Mystic Memories
by Susan Leslie Liepitz
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12262-9
****
Time-travel fans can paste a big smile on their faces and head for the bookstore. I think you'll find a lot to like in Mystic Memories, a story that combines mysticism, suspense and romance and does it with aplomb.

Cara Edwards is a private investigator in modern-day California. She's sort of fallen into this career after the death of her husband; because Cara has a bit of extra-sensory ability, she is sometimes able to locate missing people or objects. It's not a talent she's comfortable with. But as her Aunt Gaby points out, it's inherent in Cara's ancestry, a mix of Italian, Hispanic and Luiseno Indian, a people known for their mystic abilities.

Cara is called upon to help locate a missing boy named Andrew, who disappeared off a school cruise aboard the restored sailing ship Mystic. Cara's first inklings are enough to persuade her that she needs to sign on as a crewmember in order to make stronger contact. During her maiden voyage with a school group, she passes right through a cabin wall - and ends up aboard the Mystic in the year 1833. And this time it's about to wreck.

No one is more surprised to see Cara than Blake Masters, a sea captain aboard the Mystic as a dinner guest. He instantly recognizes her as a woman in men's clothing, and when the Mystic is thrown on the rocks and the crew left to swim ashore, only four survive, Blake and Cara among them. Fortunately Blake's own ship had been riding out the storm nearby. He takes Cara aboard and promises to help her find her missing "son", Andrew, while privately wondering how a woman who is four years older than himself can be so attractive.

Blake has a dark and painful past which he doesn't remember, but Cara can sense. As they draw closer to each other, the memories begin to surface. His bewilderment grows; who is this woman? How does she know so much about him? And is she really who she claims to be? And where is the missing Andrew?

My hat is off to Ms. Liepitz for crafting a wonderfully complex story that is neither muddled or cluttered. Blake and Cara have an interesting journey ahead, full of trials and dangers, but this never felt like a "woman on the run" type of story with events loosely tacked together to keep the story going. There is definitely and end target here. The characterizations are as solid as the plot, and everybody acts the way they are supposed to. Blake is vulnerable and he shows it. Cara is smart but insecure in her talent, and that comes through, too. They want each other but are afraid. Together, they make a fine team.

And the ending is simply one of the best I've read in ages.

My only quibble is that I think Blake falls for Cara a little too fast, given that he is suspicious of her and has never formed a strong and lasting relationship with another woman. I wanted more interaction between them before he started falling in love with her.

But overall, this is an excellent time-travel and one I'm happy to recommend. Mystic Memories, with its intelligent plot, strong characters, and dynamite ending, will no doubt find a place in many a keeper shelf. This is what time-travel is all about. Treat yourself.

--Cathy Sova


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