Dear Love Doctor
by Hailey North, contemporary (2001)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81308-4

Agony aunts and people who make a living out of giving advice about lurve, beware - you may get very offended by Dear Love Doctor's message that actually, deep inside, you're actually seething with neuroses and you are hiding from your problems by meddling in other people's lives. I confess I read the agony aunt columns in my weekend papers for comedy - sorry, but teenagers asking advice on "whether I should make the first move" become funny when I'm in my doddering years - but I do wonder at the proliferation of this image of relationship experts as people who are screwed up inside.

It's a plot not uncommon in a Harlequin Temptation series novel. In fact, DLD sometimes feel like a 200-paged HT novel blown up into a 372-paged "big" romance novel.

Daffodil "Daffy" Landry (please don't groan) is the agony aunt in question. Of course, she works under a pseudonym - Doctor Love (don't groan - it's not nice) - not because she doesn't want to be stalked by loonies, but because, well, she's actually in real life an infamous "dump'em" socialiate who has a string of broken relationships in her personal profile. Who will believe Doctor Love if it is made known that Dr Love is Daffy Landry, Professional Heartbreaker?

Mind you, Daffy is no accidental runaway bride. She deliberates sabotages her relationships. She's commitment-phobic.

Hunter James is her soul mate. He just can't commit. He leaves behind his smalltown a sulking woman (his opinion on her is "Not bad in bed. In a functional way.") and serially dates tall, willowy blondes in his public functions. Hunter is some cyberguru millionaire and hence he gets to meet many, many willowy blondies, if you know what I mean. When this sulking left-behind functional woman fires off a letter to Doctor Love, Hunter finds out and is determined to confront this Doc and gives her a nice dressing down.

But first, he will court this gorgeous woman he meets at a function - Daffy. Oh, oh.

I have a hard time warming up to Hunter's tomcat behavior - assuming that a woman knows you're not serious after you have bopped her is so typically selfish (I almost said 'male' - sorry). But then again, he's a perfect match for Daffy. Two serial commitmentphobe who circles around each other warily. That's it for plot - the Doctor Love thing gets pushed to the back soon enough in favor of Daffy's psychoanalysis of her life. Her mom has an affair in the past - gosh. Why she herself can't commit - ooh. Actually, there is very little happening here, hence me feeling that this story is a Harlequin Temptation novel stretched thin to fit the larger word count.

But I do like the fact that this story doesn't suffer as much problem in pacing as this author's last books, and the characters at least behave consistently true to their personalities without showing abrupt irrational changes in behavior/mind just to fit some plot twist. While Daffy isn't that sexually experienced despite her dating disaster background, she displays surprising skill when it comes to fellatio. Interesting. Maybe Dr Love should try a new vocation - Dr Libido, Sex Therapist (Move Over, Dr Ruth!).

But alas, in the end, Daffy realizes what a fake she is. How dare she actually play agony aunt! She resigns with a mushy bye bye note and live happily ever after with her hubby. I'm sure relationship experts would have a harder time figuring out where they are insulted the most - at the start when Daffy takes only ten minutes to prepare the latest column on the same day as the deadline (such an easy job!) or at the end when Daffy hints that agony aunts avoid facing their own problems by meddling in others'. Me, I'm no agony aunt, hence I don't think DLD is too bad. The characters never actually endear themselves to me by the last page - I still think Hunter's a pri... er, banana and Daffy's just daffy. But it's still a decent Harlequin Temptation (expanded) read.

Rating: 77

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