Sara's Song

What You Wish For

Charming Lily by Fern Michaels
(Zebra, $7.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7019-5
It’s probably been 15 years since I read a Fern Michaels book, so my recollections of the experience are hazy. But I can’t believe she’s managed to maintain her career as a romance novelist for so many years with drivel like this. Charming Lily is so ineptly written that it's barely coherent at times. It reads as if someone held a gun to Ms. Michaels head, ordered her to write until further notice, then mailed the unedited ramblings directly to the publisher just for spite.

Matt Starr, computer whiz and millionaire, is about to marry Lily Harper. Ten years ago, he got a bad case of cold feet and left Lily at the altar because he wasn’t ready to commit to marriage yet. But apparently over the next decade he conquered the high-tech business world, tracked her down and located her working at a wilderness survival camp. Now that they've reconciled, he’s looking forward to spending the rest of his life with his Charming Lily. But on the eve of his nuptials, he’s kidnapped by three inept thieves. Will Lily think she’s been jilted again, or will she realize that Matt is in trouble? Are the psychic visions she’s having related to the mysterious necklace she found in her new house in colorful Natchez? Are the kidnappers working on their own, or are they in league with Matt’s partner, Marcus, who is selling the company’s secrets to the competitors? Will Lily’s friend Sadie find happiness with Matt’s best friend Dennis?

Will I finish Charming Lily without howling at the moon?

I don’t think I can do justice to how abysmal this book is. It’s not even enjoyably bad - you know, one of those books you love to hate. The writing is terrible, the characters are wooden, and the dialogue consists of strange, sequential and tedious monologues. I had no idea a) who Lily and Matt were, b) what made them tick, and c) why they loved each other, so d) I never once cared whether or not they lived happily ever after. A few flashback love scenes are awkwardly inserted, but they add nothing to the story except some pointless sex. Ms. Michaels seems more concerned with thanking some friends she met in Natchez by including innumerable (and irrelevant) tidbits about the city’s history and prominent citizens than in creating intriguing characters or an involving plot.

If there’s no reason to care about Lily and Matt, you may ask, are the villains in the piece interesting? No such luck. There's no suspense about their identities, and they're pretty much cartoon characters, like Boris and Natasha without the charm. Why do some authors think we enjoy reading about despicable people thinking mean, selfish thoughts?

The plot's technical details are laughable. The alleged computer genius tycoon Matt has a simple one-word password easily ascertained by the villain. Come on, even a novice like myself knows that you’re supposed to sprinkle your passwords with numbers and symbols so they’re harder to crack. With smarts like that, it's hard to believe he's been named High-Tech Man of the Year three times running.

It really does feel as if Ms. Michaels was under contract to produce her next novel, sat down one rainy afternoon, and just threw stuff in randomly until she hit her word count. Considering that the book trumpets not one, not two, but three upcoming or recently released Fern Michaels novels, I can only say: be afraid. Be very afraid.

--Susan Scribner

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