Garden of Dreams by Patricia Rice
(Fawcett, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-449-15062-3
I liked this book…but before I get to the review, I must beg your indulgence and sound off on one of the most ridiculous inside covers I've ever seen. It's so bad its funny. I can appreciate publishers finally listening to their consumers and embracing the idea of the step-back cover. Unfortunately, the bad art that once polluted the main covers is now simply hidden behind a thin piece of cardboard. In this case, the art depicts the "hero" in all his romantic glory…astride a motorcycle, wind blowing through his long dark hair, beefcake body clad in tight blue jeans and a leather vest (sans shirt, of course.) Not just is this representation of the hero so overblown as to be a caricature, but at least for me, it's not even remotely romantic. But I had a good laugh over it.

Thank you for listening…and now back to our regularly scheduled review.

Garden of Dreams is Patricia Rice's latest and is up to her usual good standards. The characters are pleasant folk who inspire warm feelings all around. The heroine is a feisty little math teacher from Kentucky with the comical name of Nina Toon. She's got spikey blonde hair, forgets to eat (I should have such a problem) and has lived most of her life caring for her elderly aunt. Nina's social graces leave a little something to be desired, but the small town of Madrid is hardly the place that would care. Nina's dream is to put her all encompassing love of gardening to work by constructing a botanical garden.

Nina's plans get a much needed push with the unexpected arrival of JD Marshall, a motorcycle riding computer CEO on the run from some corporate spies looking to steal his latest money making program. When Nina witnesses JD's truck being intentionally pushed off the road, she does what any good Samaritan would do and takes in the wounded man and his teenage son. In return for room and board and a place to finish his work in peace and quiet, JD offers to help Nina get her garden plans off the ground. An attraction grows between the two, but Nina has been so programmed to distrust men, and JD believes he's unlovable, so…

Events get a little hairy when thugs start trailing JD and Nina and a body turns up in the lake behind her property. The action is kept light, the bad guys have no faces, and the peripheral characters that inhabit the pages are sketchy, but still, I liked the story. I especially liked disliking one of the characters that shows up (I don't want to ruin it for you.)

Rice creates some nice sexual tension between JD and Nina, and I warmed up to the love scenes quite easily. Her style is light and breezy and highly engaging. You can always count on Patricia Rice for an entertaining story with just the right mix of romance, humor and emotion.

--Ann McGuire

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