Three recent romances that impressed me include a new mystery by a master of the genre, a fantasy that delighted the science geek in me, and a young African American woman's tale of struggle and love in the Wild West.
When All the Girls Have Gone
By Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley. 349 pp. $27
Jayne Ann Krentz is known for her tense romantic suspense stories. (She also writes historical romances under the pseudonym Amanda Quick, and futuristic romances as Jayne Castle.) Krentz's latest introduces you early to all the whos but keeps the whys and hows hidden until the end.
Charlotte Sawyer learns that Louise, her stepsister Jocelyn's best friend, has died. However, Jocelyn has just gone off the grid on a retreat in the Caribbean, where there is no way to contact her. While checking on Jocelyn's condo, Charlotte finds a package Louise had sent Jocelyn. In it, she finds keys and a letter saying Louise was worried and that a copy of a file was in the storage locker at her apartment building.
Charlotte goes to Louise's apartment to try to find the file and see whether it will be of any use to authorities. She finds private investigator Max Cutler already there. Max has been hired by Louise's cousin, who was not satisfied with the police conclusion that Louise's death was an overdose. The cousin suspects foul play.
Max and Charlotte check out the storage locker together and discover that it, too, has been searched. They find a map of Washington state with some towns circled and envelopes containing newspaper clippings.
Max mentions that, according to the GPS on Louise's car, she'd recently taken a trip to Loring - where Jocelyn went to college and where she had been raped. The police there botched the investigation - the evidence box was lost and no suspect was ever caught.
The story unfolds from various points of view. We hear from Jocelyn, her other friends, even the man involved in Louise's death. The suspense builds as the increasingly desperate killer strikes ever closer to Charlotte and Max, who find themselves falling in love.
Love and Gravity
By Samantha Sotto
Ballantine. 408 pp. $6.99
Love and Gravity touches on love, destiny, and the space-time continuum. It's an intriguing love story between Isaac Newton, the 17th-century scientist, and a modern-day woman from San Francisco.
Andrea Louviere is a 7-year-old cello prodigy when she first sees Isaac. While she is playing her own composition in her room, a light glows and a crack appears in the wall. Through it, she sees a boy in another bedroom. They stare at each other in shock, then wave as the crack slowly closes.
Andrea tries to recreate the song she played as well as she can and make the crack appear again, but nothing happens until two years later. To her dismay, her beloved father has remarried, and his wife later delivers a premature baby girl who does not live long. In her room, Andrea pours out her grief (and guilt) on her cello. She finds herself playing the old melody, and white light flashes once again as a crack opens in the wall.
The boy is older now. He runs to the crack and speaks, but Andrea can hear nothing. The crack closes, and she frantically plays the song over and over, bringing her father in to complain. She tries to tell him about the boy, which just earns her visits with a psychiatrist.
The crack and the boy become obsessions with Andrea. They don't reappear until a few years later, unfortunately during an important concert. At the height of her performance, she sees the light and crack appear in her sheet music. She can glimpse the boy, now a young man, holding up a note: "Name?" As the crack closes she screams out her name in front of the shocked audience.
An elderly Englishman, Oscar Ian Westin, knocks on her door one day and delivers to Andrea, now 17, a yellowed letter sealed with red wax. When she opens it, the first page is the same "Name?" note. The other page says it was from the boy behind the wall, Isaac Newton, and that the time has come to explain everything and how they will come to love each other.
Love and Gravity (available only as an ebook in the United States) asks: What if Isaac Newton's achievements in mathematics and physics were spurred by love, by his desperate search to find a way through the barriers of time and space so that he and Andrea could be united? It's a fascinating concept and a poignant love story.
By Beverly Jenkins
Avon. 384 pp. $7.99
Portia Carmichael is the competent manager of her aunt and uncle's successful hotel in the Arizona territory. This African American family, which also includes her sister, Regan, are enjoying their comfortable life on the frontier after having to flee Virginia City, Nev., 15 years earlier, when a white mob burned down their house.
Portia is grateful to her aunt and uncle for providing a loving home for her and her sister when her mother, a prostitute, sent them away as children. If not for Aunt Eddy and Uncle Rhine, the girls never would have had an education and gone to Oberlin College. As the manager and bookkeeper of a busy hotel, Portia has a fulfilling life, and she has no plans ever to marry.
Her ordered life is turned upside down one day when a handsome, brown-skinned cowboy shows up at the hotel, greeting her with, "Hello, Duchess." Only one person ever called her that - the young man who had worked at Uncle Rhine's saloon before the awful night years ago when they all had to flee.
Kent Randolph notices that Portia has grown into a lovely woman in the years since he last saw her. He has come to the hotel to seek work with Rhine and, after seeing Portia, maybe to finally settle down.
Kent and Portia get to know each other better as their work brings them together more and more. Kent admires Portia's intelligence and spirit as much as her stunning beauty. He learns about her dream of opening a bookkeeping business, no easy task for a woman, let alone a woman of color on the frontier. Portia tries to fight the smoldering attraction between them. Is Kent someone she can trust, who will let her remain the independent, strong woman she is?
Beverly Jenkins' historical romances specialize in 19th-century African American life. In this second book in her Old West trilogy, she expertly weaves in historical information about such subjects as the suffragette movement, women's "good works societies," and even Geronimo. She brings alive the struggles and triumphs women faced in a harsh and dangerous territory.