Secrets by Marilyn Tyner
(Arabesque/BET Books, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-595-5
Marilyn Tyner's Step by Step is a compelling story about the impact of domestic violence on victims and their families, and about societal notions of "beauty." It was an extraordinary debut novel. Copies are still available and I strongly recommend it. Secrets is Tyner's second novel.

Samantha Desmond is the only mother eight-year old Jessica Desmond has ever known. But Samantha's not really Jessica's mother; she's her stepsister. Samantha's mother died when she was 12. Five years later, her father married Martha, a woman whom he'd met in grief counseling. She was a widow with a two-month old daughter, Jessica. Shortly after the marriage, Martha was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She died two weeks after their first anniversary. A year later, Samantha's father suffered a series of heart attacks and died.

Samantha had promised her father she would take care of Jessica. Samantha was single, 19 and not a blood relative. Fearing the state would place her stepsister in a foster home or inquiries from a paternal great-aunt who was only interested in Jessica's trust fund, Samantha took the child and left town. Samantha took care of Jessica and managed to finish college.

All's well until Dr. Alexander MacKenzie and his daughter Melanie relocate from Chicago. Jessica and Melanie are inseparable and it is inevitable that the girls' single parents would spend time together. Alex is attracted to the feisty, temperamental Samantha and spends a lot of time wondering if she's a natural redhead...until she unleashes her lethal ire on him. It seems the lady is not enthralled with the good doctor.

And therein lies part of my reservations about Secrets. While there is a chemistry between the two characters, they spend an inordinate amount of time apologizing to each other for any number of things. Once their relationship settles down, it often erupts on short notice. It is a novel of big and little misunderstandings. Some are predicated by the secrets kept; others are not. Marilyn Tyner, for reasons that will be explained later, has done this intentionally. However, I found it somewhat distracting.

Secrets is also a very wordy novel. Following the prologue and two more introductory chapters, the novel begins. The bulk of the action takes place within a year's timeframe. We know every nuance of the time Alex and Samantha spend together. Every single holiday observance. And, while that may be fine for a general work of women's literature, it makes for a wordy romance novel. It's a good story that could have benefitted by a bit more paring down by an editor's pen.

That said, I actually enjoyed Secrets. An excellent complement of secondary characters give support and dimension to the main characters.

Marilyn Tyner tells a good story. "I wanted to show the importance of honesty in relationships. I also wanted to make people aware of the problems that can arise from jumping to conclusions," she says in her author's note. She has accomplished her goal.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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