Look of Love/Miradas de Amor
by Linda Sandoval
(Pinnacle Encanto, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-1034-7
Look of Love is a delightful entry in the short contemporary romance field. This book is almost a throwback to the good old days -- by that I mean the 1980s, before secret babies and cowboy daddies overpopulated the genre and readers started hurling category romance against the nearest wall in frustration. If you’ve had it with overused plots, this book may start to restore your faith in the genre.

Esme Jaramillo is a respected researcher in the field of human genetics, with a special emphasis on cloning. Not B-movie stuff, but rather the use of cloned cells in medical treatments, such as cancer or birth defects. She’s thrilled when the Chicago-based Barry Stillwell talk show asks her to appear and discuss her work. Finally, a way to explain the importance of her field and dispel a few myths.

Just before the show, Esme meets Gavino Mendez, the makeup artist. He does little more than brush on some loose powder, and they strike up an easy conversation. A frisson of awareness is sparked between them. But Gavino is in on a secret, one that fills him with self-loathing. Esme will not be asked to discuss her work. Instead, the focus of the show will be “Those bookworm looks have got to go!” He’ll have to give her a makeover, in front of a studio audience -- an audience primed to hoot at her.

Esme is humiliated when the truth is revealed, yet manages to stalk off the show with her head held high. Inside, she’s cringing. Back home in Denver, she hides out with her girlfriends. Esme is in the middle of an orgy of self-indulgent eating when Gavino arrives on her doorstep. He’s quit the show, come west to find Esme and try to get to know her, and plans to pursue his career as a serious artist. Now he faces the challenge of convincing Esme that she’s already beautiful -- as he saw from the start.

Esme doesn’t believe it, but she agrees to let Gavino rent the studio apartment over her garage -- on two conditions. One is that he has to paint her house. The second makes use of his talents with a makeup brush. Esme wants a new “look”, one guaranteed to attract the attention of a co-worker who scorned her. This is a woman with a little revenge on her mind. Gavino isn’t sure what to do. Does he slap on the war paint, knowing that another man will be unable to resist her? Or does he create a totally different “look”?

Other than a few references to current Latino pop icons and a sprinkling of Spanish words throughout the book, Look of Love offers little insight into Latino culture. This is really a mainstream romance -- call it Latino-American in flavor. It may frustrate readers looking for that cultural immersion, but will no doubt help the Encanto line find a wider audience. However, as a mainstream romance, it works just fine. I liked both of these characters immensely, the plot was plausible and interesting, and the sexual tension sparkles. There’s no sex, but one shared kiss comes close to igniting the pages.

The secondary characters were a mixed bag. One of Esme’s best friends is an internationally famous supermodel, graces the covers of Vogue, etc. The supermodel bit has been done to death, feels unrealistic at the best of times, and here seemed to serve no purpose other than to point out that Latino women are beautiful enough to succeed on the runway, which is a statement of the obvious. The friend who is married to a cop and has two kids was much more natural. These two will be featured in the author’s next two books, by the way.

On a side note, it will be interesting to see if the Encanto line will succeed given the high price. At $5.99 for a 165-page story presented in two languages, some readers may feel the cost is exorbitant. Time will tell.

Look of Love is a sweet, sexy novel with a Cinderella-like charm. No matter what your ethnicity, you’re likely to find it as delightful as I did.

--Cathy Sova

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