True-Blue Texan by Linda Barrett
(Harl. Superromance #1001, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-71001-1
****
True-Blue Texan is based on a fairy tale twist that's different and intriguing. I can't decide if it has shades of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty or all of the above. In fact, I can't decide who really rescues whom, which makes this a wonderful gender reversal book.

When she was nineteen, Katrin Kowalski's parents were killed in a car wreck. Her mother's dying advice was to find an educated man. "Education is every . . . thing. But also a good man." Now at twenty-nine and calling herself Katherine Kirby, she's moved from Chicago to Houston. Her college teaching career is on hold while she finishes her dissertation. Without her doctorate, she can't be tenured, so she's teaching a GED class at a junior college.

Katherine is at first a hard-nosed teacher, going by the book, but she loosens up as her students become important to her. She realizes that while these people may be high school dropouts, their studies are as important to them and their future as hers is to her future.

Two people make definite impressions on her. The first is thirty-four-old Tony Martinelli, who is taking charge of his family's construction business. His dream is to be an architect, but he dropped out of high school during his troubled youth. Now as a surprise to his parents and family, he's hoping to present them with his GED and then enroll in college.

Katherine and Tony are drawn to sixteen-year-old Jeremy, a troubled and angry but very bright young man in the class. Tony sees himself in Jeremy and vows to help the kid. If only all troubled kids had such good role models and mentors.

With its length, this category romance has the page space to explore secondary themes at length, and it takes full advantage of that. I wish that some had been tightened, combined or eliminated all together. The story feels a bit cluttered with all the plot lines. There's the obvious disparity in Katherine and Tony's educational background, but that one's resolved easily. Jeremy's inclusion is also integral to the story. But then more secondary plot lines are in use.

Tony's company is bidding on a large contract with the school district, one that will make their reputation as a quality commercial builder. But there's a spy who wants insider information and will seemingly stop at nothing to get the information. Tony finds himself playing Sir Galahad and Sherlock Holmes to determine what's going on.

Next is the issue of Tony continuing his education and entering college. It's attainable, but we find out that his father's health is in question. While Tony's father is willing to shoulder the responsibility while Tony works and attends college, his mother worries about his dad's health. So Tony's in a conundrum about his future plans.

As I write this and analyze what I liked and what I didn't care for, the main problem I have is with Katherine. Her motivations, her needs, her desires . . . none of these are truly explained. She's out of focus and because of that, doesn't seem to be in Tony's league. I sometimes wondered what he saw in her.

And occasionally I became bemused and then annoyed as Tony calls her Katherine, Kathy, Kat, Katrin. I was so disconcerted that I might have missed a honey lamb or sweetie pie. Yes, this is a personal dislike, one of too many names for one character, but it's been a long time since I've read a book where a character is called by so many derivations. As to why she changed her name from Katrin to Katherine - - well, I guess I missed that sentence.

In spite of some problems, I'm glad I read True-Blue Texan. It's a fitting tribute to those who work hard to attain goals. Can I recommend it to friends? Or strangers in the book store? Even though I have some concerns?

You bet I can!

--Linda Mowery


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