A Time for Us

Bedazzled by Christine Holden
(Jove Magical Love, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12774-4
There's a germ of an interesting idea in Bedazzled, but unfortunately the two women who write as Christine Holden utterly fail to communicate that to the reader. The awkward writing, stilted dialogue and clichéd purple prose totally overshadow an unusual fantasy plot device -- a magical silver bowl named Elvis.

Our heroine is spoiled but kindhearted Ashley Douglas, who has been living on her own for several years in New Orleans ever since her father cut off her allowance. She has been trying to change her spendthrift ways, while working for a hotel that is partially owned by her family. But despite her efforts to reform, she has just spent one hundred dollars on a nondescript antique bowl. She is dismayed when her older brother Zach spots her outside the antique store, and her discomfort increases when she realizes that Zach is accompanied by Jordan Bennett. Ashley has loved her brother's best friend for years but he has never given her the time of day, considering her immature and wasteful.

But "Rash Ash's" purchase turns out to be more than she bargained for. She is now the guardian of a magic bowl that dates back to Arthurian times. The bowl writes messages to Ashley on a notepad, informing her that he likes to be known as Elvis. Suddenly, Jordan Bennett is looking at Ashley with smoldering passion in his eyes. An aspiring chef, he ends up working at the hotel Ashley is managing, so their paths cross often. But will the miserly Jordan ever take Ashley seriously? Will Elvis' magic aid or doom their fledgling romance?

It is almost impossible to get past the amateurish writing style of Bedazzled to find anything rewarding in the plot. Modifiers dangle and malapropisms abound. The dialogue is wooden, bordering on ludicrous. And the characterizations of the Douglas family maid and Jordan's two African-American kitchen assistants have disturbing racial overtones.

Ashley isn't a total flop as a heroine, and she does display some growth by the end of the novel as she learns to function as an independent, professional woman. But Jordan is nobody's idea of a hero, despite his "perfectly sculptured tall frame and dark, good looks." He is such a self-righteous prig that it's difficult to understand why Ashley would have loved him for years. It doesn't help matters that Christine Holden puts words in his mouth that have never been uttered by a real American male. They're so unrealistic that they are unintentionally hilarious.

There really isn't much plot or conflict to write home about either. Jordan and Ashley get together, they kiss, subjecting the reader to some incredibly purple prose, then Jordan realizes he can't take Ashley seriously and he pulls back. Then the next time they're together, he's caught in Elvis' magical spell and kisses her again.

It's hard to know what to make of an ancient magical bowl that speaks in 20th century vernacular, listens to Elvis records and gets turned on when Ashley caresses its stand. I guess the authors were going for a light touch, but the fantasy element comes across as simply bizarre. I do give them credit for originality, though.

The primary emotion I felt upon finishing this novel was relief. The front cover boasts an endorsement from Romantic Times (which, as we all know, is the final word on objective reviews) indicating that Christine Holden "shows promise and flair." There may be promise in Bedazzled somewhere, but it is definitely a promise unfulfilled.

--Susan Scribner

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