Counterfeit Princess

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Raye Morgan’s Counterfeit Princess, from 2003, is a contemporary romance featuring royalty from a pair of small fictional European kingdoms. Based on my experiences with this sub-genre (The Prince She Never Forgot, Accidental Princess), I was expecting a fun story, and this one started that way.

Shannon is a Texas waitress, working to pay off her mother’s medical bills and her art history training, so she’s happy to pick up a part-time job impersonating foreign princess Iliana, cutting ribbons while the real Iliana is partying in Vegas. The job becomes more intense when Prince Marco arrives to meet his diplomatically selected new bride, and the propinquity effect kicks in when Shannon must take refuge in Marco’s hotel suite to avoid the press.

So far, so good. Exactly why Iliana is in demand in Texas, to the point that she must be impersonated, is perhaps a plot hole, but we’ll let that slide. One might also question why no one seems to have noticed a popular princess partying in Vegas. When it comes to British royalty, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.

Shannon’s secret is revealed relatively early, and she becomes the woman Marco cannot fall in love with, because of his agreement to marry Iliana. However, there is very little suspense over the outcome, because Iliana has already been revealed as completely unsuitable. To complicate matters, Marco is a widow, with two children by his deeply missed late wife. This adds cute kids and pathos, and means Marco must not only choose the right woman, but get over his late wife. The real princess shows up, and if there isn’t already too much going on, we toss in the wise servant, the all-knowing aunt, and some hard-to-accept coincidences that leave Shannon finding out that she’s actually royalty, a member of the same family as the missing princess. Shannon, feeling as manipulated as the reader, takes off.

The last chapter has Shannon arriving in the kingdom of her former lover and his fiancé, to take a job in her field. At least, that’s what Shannon apparently thinks, though why anyone, including the reader, would believe this, is a mystery.

Lots of nice moments here, good romantic tension, and sensuality without sex, though  sometimes overwritten. When he kisses her, she thinks, among other things, “He tasted like thick buttery caramel. Well, not really, but the effect was the same.” This may have inspired the Fifty Shades of Grey line “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.” However, after a strong start, there are too many coincidences and too much going on, and character growth is lost in the confusion.

Awful Eighties Book

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I’m not going to name this book or the author, because as much as I dislike the book, it’s thirty years old, so I don’t need to warn anyone away. Also, the author is a prolific writer, a best-seller in several genres, and this was from early in her career. I assume she was writing to meet the trends of the time.

I haven’t read many romances from the 1980s, but those I have read tend to feature realistic characters and situations, and, compared to 1970s stories, stronger women and less dominant men. There’s usually overt reference to condom use, and less emphasis on the heroine’s virginity. These are all things I like. I was hoping for another Lucky in Love, from the Temptation imprint. However, there were a lot of imprint categories in the 1980s, and obviously not all of them got the modernization memo.

Our couple have a well written meet, at a night class, with delicious erotic tension. We’re off to a good start. He offers her a ride home, there’s some mutual flirting, and he turns into a dominant obsessive jerk. She runs a home business, which he mocks, while he is fabulously wealthy from a job that doesn’t require any of his time. He insists that they will sleep together, regardless of what she wants. The first half of the book is her saying no, and him pushing, and this was not pleasant reading. He kidnaps and isolates her (barely justified by a suspense subplot), and eventually she gives in. Of course it’s the best sex either of them have ever had – or at least it is for him. Her virginity is implied (and there’s no mention of a condom or any birth control). After sex, he declares that she belongs to him. At the climax, he defends her from a weak subplot danger, then informs her that they are getting married, and warns her that he’ll be even more demanding. And we never do learn why either of them were in the night class.

There must have been a market for stories where pushy rich men mock and coerce younger women, and I suppose there still is, but it’s not something I enjoy. Usually the back cover blurb is enough to warn me away, but in this case it was misleading.

PS. Still on track for an hour a week working on my romance (featuring a strong woman, who is not a virgin, and a man who falls for her but doesn’t expect to own her). This month I’m also taking an online course, working on character growth, which is helping my understanding of the relationship between plot and character. We all know that every character has to want something, but why they want it is material for both the character and the plot.

