(originally from All About Romance)
2006, Contemporary Romance
Signet, $14.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451219503
Luanne McLane advertises her collection of short stories as “A little bit country and a little bit out of this world,” so I was drawn to it immediately. I’m a country girl from way back, and, heck, who doesn’t like a little magic?
The stories involve two different groups: the first is the gifted Barone family, with siblings Mary Jane, Sophia, and Lucio. The second centers around a little honky tonk bar named Logan’s, with newly signed country singer Brody Baker, bar owner Logan, and his little sister with a big voice, Savannah. Each of the stories is named after a classic country tune, as well, which is a cute little touch.
MJ had a dream, a dream that sent her from her home in Brooklyn to Nashville, Tennessee to set up her own business, Psychic Love Connections. MJ has a gift: she can read soul mates. But her special gift has also kept her from finding her special man, because no one believes her, and she’s unwilling to be with a man who thinks her a phony. But when Brody Baker stumbles into her house and passes out on her kitchen floor, she thinks that maybe, just maybe she might have found the one. Grade: B
Honky Tonk Angel
MJ’s experience with Brody led her to invite her sister Sophia up to stay while Sophia’s cable TV show is on summer hiatus. Sophia has extra incentive to accept; a man she put in jail was recently paroled, and Sophia has been having some pretty scary dreams about him. As a medium, she’s learned to take her visions pretty seriously. Unfortunately, she can’t seem to get Logan, the hunky bar owner/landlord next door to do the same. And while they burn up in bed together, Sophia can’t accept a man who can’t accept all of her. Grade: B
Walkin’ After Midnight
Savannah has two dreams: she wants to be a country music singer and she wants to escape out from under her older brothers’ over-protective thumb. Lucio doesn’t share his sisters’ special gifts, but he somehow always manages to arrive at their doorstep when they need him most. Unfortunately, he shows up just in time to freak out his sister’s new boyfriend and said boyfriend’s little sister and ends up at the wrong side of a broom for his troubles. And while MJ might have described Savannah as sweet and shy, Lucio is struck by a sexy side that no one else seems to see. And suddenly, Lucio is interested in way more than his traditional short-term flings. Grade: B-
There are a number of strong elements in this collection. The premise is inventive and entertaining. Making MJ able to read soul mates is a very shrewd move as well, as it sidesteps the awkward necessity of the characters having to fall for each other hard and fast. The couples know their soul mates; they just have to work out the kinks before falling into bliss. I also really enjoyed the use of country music hits thrown in now and again, like a soundtrack to the stories.
However, there are a number of weak elements as well, and they unfortunately really detract from the overall collection. The first is McLane’s use of phonetic dialogue for her Brooklyn characters. The Nashville characters were described as drawling, but the Brooklyn characters say things like “ya” instead of “you” every time. I think McLane was going for some gentle humour here, but it was belaboured with too many “cawfees,” “whatevvas,” and “fugedaboudits,” and became very grating, very quickly.
The second major problem I had was some clumsiness in the writing, especially in the love scenes. While it is mainly very minor purplish clichés, a very strong example appears in the last story, slipping into the heavy-handedness associated with “telling, not showing.” At one point, Luc “knew he connected with her on a both a physical and spiritual level.” Connecting is important, but this kind of contextualizing sentence really feels forced and amateurish – as if McLane was having a hard time believing in her story herself and felt the need to push the conclusion on her readers. Which is a shame, because I was believing in the story up to that point. In novels, but in romance especially, it’s so important for an author to not tell their readers what they should be thinking, but let the character and relationship development do it for them.
My final problem lies mostly in the marketing, and was no doubt out of McLane’s hands. I know “erotica” is a buzzword right now, and publishing houses are vaulting onto the bandwagon, but the use of the “erotic” for stories that are only, in my opinion, warm, is misleading and detrimental to the book. There’s nothing wrong with McLane’s sex scenes. They’re warm and often quite tender, but they do not deserve the label “erotic.”
If this were a novel, I would have rated it a C because the problems were over-arching and really took away from the stories; however, because each story rated quite high separately, the anthology gets a B- rating. Separately, they’re fun little reads, but all together, all at once, the flaws become over-pronounced.
I did enjoy the imaginative premise of Love, Lust and Pixie Dust, and wouldn’t let the problems in this anthology, problems that in my opinion will disappear the more McLane writes, keep me from trying her again.