by Emma Jensen, historical (2002)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1956-2

I keep vacillating between extreme opinions when it comes to Moonlit. For one, the author creates a story that is filled with predictable plot devices, which is always painful to read. On the other hand, the main characters can burn the pages with their sexual chemistry and desperate passion for each other.

I think this book is just doing the characters a big disservice, even if it's adhering to Marketability Rule #1: Never Underestimate Your Reader's Threshold For The Same, Tired, and Overkilled. But Ms Jensen also proves that for a full-blown regency author, she can sure whip up the hot stuff. Not hot as in sex six million ways to Sunday, per se, but the tension, the yearning, oh my.

Let's meet the two stereotypes, namely Tortured and Scarred Spy and Rake Regency Dude and the Fake Slut. The former is Trevor St Wulfstan, the latter Nell AKA "Mrs Nolan".

He had a lousy father who can't overlook his hideousness and scar, and now he has an attitude. She is a virtuous widow in a plot that doesn't make sense. See, Mrs Nolan is really a widow, and she is here in London to claim money owed to her late husband from a nasty nobleman. To do so, she must first gain entry into his house party. To do this, she has to pose as a fake mistress with the help of a real retired courtesan named Madam Balashova.

Hmm, you'd think bribing the house staff to steal the money will be easier. But then again, romance heroines, eh? Their dogged persistence, if nothing else, is commendable.

It is during Mrs Nolan's debut that our hero sees her for the first time. Mrs Nolan has her reputation preceding her, so she's a big hit. See, she was said to be the mistress of this old coot who died happy in bed... okay, yes, she's not old coot's mistress, just his surrogate daughter who loves him like the daddy she never has, et cetera. And yes, Mrs Nolan will go out with the wrong guy, who tries to cop a feel, and in the end, she has to strike a bargain with Trevor. After all, Trevor may want to cop a feel too, but look, he has an ugly scar, people. And he's a war agent. You can't get better than that.

Mrs Nolan doesn't want anything to do with Trevor. See, when she was a kid, she did some Irish vision thing, and saw his face as her Mr Right. No way! No way! But Trevor, who makes stalking sexy, will insist that it's yes way all the way. Mrs Nolan will be his. Ooh baby.

I don't know, really. Trevor and Mrs Nolan are so crazy about each other, they can melt ice caps. But the plot is so familiar, the usual good girl/slut polarity can grate on the nerves, and the familiar characters, baggages, and yes, that Murder Subplot thing all make Moonlit an "Oh boy, here we go again. Next stop: Snoozesville" read.

I am prepared to give this book an average grade towards the end of the story. Then the author cranks up the emotional scenes, bringing out the best of Tortured, Obsessed Melodrama, and I am charmed. Oh my, talk about romantic. Why can't the author write like this all the way around?

Great dramatics, great sexual chemistry, crap plot and crap overused plot devices. Well, I don't know really - I want to like this book a lot, and in a way, yeah, I like Mrs Nolan and Trevor. But any attempts at rereading only make me realize how painful the whole predictability-mired affair is, and I end up just skipping to the last few chapters. What a waste, really.

Rating: 83

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