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Bidding for Love
by Katie Fforde
(St. Martin’s, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-35963-2
Katie Fforde’s 10th novel published in America follows her familiar pattern: young woman has life-changing upheaval, subsequently finds untapped potential in both love and work.  These very British novels are charming but predictable, and you have to like your heroes on the gruff side to appreciate her happily-ever-after endings.   

Pretty, blonde Flora Stanza is accustomed to getting by on her looks, but when she inherits 51% of an antiques business in the small town of Bishopsbridge courtesy of her uncle, she realizes that she can’t charm her way out of a difficult situation.  Her distant cousin Charles is the minority owner, and he and his stuffy fiancée Annabelle make it clear they don’t want Flora around.  In fact, they strongly encourage her to sell some of her shares to Annabelle so control of the company can remain with the couple.  Even after they reluctantly settle Flora and her pregnant cat in a rustic cottage, they trust her to do only the most menial tasks at Stanza and Stanza. 

  Flora finds several allies, most notably in the form of an elderly long-term employee who views Flora as a badly-needed breath of fresh air for a stagnant business.  Far from missing fast-paced London, Flora finds there is much to appreciate about country life.  She joins the local choir, meets a handsome, flirtatious divorcee and starts fixing up the cottage.  As she proves to Charles that she is willing to start at the bottom and work her way up without complaints, he begins to thaw a little, and even the matronly Annabelle asks Flora to perform a “Trinny & Susannah” fashion makeover.  But just as Flora’s Big Idea for reviving the business is implemented, she realizes that she has some very non-familial feelings for Charles.  Can she out-bid the suddenly attractive but still devious Annabelle for his love? 

  Many of Fforde’s novels feature insecure heroines who find confidence in their attractiveness as the plot progresses.  Bidding for Love is a slight departure in that Flora already knows she’s pretty, but doesn’t believe she has the brains or persistence to be a long-term professional success.  While her idea to save Stanza and Stanza isn’t exactly revolutionary, it’s rewarding to see the personal growth that results from her newly-discovered stubbornness and perseverance. 

 The romance is another story.  If you can get past the slightly icky notion that Flora and Charles are cousins (albeit distant) with the same last name, you can’t help but be turned off by Charles’ grumpy behavior and overbearing manner, even when he is supposedly sweeping Flora off her feet.  Flora’s best friend describes him as “extremely attractive in a Mr-Darcy-in-need-of-an-enema kind of way” but I suspect many American readers will have a hard time warming up to him, even if he does have a few redeeming qualities such as an interest in Flora’s adorable new kittens.   

Fforde’s writing style is unmistakably British, with dry wit and rather understated emotions.  Her secondary characters, including Flora’s elderly mentor and an artist she encounters in a surprising manner, provide the plot with additional richness.  With summer approaching and Queen Elizabeth’s recent visit to our country still fresh in your mind, you could do a lot worse for escapist reading than Bidding for Love.   

--Susan Scribner

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