Miss Match by Leslie Carroll
(Ivy, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1999-6
Am I the only person in North America who thinks Sex in the City is an asinine show? Judging from the number of contemporary romances lately that hail Sex in the City as its muse, the answer must be yes. Miss Match, Leslie Carroll’s debut romance, not only has a glowing blurb on the cover that references - you guessed - that show, but the New York City dating service to which the heroine goes is called "Six in the City". Just in case you missed the comparison, I guess.

Kathryn “Kitty” Lamb is tired of people pestering her about her love life. Her married sister and her nosy neighbor are the chief culprits, so Kitty decides to shut them up by registering at a matchmaking service. She gets thirty seconds on video to say a hello to available men who will view the tape. Kitty can’t keep a straight face on camera, and when the video operator tells her that the time is up, Kitty’s response is “Are you one taco shy of a combination plate?”

And that’s on page two. Welcome to Snappy Dialogue 101. If this cracks you up, you’re going to love Miss Match. If you have little tolerance for a thirty-four year old woman uttering lines like “Been there, done that, have the T-shirt”, then you may find the book less entrancing.

The voice behind the camera, as Kitty finds out, belongs to Walker “Bear” Hart. He’s the son of the owner, who is also Kitty’s nosy neighbor, and he’s filling in for his mother while she’s off in Wales getting married for the seventh or eighth time. Bear is the darling of Wall Street, sort of a junior version of Warren Buffet, and he puts out a financial newsletter called The Hart Monitor that analysts swear by. He’s a multi-millionaire. But as he puts it,

“Nowadays it practically prints itself; I could write my weekly column in my sleep and my staff takes care of the rest.”

So Bear is a hotshot analyst who never has to, you know, actually analyze anything, and it also leaves him free to never go to work, not once, in this entire book. Which is good, because he’s running Six in the City temporarily for his mother, and he needs to provide Kitty with five dates, though he's falling in love with her himself. But Bear will never marry! Nope, he’s seen what a lousy institution marriage is, and he’s going to steer clear.

Kitty is attracted to Bear, but she wants a commitment. Date one is with a British musician who needs a green card, not a wife, but will take one to get the other. Date two is with a vice detective, and Kitty inadvertently lands in jail when things go wrong. (The scene in the holding tank with various ladies - and gents - of the evening is one of the best in the book, by the way.) Meanwhile, Bear moves into his mother’s penthouse apartment while she’s gone, and ends up on Kitty’s couch when the ceiling falls in.

My empathy for Kitty pretty much fizzled out on date three. This one turns out to be a movie star, and Kitty can’t figure out why he’d pick her out of a dating service, of all things. But here’s her chance to do the wild thing with a Famous Actor, so she ends up in bed with him back at his hotel after knowing him for less than six hours. Oh, they don’t actually do anything because he doesn’t have a condom, and Kitty has an epiphany and realizes she doesn’t know where it has been. Later in the book, when she finds one of Bear’s dates back at her apartment with him, she accuses him of bringing a “ho” home.

And the thing is, she never even gets the irony of this.

To be honest, Miss Match wore me out. It’s so full of one-liners that there’s no respite for more mundane things like character development. At the end of the story, I barely knew either of these people. And darn it, I wanted to know them both. Kitty tells us she wants to settle down, but I had little idea why. Bear is stuck in a “I’ll never get married” rut, but I never understood how he got there. We’re told his father took off when he was little, but that’s one paragraph of backstory. The much-married-mother thing didn’t wash; she was one of the happiest characters in the book. And with Kitty and Bear constantly zinging each other with sitcom-style snappy dialogue, there were few conversations of any depth between them. One of the longest was about Kitty's eyes, and how they change color. They both like music. He’s a pianist; she teaches drama. They go out for ice cream at 1:30 am. Must be love.

Nearly as distracting as the one-liners was the product placement. I’ve never read a story with more mentions of brand names. Williams-Sonoma copper kettles. Cross pens. Steinway. Chanel. Bally. Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Vodka, underwear, aspirin, chairs, champagne, plates, magazines - the list goes on and on. I wonder if some editor suggested this. “No, he doesn’t drink beer, he drinks Rolling Rock. If he has a headache, he takes Excedrin. And it’s ‘Cristal’, not ‘good champagne’.” Surely not.

Leslie Carroll has writing talent, there’s no question of that, and there will be plenty of readers who will find this style of humor to be just their cup of tea. It will be interesting to see if her sophomore effort moves away from throwaway lines and into the hearts of her characters. That will make for a satisfying story, indeed.

--Cathy Sova

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