Cinderella & the Spy

Dangerous to Love

Spies, Lies & Lovers

Wife, Mother...Lover?

As Teresa Hill:

Twelve Days

Unbreak My Heart

 
Magic in a Jelly Jar
by Sally Tyler Hayes
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1390, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24390-1
*****
This is a skillfully written book, more sophisticated than you’d think from the premise, and a gift to readers who believe (despite so much evidence to the contrary) that “real life” and “romance” need not be mutually exclusive.

Samantha Carter is a children’s dentist who dresses up as the tooth fairy to visit public schools and talk about dental health. Unfortunately seven-year-old Luke Carter believes that she is the actual tooth fairy and becomes secretly convinced that, if he can only collect enough teeth (one hundred!) and wish hard enough, she will grant his heart’s desire. Luke’s mother deserted the family and then filed for divorce, leaving Joe Carter with sole custody of Luke and little sister Dani. Luke wants his mother back very badly.

Naturally, since Luke doesn’t have a hundred teeth of his own, he’s trying to acquire inventory from other children, bringing his odd quest to the attention of his teachers and father. Joe takes Luke to visit Samantha at her office hoping to find out what’s at the bottom of this junior dental practice.

Immediately attracted to each other, Joe and Samantha have good reasons not to get involved. Joe doesn’t want his kids hurt by someone else who might not stick around, and Samantha still hurts over a breakup with a man whose two daughters she loved and is no longer allowed to see.

At this point I rolled my eyes, anticipating “I’ve been hurt I’ll never love again”- and was very pleasantly surprised. Sally Tyler Hayes rings this note and lets it reverberate through the story but never allows it to become monotonous. Both Joe and Samantha grow naturally and steadily, the characters developing from scene to scene as they work through their growing attraction, the logistics of a developing relationship and their concern for the kids. Reality, but better. The book starts at a deceptively slow pace, then builds with compelling consistency right through to the final page. What a pleasure to read.

I am always leery of children in romance, but Luke and Dani are not overly-precocious or sickly-sweet plot devices, they’re pretty genuine kids and they play their part in the story without taking it over. Sure, they’re cute, but they’re not unrealistic and they help bring Samantha and Joe together with the speed that is required in a book of this length without making it seem forced.

Samantha is not at all what I expected from a character who dresses as the tooth fairy. She’s not a ditz, she’s a responsible, mature woman who is occasionally embarrassed by her dress-up act but understands that it gets the kids’ attention for her message. In her office, she does little magic tricks to relax her young patients and she’s probably just the dentist you’d love to find for your own young ones. She’s understandably cautious about getting involved again, but she lets go of it gradually, in ways that make sense under the circumstances, and with Joe’s help.

But, more good news for readers, the real star of this show is Joe. He’s smart, handsome, sensitive, a devoted if occasionally baffled father, and, recovering from the blow dealt him by his ex-wife, endearingly human and all guy. Once he realizes that Samantha is the woman for him, he doesn’t hesitate to go after her. Oh yeah, and since his responsibilities to his kids don’t always permit him to spend the time he’d like with Samantha, we also discover that he’s as talented at phone sex as he is at the face-to-face kind. It’s deftly handled - both sexy and romantic.

I would never have picked up Magic in a Jelly Jar on my own. The kids, the tooth fairy and the whole jelly jar thing would have sounded too saccharine for my rather cynical taste and my own assumption that I’d prefer something with a little less charm and a lot more edge. But this is a well-written, appealing story of surprising depth and I can recommend it even to the most jaded palate, along with a pot of your favorite tea and several decadent cookies, as the best kind of antidote to a long, hard day.

--Judi McKee


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