by JoAnn Ross, contemporary (2001)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-78617-2
Ireland, horses, surly fifteen-year old girls, and kooky heroines. Mix them in and what do you get? A mainstream contemporary romance ala monotone. Jeanette Baker sold her soul to this devil baby, followed by Kimberly Cates, followed by an entire legion of midlist authors for the Jove Irish Eyes line, and now JoAnn Ross jumps on the bandwagon to creative bankruptcy hell. I'm not saying Legends Lake is an unreadable book - far from it. However, devoid of any semblence of originality or innovation, Legends Lake is murky and uninspired.
Alec MacKenna is an American horse trainer whose reputation is down the drain after a fiasco of a race ends with his horse hospitalized (for the want of a better word). Now, an old friend and ex-employer offers him a chance to redeem himself by letting him train Legends Lake, a Black Beauty clone who is wild, untamed, but oh, what potential it has. Alec decides to take the horse and his surly fifteen-year old stepdaughter Zoe to Ireland, where hopefully he can ask Legends Lake's breeder Kate O'Sullivan to help.
Naturally, Kate is one of those Irish heroines only non-Irish tourists can love: kooky, seems stuck in a 18th-century timewarp, and when Alec and Zoe first see her, she is catching faeries and clouds or some other Irish mythical claptrap, for goodness sake. But of course, such women in romance novels make perfect mothers, you know, so Kate soon breaks Zoe into an obedient happy filly. She and Alec soon see the sparking stars between them, but alas, there's this thing about Kate being still married. Oops.
Incidentally, here's a sample of Kate's maternal wisdom for Zoe:
"Perhaps not consciously. But bloodlines are magical things, Zoe. The secrets of all people who've come before you are buried deep within your bones. Why, I've no doubt that a deep and abiding knowledge of horses is just lying there, waiting for an opportunity to come out.
"Which is why it's so wonderful that your - that Mr MacKenna has brought you here. Do you believe in fate, Zoe? Destiny?"
Is Destiny the name of the new recreational drug in town?
Kate falls under the trite category of Character Stereotypes Only Foreigners Will Love, sharing space with that fortune-cookie-quote-sprouting "Ah so" servile Chinese butler and the earth-mother-eagle yammering American Indian Shaman. Ireland here is a place of faeries, beautiful fogs that are never cold or soggy, no disease, no IRA or IRS, not even money problems as Kate spends all her life running around playing free and wild with horses without seeming to actually spending time seriously breeding horses for money. Then again, we all know romance novel Ireland - what is money there, eh? Ye wise, sage Irish folks don't need money, all they need is love and playing music on their fiddles in a traditional Irish inn in the evening.
Legends Lake can be emotional if the characters aren't so cookie-cutter designed and the plot isn't so by-the-book familiar. It can be fun if it doesn't make me feel like a fugly, ignorant tourist who would complain to the Irish tourism board that Ireland having an Internet network (or any other 21st century technology) is just not right because it's no longer "beautiful". Horses, faerie stones, and unspoiled countryside - that's right, Irish folks, stay ignorant, traditional, superstitious, and economically backwards, because we all need our escape fantasies. So there!
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