Second Time Around by Tina Wainscott
(St. Martin's, $ 5.99, PG) ISBN 0-312-96354-8
****
Being a fairly new reader of fantasies and one who doesn't read extensively in this sub-genre, I don't know if the plot premise of Second Time Around is all that original. I just know that I was totally surprised by the first and biggest plot twist and took a long time to recover. I had a darn good time throughout the recovery, though.

Twenty-six year old Jennie Carmichael works for Sam Magee in his private investigation firm, has been in love with him for years, and is a paraplegic. Being confined to a wheelchair has made Jennie reluctant to express her feelings aloud to Sam. She's too afraid of his pity and rejection, so she keeps her love to herself. In the middle of the first chapter, Jennie accidentally goes careening down a flight of stairs . . . and dies.

Except that Jennie really doesn't die, but awakens from the accident to find herself in another woman's body. In real time, Jennie has been dead for two months and is still being mourned but she has not been aware of the passage of time. Jennie realizes what has happened when, finding herself in Sam's office, she discovers that she can feel her extremities and that there's no wheelchair in sight.

What really does surprise her and me, too, is that the body she's now inhabiting is that of Maxine Lizbon, Sam's ex-wife. Jennie can remember none of Maxine's past life, only her own. Outwardly she may be Maxine, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, she's Jennie. Knowing nothing about Maxine and everything about herself means that she's got to be really careful about what she reveals about herself. After all, as Maxine, she's never even met Jennie. Besides, Sam is too smart to overlook those kinds of details.

She doesn't know why she came to Sam's office. She's got a big cut on her head; that's how she's explaining her lack of memory as Maxine. She and Sam begin to piece together that someone is trying to murder her. That cut was caused by a flower box falling (Aha! Or being pushed) from a second story balcony and hitting her on the head. It appears that Maxine may have made some powerful enemies, but Jennie doesn't know who they might be. So she has no idea who she can trust or fear. Except Sam. Not only does she trust him, but she still loves him. However, Sam's not too keen on helping his ex-wife, even if she does seem different. He can't put his finger on the changes, but knows that Maxine is different. If he only knew.

My explanation of these first few pages may seem convoluted, but I was never lost and never had a moment's doubt as to what was happening. I had started this story thinking that I was going to be reading a realistic, possibly gritty love story about couples accepting physical limitations. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Second time around is more than the title of this book. It is the concept. Jennie gets another chance to prove her love to Sam and has a healthy body to do it with. Reading about Jennie's reluctance to do physical things is fascinating. If your senses don't remember doing something, then more than muscle memory is needed. Jennie knows that she can now walk, dance and make love, but not having an actual memory of these events slows her down. This aspect of having another chance was eye-opening.

The story went quickly from being intense and moving to being droll comedy and buffoonery. It seems that Maxine comes with a fiancÚ. Maxine appears to have been a shallow, vain woman. Her fiancÚ, Armand, is rich. Physically he's . . . well, he's rich. I complained in another review that excessive endearments bothered me. Here they're stupid. Poor Armand. He calls Maxine things like huggy-buggy, kissems, cherry lips. Obviously, we're never meant to take Armand seriously.

Don't forget that someone is trying to kill Maxine. More incidents occur. I wanted to find out who the culprit was, so I cheated and went to the final chapter. I truly do not have the temperament to read mysteries. After reading about two pages in that last chapter, I realized that I was missing too much. So I went back to where I had originally been, still not knowing the identity of the bad guy. That's how carried away I was with this story.

Don't expect too much sex. Jennie is a virgin, but Sam is expecting Maxine to know what to do. Sticky situation in the making. The scene where Maxine/Jennie calls a friend for advice is wonderful. She takes notes. When Sam later finds them, his consternation only adds to the humor. Moaning good . . . Don't fake . . . Nice, firm hold. Like pot handle?

Second Time Around is an enjoyable story that doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are good people, people who think they know each other, but obviously really don't. I don't know if this book typifies the fantasy sub-genre. I just know that I liked it and can recommend it. It's silly at times, occasionally intense, sweet in places and just a basic feel-good story. If those attributes appeal to you, then go for it.

--Linda Mowery


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