogue. Then she adds a host of colorful small town characters and lets the sparks fly There are two additional romance subplots that also keep the pace lively.

Kevin's Southern charm is hard to resist, and it's a lot of fun watching him loosen Gracie up. His personality put me in mind of Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy. There's a hint of character growth in both Gracie and Kevin, but the book's tone is too light and breezy to linger too seriously on their transformations. Amazing Gracie is a book to be enjoyed while lolling in a hammock on a warm day and sipping lemonade which is, coincidentally, Kevin's favorite pastime. In the rush to crown new contemporary romance favorites such as Susan Andersen or Michelle Martin, let's not forget Sherryl Woods, a talented veteran author who has been releasing quality categories and contemporaries for more than a decade.

--Susan Scribner


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