Terrific Tom by Martha Hix
(Silh. Sp. Edition #1186, 4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24186-0
**
When it takes me over a week to read a category romance, something's wrong. My life is in good shape, so I think the problem must have been with Terrific Tom.

Tom Tillman and Blythe Redd were high school sweethearts. When her military family moved during her senior year, Tom took her departure as traitorous and soon married someone else. The marriage was short-lived and has caused lasting bitterness between Tom and Blythe. Tom always thought that Blythe could have fought harder to stay. Blythe always wondered if perhaps Tom had been concurrently interested in the other girl, considering how fast he married the perky cheerleader.

Blythe has returned home for their high school fifteenth anniversary reunion. She's shocked to learn that Tom is now a recluse. Injured while rescuing two young sisters from their burning home, he feels that his scars make him horror movie material. He seems content to vegetate his life away in darkened rooms.

What he doesn't know is that Blythe, a nurse who works for a humanitarian organization, has gone to the world's hot spots and war zones. She has seen wounds so much more terrible than Tom's that she has trouble accepting that he's given up. After what she's witnessed, his injuries are minor-league.

The story spreads itself among the reunion, Tom's therapy and his resistance to it, his bouts of self-pity, Blythe's weight problem, secondary teenagers who are in love and run away, Tom's philanthropic plans for the town, his granny's screen test in Hollywood plus Tom and Blythe's analysis of what went wrong . . . fifteen years before. Then more issues are thrown at us. Whew, it's no wonder I had a hard time knowing what was coming next. All these are spread so thin that it's difficult to sustain interest in any of the issues.

Tom is frequently irascible; Blythe is a benevolent dictator. There is about as much sexual electricity as you'd find with Ken and Barbie, sans batteries. If these two had a hot relationship years before, things have noticeably cooled now.

Readers lament that it's hard to find heroines who aren't physically perfect. Blythe is known as Big Redd. She alternates between a size sixteen and eighteen and is not dieting, nor does she end up being svelte and gorgeous. I can't say that this issue is treated with great sensitivity. At times, when Tom is annoyed, he makes cutting comments. Honest, but cutting comments. And for all Blythe's protestations that her weight is not a concern, she's reluctant to go to the reunion and face the old teasing.

If this story had a focus, a direction, a theme, then I missed it. I guess I just never heard the message. That's okay. When one of them performs the final noble act, the supreme sacrifice, the I won't stand in your way speech, I was groaning loudly and wouldn't have heard anyway.

Terrific Tom . . . is not.

--Linda Mowery


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