Carolina Rose by Tracy Sumner
(Zebra Splendor, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76181-1
Carolina Rose is an historical romance from debut author Tracy Sumner. The story is well-written form a technical standpoint, but I had to fight to sustain interest in it, and pinpointing the whys has been difficult because there's nothing glaringly wrong with it.

Adam Jared Chase arrives in Edgemount, a small town in the South somewhere, as the new editor of the local paper. He's nonplussed to discover that "Charlie" Whitney, star reporter, is actually Charlotte, a young woman and daughter of the previous editor. Adam and Charlie establish a working relationship of sorts and find themselves attracted to each other. But he's determined to limit himself to only the shallowest of affairs, and Charlie half-despises him for taking over her father's paper.

Adam has a difficult history. His mother died when he was a boy, and his adored brother Eaton later came to no good and died, also. I'm still not clear exactly what happened to Eaton; Adam is obscure when explaining himself, but suffice it to say, his heart is firmly under wraps. Charlie lives alone in a small house and relishes her independence even as her friend Kath trumpets the virtues of wedded bliss. And Charlie's beautiful cousin Lila can't wait to get her hooks into Adam herself.

When Charlie, in her own headstrong fashion, prints an inflammatory editorial without Adam's knowledge and hired goons start showing up, Adam and Charlie have to leave town. They end up in Richmond, where Adam hires a chaperone for Charlie and they explore their budding relationship.

That's a very compressed outline of a story that had a blurry focus at best. If it was intended to be a character-driven story, there are too many plot elements; if it was supposed to be plot-driven, there's too much angst and agonizing going on. As it was, neither was a comfortable fit, and the book as a whole felt overly long. Once scene at a community dance went on for what felt like a hundred pages, and that's where this reader started to bog down.

I had a great deal of trouble placing the story in a historical timeframe. Given that Charlie likes to wear trousers and sit in saloons and ponder, yet the respectable women of the town don't seem to shun her, I figured it was perhaps intended to be the 1890s or later. When her friend Kath gets drunk at the dance and nobody even comments, my hunch was intensified. I was stunned when the author revealed that the year was 1850. In a small town in the South, bastion of feminine gentility? That didn't ring true.

Now for the positive aspects. Adam, when not brooding over the fact that he's not one to love a woman, was an interesting and intelligent character. The sensuality between Charlie and Adam, while limited, was plenty hot. Lila takes up no more of the story than she deserves, and the settings were finely detailed and felt authentic.

So, while Carolina Rose was not my cup of tea, others may feel differently. Tracy Sumner is off to a respectable start. If she can establish her focus better and pick up the pacing, her future stories should be real winners.

--Cathy Sova

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