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Written in the Stars
by Katherine O'Neal
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-57380-2<
**
Written In The Stars is one of those books that offers hope to aspiring romance writers such as myself. The writing is so overwrought and the plot so ridiculous, I couldn't help but think that if this book could get published, there must be someone out there willing to buy my scribblings.

Set in London in the 1890s, the story begins just as 20-year old Diana Sanbourne is set to marry the rakishly handsome Jack Rutherford, the Earl of Birch Haven. As the offspring of two prominent archeologists, Diana and Jack have spent their childhoods romping together through the great wonders of the ancient world, traveling extensively through Greece and Italy while their fathers sought lost treasures. When they fall in love, the romance seems the natural culmination of years of friendship, as well as the joining together of two great archeology families.

Disaster strikes on the day of this fairytale wedding, as Jack is arrested literally at the altar on charges of stealing and selling important archeological artifacts. Jack readily admits to the crime and is hauled away to prison, and Diana is so horrified by his actions that she refuses to have anything further to do with him.

Here's where the book began to unravel for this reader. If I loved a man enough to marry him, and he apparently committed a crime that was completely out-of-character, I might hang around long enough to ask a few questions about his motives. Diana is supposed to have loved this guy her entire life, but then doesn't stand by him for one nano-second, her once-undying love implausibly turning to hate at warp speed.

Fast-forward five years, and Diana decides she needs Jack's help to find "The Love Treasure", a cache of jewels and treasured reputedly owned by Egypt's Queen Cleopatra and her love, Mark Antony. Her father sacrificed all his money and the final few years of his life in search of this mysterious treasure and upon his sudden death, Diana is determined to carry out his ill-fated quest in hopes of restoring his once-shining reputation.

Since his release from prison, Jack has become an antiquities fortune-hunter, traveling around the globe searching for treasures on behalf of wealthy patrons. Despite the fact that he and Diana hate each other, he agrees for his own mysterious reasons to help her with this mission. And so these two former lovers set off onto a quest that takes them to Ancient Egypt, as they attempt to uncover one of history's most tantalizing secrets.

By the time this annoying couple reaches the Nile, I have a hunch most readers will have a hard time caring. The less-than-sizzling dialogue consists mostly of the two protagonists hurling insults at each other. And while I understand that tension and conflict are needed to sustain a good love story, this "I hate you", "I hate you more," stuff gets old very quickly.

When Jack and Diana aren't busy hating each other, they have a lot of hot steamy sex, and this provided one of the bright spots of the book – the overwrought language the author uses to describe the love making scenes had me laughing out loud. A sample:

"…when he was well assured of her satisfaction, only then did he relinquish his godlike control. Only then did he allow her to close her eyes as he leaned forth and captured her mouth with his own. As he kissed her blindingly, devotedly, moaning into her mouth, plunging and bucking and driving her back to the brink of madness and beyond. Only then did he allow himself to sate his own lust in the softly yielding burrow between her trembling thighs."

or

"By the time he lowered her legs, she was wild. Because he'd melted her so her only reality was the need to have him come inside. To join with her in a way no other man ever could, or would. She was neither woman nor goddess, but feeling, sensation, a blur of such astonishing pleasure and such wrenching need that she felt if she had to wait a moment more, she'd explode."

Talk about purple prose…

Working with the flimsy plot she has constructed for her hero and heroine, the author works hard to fill up the pages, bringing in lots of ludicrous intrigue and several outlandish characters, including a Turkish prince who is determined to destroy Jack, and a woman who may or may not really be Diana's mother. None of this can overcome the huge plot holes, the appalling characters and the laughable writing style.

Clean the oven, scrub the toilets, clear out the garage...believe me, you've got much better things to do than read this silly book.

--Leslie McClain


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