Table For Five
Harlequin’s American Romance line used to be one of my favorites, and I keep hoping that I’ll find a good story like those the line used to offer. Table for Five sounded like it had an appealingly offbeat heroine, so I bought it. The heroine is offbeat all right, but eventually she becomes as bland as the rest of this perfectly acceptable, but perfectly ho-hum story.
In the three years since his wife died, Kyle Harper hasn’t had much time for romance. He’s raising three daughters on his own. His father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Kyle took over the family company, which operates a number of restaurants in northeast Kansas. The only woman who’s sparked his interest lately is Zuzu Clark, who works in the boutique across the street from his office. With her eccentric wardrobe and multi-colored streaks in her hair, Kyle knows she wouldn’t be an appropriate woman for him to date. He’s too well-known in town and has his family’s reputation to think of. If that sounds kind of arrogant, I thought so too.
In any case, Kyle returns home one night to find that his daughters’ latest nanny has quit and the house is in complete disarray. The girls reveal that they picked up a pamphlet about feng shui at a shop downtown and were trying to follow it in their own home. When he learns that the woman who gave them the pamphlet is the same woman he’s been admiring in the shop across from his office, he goes to meet her. His daughters respond to Zuzu in a way they haven’t with any of their nannies, and he manages to convince her to become their new nanny on a temporary basis.
Zuzu is just as attracted to Kyle as he is to her, but they both agree they’re too different to become involved with one another. She’s too free spirited, he’s too uptight and hyperorganized. Then Zuzu accompanies the family to a dinner with Kyle’s parents. Kyle’s father immediately responds to Zuzu, acting with a mental clarity that’s rare for him these days. When he acts like he believes Zuzu is Kyle’s new girlfriend, she figures it couldn’t hurt to humor him. But when Kyle kisses her for show, a newspaper photographer catches the moment on film, and it’s splashed all over the next morning’s paper. Suddenly Kyle and Zuzu have to pretend to be engaged, because that’s what always happens in books like this. Oh, there are some weak reasons given, but we all know why they’re doing this. The formula dictates it. They end up “having” to spend more time together, feelings develop, etc., etc.
That’s the main problem with this book: it’s pure formula. It starts out decently enough. Zuzu is interesting. The characters and premise are set up well. Kyle’s not very likable, but I figured there was time for him to loosen up and stop being such a snob. Then the forced “pretend engagement” shows up and the story unfolds by rote.
Zuzu and Kyle try to resist, but are forced to keep up appearances at occasions Kyle and his “fiancee” would naturally attend. When they attempt to limit their time together, family members conspire to get the “lovebirds” together. It would be okay, except Kyle and Zuzu don’t have any real chemistry. Kyle is a completely uninteresting character who couldn’t be any blander. Zuzu at least is well-developed, displaying more personality and growth as the author shows her sad past and the effect her feelings for Kyle have on her. The only drama this story has comes from her past and the doubts it causes her to have about their relationship. But a romance needs two characters to work, and she can’t carry this love story on her own. As a result the romance is reasonably developed, but not all that interesting or affecting.
None of the side characters make any impression whatsoever. I couldn’t even tell you which of Kyle’s daughters is which, and they mostly disappear halfway through the book, except when they’re needed to shove Kyle and Zuzu together. Table for Five isn’t a terrible book. It simply suffers from terminal blandness. There’s absolutely nothing that stands out about it to make it last much longer than the amount of time it takes to read it. Ultimately, it’s all too forgettable.