Safekeeping

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Safekeeping CovelSafekeeping is a 1994 Harlequin by Peg Sutherland. It’s part of the Dangerous to Love series, a set of fifty books each set in a different American State. This is #46, Virginia. It’s also part of the Women Who Dare series, and it’s no longer in print or available electronically. Sutherland wrote for Harlequin in the 1980s and 1990s, under that name and others, and now writes creative non-fiction and poetry.

The meet is a little forced. Quinn, eight months pregnant, goes into the mountains with two under-privileged pre-teen girls, for an afternoon stroll in the woods. They get trapped by a snowstorm, and seek shelter in an isolated cabin. The cabin is home to Whitney, an ex-con, hiding from the police as well as toughs working for corrupt government officials.

Roughly the first half of the book is the couple and children trapped in the cabin. The confined space is a great setting for various tensions as everyone comes to terms with the arrangement, and the couple become attracted to each other. Then Whitney manages to get the children home, and starts investigating how he can resolve his predicament. Quinn, unable to walk thanks to a narratively convenient twisted ankle, remains at the cabin, and goes into labour early. Fortunately there are no complications, and Whitney is an experienced midwife, having helped his grandmother deliver babies in the same cabin. The action moves to town, more characters and settings come into play, and the second half, more thriller than romance, is faster paced.

At about 300 pages, this is longer than a typical Harlequin, and grittier than some of the romantic-suspense genre. Quinn had a rough childhood in Los Angeles, including losing a brother to gun violence, another to prison, and losing a baby from a teen pregnancy. Her big city background is offered as an explanation for venturing into the woods before a snowstorm. She moved to Virginia years ago for a better life, but just a few months ago the father of her baby, a policeman, was killed when he tried to stop an armed robbery. Whitney also had a rough childhood, which led to his involvement in an armed robbery where someone was killed. Prison brutality has left him with emotional scars. The hoods and government officials after him have killed one person already, and are prepared to kill more.

I love the characters. They’re realistic, wounded, and strong. Neither is in need of rescue, and they balance each other well. Quinn may not be woods smart, but she’s tough and street smart, and can take on the bad guys when necessary. Whitney is a quietly masculine hero, at home in the woods, good with children, home remedies, and computers. Sutherland contrasts his authentic masculinity with the false masculinity of street gang toughs and rich pretty boys. Quinn and Whitney both have public service office jobs, value education, and enjoy helping others.

The story-telling is rich, with flashbacks that deepen the character growth in the course of the story. The plot has a few contrivances, and the mid-novel tone shift is a little awkward, but overall this is a solid romance read that effectively balances sentimental and nostalgic moments with harsh modern realities.

Plain Jane’s Man

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Book coverSometimes I think I need to stop reading old Harlequins I get from the 3 for $1 shelf at my local used bookstore. These twenty-year-old books won’t help me become familiar with the current product trends. But they’re 3 for $1! If I drop them in the tub (where I love to soak and read), it’s no loss, they are even easier on the budget than the 99 cents eBooks, and it supports the store. And some of the authors are still at work.

Kristine Rolofson, author of Plain Jane’s Man, wrote it in 1994. At that point she’d been writing for Harlequin for eight years, and her most recent publication is a contribution to Winter Wedding Bells in 2015. Her Harlequin bio contains plot elements fit for a romance (married at 18 to her high-school teacher, started writing when the Mount St. Helen’s explosion closed the road to her gift shop) as well as reminders about the work of writing: She spent five years studying over 200 romances before she was able to sell one.

Plain Jane’s Man is from the Temptation line (1984-2005). This line featured relatively ordinary people, in relatively ordinary relationships, including sex. The slightly hotter version of these, Blaze, eventually replaced Temptation. I like the heat level here – attraction, a period of sexual tension, and eventually sex as a comfortable part of the relationship.

Comfortable describes the whole story. It starts with an organic meet cute, and the couple date for a several weeks. She lives in an idyllic small town, and he’s there on business. That business involves her, and her eventual reaction to learning about it is the only significant complication, but it’s enough to drive the plot as the intensity of their relationship and his business increase. Rolofson cheats a little in developing and resolving that complication, but only enough that one feels amused (and faintly touched), not robbed.

Jane is not particularly plain, but she’s divorced and reluctant to get into another relationship. She works hard, and while not wealthy, she doesn’t need rescuing or saving. I like the independence, but she lacks any goals for herself. Neither she nor Peter have to give anything up to be together – which is comfortable, if unrealistic.

