The Heart's Command
by Rachel Lee, Merline Lovelace, and Lindsay McKenna; contemporary (2002)
Silhouette, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-48466-6


This book is released on the first anniversary of Sept 11. I have put off reading this book until today. Let's face it, romance authors generally don't do complexity well. Their concepts of politics as presented in their stories can be pathetically black and white. Take Jennifer Blake's Wade, also released around the same time. That one turns out to be an embarrassing exercise of American vainglory. The Heart's Command features three stories centered around the word "patriotism". With much terpidation and expecting to find cringe-inducing redneck politic slogans on every page, I turn to Rachel Lee's opening story, The Dream Marine.

And what a surprise it is. While Lindsay McKenna and Merline Lovelace's novellas favor the more aggressive "The United States of America, here is thy vanguard forth!" stance, Rachel Lee's is a subversively pacifist tale. I am surprised.

Joe Yates, a Marine Sergeant, returns home to Conard County mentally burned and broken. He encounters recruit officer Bethany Mathison who then pokes into his affairs, reunites him with his estranged family whether he likes it or not, and as a punishment, she gets poked by him in a bout of Aggrieved Angry Sex.

Bethany is a nice heroine with no sexual contrivances in her character. But Joe's whine really hits the off-the-chart levels when it comes to decibels that The Dream Marine is actually just 99 pages of Joe whining and moaning and anguishing and lamenting and complaining and sighing. Bethany, of course, is there to provide a fun outlet for all that whinefest.

If I press herbal pads to my throbbing head hard enough, I may find that Joe, in a different story, will be a beautifully tortured hero. Also, the last few pages are subversive in that while Joe regains his inner fire to serve ol' Uncle Sam in the frontlines again, the real message is that there are really no winners in a war, only losers. Sometimes war is inevitable, but all we need is love.

So hold hands with Rachel Lee, people, and let's sing Imagine together!

Merline Lovelace's Undercover Operations has our trained personnel heroine Danielle "I'm named after my Daddy, I love my Daddy, my Daddy's dead, boo hoo hoo!" Flynn demanding a repayment of the debt that is her father's saving the life of bum Jack Buchanan from Jack. Jack also happens to fly planes like the best of them. She wants him to fly her to Mexico. Why Mexico? Well, Dan's sister is kidnapped there, and since no one seem to be able to do a thing about rescuing Sis, Dan will do it herself.

Of course, Jack and Dan will pose as newlyweds. It's patriotism as an excuse to indulge in series novel tired plot devices here.

I like the characters when they first appear in Romancing The Stone and I like them when they appear in every "romantic adventure" stories ever since that movie came out. So I like this story, especially when Dan actually can take care of herself while Jack is actually sexy and incorrigible without coming off as obnoxious.

This novella won't be setting records or raising the bars when it comes to fun, but it's entertaining enough. Best of the bunch.

Linsay McKenna's heroine Brie Phillips in To Love And Protect is Native American. I don't understand why almost every story with a Native American theme has to come off stilted and filled with sentences... like... this... for... no... good... reason.... whatsoever. Or why there always silly imageries of eagles and falcons flying overhead while a cougar roars in the background. Or why the heroine has to use the phrase "medicine woman" when the phrase "doctor" will do.

Brie and her ex-husband Niall Ward are reunited when they, lieutenants for some covert group called Morgan's Merceneries, find themselves stuck at sea while on a mission. Static on the radio - hello, can anybody hear those losers? If you can, kick the radio under the table and pretend that you didn't hear anything.

Firstly, the reason for the divorce is all because of some stupid misunderstanding that could have been cleared if these two people... wait, these two people talk in the most stilted, simple dialogues ever (usually a variation of "I did this" or "I feel this"). How on earth can their communication techniques be so bad?

Secondly, Brie is an overly emotional idiot. She comes close to having a mental breakdown complete with unshed tears and heaving mighty bosoms - ugh ugh ugh - when she learns that she'll be flying with her ex-husband. And this woman is going to square off with evil villains? Maybe she's what they call a "meat shield" - while the bad guys beat her to death, the other team members slip past them to save the day. Maybe.

Thirdly, the stilted prose also extends to the entire story, not just the dialogues. This story seems to be written by someone whose sole mastery of the English language is restricted to making simple sentences no longer than eight words at most. There's nothing wrong with that if one is writing a Barney the Purple Bloated Walking Phallus Dinosaur book for young kiddies. But in a romance novel, the effect is more like a case of pins-and-needles. There's nothing like lumbering prose and doltish conversations from characters mired in a misunderstanding to convince me that Brie and Niall are the superstars in the village idiot hall of fame.

Tragedy and war inflames men to write epic stories of unparalleled passions and create new doctrines and philosophies. In the case of this anthology, apparently the authors get inspired to merely crank the tired old dead engine that is their limited repertoire of plots one more try. How inspiring. Still, the novella by Ms Lovelace is pretty good, if that's worth anything. Fans of military romances who cannot wait for Suzanne Brockmann's new SEAL trilogy and just have to read about a man in uniform or die can do worse than to get hold of this book. Then again, it's probably more fun to discuss "1001 Ways to Kill That Slut Mary Lou" or exchange verbal sweetcakes in the "Alyssa+Sam 4Eva Appreciation (No Haters Allowed!)" thread on the bulletin boards.

Rating: 63


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