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Bittersweet Summer
by Rachel Wilson
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12523-7
***
Bittersweet Summer opens with a man, a woman, and a haunted house. Tobias Rakes is home from the Army with a bum leg and a bad disposition. He's been left a fortune by his grandmother, and he intends to spend it on the one house worth spending it on Crowfoot Castle.

Crowfoot Castle dates to pre-Revolutionary War times and was the creation of one Charles Crowfoot, business partner of Tobias' great-great-great grandfather. All was well until the two had a falling out. The resultant feud has lasted over a century. Now a Rakes is about to purchase the Crowfoot mansion. A haunted one, at that.

Genevieve Crowfoot has no time for family feuds. She's too busy trying to keep a roof over her head and that of her Aunt Delilah. If Tobias Rakes wants to purchase the house, fine and good. Maybe he'll even restore it to something like its former grandeur, something she'd never be able to do. In the meantime, Genevieve attempts to clean the place up a bit. She finds an old letter that hints at a treasure and promptly runs into the castle ghost, one Granny Crowfoot.

Granny Crowfoot could kindly be called a termagant. She's incensed that a Rakes would dare to purchase Crowfoot Castle, and she threatens all sorts of mayhem upon Tobias. When Genevieve sternly informs her that she'll do no such thing, Granny shrieks and moans and slams around the attic. Genevieve, wanting to get her hands on the Crowfoot treasure if possible, offers her services to Tobias as a housekeeper. He accepts, and the stage is set for their mutual attraction.

At first, things go fairly smoothly, though Genevieve keeps running up to the attic to harangue Granny Crowfoot for her mischief. Then odd things begin happening. Things come crashing down off the roof. Genevieve is accidentally poisoned. Tobias dodges a bullet while out riding. Is it Granny Crowfoot at work? Or another villain entirely?

Genevieve is a fun character; sensible, bright, and unafraid, she's amusing in her dealings with Granny Crowfoot. Her interaction with Tobias is more of the standard "breathless whenever he comes near" variety, and their romance didn't seem to have much depth to it. Tobias gave me some trouble. He left for the Army after being banished from his family for a youthful indiscretion with a married woman. Now his Army days are over (not that they sounded like any great thing). So he broods over his leg and thinks about how he likes Genevieve's sunny personality and would like to take her to bed, but there didn't seem to be any emotional depth to him and he was difficult to connect with. And the villain is so easy to identify that it makes the two leads appear to be a bit on the thick side as they stumble along, wondering who could do such dastardly things.

The most memorable character in the book may well be the ugly-tempered Granny Crowfoot. She's hilarious in her manifestations, bouncing around the attic and declaring doom and gloom to all things Rakes, but in reality not able to hurt Tobias, no matter how hard she tries. Genevieve's efforts to win her over and help locate the "treasure" made for some fun reading.

All in all, the hero and the romance were less than memorable, but if you're in the mood for a ghost romance featuring a spunky heroine and a very active ghost, Bittersweet Summer might be just what you're looking for.

--Cathy Sova


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