by Barbara SamuelFebruary, 2008
The curious Miss Ashford
In Stephanie Laurens' Where the Heart Leads, the latest offering in her much-beloved Cynster series, both of the leads have satisfying—and important—work, and both have had to fight to win the right to follow their paths. The slightly eccentric Barnaby Adair has discovered that he has a knack for solving the crimes of the ton, and despite his mother's efforts to marry him off, Barnaby remains determinedly single. Penelope Ashford, a tidy and tiny brunette with a powerful mind whose older sister married a Cynster in Laurens' The Perfect Lover, is an independent woman with a steely will and no desire to fall under the controlling influence of a man. She runs a boarding school for orphans and finds the work highly rewarding. The pair meet over a disturbing series of disappearances among a group of young boys. As they work together to find the stolen youths, however, sparks fly, and the two strike a deal—Penelope is curious about passion, and Barnaby is all too willing to illuminate her. Since neither has any desire to marry, there should be no problem. A lush exploration of sex and chemistry and finally, love, between two appealing and intelligent characters.
All too often, the trouble with Christian fiction is the saccharine nature of the situations and characters, who seem to operate on The Good Folks Planet where a careful screen shields the delicate reader from the harsher aspects of life. Not so in Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man by Claudia Mair Burney, which is witty and earthy, vibrant and fast-paced, peopled with multidimensional characters. On her 35th birthday, Amanda Bell Brown is having dinner with her sister, the local medical examiner, when her sister is called to the scene of a suspicious death. Amanda, a forensic psychologist, tags along, unwittingly slamming into the intersection of the scattered pieces of her life Christian, psychologist, woman, survivor of a dark past. On the scene of a double homicide, she meets Jazz, the tall, dark and delicious detective, and although immediate sparks fly between them, both have a commitment to God, and plenty of baggage. Their resolve to stay celibate is continually tested as the two work together to unravel a twisted plot centered on the murky world of cults. Original, richly textured and grounded in the real world, this is nonetheless a genuinely spiritual novel that tackles the gritty questions of faith and honor, hope and despair that any person on any spiritual path must eventually face. Excellent.
The opposing quests of two mighty-willed lovers is at the heart of In the Highlander's Bed, by New York Times best-selling author Cathy Maxwell. Whoever possesses the Sword of the MacKenna will rule the clan, and Gordon must lay claim to it before all of his people are driven from their lands. He kidnaps the Duke of Colster's sister-in-law as leverage to get the sword back. He hasn't, however, reckoned with the saucy, independent Constance Cameron, an American whose careful plan to escape this miserable land has been thwarted by the obnoxious Highlander. As they fall in love, each must re-evaluate the cost of freedom. This rich and layered tale is brimming with juicy sexual tension and the challenging realities of the times.
VIBRANT VICTORIAN TALE
Untamed by Hope Tarr is the third book in a series about three orphaned boys, now grown into their fortunes and talents. Patrick O'Rourke, known to all as simply Rourke, has made a fortune in Scottish railroads, and has come to London to find a wife. Smitten by the beauty of a photo in his friend Hadrian's photography shop, Rourke determines she will be his bride, and indeed, the pair finds themselves locked in a marriage of convenience, which is not at all what either had imagined. The sexual and intellectual link is heated and thrilling, but each wears pride as armor, and the challenge is nearly the destruction of these two fierce and wounded individuals. Tarr is an intelligent and sensual writer with an eye for detail, and Untamed is a meaty treat.
FALLING FOR ROSS
In her first book for Signet, the ever popular JoAnn Ross has written a crackling romantic suspense novel, Freefall. When Zach Tremayne and Sabrina Swann make their way back home to the Outer Banks island of Swann, both are emotionally exhausted by their experiences. Ex-SEAL Zach is carrying the burden of a mission gone awry in Afghanistan, and Sabrina is struggling both with the untimely death of her grandmother, and then a devastating car bombing in Florence that left her buried in the rubble of the hotel she worked for. Each is haunted, and each longs for healing. Unfortunately, as the pair makes their way toward healing, a serial killer with chilling aspirations may threaten their happy ending. A riveting plot and exquisite characterizations prove, once again, that Ross is a master.