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Moonlighting by Heather MacAllister
(Harl.Tempt. #785, 3.99, PG) ISBN 0-37325885-2
Heather MacAllister is an author whose books I've really enjoyed. I can say the same for Moonlighting, but it's not strong enough to give it an outright recommendation. If you've enjoyed her books before, then you might want to give Moonlighting a try. Those not familiar with her writing might seek out some of her older books first.

In the prologue to Moonlighting we meet twenty-year-old Logan Van Dell, who is going to do something that he thinks is magnanimous and selfless. He and eighteen-year-old Amber Madison, Belle Rive's golden girl, have made plans to leave their small home town of Belle Rive, Mississippi, and seek their fortune in New York. Logan knows, however, that he's not going; he won't allow his bad boy reputation to drag her down, even in New York. So Amber goes to New York alone, resentful and angry.

Eight years later, Logan is going to New York to see Amber, whom he hasn't seen since the night she left. The grapevine, mainly spread by her snooty mother, is that Amber is a thriving success in New York. Logan has made a deal with Amber's mother. If he can get Amber to return for two weeks to be the Magnolia Queen for Belle Rive's annual pilgrimage, then his mother, an ex-stripper, can be chairperson of the pilgrimage and finally gain a foothold into Belle Rive society.

During the ensuing eight years Logan has done well, but it’s hard to tell exactly what he does, although it appears that he is some sort of consultant and deal maker who runs a garage for vintage cars as a sideline. While he's prospered, Amber hasn't. She's living in a one-room flat, juggling bills and juggling meals. Logan correctly assesses her situation and threatens to tell the town citizens that she's really a failure. He'll keep quiet if she agrees to return to Belle Rive to be the Magnolia Queen.

So, Amber returns to her hometown, where the secondary cast of characters is either flighty, snobbish or just place card holders. Only Amber's grandmother has any definition, any real personality. The rest are stick figures, approximations of what's bad (and, hopefully, imaginary) in small southern towns. The bulk of the story develops as Amber and Logan rekindle their simmering relationship.

With moments of good-natured humor and moments of pathos, Moonlighting certainly isn't a monotone read. You've got to grin as Amber realizes that she'll need ‘stuffing' to be able to wear the Magnolia Queen ball gown, and you'll grin more when Logan's mama, the ex-stripper, sends him to bring back her "boobie buddies." Later on when Amber realizes that her grandmother, who's felt useless for years, has developed a gambling addiction, it's hard not to choke up.

Yet, in spite of the emotional scenes, Moonlighting has a certain distance, a less than realistic feeling. While Amber's situation in New York is bleak, it's not written with a heavy hand. And while Logan craves acceptance in the gentlemanly society of Belle Rive, that acceptance doesn't consume his every waking thought. This distance, this protection from harshness, makes Moonlighting an easy read, even a fast one. The story isn't deep, the intimacy scenes don't appear until near the end and pride has its usual two or three page run to seemingly mess up everything.

As I said in the first paragraph, Heather MacAllister has written books with better plotting and better characterization than Moonlighting. Still. if you want a feel-good book, one that will entertain you for an afternoon, one which focuses on second chances, then Moonlighting might be just what you're looking for.

--Linda Mowery

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