by Theresa Gladden, contemporary (1993)
Loveswept, $3.50, ISBN 0-553-44343-7
An oldie but goodie, Theresa Gladden's Angie And The Ghostbuster is an adorable book that fans of the nerdy paranormal investigator hero might enjoy reading. While Dr Gabriel Richards is not as broody and tormented as Fox Mulder of The X-Files and he is more grown-up than Declan Dunn of Mysterious Ways, he's nonetheless the quintessential loner nerd whom every sensible woman knows is just a hunk waiting to emerge from underneath those geek glasses and boy-next-door demeanor.
Gabriel is a somewhat-psychic paranormal investigator who has come to Kingston Inn in his hometown of Danville, Virginia, to investigate the presence of the ghostly Shadow Lady. Mind you, he will insist that he's not a mere spook hunter. He's the assistant director of research at the Institute of Parapsychology and he won't lower himself to chase after every haunted house report he comes across. He wouldn't even be here if he hadn't experienced a dream a few weeks earlier that hinted on how he might find... well, he isn't sure what he will find, but he senses that what he finds in Danville will change his life in some way.
To his dismay, he learns that the actual owner of Kingston Inn is Angie Parker, not her aunt Ivy Rule who invited him over to stay and investigate the haunting for a month. Angie doesn't recognize him, but he remembers her. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in high school and he had always harbored a crush on her. Alas, she was in the the ninth grade cool clique while he was a loner who "worshiped his slide rule, had a pocket protector full of mechanical pencils", and alienated even his fellow geeks with his affinity to the paranormal. Now, Angie is a widow and a single mother to her son Miles. When she's not running the inn, she is worrying over Miles because Miles is turning out to be some "sensitive" kid. Just like Gabriel was as a kid, come to think of it.
As Angie and Gabriel try to work out their living arrangement for that one month, not only will they learn that the Shadow Lady may be more real than they initially believed but they may also have a chance at making a go at romance and love.
The reason why I never tire of rereading this book is because author Theresa Gladden has created an intimate love story that works at many levels. I adore both Gabriel and Angie because they are very human characters free from tired contrivances. For one, they both talk and listen so well to each other that at the end of the day, it is very easy for me to see that despite one being the Beauty and the other the Geek, these two get along so well, more than anyone would expect, that it is easy to believe that they really belong with each other. I also like how Angie had a wonderful three years with her late husband and this late husband doesn't turn out to be some evil, cheating, abusive monster in some revisionist plot contrivance by the time the story ends.
Gabriel has a very isolated and hence very lonely childhood and this loneliness extends into his adult life. But I like how he doesn't let his childhood issues affect the way he lives his life. He falls in love with Angie easily and his protectiveness of her makes a romantic contrast - or should I say complement? - to his beta personality. Angie is also a very likable character - she is intelligent enough to step back and evaluate her relationship with Gabriel before deciding that it has to be something right. Ms Gladden doesn't make Angie apologize for being a beautiful woman by being some doormat or martyr. Angie did tell Gabriel that she wished that she had understood him better during high school when they were reluctant study partners, but both she and Gabriel understand that they were both silly kids back then. Now that they are adults, they would leave their high school baggage behind. Isn't that nice and sensible of them? Likewise, Angie is, amusingly enough as she's often stereotyped as a dumb pretty creature, the most practical person in her family of eccentrics, but her actions in this book in no way make her some doormat martyr and slave to her family's taking her for granted.
Because Ms Gladden allows her characters to be people and not mere central-casting stereotypes, Angie comes off as a good mother concerned about Miles and a practical woman running a successful inn. She is skeptical of Gabriel's belief in the paranormal, but I don't blame her for that, really. Gabriel comes off as a likable fellow who may be just a little different from the Average Joe thanks to his affinity to spooks. Love makes him feel and do things that he doesn't even know he has in him. I really like how he doesn't look like some stereotypical pretty boy. Angie thinks of him as a quintessential boy-next-door type whose most attractive trait is his beautiful eyes.
The only point of contention I have with this book - okay, two - are this: one, I am never really given a full picture of Gabriel's talent and two, sometimes this book can get a little too sweet for me. When Gabriel's in love, he can make some really pretty and effusive declarations of love, but some of them are just too sentimental for me. But at the end of the day, it is really hard for me not to adore Angie And The Ghostbuster. It is really romantic in the sense that it tells the story of two people falling in love, and does it well too without resorting to misunderstandings, intrusive matchmaking secondary characters, or tedious suspense elements. With very little formulaic gimmicks to hinder the flow of romance, this book is "just" a love story between two well-written and wonderful characters that ring true, and thank goodness for that!
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