by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (2004)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21216-9
On the bright side, nobody in this book is blind, in a wheelchair, or suffering from a hole in the head for the author to milk that exploitative sympathy angle. Bright Eyes however is still a derivative story that doesn't have much of a plot as it is just a rehash of the author's standard bag of tricks. Once, Ms Anderson can actually write a story, but nowadays she seems content to churn out overly-sentimental melodrama that will make even the editors at Reader's Digest die of a sugar shock.
Our Oregon cowboy hero Zeke Coulter is angry when he realizes that the son of his new neighbor has vandalized his house and tomato garden. He charges to the house next door, only to realize that his new neighbor is the stunning Natalie Westfield Patterson, the single mother of young Chad and Rosie. Zeke wants financial reparations for the damage caused on his property, but Natalie doesn't have money. So Zeke suggests that Chad come over and work on his ranch as a means of payment. Natalie hesitates - all men are scums like her over-the-top bimbo-shagging shady-dealing ex-husband, after all, and won't Chad's work interfere with his Sunday school? Of course, the fact that Chad is on a rampage would suggest that maybe Sunday school isn't working out too well, but this is a Catherine Anderson heroine we're talking about. Natalie cannot see the world beyond her pert nose. We are talking about a woman who stands back, lets her son run wild, and expects Zeke to understand because Chad is undergoing a tough time in his life since his beloved daddy divorced his mother.
Soon, as their lives mingle thanks to the cringe-inducing antics of Natalie's children, especially Rosie who is four going on creepy midget, Zeke and Natalie fall in love. But Zeke has been hurt by love, while Natalie is hurt by the Psycho Evil Ex-Hubby From Hell, so love will have a hard time coming. Can love triumph at the end of the day?
This book is filled with standard damsel-in-distress nonsense. Natalie has no money, no family, no child support, nada, and her own ridiculous assertions of "independence" only adds to her problems. Zeke is a standard Catherine Anderson hero. The story becomes increasingly more melodramatic - and ridiculous - as it goes on to involve murder (and the subsequent further crucification of our martyr Natalie), with an ambulance or two tossed into the denouement. Then there are the children, which are standard "oh, poor misunderstood kiddies" plot devices that come complete with annoying quirks. Chad's tendency to stammer will either irritate readers or make them go "Awwww" in sympathy. Rosie is four but she will drive any reader who isn't enamored of cutesy, manipulative antics up the wall and straight into the busy highway to cry for a truck to deliver them from the agony.
Readers that enjoy the author's last few books will most likely enjoy this one as the author is keeping her formula intact. Conversely, readers who don't may find small comfort in the fact that at least there is no insulting exploitative angles in the story this time around. Not that this in any way excuses the blatantly recycled elements from the author's last few books, the overdose of mawkish sentimentality at the expense of plot and character development, and the presence of two children that will send readers into that painful place where sugar shock is imminent but there is no insulin to be found.
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