by Shari MacDonald
(Waterbrook Press, $6.95, G) ISBN 1-57856-084-5
***
(The Salinger Sisters Series)

Does this plot sound familiar? Young lovers elope secretly. Older siblings (or similar relations), usually who have some unhappy history between them, pursue young lovers before they can make a mistake that will Ruin Their Lives. In the course of the pursuit, older siblings discover love themselves. "Ah, ha!" you're thinking, "this is a Regency." (In fact, I've reviewed at least two Regencies with just this plot in the past year.) Wrong. This is a contemporary well, at least it's supposed to be a contemporary.

This is Book One of a series about the four Salinger sisters. Following the death of their mother at a young age, Catherine, the oldest, had taken over the rearing of her sisters. At eighteen she had fallen in love with Jonas Riley, the eldest son of her advertising executive father's business partner. When Jonas refused to denounce his father when he betrayed her father and the partnership, Cat had ended her relationship with Jonas and has suffered a broken heart ever since.

Now at the age of thirty, Cat has taken over as head of the advertising agency on her father's death. It is only through careful time management that Cat has been able to manage all her various responsibilities. Her sisters, particularly Daphne the youngest, who is also working at the agency, believe that Cat has become too controlling.

Cat is trying to acquire a lucrative advertising account with an athletic footwear firm. When Daphne is late to arrive for their presentation, Cat is appalled and is even more horrified to discover that Jonas's firm is presenting its proposed ad campaign at the same meeting. Surprisingly, Daphne's gag proposal is the one that most appeals to the client, and they are to have a follow-up meeting.

Before it can occur, however, Daphne disappears. Eventually Daphne notifies Cat by letter that she has eloped with Elliott Riley, Jonas's younger brother. Cat is worried that Daphne is only fleeing Cat's efforts to control her and will be making a dreadful mistake to carry through with the wedding plans. She sets out to locate Daphne before it is too late. Inevitably, she runs into Jonas.

There's nothing the matter with the pursuing-the-runaway-lovers plot; I just don't think it translates very effectively into a 1998 setting.

I had a caught-in-a-time-warp sensation throughout the entire book. If you told me that this was the plot of a Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie, I'd believe it. Cat and Jonas have been apart for twelve years yet they don't seem to have done anything with anyone else in all that time. Daphne and Elliott are in their twenties and get separate hotel rooms. Cat and Jonas are in their thirties and share one single kiss. This is romantic fiction in spades! I suspect that the Doris Day/Rock Hudson ambience is intentional. WaterBrook Press publishes inspirational fiction, and this is party of their A Time for Laughter Line. (I might mention that for me it failed to deliver on their "giggle guarantee.") The Christian influence is conspicuous in a conversation between Cat and Jonas but not overt in most of the book. There did seem to be an implicit message, however, that Cat's pursuit of a successful career has contributed to her estrangement from God and interfered with her softer, feminine side. It isn't until Cat leaves the office behind that she can literally let her hair down.

I expect that there's a reading audience for this book. If you are offended by the explicit sex and coarse language of many romances and are looking for something that won't require much emotional involvement, this might be a good choice. I would guess, however, that many readers will consider it too tame and unrealistic.

--Lesley Dunlap


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