Halfway through a 600-page monster of Victorian intrigue, I felt the need for a frivolous respite. SMITTEN was just the ticket.
As author Janet Evanovich explains in a preface written just inside the front cover, SMITTEN was one of twelve short romances - "red hot screwball comedies" - written in her pre-Plum days, nine of which are being re-released. This book in particular was inspired by her experience fixing up a fixer-upper house with her husband.
The heroine is Lizabeth Kane, a recently divorced Mom with custody of two precocious boys, a hyperactive puppy named Ferguson, and Carol the Cat. Lizabeth needs a job, but is either over or undereducated, depending on the prospective employer. She's also, by any standard, unskilled and inexperienced at anything except folding clothes and baking cookies. In desperation, she takes a job as a carpenter with a local building contractor, the hunky Matt Hallahan, even though simply pounding a nail presents her with a challenge. Kane and Hallahan are immediately attracted to each other, and, in short order (and 234 brief and occasionally mildly steamy pages), a relationship erupts despite the periodic intrusion into her backyard of a pesky nighttime flasher.
In SMITTEN, the Evanovich fan can see the evolution of the character types that eventually populate the author's enormously popular Stephanie Plum series. (I know; I've read them all.) Lizabeth is a simpler, but just as delightfully kooky, pre-incarnation of Stephanie. Kane's Aunt Elsie could be the twin sister of Grandma Mazur. And Matt morphs into the more complex and sexually infuriating (to Stephanie) Detective Joe Morelli. There are even the zany action sequences that become fully realized with Plum's involvement. At one point, Lizabeth, Elsie, Matt and Ferguson, in Elsie's battleship of a Caddy, chase after the naked pervert making his escape on Matt's Harley.
If the Plum series is light reading with a capital "L" otherwise denoting excellence, SMITTEN is small "l". Since it can be digested in 1-2 hours, it's a suitably amusing and surreptitious diversion for Sunday church service, especially if the sermon runs inordinately long, but with the caveat that no Real Man wants to be caught chuckling at this engaging chic-lit.