Lover Beware
by Christine Feehan, Katherine Sutcliffe, Fiona Brand, and Eileen Wilks; paranormal (2003)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-18905-8

Lovers Beware is an anthology equivalent of a advertisement. The novellas by Christine Feehan, Katherine Sutcliffe, and Eileen Wilks are actually teasers for their upcoming series (Ms Wilks is apparently expanding the novella into a longer book as we speak). Only Fiona Brand, who probably needs the money and the exposure anyway, is laboring under any pretense of entertainment. Ironically, she delivers the least entertaining novella of the bunch. High points are Eileen Wilks' Only Human and Katherine Sutcliffe's Hot August Moon. Christine Feehan... well, let's start with her Magic In The Wind.

Clumsily written, awkwardly plotted, riddled with stilted dialogues ("You even lie with that straight face and those angelic eyes"), yet fascinating to read, this novella is a curious study of Ms Feehan's writing techniques. The story of the first of seven psychic sisters (why stop at seven, Ms Feehan, why not seventeen?) falling for a defense expert, the romance is pretty much the same old mumbo-jumbo destiny crock. The hero, Damon Wilder, may has a name just like one of those awkward Carpathian brutes, but he's actually nicely on the beta side. The heroine Sarah Drake, however, is even a better heroine from this author. I like this improved Christine Feehan whose characters actually show some tenderness and sense of humor.

Unfortunately, uninspired and repetitious destiny-ordained-love aside, this novella also suffers from dialogues and writings that are still too much on the wooden and stilted side. Still, it is hard to fault Ms Feehan when she has the hero Damon poking fun at some of the worst dialogues in this novella, spoken by the townspeople. Self-effacing humor is okay in my book, but improvements in the writing would be better. (No, the author isn't deliberately making her dialogues awkward for effect. Some of the conversations between Damon and Sarah are just as cringe-inducing.)

Magic In The Wind won't be winning prizes for innovation, but reading it, I have a feeling that if the author takes her time with one book instead of churning out a new book every other month (she will have seven new books out in 2003), one of these days she may turn in a really good book.

Katherine Sutcliffe's Hot August Moon is pretty pointless if one is looking for a story with a clean, clear resolution. In my opinion, this novella is better off treated as an enhancement to one's enjoyment of last month's full-length romantic suspense novel Bad Moon Rising. This novella stars two secondary characters from Bad Moon Rising, ex-lovers psychic FBI profiler Anna Travelli and DA Jerry Costos, as they tackle the prelude of the murders that take place in Bad Moon Rising. One doesn't have to read Bad Moon Rising to enjoy this novella, but the enjoyment will be lacking if one hasn't read the previous book. Reading Bad Moon Rising after this novella won't help either if you want to follow the romance between Anna and Jerry, left unresolved here. Ergo, my suggestion to treat this novella as a bonus after one has read Bad Moon Rising.

I like this one, because the open-ended ending to the romance between Anna and Jerry works so much better than if the author slaps in a rushed "Marry me!" ending. Sometimes these things like second chance love stories need time to develop, and there's a heartbreaking poignancy - to me anyway - to Jerry telling Anna he loves her even as she is already making plans to leave in the morning. The suspense is predictable but well-handled and gripping to read, even when I already know what will happen at the "end" of the story.

Fiona Brand's After Midnight is set in New Zealand and is part of some SAS series she is writing for That Publishing House. This one is free from humor, lethally dull, devoid of suspense, and an all-out bore to outbore all bores. Michael Rider comes back to persuade a woman he falls in love with when he was married to another woman (don't ask, it's some Sam and Alyssa thing, I think), and now he's back to harass Jane O'Reilly into putting out even when her husband's body is barely worm-eaten in the grave. The main characters display chemistry of two smelly onions stuck in a plastic wrapper and their "love" is more like two dysfunctional losers unable to do anything but to engage in miserable angry sex with each other. Add in a suspensefully suspense-free external conflict and After Midnight zooms right into the nadir hour.

Finally, Eileen Wilks' enjoyable if unoriginal Only Human. Just think of those PN Elrod vampire novels and early Anita Blake (The Pre-Nymphomaniac Years), and that's the world Eileen Wilks has created here. Detective Lily Yu is investigating a series of murder committed by werewolves gone berserk. Help comes from one of the werewolf clan Prince, Rule Turner, and soon everybody's panting in heat and wanting to do it doggy-style. Or something. This novella is easily the longest of the bunch and it still isn't long enough, damn it, because I really enjoy this one the most. Lily is smart, and she has chemistry with the unfortunately stereotypical alpha mysterious all-secretive all-quiet lupine hero. This anthology actually emphasizes more on the romance than the suspense if only by a little bit more. If the author is expanding this novella into a longer book, how nice. I want to know more about Lily's grandmother.

While I do enjoy reading this anthology, I'm not sure if I can recommend it to anybody. Eileen Wilks' expansion of Only Human will render her novella in this anthology irrelevant. Katherine Sutcliffe's novella may frustrate the reader as much as it entertains. Christine Feehan's novella is too short to be of much use to anybody but the most zealous Feehanis. Although if for some reason one just has to read Fiona Brand's novella, then hey, knock yourself out. While I do enjoy this anthology, with its $7.99 price tag, I really have to add the following: caveat emptor - readers beware.

Rating: 85

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