Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-051768-9
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Suzanne Macpherson’s In the Mood is one of those stories that are familiar but at the same time manage to engage my attention because the author makes her characters come off like human beings instead of stereotypes. The execution of the story can be uneven at too many places, but I never find the main characters or their story boring.
Allison Jennings has all the trappings of a romance heroine: she has financial problems, a dead-end job to an unappreciative boss she nicknames Snotnose Tim, a kid to raise, and a previous marriage that ended in infidelity (his, of course) and divorce. But at the same time, the author is kind enough to let me know that it often takes two to crumble a marriage and in this case, both Allison and Rusty, her ex, are too young when they married and not ready to deal with the post-honeymoon problems. Rusty and she remain on talking terms and if she’s financially strapped, it’s not because she’s an idiot who refuses alimony: Rusty, like she, isn’t doing too well himself. On the other hand, I’m not sure about those two actually sleeping together and believing that they conceived their son Ethan together during the break-up negotiations.
But Allison needs money because Ethan, is a science prodigy and she despairs at her inability to give her son the sophisticated (and expensive) education she feels that he deserves. Still, Allison’s best friend Bunny Barnes Winchester Parker, a twice-divorced woman who makes more money from her divorce settlements than on her own, sweeps into her life like a tornado and persuades Allison to attend the party of Dexter Needham III. Allison is swept into a Cinderella fantasy, only this fantasy doesn’t end at midnight but in an earth-shattering kaboom instead in the bed of the host with the mostest himself. But when morning comes, she realizes – through a birthmark on Dex’s bum – that he’s her one-night fling from a decade ago. Things get more complicated when it turns out that Ethan is Dex’s kid and Dex wants to play a role in Ethan’s life. Dex’s mother is not amused, to say the least.
The story has all the makings of a potential train wreck but Ms Macpherson has a trump card up her sleeve: her characters are very likable and their relationship is breezy, fun, and enjoyable to read. Dex is an adorable man of contrasts: he’s a cute guy but he’s a geek at heart who feels uncomfortable around the glitzy and beautiful people in his world. Allison has a nice sense of self-awareness about the world around her that is rare in romance heroines. Her son Ethan has his share of cutesy-poo-yucks moments but he’s still adorable enough at the end of the day for me. The Mother From Hell can be really mean but I never feel that she crosses the line and turns into an outright caricature. Bunny Parker can be too much of a Fun Best Friend foil for the heroine at times but at the same time she steals the show without overshadowing Allison completely. The principal characters in this book are fun and even when they do some silly things, they still remain recognizably human.
The story eventually dips into often exasperating clichéd behaviors from the main characters, which dampens my mood somewhat. The writing can be uneven. There are too many instances where there is a scene so wonderful that I sigh followed by a clichéd moment that makes me go ugh. Ms Macpherson writes characters that follow their own beat while loosely conforming to the general archetypes of romance novel characters, which is great. But her story veers erratically page by page from good to wretchedly formulaic. Still, that doesn’t overlook the fact that I really enjoy meeting Allison and Dex and how I can’t help thinking that these two really belong together. So yes, I guess I’m certainly In the Mood for more books by this author.