REVIEW BY BARBARA SAMUEL
Last summer, just as the Romance Writers of America conference rolled into Dallas, the news leaked through the ranks: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss had died. Some sources hint that her heart was broken after the untimely death of her son, Dorren, who died weeks before she did; others say it was simply the more prosaic, but no less tragic, cancer. Romance readers only know it was too soon. The beloved author had just turned 68.
Woodiwiss is widely regarded as the mother of the modern historical romance, and her 12 novels (beginning with 1972's The Flame and the Flower) boast a staggering 30 million copies in print. Her strong-willed heroines are beautiful, her heroes devastatingly handsome, and the pair finds adventure and romance on the way to their happy ending. Woodiwiss sparked a passion in readers and writers alike, flinging open the doors to what has become a thriving genre offering work to hundreds of (mostly) female writers. In a tribute to Woodiwiss, New York Times best-selling historical romance author Teresa Medeiros wrote, "I am humbled by what a great debt of gratitude we all owe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. At the conclusion of The Flame and the Flower, she should have written not 'The End,' but 'The Beginning.' "
One consolation is that Woodiwiss left a final completed manuscript for her devoted readers: Everlasting, a sumptuous story set in the turbulent aftermath of the Crusades. Abrielle's beloved fiancé has died, leaving her to find a husband who will help save her mother and step-father from ruin. Cornered by the specter of poverty, Abrielle agrees to a union with the loathsome Desmond de Marle, despite her conflicted attraction to a Scotsman, Raven Seabern. Raven is powerfully drawn to the beautiful and spirited Abrielle, and when her husband meets a fitting death, he becomes Abrielle's champion. Abrielle must sort out the truth of her feelings—and Raven's—if the pair is to find lasting happiness. This lushly written last offering is classic Woodiwiss, and every romance collection should include this final chapter in a brilliant career.
Colorado writer Barbara Samuel is the author of several historical romances.
REVIEW BY BARBARA SAMUEL
By Marie Phillips
Little, Brown, $23.99
REVIEW BY AMY SCRIBNER
So whatever happened to the Olympians? You know, the 12 Greek immortals who lived on Mount Olympus: Dionysus, god of wine. Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility. Apollo, god of prophecy. Ares, god of war. Artemis, goddess of the hunt. And the rest of the gang. Turns out, since they fell out of vogue, they've been living in a decrepit London townhouse and, quite frankly, after all these years they're starting to get on each other's nerves.
That's the premise of the intriguing debut novel Gods Behaving Badly by English author Marie Phillips. Devastatingly beautiful Aphrodite works as a phone sex operator. Dionysus is a nightclub DJ on a never-ending search for debauchery. Apollo is a cheesy television psychic. Artemis walks dogs.
All those gods and goddesses living under one roof can really take its toll on a place. Their house is in shambles, so Artemis hires a housekeeper. Alice is a mousy, shy woman who was recently fired from her job cleaning the television studio where Apollo films his TV program. She's not sure what to make of her new employers, but she needs the paycheck. When a scheming Aphrodite convinces Eros, the god of love, to cast a spell, Apollo falls deeply in love with Alice. They make an unlikely pair, complicated by the fact that Alice already has a devoted secret admirer in her equally timid friend Neil.
The battle of wills between Aphrodite and Apollo intensifies, and Alice and Neil are caught in the crossfire. What follows is a surreal journey by the two mortals into the underworld (via the London tube, of course) in a bid to save mankind.
It's silly, to be sure, but what's wrong with silly? And somehow, with brisk writing and sly humor, Phillips spins this whimsical tale into something bigger. She gets at the heart of what it means to be needed, and why all of us—even immortals—crave it.
Amy Scribner writes from Washington
REVIEW BY HARVEY FREEDENBERG
Most Westerners have a mental picture of Saudi Arabia that's hardly more than a mélange of clichés featuring white-robed sheiks climbing into Rolls-Royces to survey vast oil fields. Yousef Al-Mohaimeed's haunting and enigmatic novel, his first published outside Saudi Arabia after being banned there, offers a stark picture of that society.
The central character of Wolves of the Crescent Moon is Turad, a Bedouin and former desert bandit who, as the novel opens, finds himself in the Riyadh bus station with no destination other than one that will take him out of the city he has come to loathe. After losing his ear in a desert incident that's described in wrenching detail at the novel's climax, he has migrated to the capital, moving through a series of menial jobs until he finds a position as a servant at the finance ministry.
Like Turad, the other principal characters of Wolves are physically damaged. Tawfiq is an elderly man who exists on the fringe of Saudi society. Captured in Sudan as a young boy, he is sold into slavery and then castrated. Eventually he drifts into the finance ministry, where he and the Bedouin discover a surprising connection. Nasir is an orphan who mysteriously loses his eye shortly after he's abandoned at birth. In the bus station a stranger hands Turad a government file whose contents recount the mundane facts of Nasir's existence, facts Turad uses as the springboard for an imaginative re-creation of the boy's life. Employing a nonlinear narrative that shimmers with a certain dreamlike quality, Wolves interweaves the lives of these characters in complex and unexpected ways.
It's easy to imagine this tale being narrated by an ancient storyteller to a group of rapt listeners gathered around a blazing desert fire. Al-Mohaimeed's prose is taut and yet lyrical, evoking the harsh beauty of the desert landscape in spare sentences rich with vivid imagery. While his name will be unfamiliar to most American readers, his talent deserves serious attention.
Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Label: Wolves of the Crescent Moon