The stakes are low, and the passion is quiet, while nothing about this story particularly excited me, nothing annoyed me either. There was enough passion to make this a comfortable read for a few tub soaks.

Vampires, Saints, and Lovers

jpsmithVampires, Saints, and Lovers is a 2014 self-published novel by Julia Phillips Smith. It was previously published under the title Saint Sanguinus in 2011, and is the first of a trilogy, referred to as the Dark Ages Vampire trilogy or the Brotherhood of Blood Trilogy. If this sounds like a work in progress, that’s because it is. Book two has not been released yet – and I’m eagerly awaiting it.

I have mixed feelings about the vampire genre. I love Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for its structure and strong undercurrent of sexuality. Unfortunately, many other interpretations of vampire mythology dwell more on the aspects of horror, or, as in the case of Twilight, manage to miss both the horror and the sexuality (it’s supposed to be dangerous, not safe). Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire left me cold. The structure, a weary vampire telling his life story, weakens the passion. Vampires turn up in paranormal romances, such as Kiss Me Deadly, but few paranormals are willing to go deeply into the implications of vampires. Smith is willing to go there.

In dark ages Wales, Peredur is dying on the battlefield. Full of regret for losing his lover Tanwen, he curses God, and that act summons a demon, who offers another life. Peredur accepts, and finds himself a vampire of sorts, in a brotherhood dedicated to stopping those they consider true vampires. The brotherhood feed on people, like the true vampires, but otherwise lead an ascetic and devout life, serving a saint. One night Peredur visits Tanwen, desperate to see her again, yet also driven to tell her that she must find another, as “I am no longer fit to be the lover of a woman who deserves to be loved.”

Tanwen, dealing with family pressure to be married off, flees to a man she thinks can help re-unite her with her lover: Cavan, the unpopular son of the village wise woman. Cavan has the power to help her, and the desire, but his solution is not exactly what she expected. By the mid-point of the book, we have a love triangle of vampires in warring groups, and while Tanwen fully enjoys the unbridled sexuality of her new life, she still yearns for Peredur. Smith has just the right amount of detail to create a fabulous erotic tone in some scenes, and manages to portray Tanwen as both devoted and sexually indulgent.

The story-telling is superb in other respects. The setting is accurately and appropriately rendered, and rooted in historical figures and situations. The structure is also impressive. Initially the chapters alternate between the separate paths of Peredur and Tanwen. Once the characters and circumstances are well established, Cavan’s point of view is also brought in, flashbacks deepen our understanding of the two men, and the pace of the story increases towards the anticipated confrontation where individual and group loyalties will be tested.

As this is book one of a trilogy, the conclusion resolves some issues, but leaves others open, and raises new questions. I’m looking forward to reading more of this story.

#amwriting update

Two weeks ago I promised to work on my Romance One story for at least an hour a week.

So far, so good. The second week was easy. This past week was a little harder, thanks to work and other writing projects. Today was the deadline, and this evening I just did not feel like writing. However, I’m happy to say that I forced myself into it, eventually picked up steam, and made some progress. A relatively dull conversation over tea has been partly written, and, more importantly, livened up.

One writing project I have not completed this week is a review, but I have two books ready to write about. One was okay, and one was amazing. Maybe next week – but the hour of writing takes priority.

cat

Some days you just want to sit in the tub.

 

Fantasies and the Future

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leeFantasies & the Future, by Miranda Lee, would make a great Regency romance. Ava is part of the Whitmore family, wealthy merchants of opals, but her family is entwined with the ruthless Campbell family, also jewel merchants. Ava lives with her much older brother, is a virgin at thirty, hopeless at running the household and dealing with the staff, worries about her weight, and hides in a studio, painting works she lacks the confidence to finish.

Her most recent household disaster involved firing the landscaper, and now the grounds are a mess. She hires a new landscaper sight unseen, knowing only his name (Italian), and then fantasizes about his visit. Her tentative exploration of her body, above the waist, is apparently her first recognition of sexuality, perhaps stimulated by the shocking suggestion that her widowed brother may be bedding the woman he is dating.

