Oh, Susannah by Selena Mindus
(Ponder Romance, $4.55, PG) ISBN 0-9681587-0-6
***
Oh Susannah is an early entry in the Ponder Romance catalog of short contemporary romances. Susannah James, a young widow, decides to leave her condo lifestyle and move to a cottage at Lee River, Manitoba. She and her small sons arrive in the dark; getting inside is Susannah's first challenge. The next morning, Susannah falls from her bicycle after being startled by a driver. The driver turns out to be a neighbor, Gabriel Desjarlais, a berry farmer who lives across the river. Susannah chews him out (quite unfairly, I thought) and dismisses him.

Gabe is undaunted. He shows up the next day to see if Susannah is okay, and again she acts like a snip to him. The neighbors, Bert and Ada, enter the story and hint that Gabe is a fine catch. Susannah is now even more prickly. So what if Gabe is handsome, with dreamy eyes and a dazzling smile? She wants nothing to do with him.

Gabe soon makes friends with Susannah's sons, and against her will, she is drawn into a friendship with him. Gabe, for his part, lusts after Susannah's long legs and great figure. He counters her arrogant attitude with friendliness, eventually breaking down her resistance.

Gabe is a fine hero. Not only is he good-looking to a fault and a hard worker, but his decency and kindness are evident from the start, as is his sense of humor. God knows he'll need it to deal with Susannah, who skirts the edge of snottiness for the first half of the book and sometimes steps over the line. This was not a heroine I could identify with, or wanted to, for that matter. She's clueless about anything domestic (being a Bank Manager didn't leave her any time to learn how to cook or clean, for example, even though she's got two kids) and she's way too quick to lift her chin, glare accusingly, toss her head, etc. Her actions are so stiff and prickly that I really couldn't see why Gabe would give her the time of day, except for her looks.

Ah, her looks. They're showcased rather awkwardly, initially through Susannah looking at herself, which had the effect of making her seem vain in the extreme. On page 5:

"She pulled closer to the mirror to examine her face and decided not to bother with makeup, thankful that her big, smokey-grey eyes and full lips were adornments in themselves…quickly tying her shimmering and shoulder-length auburn hair into a ponytail, she joined them in the kitchen."

She may not be able to boil water, but hey, she knows she's lookin' good.

For a debut effort, Oh Susannah has some strengths. The kids are natural, most of the dialogue seems realistic, and the hero is a great guy. But it takes two likeable characters to make a romance sing, and Susannah definitely hits a sour note. Ultimately, the romance didn't ring true. I can't recommend it.

--Cathy Sova


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