PLAYING FOR KEEPS
Karen Templeton


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Silhouette Single Title, Oct 2003
Reviewed by Sissy Jacobson

Contemporary

This is definitely not one of Joanna Swann's better days. Her ex-husband Bobby Alvarez is late picking up their children for school, doesn't have his half of the money for the plumbing bill nor for the roof that needs repair, and drops the bomb shell that his girlfriend, twenty-one year old Tori, is now his fiancée and is pregnant. Joanna, running late for an appointment at an upscale gallery that has promised to take a couple of her handmade Santa Clauses for display, has to swing by and pick up her mother who wants to buy a baby gift at a new toy store located next to the gallery. The gallery decides not to display the Santas after all, and Joanna is certainly not in the mood to shop in a toy store, but her mother drags her in anyway. When Joanna sees the owner wearing a cap with a stuffed hamster in a hula skirt, shaking its booty like crazy, she finally looses it. Shrieking with laughter that turns into sobs, then sobs mixed with laughter, she goes into "meltdown."

Bobby Alvarez, handsome and charismatic, loves people and most love him right back. He and Joanna still care about each other and he adores their children; twin boys Matt and Ryder, and his daughter, preteen Dulcy. He knows he has let Joanna down with his irresponsible behavior, but hasn't a clue how to change. He honestly doesn't understand what she wants or why. He simply doesn't understand women or how they think. He loves Tori and is trying, but he's afraid he doesn't know how to comfort her or how to please her over the long haul.

While Bobby and Tori keep the children away from the house on Matt and Ryder's birthday, Dale McConnaughy and his helper arrive to set up the fort with attached swing sets. When Bobby and the boys return and see Dale, a well-known pro baseball pitcher, in their back yard, they go wild. Joanna, not a sports fan, isn't impressed. A baseball player turned toy shop owner spells irresponsible little boy to her, and one time was enough. But Dale buys eight Santas from her at three hundred dollars each, insuring that they will see each other again.

In the books I have read by Karen Templeton, I've found her strengths lie in characterization and dialogue, and this holds true for some of the characters in PLAYING FOR KEEPS. Bobby Alvarez and Tori are likable characters. Tori, young and unsure, is not unaware of Bobby's faults, but she loves him anyway. She worries that she is somehow cheating Bobby's children and Joanna out of his time and money even though she works. She patiently tries to get his children to accept her. Bobby is making an effort to change in order to be a better husband to Tori than he was to Joanna. However, I really could not work up any sympathy for Joanna. She just didn't come across as a likable person, nor could I become interested in Dale McConnaughy. As a couple, I was just not drawn to them. The plot and narration did not pull me into the story, and I'm really sorry about that because this is Karen Templeton's first Silhouette Single Title. But the plot just sort of flounders, and at times it appears not to know where to go next. Karen Templeton is a talented writer who is capable of far better work than this book, in my opinion.


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