At Last

The Day We Met

Once Around

Shore Lights

A Soft Place to Fall

Chances Are by Barbara Bretton
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-19796-4
Chances Are reads like a script for a Lifetime movie. It’s not so much romance as women’s fiction with a heavy dash of soap opera, and those looking for a good love story are likely to find it unsatisfying.

In the small Jersey Shore town of Paradise Point, single mother Maddy Bainbridge is planning her wedding to single dad Aidan O’Malley. Her five-year-old daughter, Hannah, and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Kelly, will form the core of their new family. Maddy’s relatives are driving her to distraction, however, and she’s seriously thinking of eloping. Forget the whole wedding business, especially after her mother invites the female members of both families to watch Maddy try on wedding gowns, a move that leaves Maddy embarrassed over her love handles and less-than-perfect figure.

Maddy’s relationship with Aidan’s sister, Claire, is also under some strain. Claire has always been close to Kelly, and resents the fact that Kelly and Maddy get along so well. Hannah also adores Kelly, making Claire feel even more like an outsider.

To add to the confusion, PBS is doing a special series on Paradise Point, and journalist Pete Lassiter is in town with his inquisitive crew. Claire, a widow with five kids, meets up with an old flame who is now a globe-trotting photographer. And Maddy’s cousin, Gina, is harboring a dark secret that could inflict a great deal of pain on the families.

The story comes to a climax when Kelly finds herself in trouble and turns to Maddy, swearing her to secrecy. Maddy must decide whether to help Kelly and risk losing Aidan’s trust.

There are so many characters and sub-plots in this book that it reads more like a soap opera than a romance. Maddy and Aidan spend precious little page space together, and the action constantly hops from one character to the next. Readers are asked to follow six or seven story lines at once. This is fine if you’re willing to follow an ensemble cast, but distracting if you’re looking for a central story. Rather than being the focal point of the book, Maddy and Aidan’s romance feels like just another subplot, leaving the book without a strong core, or indeed, any core at all.

The writing is technically excellent, and readers who read Bretton’s earlier book, Shore Lights, will find many of the same characters. The author does her best to bring the characters to life and provide them with enough backstory to make them sympathetic, but there are just so many of them it’s hard to make it work. There’s loving, understanding Maggy, caustic Claire, good-girl Kelly, adorable Hannah, Maddy’s acerbic mother Rose, hunky Aidan, party girl Gina, etc. We don’t spend enough time with any of them for them to really come to life, though their problems will capture our interest.

As an ensemble family saga of sorts, Chances Are works very well. The action moves the story forward at a brisk pace, and these are interesting enough characters to hold the reader’s attention. As a romance, however, it’s unsatisfying, and thus only garners an “acceptable” rating. Readers will definitely want to judge for themselves on this one.

--Cathy Sova

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home