Celestial Bodies
by Laura Leone, contemporary (2003, 1991 reissue)
Wildside, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-596-X

I know, people, I know. $32.95 for a reissued Silhouette Desire that dates back to 1991, a reissue with no revisions to boot, is crazy. Fortunately the ebook format is available from Fictionwise for only $5.39. I'm reading the original Silhouette Desire version of this book, by the way.

Diana Stewart is a familiar heroine. She does all the work running the family business, the House of Ishtar that deals in New Age stuff, while her father has the luxury to be absent-minded. Let's put it this way: a good indication of Diana's smarts is the fact that when a client tells her that she's overtaxing herself and it's time to get hired help, Diana's all "Oh no! But this is supposed to be a family business!" Fortunately for Diana, she goes ahead and puts up a "Help wanted!" sign later that day before I show up at the door with a huge tank of gasolin ready to burn down the shop as an act of mercy before Diana kills herself in a pointless act of martyrhood.

Help arrives in the mysterious form of Nick Tremain. He's actually a PI investigating his client's complains that Diana's father Felix is trying to seduce the client's mother to get her money. Nick needs the money so he takes up the case. When he gives his real name to Diana and Felix, that's when I start to have this clear idea why Nick's PI business never took off in the first place.

This is a deception story with the hero's identity being discovered in most predictable timing, if you know what I mean. In this case, Diana's reaction is actually quite restrained in the sense that she is open to reason instead of shrieking and running away like a hysterical dingbat. Nick is the problematic one here as he gives up on Diana without a fight and just leaves. So much for a hero, really. Then again, what do I expect from a failing PI who gives his real name out when he's supposed to be undercover, eh?

The story is also steeped in tarot card reading. The reader will have to just accept the fact that Felix is always capable of predicting the future correctly using the cards just as the reader who then questions why Felix just can't predict everything and spare me from this book being longer than 20 pages will have to accept that, er, life works in mysterious ways or something. Diana's belief in her father's capabilities is absolute. The thing is, while I am interested in tarot card reading - I have a deck at home although I still haven't completely grasped the various interpretations that are possible for each card in the deck - I believe I will find this story a little less mystifying if Ms Leone spends maybe a few paragraphs or so to explain why Felix is so good at what he does. Is it because he is psychic? Has access to some kind of paranormal magic? I'd find some explanation more palatable than having to just accept that Felix is some tarot wunderkind despite his inability to be of any use to his daughter when it comes to anything other than prattling about destiny and love.

Celestial Bodies also has many elements that will seem very antiquated today, such as Nick's constant equation of love and desire with full control over the heroine's life, Diana's very passive role in this story - she exists only to love the people around her and serve to make them happy, and a rather annoying message that a heroine only has to be a loving and selfless princess while the big strong hero will tell her what to do, think, wear, eat, and more so that she will never have to do anything more than to love and depend on the hero completely, utterly, and irrevocably like a bad karaoke rendition of Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man that just won't end.

At the end of the day, Celestial Bodies is a familiar story with the added bonus of it being very perplexing unless the reader is willing from the get-go to accept that Felix will always be able to read the cards and predict things correctly even as he conveniently will not do so until the hero and the heroine have gone past the point of no return. It's familiar and it also doesn't seem to have aged very well in the years since it was first published. If this book is longer so that more space is devoted to shed some light into the mystical happenings taking place in the Stewart household, this book will be more enjoyable. Some revisions to update the male-female dynamics to make them more twenty-first century friendly will also be nice.

Rating: 61

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