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Keepsake by Antoinette Stockenberg
St. Martin's, $6.50, PG-13 (ISBN 0-312-96975-9)
****
Keepsake is very close to being a keeper. Antoinette Stockenberg has, literally, left her ghosts behind her and is writing some of the smartest, sassiest, and sexiest contemporary romances around.

Quinn Leary grew up in Keepsake, a small town in Connecticut. His father was the gardener for the town's wealthiest and most powerful family, the Bennetts. A bright teenager, Quinn's only real competition for scholastic honors was the daughter of the house, Olivia Bennett.

Life in Keepsake is good for Quinn until Olivia's beautiful cousin is murdered and all signs point to Quinn's quiet father. When his father decides to run rather than be railroaded into jail, Quinn goes with him. Seventeen years later, Quinn's father is dead and Quinn decides it's time to seek the truth and clear his father's name.

Quinn's return to Keepsake triggers a number of reactions. A few people are happy to see him; many think he has no right to be in Keepsake. And a series of very ugly pranks begins against Quinn and anyone who stands by him.

Although Quinn's not surprised or bothered those who want to run him out of town, he is thrown for a serious loop when he sees Olivia Bennett for the first time in seventeen years. His heart and other parts of his anatomy leap to attention whenever she's near. Olivia feels the same way about Quinn, like something she'd didn't even know she was missing has been returned to her.

Olivia wants Quinn to stay in Keepsake it's not too difficult falling for a smart, sexy man who can cook and she tries to make his way a little easier with the town locals. However, their budding romance is threatened by Quinn's need to dig up the past. If he continues his quest for the truth, Quinn will surely hurt her family; if he discovers the truth he just might destroy them.

The first half of Keepsake is everything I want in a romance: great characters, great plot and wonderful, witty, humorous writing. I savored every word.

Unfortunately, the second half of Keepsake doesn't live up to the perfection of the first half. The story takes on a darker edge which makes sense since that's where the plot is supposed to go. However, as the suspense heightens, the story becomes just a little too convoluted. Both Quinn and Olivia seem to lose their sense of self; they begin making decisions that are out of character.

Still, I highly recommend Keepsake; this book will keep you reading well into the night. And it contains all the New England flavor of previous works by Stockenberg. However, it's not bogged down by the sleepy pace of some of her past romances: Keepsake's story line moves along at a very entertaining warp speed.

--Judith Flavell


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