Baby, Baby, Baby

Bandera's Bride

Bluer Than Velvet

Just One Look

The Marriage Knot

Moonglow, Texas

My Hero

Sarah's Knight

Still Mr. & Mrs.

Storming Paradise

Ms. Simon Says by Mary McBride
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61374-6
Dear Ms. Simon,

What’s an author to do? I’ve got this great plot (OK, it’s been used a few times before ... maybe more than few) and two really appealing characters who will be perfect for each other, but they persist in fading into the woodwork whenever her parents show up.

Blocked in Michigan

Dear Blocked,

You can’t possibly make her parents the hero and heroine because no one wants to read about middle-aged people having sex. Just pretend the hero and heroine are front and center, and maybe the old folks will start behaving properly and move to the back where they belong.

Ms. Simon Says So

Shelby Simon writes a newspaper advice column “Ms. Simon Says” that appears in a number of papers nationally. Several newspapers are targets of letter bombs; all were addressed to Shelby. Shelby is unhappy to learn that in reaction the newspaper is cancelling her column, but because of the dangerous situation the decision is non-negotiable.

Chicago police lieutenant Mick Callahan is assigned to protect Shelby. Mick, who’s a widower and a workaholic, lives in a shabby part of the city as he works undercover. When a letter bomb goes off at her apartment building, Shelby acknowledges she’s got to get out of town. Her parents own a refurbished lake home in Michigan, and she decides to go there until the bomber is apprehended. Mick’s original plan is to get Shelby to safety and return to his regular assignment. Shelby convinces him not to let her parents know the real reason she’s making a surprise visit. She introduces him as a “friend.”

Linda and Harry Simon are having marital problems. Harry retired from his high-powered career as a lawyer with the intention of spending more time with his wife. Linda’s career as a high-fashion sweater designer took off about the same time. As result, the two have separated with Linda remaining in the house and Harry living in the carriage house. They have not told their daughters (a younger daughter Beth lives in California), and they are hoping to keep it from Shelby while she’s visiting.

Mick delays leaving Shelby in Michigan and returning to Chicago. Soon he’s becoming involved with the woman he’s supposed to be protecting as well as her parents and neighbors including Beth’s one-time boyfriend Sam, who’s now handling security for the lake.

By definition a romance focuses on the hero and heroine and their romantic relationship. Any time the heroine’s parents and their conflicts overshadow the romance between the hero and heroine, it’s pretty certain that the rating is going to fall beneath the recommended level. This is the situation in Ms. Simon Says.

Harry and Linda are characters who should know better than to show up their younger, meant-to-be-the-heroine daughter and her love interest, but whenever they appear, they pretty much cast those young folks into the shade. These are not a couple of old fogeys –they’re stylish and sophisticated. Did the author really intend them to be so prominent, or did Linda and Harry just refuse to stay in the background where they properly belong?

Something that distinguishes them from too many clueless parents in other romance novels is that Linda and Harry know their daughters. Linda privately considers Shelby a “buttinski” and is not above using her own daughter in her campaign to reconcile with Harry on her own terms. Furthermore, it’s great to see a couple who still keeps the flame glowing after decades of marriage.

Shelby and Mick are far more stereotypical as is the falling-in-love-with-the-bodyguard romance. Both characters are provided with personal histories to give them depth and they’re very likable, but they don’t come alive with the same vivacity as the older Simons.

This may not been the last time we see these four characters. A sequel featuring Beth and Sam will be published later in the year.

The whole tone of the book is light-hearted including the whodunit subplot which leads to the book’s climax. Terroristic threats, stalking, and letter bombs don’t seem to be the stuff of light fiction, but it works fairly well in this treatment.

If you’ve been waiting for a romance with middle-aged characters who act their age and still have their wits about them, Ms. Simon Says is a good choice. Just don’t expect the main romance to be the best thing about the story.

--Lesley Dunlap

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