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If Wishes Were… Daddies
by Jo Leigh
(Harl. American #749, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16749-0
***
If Wishes Were… Daddies is the third and final installment in the "Three Coins in a Fountain" series, and for that reason, author Jo Leigh faces a very difficult task – she has to take the villain from the two previous books and turn him into a hero.

Each of the "Three Coins" books begins in the same way. Three American women fly to Rome on three separate whims, but they all wind up in the same place – the bedroom of Nick Carlucci. Apparently Nick, a jet-setting Italian pilot and international playboy extraordinaire, had made them all feel that they would be welcome at his villa any old time. The three women, Gina, Libby, and Jessica, become instant friends over a few glasses of wine and their mutual humiliation.

Poised, practical Jessica is the hardest hit by Nick's betrayal. The other women had shared only mild flirtations with Nick, but she'd had an actual relationship with him. A pretty passionate relationship, in fact. And the day after the nightmare scene in Nick's bedroom, Jessica finds out she's pregnant with Nick's child.

She flies home to Los Angeles in shock, needing time and perspective to deal with the reality of eminent motherhood. She also has to cope with the fact that she's been a "fool for love." She and Nick had a whirlwind relationship, and they never had the time to really get to know each other. Nevertheless, Jess had let her heart rule her head – a very unusual move for this list-making logical thinker – and now it's blown up in her face in a very permanent way.

She's not ready to tell anyone about her pregnancy. She's not ready to make any big decisions. And she's certainly not ready to talk to Nick. Not yet. She plans to deal with the whole situation in her own careful, methodical way. No more rash, emotion-based decisions for this girl. From now on, her brain is definitely the boss.

But nothing goes as planned when Nick himself shows up in Los Angeles. Before long, he finds out about the baby and wastes no time making some plans of his own – namely, plans for a wedding. He's ecstatic, overjoyed, jubilant at the thought of having a child. Marrying Jessica – well, that's hardly a consideration. It's the right thing to do, and it will all work out somehow, so why bother thinking about it?

His reaction to the news of Jessica's pregnancy couldn't be more opposed to Jessica's own feelings. She wants to think, he wants to act. She wants time, he wants instant decisions. Once again, she's caught up in the whirlwind of being involved with Nick, and she's so mixed up she doesn't know what to do. Even her lists don't help. The pros outnumber the cons by a significant margin, but there's one big con that carries a lot of weight – Nick doesn't love her.

One of the things I admired about Jo Leigh's approach to this book was that she didn't cop out. It would have been easy to shape things so that Nick only seemed to be a playboy, while deep down he was just aching for commitment. Easy, yes, but not very realistic and not much of a story. Instead, Nick is just what he seems to be. A handsome, wealthy, imminently eligible guy who, while very good at heart, simply likes his free-wheeling life. He's used to acting on impulse, and he doesn't care to examine his life or his motivations too closely. While he brings chaos to Jessica's life, she brings stability to his – and he's not so sure he wants that stability.

So, because of Jessica, Nick has to learn to face his feelings and his fears. At the same time, Jessica has to do some work of her own. She must learn to really trust another person, to let go of her rigid control and believe in love.

So what about Nick? Does the author succeed in making him a man that Jessica (and the reader) can trust, admire, and love? Actually, she does a pretty good job, but as it turns out, Nick isn't really the issue after all. The issue really is – do I care about these people?

Jessica and Nick are both well-formed, believable characters with fleshed-out histories, and despite the title, this book is not about the baby that's on the way. Just as it should be, it's about the relationship between the hero and heroine. The story unfolds realistically, and Leigh's writing style is fresh and entertaining. But even with all those positive elements, this book didn't really work for me.

Despite all the soul-searching and personal growth that's supposed to be going on, I never felt really emotionally involved in this story. It's as if the author was so afraid of writing a "depressing" story that she deliberately kept things light and rather shallow. The book itself was interesting enough, but it just didn't move me. What's more, the abundance of supposed sexual tension felt false to me. I mean, these are two people in a very awkward and troubling situation. Their relationship is completely up in the air, how can they possibly be so captivated by physical attraction? I don't know, maybe it's me, but if I were pregnant and completely confused, I don't think sex would be the number one thing on my mind.

So even though there's a lot to like about this book, I really can't recommend it. If you're in the mood for some light reading, you could do a lot worse than If Wishes Were… Daddies. But for me, if I'm going to read a story that's about complicated emotional issues, I want it to pack a heavier emotional punch.

-- Ellen Hestand


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