cover image CHARMING GRACE


Deborah Smith, . . Little, Brown, $24.95 (371pp) ISBN 978-0-316-80587-2

Smith's beguiling brand of Southern contemporary romance (Sweet Hush , etc.) takes a satirical turn in her ninth novel. When Schwarzeneggeresque action star Stone Senterra arrives in Dahlonega, Ga., the only thing standing in the way of his making a film about real-life local hero Harper Vance is Vance's ex–beauty queen widow armed with a truckload of gravel, a potted orchid named "Dancer" and a will of steel. Charming Grace stops at nothing to ensure that her husband's memory does not become fodder for yet another bad movie. Having defied her wealthy father to befriend and then marry the backwoods bad boy turned GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) agent, she is more than ready to face down Hollywood. What she isn't prepared for are the feelings aroused by Senterra's troubleshooting bodyguard, Cajun-born ex-con Boone Noleene, like Vance a gallant-hearted tough guy and like Senterra abandoned by his father at an early age. The novel alternates points of view: first we hear from the rebel belle, then from the brash bodyguard. The battling duo are backed up by a larger-than-life cast of secondary characters, including Senterra's baby sister co-star, Diamond, voted sexiest movie babe by Gun and Knife magazine, and Senterra's son the computer geek, who falls for Grace's black niece from Detroit. Smith blends Southern charm and Hollywood brass, kicking up the satire with Stone's script notes, full of clichés, paranoia and celluloid-deep emotion. Her unflagging energy, forgiving spirit and mischievous imagination compel the reader to delight with her in the frailty of heroes on-screen and off, proving that Smith is one romance novelist who just keeps getting better. (Feb.)

Forecast: Smith's spirited blend of humor and romance should bump her up another notch on bestseller lists.