The landscaper, Vince, arrives. He is the virile Italian stallion of her fantasies, but he’s cool to her. We later learn he’s weary of being invited in to service the rich ladies of the homes he visits. His becomes more attentive when Ava manages to slip and fall on the patio. He carries her in, rips off his shirt to stem the bleeding, and makes sure she is okay. In the process he learns about her paintings, admires them, and arranges for an art dealer he knows to see them.

Vince returns a few days later to purchase one of her paintings, overhears her invitation to a family party, and offers to escort her. Ava finds his attentions and the praise of the art dealer so confidence inspiring that she loses weight over the week, and is noticeably thinner at the party. When Vince arrives to pick her up, they go to bed first, where Vince declares that this is just an affair, she’s his property, and now he knows why virgins are so prized. Ava is pleased with all of these declarations.

Then it’s round two in the shower, the party, and back to Vince’s place for more sex. Vince’s place turns out to be a luxury penthouse apartment. Vince is not really a landscaper, he’s an engineer who owns a construction company. The landscaping business belongs to his brother. And he loves Ava so much he wants to marry her, even if spending more time with her and less on his business means he’ll be a millionaire instead of a multimillionaire. Never mind what he said last night about this just being an affair.

This is story four of six in the Hearts of Fire series, and the overall story arc concerns Ava’s relative Gemma, who is suffering through an unhappy marriage to a possibly cheating and definitely sexually abusive husband, though she does find his brutality arousing. She’s also searching for the secret of her real origins….

As I said, this would make a great Regency romance. However, it’s a contemporary, from 1994. Yes, that was twenty years ago, but it’s not just my memory that tells me this is odd. I’ve read romances from the 1980s with strong, capable, and sexually active women. Perhaps I need to chose my lines more carefully.

The story is more wish fulfillment than growth. Vince makes a financial sacrifice, I suppose, but that’s so soon after we learn he’s rich that it doesn’t resonate. Ava does acquire confidence, which is good, but it comes from being desired. Granted, that can do a lot for your confidence, but we all know you need to believe in yourself before others can believe in you. In the context of the series story arc, with failing and failed marriages in both families, it bodes ill for Ava’s future happiness that she relies external validation. Her successful effort to lose weight is also unsettling. Again, good for her, and Vince makes it clear that he was attracted to her before she lost weight, but the emphasis on her appearance seems shallow. I would have preferred more about how she used her newfound confidence to complete her paintings.

Then there’s the speed of the romance: Sex and marriage proposal on the first date, after meeting twice and two phone calls. And of course my pet peeve – people who start off with fantastic sex, especially virgins.

The six novels in the Hearts of Fire series were written in nine months, and very early in Lee’s career, though she certainly paid her dues. It took ten years of drafting for her first novel to be accepted. She’s continued to be a prolific writer, with ninety-three Harlequins published to date. Her most recent is The Playboy’s Ruthless Pursuit:

When you’re as handsome, dynamic and wealthy as British tycoon Jeremy Barker-Whittle, there’s no shortage of stunning women willing to share your bed. So when Alice Waterhouse says no, it’s a challenge the jaded playboy can’t refuse.

But discovering Alice’s carefully guarded innocence brings an end to Jeremy’s thoughts of briefly stolen passion. The cynical CEO must put aside this delicate beauty…until Alice shocks him by asking him to take her virginity!

As Jeremy toys with the temptation to be the first man to show Alice pleasure, he’s unaware that she could be the first woman to tame him…

I’m not seeing much change in theme, after twenty-two years, so this must be a formula that works for Lee and her fans. I may even read this – just to see what has changed, if anything.

#amwriting

Typewriter with CatAs the tagline says, this site is about writing romance, as well as reading and reviewing it. However, I don’t often mention the writing. Looking back, I see it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve posted anything about my writing. So here’s an update, and a promise.

I started drafting a romance several years ago, under the working title Romance 1. During a Nanowrimo, I wrote more than 20,000 words, but the story wandered off in a pointless direction, and since then I’ve reworked the outline to improve the characters and the plot. Meanwhile, to explore other ideas, I’ve written several more outlines or drafts, under the working titles Romance 2 through Romance 5. One of these was another Nanowrimo effort, and two were Three Day Novel entries.

