The Look Of Love
by Monica Jackson, contemporary (1999)
Arabesque, $4.99, ISBN 1-58314-021-2

When The Look Of Love passes my believability test - can the author convince me that a drop dead gorgeous plastic surgeon would actually fall for a two-hundred pound heroine without offering her free liposuction? - it is already half-way there to winning me over. And win me over it does, for this book succeeds in blending relevant - yes, relevant - emotional and social issues of motherhood and being overweight to a sweet, compelling romance. And when I find myself rooting for spunky, never-let-anything-get-her-down-much heroine Carmel Matthews, this book has hit home run in my estimation.

Carmen Matthews is a nurse. She is trying her best not to strangle her new client, the really cranky Mr Marvin Reynolds, whose first words to her are something like, "Food must really get off the table and run when they see you coming." But never mind, Carmen is a professional. She takes a deep breath... and completely loses it when Marvin's handsome hunk of a son Steve walks in.

Steve finds Carmen wildly attractive, but Carmen understandably is skeptical. But Steve woos her, and Carmen soon embarks on a diet. The diet doesn't work, of course, and Carmen would have to undergo some soul-searching and self discovery before she can get the whole relationship up and going.

And adding to the complication is that Carmen's children are growing up. The daughter's getting all neurotic about her appearance and her son is mixing with the wrong people.

Steve, too, have issues, of course, like his silly ex-wife and his mother, both who made him rather distrustful of the whole man-woman relationship thing.

The Look Of Love is skillfully written, with lots of witty, funny lines. I'm willing to forgive the portrayal of poor Sienna, Steve's ex, as yet another silly man-eating, overambitious ho, because everything else about The Look Of Love is wonderful.

For one, I appreciate the fact that the heroine creates an overweight heroine but not chickening out when it comes to issues like self image and acceptance. No, Carmen doesn't undergo a Wonderdiet and turns into a svelte and buxom Tyra Banks, I can assure you that. She is loved for who she is, lumps and bumps and all. Carmen loses some weight in the end, but then again, she's loved before she does that.

Also, Carmen's apprehension about her children is very, very real. Which is why I love The Look Of Love - there is no silly, right-out-of-Oprah pop-lite psychological baggages for the sake of conflict. Bulimia, acceptance, diet, and even sex among overweight people are discussed frankly and openly.

Steve and Carmen's relationship is sweet, but I must admit I don't find Steve a particularly interesting hero. He's too much of a perfect drop dead gorgeous hunk prototype - in a story that deals with acceptance of one's image, his uber-perfection seems horribly out of place. Sure, he has baggages, but he is also perfect in all other ways - sensitive, caring, great lover, et cetera. I can't help feeling as if he's more of a trophy for Carmen's self-discovery than a lover.

But hey, The Look Of Love sure is a fine read. Carmen may be overweight and sometimes insecure, but she never lets anyone get away with putting her down. Even Marvin, the cantankerous old coot, and Carmen's mother find love amidst The X-Files. Nice.

I really wish there are more romances like The Look Of Love, featuring normal heroines with imperfect body measurements. It will be nicer too if the guys aren't all that perfect either, though. Still, The Look Of Love gets a well-deserved 88.

PS: Why on earth did Arabesque's art department put Sienna and not Carmen cavorting with Steve on the cover?

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