Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
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``Always Time to Die'' by Elizabeth Lowell; William Morrow ($24.95)
Warning: If you're squeamish about anything regarding incest, do not read this book.
If not, you'll find the usual from Elizabeth Lowell: a story heavy on intrigue with a decent romance dribbled in, and more than you'll ever want to know about the author's subject du jour. This time, it's DNA and genetics.
If you can erase the eeeww factor, and ignore the scientific tedium, you'll find the Lowell standards that make you keep reaching for her books: That would be witty and charming protagonists who engage in witty and charming dialogue, and a cast of supporting characters who are interesting enough to pop off the page.
In short, Lowell keeps you turning the pages. Sometimes it's to skip passages about things such as DNA testing, but you also become involved with her characters and her plot.
In this story, Aunt Winifred hires Carly to research her family genealogy. Winifred's catatonic sister happens to be the mother of the current governor, but the blunt-spoken Winifred doesn't dote on her nephew.
Something is definitely off-kilter with the mighty Quintrells, and many folks seem to fear that Carly's genealogical investigation could unearth family skeletons. So, the mystery is sort of twofold. There's the current mystery about who is trying to stop Carly from completing her assignment, and the mystery about why someone wouldn't want Carly to do her job.
Something that obviously occurred in the past. Something not particular pleasant to read about.
Carly does find one ally - obviously, this would be our hero. Dan himself is a Quintrell family secret, and neither he nor his mother has anything nice to say about the Quintrell men.
Dan doesn't think Carly should be digging for those skeletons, but he can't watch a damsel walk into distress, so he becomes her protector. Which increasingly becomes a tough job, especially as he falls in love with her.
HOW IT STACKS UP
Overall rating: 3 of 5 hearts. It's really hard to erase the eeewww factor here. But the characters are strong and entertaining, and the plot takes several twists that will surprise you. It's just that one of those surprises might be hard to take.
Hunk appeal: 10. Dan warms up quickly and accepts the fate that love tosses his way sooner than most romantic heroes do. He does a fine job investigating and protecting Carly.
Steamy-scene grade: XXXX. And a fine job with other things as well.
Happily-Ever-After: OK. The mystery/intrigue plot ends rather quietly. No showdowns, no platitudes or good-guy words tossed out. And Dan and Carly's romance thrives, but again, no climatic declarations.
Many great romance novels have been written through the years. It's worth dusting off these oldies.
Ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had made one different decision? That thought haunts the three heroines in Jude Deveraux's "The Summerhouse," a well-written book that varies from the normal romance style but still blends three love stories into an emotionally stirring novel.
The three beautiful women are brimming with enthusiasm and optimism when they meet on their 21st birthday while renewing their driver's licenses. Years later, Ellie's therapist encourages her to stage a reunion with the two others as she nears her 40th birthday.
The three gather at a house in Maine, each nursing her own case of depression about the way life has turned out. While comparing stories, they all learn that one decision led them to heartbreak and devastation.
All get the chance to go back in time for three weeks, make different decisions and see for themselves how different their lives could have been.
This is a very different sort of romance novel, an acceptable respite from the hero-meets-heroine-resists-the-love-between-them-before-relenting-and-living-happily-ever-after format we all know and love.
(c) 2005, The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.