An Unlikely Prince
by Barbara Jean Hicks
(Waterbrook, $6.95, G) ISBN 1-57856-122-1
**
Assigning a rating to this book was a difficult task. I felt as though I'd been slogging through a dismal swamp until three-quarters of the way through when suddenly the story turned quite charming. It's too bad an editor didn't scrap the first three-quarters and insist on a rewrite. A reader shouldn't have to endure so many pages of lackluster prose before getting to the good part.

Suzie Wyatt is opening a preschool in her parents' home in small-town Pilchuck, Washington, along with her sister-in-law Priscilla. Suzie is petite, enthusiastic, and engages in conversations with God. She's wonderful with kids, polite to crotchety old ladies, and teaches Sunday school. She's so sweet she could cause cavities.

Priscilla is on the look-out for eligible men for Suzie, and the new tenant next door, Dr. Harrison Hunt, seems ideal.

Dr. Hunt turns out to be a college history professor on sabbatical to write a history of the local county. He's a college professor from the Henry Higgins mold. (In case you missed it, the double 'h' is a clue.) He's shy, set in his ways, embarrassed around women, has his canned goods arranged in alphabetical order and a screen saver on his computer with his favorite Bible verse from First Corinthians: "Let all things be done decently and in order." His pet (to whom he talks) is a fish name Blue. He has rented the house next to Suzie's with the belief that it will be the perfect quiet retreat for writing and study.

He is horrified to learn that preschoolers will be invading his zone of quiet each day. He signs a petition presented by another neighbor, hoping to get the city council to close down the preschool.

It doesn't take long, however, for Harrison to discover that Suzie is enchanting and "downright delectable." Eventually he's won over by the ever-so-adorable kids as well. This is the majority of the book: the kids do cute things; Harrison is horrified; the kids do more cute things; Harrison and Suzie go ga-ga over each other; the kids do lots more cute things.

This is contemporary romance in the "Leave It to Beaver" tradition: warm, fuzzy, and closer to fantasy than reality. This story's more suited for twelve-year-olds – if they'd ever consider reading a story with "old" people! – than adults.

I'm sure that there are still some thirty-year old women who aren't jaded from years of experience and have stars in their eyes. But when was the last time you heard a modern woman say some day her prince will come outside of a Disney movie?

I'm sure there are still some forty-year old men who don't have hatch-marks on their bedposts, but have you ever know one who blushed, stammered (remember, he's a college professor), and mentally categorized a pretty woman as "Potential Sweetheart?"

WaterBrook Press publishes inspirational romances. (The Christian theme in this book is pretty pervasive.) I never thought inspirational was a synonym for sophomoric, but that's the conclusion a reader could easily reach based on this story. The characters are single-dimensional and unrealistic, and the writing is awkward and frequently juvenile.

Someday her prince would come.

"Hopefully before I'm old and gray," she muttered as she carefully slid her paint-soaked brush along the wall where it met the ceiling. It wouldn't do to spatter the Blueberry Milk Shake wall paint onto the freshly painted Vanilla Cream ceiling.

Suddenly an ear-piercing siren shattered the quiet. Suzie's hand jerked, and the pristine ceiling was no longer pristine. Neither was Suzie's face. Drat! She'd never get used to that blasted town siren.

WOOoo-WOOoo-WOOoo-WOOoo!

Woof was barking his head off, of course, and Gordie was yelling, "Far! Far!" and probably racing around the–

She heard a door slam.

"Gordie!"

She scrambled down the ladder. The paint tray, poised precariously on the ladder's shelf, teetered dangerously. She grabbed for it. Blueberry Milk Shake splattered across the front of her shirt and down the Vanilla Cream doorjamb.

Drat!

I don't recommend reading a couple hundred pages of this just to get to the sweet scenes near the end of the book. If you should pick it up, skim quickly until Harrison and Suzie are about to go on their first date. (Yes, it takes three-quarters of the book to get them to that point.)

I wish to make one additional observation. Both Harrison and Suzie regularly visit the library (good for them!) and interact with the librarian, Ian Rafferty. "She'd gone into a dither when she discovered who his father was – as much of a dither as a proper librarian ever got into." Now maybe I'm an improper librarian, but I know there are few thing that get librarians into as much of a dither as reading yet another perpetuation of the prim-and-uptight librarian myth. You can trust me on this: librarians are as dither-able as anyone else.

For one thing, we get into a dither when we waste several perfectly good reading hours on a book like this!

--Lesley Dunlap


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