No Regrets by JoAnn Ross
Mira, $5.99, PG-13 ISBN 1-55166-282-5
*****
The only thing that the five-heart books I've reviewed have in common is intensity. I couldn't put them down. Or I grumbled a lot if I had to stop reading. With No Regrets, I was so drawn into the plot and the people that I was compelled to know more. These people and their story mattered to me. I was reading for more than pleasure. I was reading to experience a love story at its finest. No Regrets had a profound impact on me. It drew me in, and I came willingly. I was spellbound. What a powerfully good feeling.

The downside of trying to write a five-heart review is that I've got to try to tell you why this book is extraordinary. And I've got to do it without giving away anything which would spoil your reading pleasure. Would that I could just say, "Trust me on this," but it doesn't work that way. So here goes.

We first meet Molly, Lena and Tessa McBride on Christmas Eve in 1972. Ten-year-old Molly and eight-year-old Lena, while their three-year-old sister Tessa sleeps, watch in horror as their abusive father kills their mother in cold blood and then turns the gun on himself. Molly ultimately ends up in a Catholic orphanage, Lena spends her youth in a series of foster homes, and baby Tessa is adopted, never being told about her older sisters.

The story picks up again on Christmas Eve in 1986. Molly, now a Catholic nun, is a nurse at an inner city Los Angeles hospital. Lena is happily married to a doctor. Tessa, newly arrived in Hollywood and wanting to be an actress, still believes that she is an only child.

As Molly leaves the hospital, she is brutally raped and becomes pregnant. Deciding to give her baby to a barren Lena, she leaves Los Angeles to work as a nurse on an Indian reservation. Lena and her husband Reece cherish baby Grace, knowing that Grace will be their only child. But, in life and romance novels, their future is not going to be anything like they had anticipated.

Tessa, falling into the clutches of drug-dealing twins, is rapidly plummeting into a spiral of drugs and prostitution.

Okay, this is what happens in approximately the first hundred pages. There are about 375 pages left for you to be caught up in the sisters' lives. No Regrets is a wonderfully complex tale that is remarkably believable. It has richly drawn, compelling secondary characters. At the story's conclusion, all the details and characters are tied up in a beautiful bow, with no loose, ragged ends and no unanswered questions. It has a sense of rightness.

Initially, I was worried that the sisters would suffer from what one reviewer called, "characteritis." That's basically too much plot and too few pages to adequately tell their story. Ms. Ross does a great job of interweaving plots and characters. I never felt cheated.

Single-title contemporaries are much meatier than category books. There's ample time for us to experience the joy, terror, tragedy, renewal and finally, completion that abounds in this story. I experienced a whole range of emotions as I got to know and like these marvelously complex, human, ultimately good women. And I had a wonderful time doing it.

My complaints about this book are too minuscule to mention. My praise could go on for many more paragraphs, but then I'd run the risk of giving away critical parts of this intricate story. I can't chance that. You deserve the same shot of reading something extraordinary that I was given.

This is a keeper, in the finest sense of the word. And excuse the pun, but I have No Regrets in recommending this book. Not a one.

--Linda Mowery


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