by Brenda Jackson, contemporary (2001)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-145-6

Brenda Jackson has been writing about the Madaris family since 1995. Of course, the Madaris kids needs at least twenty years to grow up, reach adolescence, and procreate the brats for the next generation of sequels, so the author decides to add And Friends to her Madaris And Friends series. Which is a roundabout way of me saying that every Arabesque book of Brenda Jackson is related.

Fine. Which brings me to Surrender, the latest in her Madaris And Friends series. This book has two functions. One, a romance story between Colonel Ashton Sinclair, US Marines, and Netherlands "Nettie" Brooms. Two, a pit stop for what seems like everybody since that 1995 book to pop in and say hello. For the first function, I'd say it's great. I like the romance. At the same time, whenever somebody pops up, I find myself turning to the geneology chart thoughtfully included in the book, and finally give up trying to keep track of who's who. It gets to a point where I almost take a black marker pen and draw a big X over all those pages where everybody hang out and yak. These pages, to a novice like me, scream "Filler, filler, filler!" I do have a few old Brenda Jackson books in my TBR pile, but even if I do read them now and commit the names in memory, it still doesn't excuse the clutter and high noise to signal ratio in Surrender.

Netherlands or Nettie is the only daughter of a military man. She doesn't like her childhood years, where most of them are spend moving around the world and never being able to form any long-lasting friendships. In fact, she and her brothers and definitely sequel baits Belgium, Rome, Paris, and Dakota are named after the places where they are born. Aren't these kids glad Mom and Pop stay away from Czechoslovakia during Mom's 9th month of pregnancy. Anyway, now in her early twenties, Nettie is making up for lost time by staying put in one place and opening up Sisters, a restaurant-cum-ladies-hangout. A place like Sisters naturally also becomes a place for all those creatures called Men to come stampeding to like lemmings. One of these men is Ashton, who sees Nettie and poom, he knows it. This woman is his. They'll get married, yo, and they'll have cute chubby babies. Nettie, on her part, is aghast. So what if he looks like a dead ringer for Denzel Washington - he is a military man! She wants stability, so no, no, no. But Ashton is not taking no. They have chemistry, they click, and he has his eyes on her. Nettie is going down.

Ashton is definitely an alpha male, but he never crosses the line to being an outright stalker. Hence, I'm won over. Besides, a man who stops sleeping around after seeing the woman of his dreams, hey, that's something rather sweet in that, especially when he doesn't even know if Nettie is going to reciprocate his feelings. Then again, maybe he does, that arrogant scoundrel. Ooh, what a hunk. Nettie protests and sputters, but there's no resisting their sexual chemistry. The clothes will fly soon enough.

But their romance alone could've filled only half a book. Maybe less. So what I also get are many, many characters from old books and soon-to-come ones popping in to say hi. Christenings, birthdays, lunch parties, dinner parties, girlfriends' night out, guys' night out, you name it, this book has it. All these events are nothing more than an excuse for previous couples to say hi and reaffirm to readers that they are still going strong, and for new characters to say hey, look at us, buy our upcoming books, will ya. One or two of such gratuitous trailers are fine, but when half the book seems like a self-indulgent field trips for obsessive Madaris groupies, I feel irritated. I want Ashton and Nettie. I don't want Jada or Rainey or Rome or Dex or Justin or... whoever, really. I want a romance novel, not a field trip surrounded by people I can't keep track of. If I want to, I'd go to my own family reunion.

Still, it must be a testament to Ms Jackson's storytelling ability that I am charmed by this book despite my nitpicking of it. Really, if Surrender just concentrates on Ashton and Nettie with the other secondary characters kept to the background, this book will be great. As it is, Surrender is an enjoyable tale of a man's persistent chase of a woman, albeit a very cluttered one.

Rating: 82

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