Let It Be Me
by Melanie Schuster, contemporary (2004)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-424-2

Melanie Schuster has a way with dialogues and she depicts relationships between friends and family members very well to the point that her skills nearly save Let It Be Me. Nearly, that is. The story never manages to rise about its contrived premise because the author allows her heroine to be a very irritating one-dimensional whinebag for too long in this story.

The hero of this book, Marcus Deveraux, is ten years younger than the heroine Vera Jackson. Vera's husband spent his whole time being a plot device when he was alive, calling her all sorts of name and letting her know that she's more frigid than an icicle in the South Pole. Now that he's dead, Vera is slowly coming to terms with herself. She has a list of things she wants to do when she turns forty in two years' time. Her excursion into sky diving doesn't go too well though when she ends up with a sprained ankle. Into the scene comes a very concerned Marcus who realizes now that he has always been in love with her since ten years ago.

One problem that jumps out at me is that this book has a cast that is just too large for me, a newbie to the author's books, to keep up with. Marcus and Vera rarely have much time alone because there are times when this book seems more like a revolving door for secondary characters to come and go. No matter how well-written the interactions are between Vera and Marcus and their friends and family members, I have a hard time trying to sort out who is who. It gets to a point where the large cast feel like some gratuitous injoke between the author and long-time fans that can alienate new readers.

I have problems with Vera as well. The author doesn't succeed where I am concerned in making Vera come off as a realistic character. Vera's background and her previous marriage feel like overdramatic romance novel stereotypes and she spends most of the rest of the story cataloguing the reasons why she cannot go along with Marcus. At the same time, Marcus is so nice, so patient, so romantic, so perfect - a very unrealistic if very appealing female fantasy put to words, if you will - that Vera's intelligence only comes off worse when she takes so long to see reason and let Marcus into her life. Let It Be Me allows the heroine to take too long to pull her act together.

On the bright side, Ms Schuster puts in a lot of effort into her scene-building, and there are many nice extra touches in the story, such as the author taking time to show her characters' quirks and personalities through the things they do instead of just telling me outright how the characters are supposed to be. I like a story that allows me to do some work on my own, infer things the author chooses to show instead of tell, and pull me into the story instead of just making me a detached observer.

But good writing aside, the unbalanced relationship between the hero and the heroine and the clutter in the story prevent Let It Be Me from being a merely average book from an author who is capable of delivering better.

Rating: 71

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