Anything For His Children

Runaway Bridesmaid

Plain-Jane Princess by Karen Templeton
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1096, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-27166-2
This is one of the most entertaining short romances I’ve read lately, largely because of the author’s unique and engaging style - and in spite of a plot of truly extraordinary improbability. I’m torn between reproving the author for making the whole thing so excessively complicated and complimenting her on overcoming it so deftly.

Princess Sophie Elzbieta Vlastos of Carpathia loves children. She uses her position to spearhead several international children’s charities and supervises an orphanage in her own country for children who’ve lost their parents as a result of ethnic conflict (conflict that’s nearby, but outside the borders of Carpathia, naturally). An orphan herself, after her parents’ death when she was ten, she and her older brother Alek were raised by their grandmother, Princess Ivana.

Sophie considers herself very plain and, so there’s no doubt, wears dowdy dresses and no makeup even to the most formal functions. She’s never received a proposal from a man that wasn’t self-serving, and this doesn’t boost her self-image. The most recent was from a long-standing friend who needs a mother for his child but isn’t interested in making any more with her.

Now, in her late twenties, staring down the barrel of a life of public service - however gladly done - and no prospect of a family of her own, Sophie impulsively decides she needs some time off. Following a conference in Detroit, she hacks off her hair, dyes it “Barbie blond,” ditches her princess duds for a tight sweater and capri pants, puts on too much makeup and runs away to a small town in Michigan where she once spent time with her parents.

Steve Koleski is an electrician who, following the death of his best friend and the friend’s wife, is raising their five kids. In fact, it was the arrival of the kids a year ago that finished his marriage, which is why he’s trying to cope single-handed.

Sophie meets Steve when she is nearly run down during the departure of his most recent housekeeper. There are no replacements immediately available, but Sophie takes one look at the unhappy kids and the dog and the baffled hunk in the middle, and volunteers. Introducing herself as Lisa Stone, she admits that she doesn’t know how to drive or cook or use a dishwasher, but she will take care of the kids for the two weeks it’ll take for a proper housekeeper to arrive.

First of all, when you pick this book up don’t be fooled by the cover copy. I thought this was going to be another groaner about a rich, sheltered girl’s ridiculous attempts to use a can opener and boil water without burning it. It does have that element, but the focus of the book is not Sophie’s incompetence, it is her intelligence and resourcefulness in coping with the totally unfamiliar and unpredictable dynamics of single-parent, five-kid family. What a relief.

I also enjoyed this author’s swiftly paced, very conversational style. I felt as though I was being told a story by someone really interested in the characters and their lives and who just couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. The narrative made a very natural use of vernacular that never sounded stilted or forced, and the overall structure kept jumping happily out of romance formula. The total result is lots of energy and none of the “cookie cutter” feel I sometimes get when reading category romances.

Oh, sure, the runaway princess thing and the five kids are totally over the top (only two, maybe two-and-a-half-kids are actually necessary to the story). I also thought we could have done with fewer secondary characters and sub-plots altogether, but the two main characters are nicely focused and very likeable. Both are, perhaps, a little too shining in their paragonhood, but I appreciated that they were always faithful to their characters and to the trust each had in their own judgement and instincts. Me, I think that intelligence and honorable behaviour can be very romantic, even outside the Regency.

And I always enjoy being reminded of how exquisitely romantic tension can be generated by skillfully keeping characters apart when they really want to be together.

Nice one.

--Judi McKee

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