MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-949-8
Contemporary Romance, 2002
Stef Ann Holm’s Girls Night is a rather adorable small town contemporary romance. It’s not that big a departure from her early 20th century historical romances – just imagine this one is like her previous book, only they have color TVs here – and it retains the same humor, charm, and likable characters of this author’s small town romances in the past.
I’ve read a very enthusiastic review of this book elsewhere where the reviewer relates to the heroine and… wow, baby! I don’t relate to the heroines, but then again, I’m an over-the-hill big city kinda gal, but I still like this book despite the differences between me and the characters in this book. Maybe other readers will find a steadier middle ground. After all, this is a small town story with very likable characters whose not-very-original traits actually come off as charming quirks.
Jillene McDermott, 38, is a widow who is trying to pick up her life after her beloved hubby died and left their finances in tatters. Being the obedient wife, she never questioned much her hubby’s decisions when he was alive. She wishes that she had now. She has two daughters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen masquerading under some girly cute names, full Full House regalia, and she is trying to run the barely standing upright Java the Hut in her typical ya-ya way.
Love – and financial salvation – comes when the town celebrity, true crime author Vince Tremonti comes back, burned out and at the crossroads of this life. When Mary-Kate and Ashley plant a very amusing personal ad in the papers for their mother, weirdos call and Vince soon finds himself playing Mr Fixer-Upper. All signs in the crossroads now point towards Jillene, and they all say “Marry her and give her lots of money!”
Vince’s emotional crisis is actually pretty real, and he’s a nice guy in every sense of the word. Gallant, charming, nice, and completely devoid of any contrived alpha mule nonsense, this is one hero worth going bankrupt for just so that he will rescue you for life. Ahem, I so didn’t say that. Jillene is a bit more typical (no dates, shy-shy, overworked single mom, et cetera), but she’s alright. She’s really alright, and she has a brain, people. A brain, a brain! Hallelujah!
Mary-Kate and Ashley give me the creeps, really, but they wisely remain the background – somewhat – as the story progresses, so they’re alright too. I’ve blanked out most of the episodes of Full House that I have endured in the last decade or so, so Girls Night is small potatoes compared to the horror that is Uncle Joey.
There’s also a lovely secondary romance between Vince’s daddy and a fellow senior citizen.
But I’m not really into the smalltown superiority thing, so there are tiny things in this story that distract and even annoy me. Like how Vince’s eyes reflect his “disappointment” when he learns that Jillene has a personal ad in the papers. What’s wrong with that, I want to ask. People get lonely. At least Jillene is not in AOL chat rooms begging for cybersex in broken English. Likewise, the rich woman with a booming career is portrayed as an unappealing foil to Jillene – apparently having money and a career automatically paints a woman as some Jezebel figure, and this woman making the first move on our hero? How shocking! What a floozy, eh? Jillene, no money, no sex life, no dates, that’s a woman to love, eh?
Also, Jillene’s mother is portrayed as a sexual creature despite her age, but that angle is played for laughs, as in “Old ladies having sex… omigosh!”. Vince’s daddy and his girlie’s love story have an old-school, 1920s love story feel to it, ie you hold hands and maybe peck a little on the cheeks before staring dreamily at the sunset or something equally saccharine. Stef Ann Holm is still guilty of portraying dotty old people as sweet Care Bears in this case. Even if they are adorable Care Bears.
Then there are those horrible, horrible TV shows mentioned in this book! Growing Pains – eeuw! Thank you, Ms Holm, for bringing back all those horrifying memories of that religious weirdo Kirk Cameron all over again.
All is almost forgiven though, when I reread the personal ad the Olsen twins put up for their mother.
Charming, sweet, and featuring two very likable characters with chemistry, Girls Night is a worthy debut of Ms Holm as a contemporary romance author. Chalk it up to my own personal prejudices and all, but I wish that Jillene has been the one who has written the personal ad and mean every word of it. Every woman deserves a man with big feet at least once in her life, doesn’t she?