by Emilie Richards, Allison Leigh, and Peggy Moreland; contemporary (2003)
Silhouette, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-21820-6
Looks like there is intelligent life form floating like the rare zooplankton colony on the murky eutrophied grime waters of Silhouette and Harlequin after all. To The One I Love has three novellas that are reminiscent of the series romances of the early 1990s, where the characters may be familiar but at least they aren't walking, talking gimmicks. All three novellas have their share of problems, but all three aren't without their strengths either.
Emilie Richards' That Old Familiar Feeling introduces the reader to the Colman family. Three sisters, Lacey, Marti, and Deanna, are minding their own business when they receive an anonymous love letter on the doorstep of Momma Colman's house. It is addressed simply to "the one I love". Well, whose letter is it? And who wrote it? That is the question at the back of the three sisters' minds as they all find love and their happily ever after. In the first story, divorcee Lacey has returned home to Momma to lick her wounds. She falls for her high school boyfriend Matt (he comes complete with twins). Lacey and Matt are very tired stereotypes and let's not even touch their Sad Marriages In The Past. But the author has written a very nice romance for Lacey and Matt - these two really hit it off well. It is only when Lacey starts shrieking that she is not good mother material and hence not good enough for Matt that the story comes this close to falling into the cesspit. Any woman that takes a four-year old kiddie's "I hate you" so seriously is obviously on the road to Sillyville. The kids are monsters, by the way. All in all, the only thing the author manages to convince me in this story is that Monster Children are best shipped off to the boarding school that inspired Dickens' Bleak House. Look at silly, long-suffering Lacey. Doesn't she know that we can import underpaid, overworked nannies from third-world countries to take care of these monsters nowadays?
This one is easily the weakest story of the three. Still, the party's just started.
Allison Leigh's An Older Man tells the story of the youngest sister Marti. Marti and Devlin Faulkner had a thing, but his unreasonable misogyny directed towards career women ends up driving Marti away. Marti wants to be a hot journalist after all. Now Devlin comes back like a silly alpha male bent on One Last Shag to get rid of Marti from his system once and for all. But Marti is having none of his BS. This novella is filled with the usual virgin and alpha male stereotypes but what makes it stand out is that it is actually a pro-career woman story instead of the expected "domestic engineers are the hope of our children" nonsense. Devlin's grovel at the end is very satisfying indeed and I like Marti for having none of his nonsense. Easily the best story of the bunch.
Peggy Morland's Caught By A Cowboy is the most entertaining story of the three, but the author doesn't know when to rein in the heroine's inability to say yes to the hero's proposal. Deanna, the middle sister, is what one can call a bad girl, if a woman with several strings of relationships in her past with none of them remotely sad in a contrived way is what one calls a "bad girl" in Silhouette novels. She had a really good thing with rich and hot guy Porter Copely (also her boss, mind you), until he pops the question and our commitment-phobic heroine takes off in the opposite direction. But he's not taking no for an answer and if he has to lay siege on Deanna's heart right here on her home turf, so be it.
Porter is a little bit on the silly side, as blackmailing the heroine into keeping him company using some loophole in Deanna's employment contract is not going to help him much. (To Deanna's credit, she brings up the term 'sexual harrassment' and insists that he keeps his distance.) Then he's throwing money everywhere, most of it in Deanna's direction, and I'm in love, until I realize I'm not Deanna and hmmmmph, what a bummer. A rich and handsome man in love with Deanna and who's willing to let Deanna shop and shop and shop? What's stopping this woman (other than the hero's name, perhaps)? As the story just goes on and on, I wonder whether Ms Moreland knows the answer to that one. Porter and Deanna however get along so well and their scenes are often simultaneously brimming with comedy as well as romanticism. I have a great time with Caught By A Cowboy flaws and all.
All three novellas in To The One I Love aren't the most original stories around, but they have the romance and the characters done mostly right. The characters feel like human beings instead of cardboard cookies baked from a formulaic mould, the romance develops in a smooth and natural flow, and nobody here annoys me too much, the Monster Children in Emilie Richards' novella being the only exception. To The One I Love won't be redeeming Harlequin and Silhouette in any way, but still, it's a good place to start as well as any.
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