Loving Linsey by Rachelle Morgan
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-80040-3
***
When I picked up Loving Linsey and started reading, my first thought was, "Oh yummy … Julia Quinn does 1880s Texas." The writing is clever, engaging, and humorous. But there were several major flaws in this novel that prevented me from giving it a higher rating. And for that, I'm truly sorry, because I think Rachelle Morgan has loads of writing talent.

Linsey Gordon is a young woman whose life is controlled by superstitions, prophecies, and good luck charms. A walk down a street in Horseshoe, Texas, is fraught with worries about seeing black cats or the shadow of a hearse mixing with her own shadow. In the opening chapter of the novel, she catches her reflection in an uncovered mirror at a neighbor's funeral -- and she panics. This, to her, is an omen that she will die before the year has ended. Linsey has only months to live.

Since there's no possible way to reverse this tragic turn of events, Linsey resolves to do a bit of good in the world. Her adored step-sister, Addie, will need someone to look after her once Linsey is gone, so she sets about playing match-maker with Addie's object of affection, the town's young doctor, Daniel Sharpe.

Daniel is a bitter and sullen young man, frustrated that he's stuck in a small Texas town practicing medicine with his equally bitter and sullen father, Daniel Sr. This, all because of Linsey Gordon and her ridiculous superstitions. You see, there was once a time when the young Daniel had been engaged to a rich girl from the east, whose father was a renowned doctor. And the future father-in-law had arranged for Daniel to study at Johns Hopkins in Maryland on a fellowship. But the fellowship letter never arrived on Daniel's doorstep because the stagecoach that's bringing it overturns, all the mail falls into a creek, and by the time the wet, soggy letter gets to him, the deadline to accept the fellowship has passed.

Daniel blames Linsey for the loss of his fellowship, as well as the subsequent good-bye from his fiancée. Linsey had been on the stagecoach and insisted that it turn around after a rabbit darted out in front of them. You see, a darting rabbit is a sign of … well, you get the picture. Though years have passed and Linsey, who is no pauper, has offered to pay his tuition as retribution, he still holds the bitterness in his heart.

A humorous chain of events unravels as Linsey tries to draw Daniel's attentions toward her drab, ho-hum sister. Of course, you know what happens … Daniel has no interest in Addie, but against his will, he begins to fall in love with the object of his derision, Linsey.

There's a lot to like about Loving Linsey. The writing sparkles, and the dialogue is rich and laugh-out-loud funny in places. The one thing I loved about this novel was the expressions the characters used -- "the dad blamed thing" or "for the love of Gus" are a couple that gave the story color.

But ultimately, the novel disappoints on characterization. Linsey's obsessions with omens and good luck charms transform her into a comic character, rather than portray her as a heroine to whom I could relate. Although Morgan attempts to explain her motivations, Lindsey seems more child than woman, more ridiculous than sympathetic.

Daniel is even less satisfying as a hero. Though he claims he loves medicine more than anything else, why doesn't he just accept Linsey's money if he truly thinks she's to blame for the stagecoach accident? Instead, he chooses to stick around Horseshoe and mope for three-hundred pages. Here's a character that should just get over it. There are also other scenes where he comes across as too callous and cold -- for example, he pawns off an injured Linsey to the town scoundrel, even though he smells alcohol on the creep's breath.

The plot also lurches forward using misunderstandings as a crutch. For example, when Linsey realizes she's falling in love with Daniel, Addie has unwittingly fallen in love with someone else. But neither sister, despite the fact that they supposedly tell each other everything, tells the other sister how she's feeling. Complications arise and all is happily resolved when the truth finally comes out. Loving Linsey would have been a much better story if the plot didn't rely on such ploys.

If you like your romances heavy on the humor and light on the romance, you'll probably enjoy Rachelle Morgan's latest.

--Diana Burrell


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