Bewitching the Baron

The Changeling Bride

The Mermaid of Penperro

Of Midnight Born

The Wildest Shore

Dating Without Novocaine
by Lisa Cach
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, R) ISBN 0-373-25014-2
Red Dress Ink is Harlequin’s attempt to capture a younger reading audience by cashing in on the Brit Chick Lit craze. Dating Without Novocaine is my first foray into this line, but it will probably be my last as well. The Brit Chick Lit phenomenon loses something when it crosses the Atlantic, and I fear the dating life of the 20-something American female doesn’t hold this 40-something’s interest. Those readers closer to the target demographic will likely appreciate it more than I did, however.

As she nears the magical mark of 30, Hannah O’Dowd decides that she needs to get serious about dating-with-intent-to marry. Along with her best friends, Cassie, Louise and Scott, Hannah devises a cohesive strategy to find that Mr. “One-in-a-Million” somewhere near her home of Portland Oregon. But can love be found through this methodical approach? Perhaps, as the New Age-y Cassie suggests, Hannah just has to open her chakras to the experience and let love find her. Will she have success through Internet matching websites, or by hanging out in testosterone-rich places like Sportsman’s Expos? Or maybe the right guy is closer than she realizes.

That plot summary is admittedly brief, but frankly Dating Without Novocaine is a fairly simple story. The attractive, self-employed and slightly wild Hannah has various misadventures with a few obvious Mr. Wrongs while also finding time to worry about her friends’ love lives and make occasional visits to her nice but clueless parents. The plot is enriched by several funny, R-rated episodes in which Hannah spares no details about her sexual disasters. There are also a few surprisingly poignant scenes as Hannah copes with her parents’ aging process and studies them carefully to determine how their marriage has endured for so long. But overall the moral comes down to nothing more earth-shattering than “live your own life and be happy without a man.”

As I read Dating Without Novocaine, I realized that the main factor that drew me to Brit Chick Lit books was the “Brit” aspect. Even a mediocre plot with flat characters can be enjoyable as long as I can add new British phrases (such as “grotty bed-sit” and “speccy git”) to my collection. Without the linguistic and cultural differences, this American version is just a formulaic story about a young woman who hasn’t figured out yet that she has value even without a mate. And frankly, at the advanced age of 40, I need more depth and breadth from my reading experience.

The novel has a certain outlandish charm, and I suspect readers who are still in the dating phase of life will enjoy it. Be forewarned that, unlike traditional romances, the heroine doesn’t ride off into the sunset with her handsome prince. Hannah may, or may not, have found the right guy, but she is secure in herself either way. And come to think of it, that’s not a bad message for those prospective young female readers out there.

--Susan Scribner

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