River Road
by JoAnn Ross, contemporary (2002)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3683-0


River Road, the second book in JoAnn Ross' Callahan Brothers trilogy, is a very pleasant, very sunny, and very sedated story. It's a fine read for a lazy warm afternoon, nothing too adventurous or daring and nothing too irritating either. The hero and the heroine are fine, likeable people, and everyone's sunny and fine here. They may as well add on the cover a "Wish you were here" tagline.

River Road is actually the title of a soap opera that is being filmed in Blue Bayou, the town where this story is set in. Our heroine Julia Summers, who declares without irony that her lifelong dream is being a Bond Girl, has achieved her dream. Meet Carma Sutra, the newest Bond gal. But first, she's here to wrap up her soap. She needs a bodyguard because some loony is after her.

Meet Finn Callahan. He is suspended from his FBI duties because his fists got too intimate with a bad guy in the interrogation room. While lazing around his hometown, he finds himself stepping in to bodyguard Julia.

The back cover makes it sound as if Finn is going to prejudge Julia as some slut and she spending the whole book proving that she is not, but the actual story is more pleasant. While Julia isn't the sort to cat around like crazy, she is also marvelously neuroses-free. She doesn't display any contrived notions of sexuality or inexperience - she is more than willing to embark on an affair with Finn if he's willing. (And he's willing, trust me on that.)

Finn is a nice guy, his tendency to beat up the people he interrogates notwithstanding, and he talks to Finn in every way that matters. He also accepts Julia as she is. Love comes very easy for these two, and I can see why. Even his doubts about a long-term thing between them both seem real: having a fling with a movie star is one thing, but getting said movie star to marry you is another story altogether. Besides, she's Hollywood and he's Quantico.

Nothing much happens in this story, as these two people spend more time chit-chatting, exchanging anecdotes, and enjoying the scenery and history of Blue Bayou. It is nice to see two people getting on so well that I'm willing to overlook the last moment rescue-her-from-the-baddie thing. Finn and Judith are two really nice people, and it's always a pleasure to follow the story of two people who get along so well.

But two things annoys me a little though.

One, Ms Ross creates two pretty human characters in Finn and Julia, but her secondary characters are irritating stereotypes. There is as usual the ball-busting career woman that I am supposed to hate - why is it that an ambitious woman is always a bitch while an ambitious man is deemed desirable? The worst is the portrayal of a romance author in this story: an ex-madame (yes, an ex-brothel madame) who goes through husbands like a ship through water and it's all about the sex, hee-hee-hee, in her writings. I'd expect a romance author would be less tacky in the stereotyping of her own occupation.

Two, the hero is described as a Tommy Lee Jones lookalike. No offense to fans of that guy out there, but Tommy Lee Jones? Sexy? That man looks likes a dyspeptic bullmastiff, so, uhm, no thanks. I'll take me my... um, you know, that Sam Page guy from All My Children is pretty hot in those glasses. Yeah, I'll take that Sam Page guy anytime.

Rating: 86


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