by Anne Stuart, contemporary (1996, 1991 reissue)
Harlequin, $3.99, ISBN 0-373-30101-4
Anne Stuart's Lazarus Rising is an early effort by this author, written as it was during a time when the author was experimenting with her style and all. Perhaps that is why it is only in the last few chapters that I can see the style of the author that I grow to love in her subsequent books. For the most part, this book is so contrived with all the ridiculous clichés (most of them in the personality of the heroine) that it is impossible to view this book as anything but a trainwreck in the making.
We start off in the present, where our heroine Katharine Lafferty is about to marry Henry Osmand Jr, a man so proper that he is convinced that he and Katharine are above giving in to animalistic desires. Needless to say, this contrivance on Henry's part is a convenient way for the author to ensure that Katharine has never slept with Henry. The hero of this story, after all, is not Henry but Danny McCandless, the man she thinks she is in love with since ten years ago but is now pushing daisies. Just as she is about to marry Henry, however, into her life comes a man who looks just like Danny but claims to be another person instead. Oh no, what is going on here?
Then it's flashback time to ten years ago when Katharine, supposedly twenty, is this ridiculously childish and sheltered woman that is so absurd that she cannot be anything but a romance heroine, naturally. To please her overbearing pinched-face mother who has controlled Katharine's life all this while, she attempts to join a college sorority that mocks her as some "ice queen" and sends her to a date with a bad boy, knowing full well that there will be no happy ending to that "date". Katharine is nearly raped until she is rescued by Danny, who she then believes to be in love with forever and ever. Despite knowing Danny for only a space of a few days, she will mourn him for the next ten years when he gives up his undercover stint for a more pacifist career of feeding the worms in the graveyard.
Katharine is such a grotesquely stupid creature that I have no idea why her mother doesn't just spare everyone the pain and ship Katharine away to some coal mine where she will at least be of some use as test dummy for new batches of explosives. Katharine is very good at figuring out what went wrong in her various stupid escapades, but that doesn't mean she will have any survival instincts not to get into such situations in the first place or the hindsight to learn from her mistakes as to prevent another repeat of her stupidity. Early on, she was nearly raped but she then happily lets Danny kiss her animalistically after all and like that kiss - not exactly what I'd call a reaction of a woman who has just escaped a traumatic event if you ask me. When Danny then tells her to be careful because her attacker may be looking for her still, she actually laughs off that warning and accuses Danny of trying to scare her so that he can get into her pants. Of course, she will later have a nice happy reunion with the villain in question because she "forgets", like she always does when she needs to be sensible, to open her eyes and realizes that her front door is unlocked before she enters her place. Meanwhile, nearly being raped gives Katharine an epiphany: she hasn't lived enough so now she wants to explore passion by asking Danny to take her to the rowdiest and seediest nightspots possible. Only when she's in danger that she goes "Oh no! I should have done this or that! I am so stupid!" But after Danny has saved her (again), she is back to her merry ways of "forgetting" and "wanting to live".
The only reason why my head doesn't explode from having to deal with one of the most stupid heroines I've ever come across in a romance novel is because Danny and even Katharine's friend remark several times about the cobwebs gathering in Katharine's pretty but insipid head. Maybe it's just me channeling my own feelings onto my projection of Ms Stuart's feelings while she is writing this book, but later in the book when Katharine decides to get angry with Danny, she does some things that is equivalent to a cathartic release for me, somewhat like getting so frustrated with a movie for so long that when someone sets a car on fire in the movie, I feel like screaming "Hell, yeah!" just to let off some steam that is pent up inside me. Am I making sense here? It is from that moment (a little after the midpoint of this book) to the very end that Ms Stuart seems to have finally let out a deep breath and let her hair down as she happily has Katharine and Danny Version 2.0 let rip. Only then do those two become the unrepetantly unorthodox characters that Ms Stuart's fans have come to enjoy from her.
Still, getting to that point is very painful indeed as I have to endure some of the most awkwardly constructed scenes that attempt to piece together all the clichés of a Harlequin novel since the dawn of time to result in a painfully stupid heroine doing all kinds of stupefyingly moronic things in the name of who knows what. Lazarus Rising is one of the worst books I've read in its first half and a familiar Anne Stuart comfort read in the second half. This book is indeed truly the result of an experiment gone awry.
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