Arranged in Heaven by Sara Jarrod
(Jove, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-515-12275-0
****
Take two Jewish mothers, both dead, who decide to get their single children matched up back on Earth, and you have the prescription for an entertaining romance. Arranged in Heaven delivers the goods. And it offers one of the most endearing heroes you're likely to meet this summer.

Ruth and Sylvia are both worried. They're in Heaven, and their children are wandering around Earth happily unattached. This will never do. They need to move into action and arrange for the two to meet. Grandchildren are a must, even if these two Nanas will have to watch them from Heaven.

Dan Newman is a neurosurgeon, specializing in the repair of damaged limbs, especially hands. One day he literally runs into a woman in the hallway of the hospital, knocking her off her feet. She gets up and lights into him for being so clumsy (I have to admit, this put me off a bit) and then reveals that she is the daughter of Dr. Eli Harris, chief of surgery. Dan is intrigued and invites her to dinner. No way, Gayla Harris responds. No fancy dinners with doctors who think they are God. If Dan wants to see her again, he can come to the country club where she works as a swim coach and they'll have a race in the pool. She'll beat him, too, she declares.

At this point, warning lights were flashing all over in this reader's mind. An insulting termagant, flinging around challenges and ultimatums, is hardly my idea of a likable romance heroine. It's to the authors' credit that their skillful writing managed to redeem her.

Dan accepts and arrives at the country club on time, where he has a little surprise of his own. He has a prosthesis on his left leg, the result of a childhood cancer surgery. Dan buries his misgivings and takes a swim with Gayla, who after the initial shock, enjoys the challenge of the race. They do have dinner together — at McDonalds. And as Gayla and Dan grow closer, we find out that Gayla's spirit is as scarred as Dan's body. Unlike Dan, she has not yet come to terms with the trauma in her life.

Dr. Eli Harris wanted only one thing from his daughter - for her to make the Olympic swimming team. When Gayla missed her objective, miscarried an unplanned baby, and lost her hand-picked fiancé, Eli disowned her. Gayla turned to drugs and alcohol and has spent the last several years getting her life back together. She still longs for her father's forgiveness, mourns the death of her mother, and is terrified that she'll let Dan down if he gets too close. Nevertheless, their attraction quickly deepens into a passionate love.

One of the very best things about this book is the amount of time the hero and heroine spend together. Dan and Gayla grow close, and the reader is there to enjoy it with them. The sex scenes between these two are hot. Make that very hot. I had no doubt that they'd make a terrific couple, devoted to each other.

The one quibble I had with the story was the character of Eli and Gayla's reaction to him. He is a continual SOB, demeaning her to Dan, refusing to talk to her, belittling her at every opportunity. Even when Gayla makes a special effort to reconcile with him, he berates her and kicks her out. At this point, I very nearly lost patience with our heroine. Enough, already, I thought. They guy is a lost cause, so move on and focus on the new man in your life. Sometimes people have to bring their own closure to events if the other parties won't engage. Why hang a sign on that says "Kick me some more"?

But Gayla doesn't do that. To the very end of the book, she keeps making herself miserable over her father's lack of forgiveness. He's such a jerk, I found it exasperating that she'd continue to care. There was no growth in her character in that respect, no independence of spirit that would make me feel she'd found her inner strength. Even the ending didn't resolve that issue.

Dan, on the other hand, was terrific. The authors did extensive research on prosthetics and people who use them, and it was fascinating reading to see how he coped. His humor, sensitivity, and good nature sparkled. As a redeemer, he was the perfect foil for Gayla.

By the way, most of the characters in this book are Jewish, and small references to Jewish customs and traditions flow seamlessly into the story. A reference to smashing a wineglass at a wedding was used effectively in several scenes.

Anyway, Arranged in Heaven will entertain you on a summer's evening. The hero alone is enough to recommend this book without hesitation. The snappy dialogue, interesting plot, and simmering romance are icing on the cake.

--Cathy Sova


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