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His Daddy's Eyes

His Real Father by Debra Salonen
(Harl. Super. #1279, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71279-0
His Real Father is a delightful twist on the "Who's Your Daddy" cliché. Salonen avoids the usual melodrama by crafting honest, caring but flawed characters.

Joe Kelly lived in his fraternal twin brother's shadow growing up. Patrick was the jovial jock that everyone wanted to be around, while Joe was always hiding behind a camera, commenting on the world around him. Patrick had it all: charisma, good looks and the woman his brother loved. So, Joe did the only thing he could, left his small town life behind to make a place for himself in the world.

Seventeen years after his Patrick's death, Joe's a successful filmmaker returning home for his mother's wedding and to film his family's bar one last time before it changes ownership.

Lisa Malden is about to make some major changes in her life. At 35, she's finally ready to graduate college, send her son to school and buy the Kelly bar. She's stable and respectable, everything her mother was not. She has worked hard to insure Brandon will not face the same gossip she did as a child. But fate has thrown her a twist: after seventeen years of knowing Brandon was Patrick's son, an innocent comment has shed doubt on the one certainty in her life. Now she must choose whether to send Brandon's world into upheaval, come clean with Joe and risk losing everything she's worked for, or to continue a deceit not of her making.

His Real Father is a well-constructed novel and well-crafted story. The small town setting allows for plenty of secondary character development and a subplot that is almost as engaging as the main story. Both Lisa and Joe's mothers, Maureen Kelly and Constance "Made 'em" Malden feature predominantly and are very much multi-dimensional characters. Salonen creates the picturesque town of Worthington, which we see and explore through Joe's film-school trained eyes. The community isn't just a part of the story, but very much shapes it.

Lisa and Joe are both very likable. It's made clear very early in the book that Lisa isn't so much keeping a secret, as discovering one herself. But she doesn't let it embitter her or gnaw away at her conscience. She deals with it just as she deals with everything else in life: head-on. I enjoyed the banter between Lisa and Joe and really believed that at one time they were best friends. Yet, the chemistry between them sizzles and makes them very believable as a couple.

Salonen sets the tone for the book very light, which is strange considering the subject matter. It deals with questionable paternity, alcoholism and dysfunctional childhoods. But it never once takes itself too seriously, nor do the characters. Both Joe and Lisa use flippant remarks and stinging repartee to coax the other into conversation when problems arise. Lisa doesn't let Joe run from the problems he faces at reconnecting with his family. She challenges him and forces him to deal with his brother's failings in life, but there is very little outright conflict between the two. It's always nice (but rare in romance novels) to see a couple able to argue effectively.

His Real Father is an engaging read. It's a tale of letting go of the past, facing your fears of inadequacy and embracing the future, with all of its possibilities. I look forward to many such tales from Salonen.

--Amanda Waters

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