My dictionary of proverbs tells me “Well begun is half done” (and that Horace said that), and “Half a loaf is better than none” (from 1546), but one wishes to finish – and “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” (from 1628). It’s not as if I haven’t been writing, but I have not spent much time working on the romances, apart from drafting them. Romance 5 is the most complete, however it’s been submitted for the Three Day Novel contest, and waiting for the response is my rationalization for not working on it. Romance 1 is the second most complete, and the one in which I’ve invested the most time.

Last summer I submitted Romance 1 to a Harlequin competition, So You Think You Can Write – Ooooh…Canada! blitz. The benefit of submitting to the competition, as opposed to through ordinary channels, was that it encouraged me to submit by a deadline, and some feedback was promised. Submitting it also gave me a (weak) rationalization for not working on it. The feedback, received about a month ago, was encouraging, though they “decided not to pursue this project.” Among the suggestions was that my characters need to have a greater emotional conflict.

My understanding is that when Harlequin says no, it’s final. They apparently maintain a database of submissions, and a re-submission gets a prompt rejection. I mulled over whether to abandon this story, and focus on one of the others, or revise this one for eventual submission somewhere else. On re-reading my synopsis after several months, I decided I like the story, setting, and characters too much to let it go. I’ve decided to revise it, and earlier today spent an hour working on the outline, to raise the stakes for my characters. Before, they were both single and open to meeting someone. Now one’s engaged, and the other is completely opposed to a relationship. Previously, she was short of cash – now she’s about the lose the farm to a crooked financing company.

After an hour today, I need to keep at it. This is the first week of the new year, and I’m resolving to spend one hour each week working on this story. That’s not much time, but it’s more than I have done in the past year, and I like to keep my resolutions easy and achievable. I considered doing word count instead of time, but with much of the work being editing and revising, time is probably a better measure of progress. I’ll be “slow, but sure” (1562), and, since I am making this public promise, I’ll also let you know how it’s going.

A Mistress For the Taking

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Cover - A Mistress for the TakingA Mistress for the Taking is Annie West‘s debut Harlequin. It was published in 2006, and she’s written two or three a year since then. The titles suggest she consistently works with a similar theme: Wealthy man needs woman for some scheme, and what starts as an a business arrangement turns to love.

In A Mistress for the Taking, millionaire businessman Ronan has professional and personal reasons for defeating a business rival, Charles. Marina is also unhappy with Charles. Thanks to a recent unfair deal Charles made with her brother, she is faced with losing her home and her family’s trucking business. When Ronan sees Marina go after Charles at a public function, Ronan suggests she pose as his mistress. His somewhat convoluted plan is that Charles will be so distracted trying to seduce her away from Ronan that he won’t notice a poisonous deal Ronan is setting up. In exchange, Ronan will make sure she gets her home and business back.

On the plus side, West does a great job of building passion and sexual tension between her characters, and creates great tension during sex scenes. Marina is introduced as an independent and successful business woman, and Ronan respects her ability in her area. However, in Ronan’s plan to bring down Charles, she is a pawn, required only to be attractive bait. Ronan tells her nothing of the plan, leading to a needless climactic confrontation, and Ronan also withholds his true feelings from her, leading her to suspect her attraction is not reciprocated. His justification is that he does not want to take advantage of her, which I’ll admit could be read as respect. West makes a point of showing how decent a man Ronan is, by things such as his taking the time to thank a valet parking driver by name.

It annoyed me that Marina was a virgin, or rather that she was a virgin with almost no explanation. I have no trouble accepting the notion of a 24-year-old virgin, but in the context of this story it undercuts the equality and confidence of Marina. My pet peeve of characters who have mind-blowing sex on their first encounter, which happens here, doubles when there’s a virgin or two in the scene. In the stories I am working on, the characters’ sexual relationship grows as their emotional one does. It takes time to get to know another person, both mentally and physically.

There are several issues in this story that I’m not sure how to interpret. For example, on the one hand, Marina undergoes the plain Jane to fabulous babe transformation, thanks to Ronan’s money, and his wish that she look as hot as possible to be bait for Charles. The notion that Marina needed a makeover is disturbing. On the other hand, Ronan was attracted to her from the first time he saw her, despite her shapeless suit and wrong hair style. Is Ronan shallow for his opinion of her appearance, or is he true for being attracted to her before her makeover? Then there’s the matter of her work. We are told she works, and is good at her job, yet in the story we never actually see her working. On the one hand, scenes of her at work would not advance the story. On the other hand, with so little attention paid to it, her job seems unimportant, which undercuts her desire to seek revenge on Charles for taking over her company.

