Seaswept by Nora Roberts
(Jove, $7.50, PG) ISBN 0-515-12184-3
Nora Roberts fans have a splendid holiday treat -- a strong contemporary novel that starts a new trilogy and the promise of two more sequels in 1998. For those of us who were less than thrilled with the "Dream" trilogy, I'm glad to say that this series has the potential to be much more rewarding.

Cameron Quinn was an abused and angry child when he was lucky enough to be adopted by Ray and Stella Quinn. The family eventually grew to include two more adopted sons, Ethan and Phillip, who had similarly tough childhoods. As an adult, Cam has turned his adventurous nature into a wild but productive life as a speedboat racer who drifts throughout Europe enjoying the fast life and loose women. But he is suddenly called home to coastal Maryland when Ray is on his deathbed. There he encounters his brothers and a new family member, a sullen 10-year old boy named Seth.

The Quinn brothers vow to honor Ray's dying request to keep Seth with them, but what will it cost them to do so? Cam has his racing career, Phillip is a successful advertising executive in Baltimore and Ethan is a solitary seaman. None of them have ever had the responsibility of caring for a child or a home. Plus there are some nasty rumors circulating about Seth's origins and the circumstances of Ray's death that cause the men to doubt the father they worshipped.

Anna Spinelli is the social worker who has been assigned the task of recommending whether or not Seth should remain with his foster brothers. She is a professional, buttoned down woman whose wild Italian heritage keeps threatening to peek out from behind her tailored suits. She and Cam are a good match for each other with their strong personalities and no-nonsense approach to their inevitable affair.

Seaswept approaches perfection when it concentrates on the relationship among the four Quinns. Nora Roberts, who has four older brothers, nails down perfectly male behavior and dialogue. Watching their fumbling attempts to keep a house, live together and raise Seth is both hilarious and poignant. The fact that their bonding occurs through doing, not talking, rings true as well. The scenes in which they band together against a common opponent are particularly strong. By the way, readers concerned with the level of violence in Nora's "J.D. Robb" novels won't find anything offensive here, but the Quinns' use of profanity is frequent and colorful.

The romance between Anna and Cam, while enjoyable, paled a bit in comparison to the more interesting dynamics among the men. We've been there before with characters similar to these two, who are strong and passionate but can't admit that love has finally entered the equation. Too bad Nora couldn't just write a book about the men, but then romance readers wouldn't pick it up...or would they?

Also, while I appreciate the sympathetic portrayal of the social work profession, I would like to point out that in real life, not only would it have been unwise for Anna to become involved with the family she was investigating, it would have been downright unethical. She could have been fired, instead of receiving a "you go, girl" attitude from her supervisor. But hey, this is romance, not real life, so who cares?

The measure of a good series is my disappointment level when I reach the end of one book and realize there are six long months before the next installment (thank goodness it's not like waiting for the next Gabaldon or god forbid the next Jean Auel). I was tantalized by the peeks Nora gave me of the other two brothers and can't wait for their stories. In fact, I can't help looking down the road a bit and wondering when a grown-up Seth might be awarded his own romance.

Thanks for the holiday present, Nora.

--Susan Scribner

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