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Legends Lake by JoAnn Ross
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-78617-2
***
There were two hurdles to overcome before I could warm up to JoAnn Ross’ Legends Lake, but the story ultimately overcame them, allowing me to buy into the emotionally charged ending.

The first hurdle was my assumptions about the sort of story I was reading. I expected a straight-forward contemporary romance: down-on-his-luck trainer agrees to train a crazed horse with Triple Crown potential, trainer flies horse home to Ireland where he was bred, trainer and breeder clash, romance flairs, all ends happily. Instead I got a novel that might well have been classed as a fantasy, so important are the magical events. I had a hard time shifting gears.

However, even after I decided to accept that magic worked in Ms. Ross’ version of Ireland, I had difficulties with her use of magical events to resolve the conflicts in her plot. In two major instances, it appeared that the problems could have been worked out without magical interventions and that the story would have been stronger as a result. In particular, one interpersonal conflict seemed to be resolving itself when the magical event occurred and I would have found it more emotionally satisfying if the characters had sorted out their differences in the usual way, uninfluenced by the supernatural.

The second hurdle was the trainer’s initial attitude. I understood why Alec McKenna had an attitude:

  • He cold-cocked the owner he worked for when the owner insisted on racing a mare in unsafe conditions and thus lost all the horses he had in training.
  • Legends Lake, the only new colt anyone was willing to send him, was immensely talented but was in danger of being banned from racing because of his tendency to bolt wildly.
  • His orphaned, teenage stepdaughter was unremittingly hostile and was scheming to run away with a biker.
  • On his first encounter with the breeder who was supposed to heal Legends Lake, Kate O’Sullivan called up a storm to stop the highway construction that threatened a tree where faeries lived. (I had a lot of trouble with this one, myself.)

Given his resulting testiness, I didn’t understand why Kate O’Sullivan admitted to herself, 40% of the way through the book, that she had been immediately attracted to Alec “from the moment she’d sensed him striding toward her across the meadow, as bold and brash as on one of Ireland’s ancient warrior kings.” Furthermore, I hadn’t noticed that, “The attraction…had grown, forging new links with each passing day….” Instead it seemed to me that Alec’s encounters with Kate had ranged from cool to brusque to downright rude. Perhaps Ms. Ross expected the couple’s early verbal sparring would sound like sexy banter, but - if so - it didn’t work for me.

Once I accepted that magic was integral to the story and Alec mellowed as the story progressed and lost his strident edge, I enjoyed the second half of Legends Lake. In particular, the ending tugged at my heartstrings…though Ms. Ross did come close to skating over the line between tear-jerking and touching…but the strong finish was not enough to raise the book to a four-heart rating. Those early hurdles were just a trifle too high for that.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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