This is one for the guilty pleasure category. I wish Marina had played a more active role in the plot to defeat Charles, and generally been a more powerful person. I’m a little uneasy with the story of rich man rescues working class girl from bad man, and when they meet he literally sweeps her off her feet as she faints. But it’s hard to object to being rescued by someone as decent as Ronan, he does have some vulnerabilities, and the sexual tension was delicious.

A Family of Her Own

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A Family of Her Own - Original Cover

Original Cover

There must be a rule that Harlequin’s have generic titles. A Family of Her Own is a title that could apply to any number of romances, and it’s unfortunate that Brenda Novak’s lively story is saddled with a bland title. And the latest cover is more generic than the original. A Family of Her Own is a 2004 book in the SuperRomance line. These are defined by their longer than standard romance length, around 80,000 words, and the more complex plots, characterization, and additional characters the length permits.

Katie is heading back to town after two years in the big city, broke, five months pregnant and fleeing a failed relationship. Her car breaks down, and of course it’s raining. The first person to come along is Booker, ex-con, and ex-boyfriend. She dumped him before leaving town, because she wanted a stable, reliable man. He gives her a ride to her parents’ house, but they tell her that she needs to sleep in the bed she made, and refuse to let her in. (I thought you had to lie in the bed you made, and my Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs agrees. I’m not sure if this variation is supposed to tell us that the parents are country or confused, or if this is just the version the author knows). Booker and Katie are reluctant to spend time together, but he’s a gentleman with a spare room, she’s a damsel in distress, and desperate times call for desperate measures. (The Dictionary of Proverbs notes this is actually ‘Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies,’ but acknowledges, in this case, that there are many variations.)

Katie does not want charity, from Booker, or from her old crush Mike, who offers her a place to live and sinecure at his resort. Instead, she proposes to earn her keep by doing housework for Booker. Since she left town, he has taken over his late grandmother’s farmhouse and acreage, purchased a garage, and become a more-or-less respectable citizen, though a few in town refuse to give him their business. Booker has also taken in Delbert, a developmentally disabled man who had nowhere to go when his father died, and Delbert works with him at the garage. Booker repairs Katie’s car, and at her request, arranges to sell it from the garage. Her plan is to use the money to purchase a computer and software, and earn money creating websites.

A Family of Her Own - Current Cover

Current Cover

Booker is eager to help, and when no one is interested in buying the car, he hides it on his property, pretends it has sold, and gives her the money. You just know this is going to be a problem later. It is, but not because he’s lied to her. She doesn’t seem to mind that, and the problem caused by the car is easily solved. Unfortunately, the many problems that come up are all easily solved. Katie quickly learns she was wrong to reject Booker, so her main obstacle is not her learning that he is a good man (which would allow her some character growth), but her failure to tell him she has changed her mind about him. Her reticence to express her feelings leads to him trying a one-night stand, which creates trust issues for her, but as other characters note, she hasn’t given him any reason to think they are getting back together. Mike is interested in her, but since her feelings for Booker are firm, there’s no suspense there.

Towards the end, as crisis piled upon crisis, my reactions bounced between “Oh no! What else could possibly go wrong?” and, “Well, that wasn’t anything to worry about.”  Of course there’s going to be a happy ending, but the SuperRomance format has enough subplots and secondary characters that at least one rejected suitor could have been less gracious, or one issue remained unresolved. After everything that happened, the ending seemed too neat.

I must acknowledge the strength of Katie. Yes, she’s the literal damsel in distress at the beginning, but she rallies, and helps Booker at times. Her online work is not just successful, but is eventually a significant contribution to Booker’s business. I also need to acknowledge a few unexpected plot twists, which are always appreciated.

This is one of several books set in the same town, with overlapping characters, and it appears that Novak wrote some of these in the early 2000s, then returned to the location a few years ago. There are now eight stories, none involving siblings, which suggests the town requires a police force larger than the mere three mentioned here. There’s also a variety in the types of stories, so I’m keen to read more. Despite a few quibbles and disappointments, overall this is a pleasant read. If only it had a better title.