Written In The Stars
by Judith Arnold, Kate Hoffman, and Gina Wilkins; contemporary (2001)
Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83476-4


Written In The Stars is an anthology that is supposed to have a prominent theme about horoscopes. I say supposed because only Judith Arnold's novella is anything close to a well-done horoscope-themed romance story. And there is also a bonus "2002 Love Guide" at the end of the book by Susan Kelly for you horoscope-believers out there. But before you rush out and buy this anthology, do be aware that all three novellas directly or indirectly pooh-poohs the crap out of the concept of astrology.

Sometimes Harlequin should get their priorities straight. I'd have thought after all the money they spent on learning how their core market love cowboys and small town schticks, they would know not to offend the horoscope-loving audience they are targeting this book to. Then again, we're talking about a publishing house obsessed with small town inbreeding, Navy SEAL overkill, and bodyguard yarns, don't forget the romanticization of deadbeat dads and careless pregnancies. So what am I doing putting "Harlequin" and "priorities" in the same sentence? Moving on.

Judith Arnold's In The Stars is an amusing gender-stereotype bending tale. You'd expect the horoscope believer to be the kooky birdbrained heroine, right? Not in this case. The hero, Derek Palmer, is one of the most successful investors, so successful that they call him the Wizard. But Derek's secret to success is not his Ivy league degrees or insider tips. No, he gets his tips by looking at the daily horoscopes in America Today (Capricorn) and stringing together the nouns in the first sentence for the Big Picture. And it works. Hmm.

Melissa Giordano manages her boss' corporate funds, and she decides to meet ths Wizard who will be doing the investing of the money for some professional chit-chat. What she finds is a badly disheveled and bloody man stomping into the office very late one day, claiming to be attacked by a squirrel from hell named Hermann while he was inline skating to work. Bye, she says and flees the building.

Derek chases after her, not only because she holds a great contract his firm will do well to get, but also because he feels it. She's the one. It's written in the stars. Or something.

This one is sweet. It is nice, leisurely, and will make Nora Ephron proud. Maybe they can make a movie out of this and ask the Mog Ryan creature to star as the prim and serious heroine.

Kate Hoffman's Shooting Stars has the heroine superficially believing in some horoscope thing. It's probably some extra thing she wrote in after the editor told her that it was meant for a horoscope-themed anthology. Anyway, this one is a take on the love-your-old-town-hunk thing. I don't know, really, I mean, the idea of me married to that guy I had on a crush on when I was 18 doesn't sound like a palatable notion today. In fact, it sounds like a motivation for seppuku. But that's just me. There must be an audience for this marry-that-hunk-from-your-teenybopper-days fantasy, or Hurl-a-quin wouldn't keep churning out this fantasy.

Francesca Peyton, Frannie please, is all grown up and Frenchified now (which means she tosses around a lot of French phrases like a pretentious ugly tourist back from a trip around the Europe continent). She is all geeky and ugly when she was a kid, but now she is back in vineyard boss Spencer Reid's life.

Spencer is charmed by this mysterious, alluring wine-lovin' sophisticated woman, until he learns that she is Frannie, just Frannie. Oh, what to do as his erection wilts faster than you can say "kitchen meat cleaver"? Frannie, of course, is the insecure one, so Spencer must now prove that even if she's like a kid sister to him once, he isn't averse to boinking her. Wait, that doesn't sound right, but that's the gist of it nonetheless. He must prove to her now that their one-night firecracker show isn't a pity shag from him.

Okay, this one is pretty readable too, if unoriginal and uninspired. Won't hurt to imbibe some alcohol to ease the deja vu while reading this though.

Finally, Gina Wilkins. Oh, Ms Wilkins. Your colleagues Kate and Judith manage to smartly avoid all the landmines associated with a joke-laden premise like Horoscope Love, but you, Gina, you fall right into the pit like the biggest sucker in the lollypop aisle. Keely Parker believes in horoscopes. This means she faxes horoscopes to her "my love but he's my brother's friend and he only treats me like a kid sister but I LOVE HIM FOREVER!!!" housemate Michael Gordon, talks like a parrot on its way to a coke overdose, and generally acts like a class A pest, nuisance, and crackpot. She is all the stereotypes you can think up for horoscope believers. All that's missing is a pink fur coat.

It takes a freak ice storm to get those two together. That tells me just how right - or wrong - this whole romance is. Sad and sad in three thousand ways, that's Gina Wilkins' Star Crossed.

Wait, there's one more: Susan Kelly's love guide thing. Read it at your own risk. Someone tells this woman that it is a lovely idea to start off each chapter with an unbelievably corny paragraph like this one below. Or maybe Susan here wants to tell the editor that she can write a romance too and they should contact her agent ASAP.

"Out of the way!" you cry. A volunteer firefighter, you're carrying an unconscious child out of a three-alarm inferno. The tall, handsome paramedic appears before you, offering help. Your eyes lock. In that instant you know you've found the one you'll spend the rest of your life with...

Oh baby, I am so touched, I think I'll just put my finger into my throat and throw up.

It is telling though that the love thing seems to be dedicated only to the single, desperate, and looking everywhere. I would have said "maybe married and looking too" but I read my love thing just for fun and it tells me that I will hit a snag in my relationship in January, so I shouldn't make it permanent yet. Unless "permanent" here means something morbid like joining a doomsday cult with hubby, no, I don't think married people, looking or not, are represented in the love thing.

Which makes me wonder what these people perceive romance readers as. Hmm.

Rating: 76


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