All Shook Up

Baby, Don't Go

Baby, I'm Yours

Be My Baby


Getting Lucky

Head Over Heels

Hot and Bothered


Present Danger

Shadow Dance


Just for Kicks by Susan Andersen
(Mira, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2315-3
This book has some nice moments, and it moves along at a good clip, but it reads too much like too many other books, so my interest never got past the halfway point on the enthuso-meter.

Carly Jacobsen is a Las Vegas showgirl who rescues and rehabilitates troubled animals in her spare time, and her newest project is a recalcitrant dog named Rufus with a barking problem. This does not endear Carly to her new neighbor, Wolfgang Jones, who objects to the incessant barking and therefore must be a dog-hater. It doesn’t help that Wolf is the by-the-book, number-two security guy at the casino where Carly works.

For his part, Wolf thinks Carly is frivolous and irresponsible, but while Carly’s noisy dog is pretty annoying, Wolf actually has bigger challenges in his life. He’s got a long-term plan that involves running his own security operation at a respectable company somewhere other than Sin City, so he doesn’t see much point in making friends or getting involved.

He’s also reluctantly assuming guardianship of his sixteen-year-old nephew, Nik. Wolf’s folks, who’ve been taking up the slack from Nik’s unreliable mother, are moving to Germany to run a biergarten. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that Nik, an up-and-coming soccer star, would actually be much better off in Europe, where soccer players are gods. (Yeah, yeah, I know – since when did logic figure prominently in romance novels?)

Carly’s life is also about to get more complicated, as it seems someone is stalking her. This development is more for the reader than the characters, though, as Carly doesn’t know she’s being stalked until the book is almost over.

Carly and Wolf are pretty much staple romance characters. She’s a beautiful, smart-talking, independent woman who objects vociferously to being judged on appearances, but has no compunction whatsoever about judging Wolf – and harshly – based purely on her prejudices about him. He’s an uptight alpha loner who’s got a plan, and he’s determined to stick to that plan come hell or high water. Interestingly, it was easier for me to like Wolf, because the scenes in his point of view actually show that there’s more to him than meets Carly’s eye.

When we’re in Carly’s point of view, the more negative aspects of her character still tend to be emphasized as she snarks with her friends about what a big meanie Wolf is. She does, however, get full marks for behaving with maturity around Nik.

But the fact is that Wolf develops more as a character. You can pretty much predict that being landed with a disgruntled teenager is going to shake up Wolf’s carefully ordered world, and it does. Although he stumbles, he responds to the challenge with sense and affection, again showing us that he’s far from the rigid tight-ass Carly paints him.

Nik, blessedly, is neither a snotty brat nor a paragon; he’s just an unhappy teenager looking for a place to belong, and it was charming to see him open up when he realized he might actually have a home here. I think the author might entertainingly have made more of his attempts to throw Wolf and Carly together, hoping to derail Wolf’s plans to up sticks for a more ‘respectable’ life elsewhere.

While the story generally moves along at a nice pace, it is interrupted by too many chatty conversations between Carly and her friends that are more an opportunity to show off the heroine’s edgy ‘tude than further the story, and they tend to emphasize the shallower end of her character. There is also a tendency towards play-by-play-itis, with some actions described in far more detail than is actually interesting. On the other hand, there are some genuinely funny moments, and nice heat between Carly and Wolf – and I appreciated Carly’s unabashed sexual confidence.

How much you enjoy this book will be a matter of taste, but Ms. Andersen is true to her voice so the first twenty pages will tell you everything you need to know. If reading them leaves you wanting more, then the rest of the book will be right up your alley.

-- Judi McKee

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