Lover Beware
by C. Feehan, K Sutcliffe, F. Brand, E. Wilks
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-18905-8
Whether or not you like this book will likely depend on your tolerance for advertising. In my view, a more appropriate title would have been ‘Buyer Beware.’ Everywhere Damon Wilder goes, he hears that Sarah Drake is coming back to town, so naturally he’s curious. What the retired defense systems expert does not know is that Sarah is there to protect him. Damon retired after being kidnapped and tortured for information vital to national security, but someone obviously thinks he isn’t out of danger.

Sarah and Damon are nice people, and initially their relationship is wonderfully promising. Unfortunately the hero and heroine get shoved offstage almost immediately while the author hauls out a raft of sisters and local characters – presumably crucial to future books.

Particularly annoying is the secondary relationship between one of Sarah’s younger sisters, the obnoxiously immature Hannah, and the town sheriff. If Hannah and her adolescent attention-seeking are to be an ongoing feature of future books, I won’t be reading them. Life’s too short.

Our second billboard is “Hot August Moon” by Katherine Sutcliffe, featuring characters from a recent full-length book.

FBI agent Anna Travelli needs a vacation. Instead, she gets a trip to New Orleans for the funeral of the murdered wife and two small children of District Attorney J.D. Damascus. Anna believes the murders were committed by a serial killer she’s chasing, although they bear little resemblance to his usual modus operandi.

To complicate matters, Anna – who cannot reveal that she’s with the “classified Parapsychology Investigations Division” of the FBI – must work with Assistant D.A. Jerry Costas. Anna left the “chauvinistic bastard” when she realized he expected her to give up her career to stay home and have babies following their marriage.

More of a prologue than a story, readers may be disappointed to find that any emotional investment they make in Anna and Damon’s story goes unrewarded. While I believe that a story can be highly romantic even without a Happily Ever After (think Casablanca), it does need to convince me that the only choice for these characters was to sacrifice their relationship to some greater need. This story has no such payoff. Thanks for nothing.

Reading “After Midnight” by Fiona Brand is like a breath of fresh air. It’s fairly conventional, but the author doesn’t seem to be selling me anything but this story.

Jane O’Reilly is a widow of four months, losing her husband after a seven year battle with cancer. She lives alone on their New Zealand sheep farm, a little nervous following several brutal home invasion crimes.

She’s also avoiding Michael Rider, her neighbor, a former “special forces soldier” who is retiring to breed horses and cattle. Michael is a dangerously compelling man and she’s been secretly in lust with him since they first met, shortly after her husband became ill. The feeling is definitely mutual.

Good sexual tension, a very satisfying consummation, and a romance between likable people that’s front and center in a story with a beginning, middle and end – and no commercial breaks – made this by far the most enjoyable story for me. Call me old fashioned.

“Only Human” by Eileen Wilks has both strengths and weaknesses. Also, it’s less overtly an advertisement for her future books set in this reality. Thank heavens.

Lily Yu is a homicide detective in San Diego. The time is more or less the present, but this is a world in which werewolves – or lupi – co-exist uneasily with humans. Years of suspicion and bigotry were not eradicated by legislation that granted lupi full rights as human beings – at least, whenever they’re in two-legged form .

When a murder appears to have been committed by a werewolf, a prominent lupus, Rule Turner, steps forward to help Lily with the investigation, but his motives are murky. What we do know for sure is that after one whiff of Lily, he knows he’s in the presence of “the woman he’d never believed he’d meet.” He doesn’t exactly start seeing colors, but you get the picture.

I thought this author did a good job of establishing her alternative reality. On the other hand, I also found it a bit derivative (think Eve Dallas meets the Carpathians), and a shade over-complicated. Not satisfied with lupi, Ms. Wilks also wants to throw in brownies, gremlins, gnomes and assorted other creatures. Readers of other alternate reality books may also find that Ms. Wilks’ writing is a little light for this dark subject matter.

In the final analysis, however, the nice moments of Lover Beware are buried under the blatant sales pitch. Being tricked into reading advertising is disappointing. Being charged for it is just insulting.

Judi McKee

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