Until There Was You
by Francis Ray, contemporary (2008, reissue)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94418-6

Until There Was You was previously published by BET under their Arabesque imprint back in 1999. From the copyright notice, I guess that this is a strict reissue, with no revision made by the author. This is a pity, because this book really shows its age as well as Ms Ray's raw and unpolished technique.

For example, this book starts off with a ten-paged prologue, of which only about three paragraphs have anything remotely to do with the plot. The rest of these pages are devoted to tedious and pointless fanservice as characters from... the Grayson family, is it? Anyway, these people and their friends attend a grand wedding of the couple from a previous book, which is a chance for the author to have characters from past and future books to show up and chatter inane nonsense to each other. These characters are cardboard-thin and they are all interchangeably perfect. I really don't care.

Fortunately, the story begins on chapter one, where we see our commitment-shy ex-FBI agent turned sexy hot Harlequin Presents rich guy hero, Luke Grayson, heading off to his New Mexico cabin for some R&R away from his matchmaking mother. If you have read enough romance stories featuring a cabin in the mountains, you know there is a woman already staying in that cabin. Dr Catherine Stewart is offered the use of the cabin by Luke's cousin because that fellow assumes that Luke won't be staying there anytime soon. Oops. When Luke is not busy trying to stop Catherine from being stupid - like running off to the woods to cavort with wild wolf mutts - he realizes that Catherine has secrets that he may need to pry open before he can explore any relationship with her.

The ensemble cast of cardboard perfect characters show up again late in the story, by the way. Ms Ray is clearly way too in love with her characters, I tell you, often to the detriment of her story. She cannot bear to have her characters suffer from a prolonged problem, for example, so any problem that crops up is immediately solved, usually with Luke's money or connections. After all, the Graysons are the richest, most beautiful, and most widely socially connected people in the world or something. Instead, Ms Ray has the main characters getting lost in a crowd of poorly developed characters who chew scenery as if they are retired models hitting the buffet parlor.

To top it off, Catherine claims to be smart, but she must have cobwebs in that space in her skull where her brain is supposed to be. She waves a gun when she is staying in the cabin while knowing that her life may be in danger, but she deliberately keeps the gun unloaded. Don't ask me why. She always runs off alone to wander in the woods - when she knows someone is out there stalking her. Luke can be quite the creepy control freak here as he cannot stand to leave the heroine unattended - he always has to know what she is doing. But given how Catherine is a nitwit damsel in distress here, perhaps she needs a control freak like Luke to save her from accidentally walking into busy traffic one fine day.

And then there is the problem with the author often making leaps from point A to point B in the story without telling the reader how she gets from one point to another. For example, during their initial encounter in the cabin, Catherine waves an unloaded gun at Luke and treats him like a potential serial killer. A few pages later, when things have calmed down a little, Luke will think to himself that he could tell, from Catherine's previous actions, that she is a wealthy woman who is used to being catered to. Given that Catherine's actions were more in line with that of a suspicious woman who was afraid of him, I can only wonder how Luke comes to that conclusion. This is just one of the many scenes in the book that have me scratching my head. What Ms Ray says in her story doesn't always go together with what she shows in her story.

There is also a bonus short story here, Christmas And You, which sees our large cast of boring but perfect characters showing up to celebrate Christmas and reiterate their perfect love stories. Since I have no idea who these people are, the joy of this purely fanservice epilogue-like short story completely eludes me.

Until There Was You is a very boring and amateurishly written story. The author really should have revised this book, because having it published in its current form can be pretty embarrassing for the author. I'd suggest that you buy this only if you are a fan of the author wishing to own the complete collection of her books. This book is as tasty as a handful of sawdust.

Rating: 48

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