By Intent
by Angela Weaver, contemporary (2004)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-440-4

I enjoyed reading Angela Weaver's debut romance By Design but her follow-up By Intent falls short of delivering. It is as if By Intent is the debut novel here because everything about this book feels like an unfocused effort from an inexperienced author.

Alyssa Knight is a successful executive intending to marry a successful if boring guy for all the usual clichéd reasons. But a recent epiphany shows her that unless she puts the ghosts of her past behind her, she will never be truly be at peace with herself. With this intention in mind, she returns to Chicago from London to solve the mystery of her friend's murder six years ago. Not only does her return cause some villainous people to practise their assassination skills on her, her old flame Nathan Hughes, now a judge, is far from happy to see her.

While the underlying premise of the story isn't new, the key problem of this story is that Ms Weaver never allows Alyssa to come back to the Windy City with any specific plan in her mission to solve the mystery of Lily's death. Because Alyssa never seems to have any clear plan as to what she is going to do, the main reason she comes back to Chicago eventually takes a back seat to middling subplots that don't really go anywhere or do anything to enhance the main romance storyline. They are just there in the story to take up space and sow the seeds for plots of future sequels. The large cast of friends and family members moving in and out the story through the Revolving Door of Sequel-Making distracts me from the main storyline and sometimes I wonder whether I should be taking up a pen and a piece of paper to draw up some family tree.

The main romance isn't too interesting, I'm afraid. While I appreciate the fact that Alyssa is a successful careerwoman, her priorities eventually become skewed in an unfortunate manner, such as her treating her bodyguard curtly because he holds a gun and she doesn't like people with guns. Honey, if someone is out to kill me, I'd be baking smiley-faced cookies for the man with a gun who is protecting me and I can't even bake cookies, mind you. Because she wants to be some Nancy Drew investigator without formulating a workable plan and she goes "Hmmmph!" at the thought of people on her side holding guns while having no alternative recourse to keep herself safe (while, of course, insisting that she can take care of herself), she comes off as a little lacking upstairs.

But at least Alyssa can boast of having some personality. Nathan has very little of that. He comes off as a control freak. First, he tries to make life difficult for Alyssa to the point that he comes this close to abusing his authority and that doesn't sit easy on me. Furthermore, his issues with Alyssa stem back to a very juvenile teenaged spat, which makes him come off even worse for trying to behave this way towards Alyssa. And then he realizes that he lusts after her and wham, somehow he and Alyssa are now in love again. How did that happen? I wish there is a more credible reason for these two to break up in the first place, something more than a very contrived and cheesy teenaged misunderstanding, because the element of maturity is absent in this romance. When Nathan feels that he can treat Alyssa nicely again, he unfortunately starts behaving like a control freak, making decisions for Alyssa including decisions that involve her safety without informing her.

Because Alyssa and Nathan's story is so dry and uninteresting, I find myself more intrigued with some of the underbaked secondary characters. Alyssa's mother, for example, seems to be on the verge of trying to rediscover who she really is after being a wife, mother, and friend for so long to the people around her. The author drops this subplot eventually but I find myself being more intrigued with Marva Knight in the brief moment she appears in the story than I am with Alyssa and Nathan. But the story's main focus is a mystery that never really takes off coupled to a romance that is as tasty as sawdust because the main characters come off as awkward one-dimensional ciphers, more the pity.

Rating: 52

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