SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER
Gardiner's potential comes through with a talent for description and a way with a sentence. Unfortunately, she falls in love with her own wit, and the endless clever phrases derail the story. Her opening pictures of both main characters are so unpleasant that even though she rehabilitates and explains them later, it's hard to warm up to them.
Claire Doolittle, a married mother of five, feels caught in a terrible trap. She thinks her husband has turned into Ward Cleaver, who can only criticize her; her children are a perpetual disaster not even waiting to get started; and her days are a marathon of work and family, with no finish line. Her sex life is the Sunday night chore, and her body and wardrobe are definitely not up to June Cleaver standards. When did things get so bad?
Then Claire gets an e-mail from her old boyfriend, who left her flat but now seems to remember her as the red-hot mama he would like to get reacquainted with. To up her state of mental unrest, at a party she's introduced to her husband's new office intern, a perky blonde who clearly thinks Claire's husband can teach her a lot about a lot of things. It may sound like a lead-in to Family Court, but Claire is not going to let her world disintegrate without a fight. After all, the Beaver always got a happy ending, right? (Love Spell, Feb., 320 pp., $6.99)