Something Special by Joan Hohl
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6725-9
*
If you’ve had suspicions that they just don’t write romances the way they used to, this collection of three short novels written as category romances back in the eighties under the pseudonym Amii Lorin may confirm them.

In “Snowbound Weekend” twenty-three-year-old virgin legal secretary, Jennifer Lengle, who still lives with her parents, joins a bus tour for a skiing weekend. When a blizzard materializes, the bus is forced to pull in to a motel. There she meets another snowbound traveler Adam Banner, and mutual attraction flairs the first time they lay eyes on each other. Over the course of the next two days, everyone will be pairing off, and Adam and Jennifer will have a hot time between the sheets.

Talk about a period piece! Were we dumber then? The blizzard comes as a complete surprise to everyone. Apparently no one thought to check the forecast before setting out, and there’s no reference whatsoever to The Weather Channel (which began broadcasting in 1982). Furthermore, no one mentions using a CB radio, and in this group of yuppie types there isn’t a single cell phone, palm pilot, or laptop to be found.

But the hero is objectionable whatever the decade. Adam is one of those older, forceful heroes who sweeps the cautious, innocent heroine off her inexperienced little feet into a maelstrom of passion without a by-your-leave. He’s one of those blame-don’t-explain types who gives the heroine incomplete information then gets angry because she can’t read his mind and jumps to the wrong conclusion.

On the other hand, the heroine doesn’t appear to be overly bright. She falls into bed with a virtual stranger and doesn’t even practice safe sex. OK, this was in a pre-AIDS era, but there were STDs then too, and our heroine doesn’t seem to give pregnancy even a passing thought. After Adam checked out of the motel leaving behind only a cryptic note that appeared to be a brush-off, Jennifer should have moved leaving no forwarding address and chalked this one up as a bad experience.

In “Gambler’s Love”, twenty-nine-year-old Vichy Sweigart (professional name: Vichy Parks) returns from Hollywood to her southeastern Pennsylvania roots having finally accepted that her dreams of a successful career as an entertainer are never going to come true. Memories of a failed marriage to a compulsive gambler and rotten two-timer are particularly painful. Vichy has only two more commitments as a cabaret lounge singer in Atlantic City before she can put her entertainer days behind her.

It is while performing in Atlantic City that she meets Bennett Larkin. Her initial reaction is that he is too forceful and serious. While she finds him physically attractive, learning that he is in Atlantic City to gamble is a serious concern. Hard experience has taught her that gamblers are bad news. But Ben isn’t about to take ‘no’ for an answer, and their affair will have unexpected consequences.

Yes, it’s another hero-as-forceful-stranger overwhelming the heroine’s better judgment. And this heroine’s got the hard-won experience that should have her running in the opposite direction as fast as she can. (Well, actually she tries that, but this kind of hero - forceful and steely-jawed - doesn’t seem to know how to take ‘no’ for an answer and Ben goes after her.) Sure, Ben turns out to be an OK guy in the end, but she doesn’t know that when her personal history seems to be repeating itself. You’ve got to wonder about the long-term prospects of a happily-ever-after for a heroine who consistently goes for the bad-apple-in-the-barrel type.

Moreover, for most of the story, she knows practically nothing about him other than his name and that he’s in Atlantic City to gamble - and those are things he told her himself. She doesn’t know where he lives, what he does, even if he has a valid driver’s license. Nevertheless, she gets in his car and drives off with him. This isn’t romantic - this is just plain stupid! Didn’t this girl ever hear of Son of Sam or Ted Bundy? Didn’t she read those safety tips for women - like don’t go off with strangers and always make sure someone knows where you are?

At least Jennifer in the first story was in a relatively controlled environment with people who would wonder if she didn’t show up for a while; Vichy’s pretty much on her own. I just can see the headline: LOUNGE SINGER DISAPPEARS WITHOUT A TRACE. Furthermore, in my opinion, this guy is a real loser - forget his fantastic looks and yummy physique - he regularly makes creepy sexual innuendoes and casually overrides any of Vichy’s occasional dmonstrations of caution.

There are a lot of words I could use to describe this story - romance isn’t one of them.

In the third story, “The Game is Played”, Dr. Helen Cassidy meets Marsh Kirk when she delivers his sister’s baby. Marsh - described by a delivery room nurse as a ‘hunk’ - falls in love with Helen at first sight and is determined to marry her. Still a virgin at age thirty-five after a cruel battering by her ex-fiancé, Helen has resolved never to get involved with a man again. But Marsh’s pursuit is relentless as he sets out to make her his.

Of the three, this is the story in the anthology that has aged the best. The heroine could slip smoothly into a current romance. She isn’t some naive young thing who’s completely defenseless before the hero’s wil - she’s a respected professional with a successful career. There’s even a plausible explanation for her remaining a virgin. Furthermore, she actually manages - barely - to hold her own with the hero - who is four years her junior yet.

But Marsh seems like a throw-back to another era. He comes across as an alpha male on steroids - the word ‘forceful’ seems too anemic for him. This guy’s got all the subtlety of a caveman with sabertooth tiger loincloth and club. In effect he announces he knows they’re destined to be together, her opinions matter not a whit so get used to it. At least - unlike the heroines in the previous two stories - Helen actually has a clue as to who this guy is. I just have a problem equating the glory of love with the power of a steamroller. Did he win her through love or exhaustion?

Many of the early works of authors such as Barbara Delinsky, Sandra Brown, and Nora Roberts are being reissued, and I’m sure there are any number of category romances from the 80's that are worth rereading. Not everything an author wrote back then, however, is worth resurrecting. In some respects, the Good Old Days are now. Over the past two decades, the romance genre has evolved. The three stories in Something Special are unlikely to appeal to readers who are accustomed to heroines capable of exercising a little sound judgment and to heroes capable of employing some give-and-take interpersonal skills.

--Lesley Dunlap


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