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21 November 2005

A Big Box of Krispy Kreme

Why Krispy Kreme? Because once I get in the mood to read romance novels, I consume them as quickly as donuts, with as much glee and abandon. After my third one, I start to feel a bit nauseated. So here are three reviews for the price of one (which hopefully explains why I have not posted new reviews in some time):

Home at Last by Katherine Stone

Summary by Alison Trinkle for Amazon: "KCOR's new anchorwoman, Galen Chandler, is a disaster. She has none of the sophistication, education, or presence of New York's beloved Marianne McLain, KCOR's long-time anchor who died of cancer. But mysteriously, Galen was offered the job of a lifetime and is trying hard to make a go of it. When she lands an exclusive interview with reclusive Lieutenant Lucas Hunter during a touchy hostage situation, Galen cannot bring herself to report the scoop that would cement her career but endanger the young hostages. Lucas, drawn to the young reporter in spite of his conviction to remain impartial, finds himself in the position of protecting Galen when the serial killer preying on the women of Lucas's past draws her into his twisted plot."

I liked this one. In fact it's success (much like the first, sweet, delicious bite of a glazed doughnut) drove me to consume the books that followed. I enjoy Katherine Stone's novels, and Happy Endings (it is what it does, it does what it says) is one of my favorite romances. And seeing her name on book covers always throws me for a loop because my mom's name is Kathleen Stone.

This was a fun mystery with a surprising amount of gore, but what I liked most about the plot was the hero and heroine's easy attraction to one another. I become bored with "love you / hate you" plots that focus too deeply on tragic misunderstandings. Here were simply two people - used to living alone and nearly reconciled to the idea that they were the wrong sort of person to share their lives freely with someone else - caught off guard by good ole' Cupid. And they let it happen, gently, with a quiet, smoldering sensuality. The plot and the conflict of the story was the mystery of the serial killer they sought to catch. Their love stood against the darkest of evils, not against some contrived mistake of ego or timing that could be easily untangled with a good, long conversation. I liked the simplicity of it, allowing me to focus on the fun, sexy prose. Stone is good at that. But...

Bed of Roses by Katherine Stone

Summary by Kathleen Hughes for Booklist/Amazon: "It tells the story of a beautiful actress, Cassandra Winter, and the true love of her life, the fabulously wealthy (and also handsome and moody) Napa Valley wine wizard Chase Tessier. Due to a series of tragic misunderstandings, Cassandra and Chase separate. When Cassandra is viciously attacked and hovers near death, Chase spends a lot of time in her hospital room reflecting, foiling further attacks on her life, and helping the addled detectives solve the crime and find the attacker."

Her lush, pulsing descriptions lose their special impact after the second helping. Everything is luscious. Everything is pulsing. Everything is hearts and flowers. And this one was particularly annoying because it was told almost entirely in flashback. And really obvious, freakish insults to flashbacks. Chase is standing in the ICU, looking at his dear Cassandra's still-as-death arms, and his mind drifts back... (chapter break) ...to when she first arrived in Napa. Ick! And why Bed of Roses? It was about vinters!!

Even the description here mentions "tragic misunder- standings." How could I become emotionally involved with characters, in flashback, when I knew that they would be ripped apart by some mistake, only to be reunited again eight years later in a hospital room? Stone has a habit, too, of trying to fit too many romances into one book. Pearl Moon is the most gaudily ambitious of these attempts. Here, the sub-story of Chase's sister does not come close to filling in the gaps of a perilously thin plot.

Stone's M.O. is medical drama. She was a doctor before becoming a professional writer. But I really get tired of critically ill characters, girls with eating disorders (another of her favorites), and the same darned character names over and over. Chase? Lucas? Nicholas? Cassandra? Pick up a phone book and find names you haven't used before!

Eden Burning by Elizabeth Lowell

From the book flap: "Paradise calls to Chase Wilcox. A man of science fascinated by [volcanoes], he is drawn to the lush beauty of Hawaii - while escaping the destruction of his own personal world. But the island is home to many unexpected wonders, which is why Nicole Ballard could never leave it. A research assistant, an artist, and a dancer - a tall, stunning redhead who goes by the stage name of Pele, the goddess of fire - she, too, hides a secret pain, releasing her pent-up sensuality to the accompaniment of native drums before a mesmerized audience. Fate has cast them together, causing a chain reaction that neither imagined in their most secret dreams."

Only after reading the first few pages of this novel did I understand what the first two were missing entirely. Sex. While Stone writes polite scenes of loving, sweet consummation, always leaving the characters their dignity and privacy, she never reveals anything sexual enough to get the pulse racing. Elizabeth Lowell is very good at that. Fire and Rain is one of my favorite romance novels because of the good old fashioned heat she generates between her characters. And not just sex - she fills the pages with tingling lust. Nice! (However, I have also abandoned a few of her books mid-read because the 40-page seduction scenes left me wondering where she had lost the plot - literally.)

Eden Burning was a bit crude. Lowell has stopped writing romances in favor of nasty-death-gore mystery novels, but apparently her editors want new, fresh hardcover romances on the shelves as well. She has been in the process of retooling and expanding her straight-to-paperback catalogue from the 1980s and early 1990s, which explains the lack of finesse and subtlety in this novel. She was a more youthful writer when this one hatched from her brain, and it showed. However, that did not keep the novel from revealing characters with highly charged sexual energy. I just didn't try to think about some of the strange and exaggerated emotional leaps they made at convenient times. Instead, I snuggled in and enjoyed the (ahem) ride.

Now, if I don't get caught up making doughnuts more to my own, personal taste (that's analogy-speak for "writing my own romance novel"), then I'll return to the world of proper literature in a few days.

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