Carolina Girl
by Patricia Rice, contemporary (2004)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1983-X

Compared to the previous book in the author's series involving the McCloud clan, Carolina Girl is like the happy party that I nearly forget that this author is capable of throwing. That's not to say that this book is a slap-and-tickle laugh-a-minute book. It's just that compared to the other McCloud folks and the therapy-needy people that love them, software guru and game designer Clay McCloud and his love interest Aurora Jenkins are wonderfully free from the "pile the baggages, let the carriage floor give way" approach the author used in the past. Unfortunately, other than the much-needed change of mood, the story doesn't offer anything new to the reader in terms of plot or character.

Aurora Jenkins talked a little too bluntly and as a result was laid off from the bank where she was working. Now she's back in Carolina to evaluate her future options as well as to take care of her daddy and sister. What's a contemporary romance nowadays without the heroine taking on some caregiving duty, right? Readers obviously won't know that the heroine is Pure and Maternal and hence Worthy of the Reader's Respect unless she's jobless, staying with her family, and taking care of them 24/7. When progress, oops, sorry, evil corporate bigwigs and their plans of setting up shopping malls, parking lots (oh no, not parking lots, anything but parking lots!), hotels, and other kinds of evil, Aurora manages to fit in being a crusader against deviant corporates in her busy schedule of being a full-time cliché. "No shopping malls! No hotels!" she screeches. She instead wants a park.

What she intends to do now is to put together a solid and workable plan on paper to convince the banks to give her a loan so that she can buy the lands in question and consolidate them into the Happy Happy Park that romance heroines love so much. Here is where Thomas Clayton McCloud comes in. A software guru, he will know how to work some computer program thingie to help Aurora identify the landowners and persuade them that making a happy park is better than investing in a shopping mall and tourist resort. In the meantime, Clay is a former bad boy done good (atta go, boy!) who, tired of his zillions of dollars, pretty toys, and women throwing themselves at him, agrees with Aurora. No hotels! No job opportunities for the people on the stupid island! No parking lots! (Clay can always buy a private helicopter with his millions and ferry people around, I guess.)

The "environmental" issue in Carolina Girl is like a shrill tract written by some rich college kid whose idea of rebellion against her Republican Texan oil tycoon daddy is to write for the Green Party gazette while sipping latte and making plans to shop until she drops at some Parisian fashion hub this weekend. It is very easy for two people who have experienced the glitz of the city ritz to proclaim the glitz as lacking in some way and then insist that their newfound religion of Country Living is the only way to live. There's an inherent insincerity in a zillionaire like Clay saying that simple living is good when he has the money to buy himself a first-world life should he become bored of his current lifestyle. The fact that Ms Rice offers a very simplistic resolution to the external conflict doesn't help in giving this story any credibility.

So the external conflict doesn't provide much in terms of entertaining me from the very familiar characters and their predictable relationship development. If you have read enough caregiving heroines with crusades and bad boy millionaires, Aurora and Clay will come off as very familiar characters.

While Carolina Girl may be a welcome relief for readers who find Patricia Rice's previous books to be increasingly and incoherently overloaded with clichéd baggages, on its own merit this book is actually very ordinary and unremarkable. The writing is clean, but that's to be expected from a veteran pro like Ms Rice. Other than that, this book just sort of exists without making any dent in the scheme of things. It comes, it goes, and that's about all there is to Carolina Girl.

Rating: 70

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