Amber Beach, by Elizabeth Lowell

>> Monday, September 27, 2004

I'm not a big fan of romantic suspense, but once in a while I feel like reading one, and Elizabeth Lowell seemed like a good bet. I've heard good things about book 3 in her Donovan series, Pearl Cove, so since I already have the entire series, I thought I'd start with the first book, Amber Beach.

Honor Donovan is a shrewd businesswoman, yet she has been shut out of Donovan International by her father and four brothers. When her favorite brother Kyle vanishes, along with a fortune in stolen amber, Honor's questions are ignored by the Donovan males. Defying them, she heads to the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest in search of answers.
Honor needs a guide because she knows nothing about running a boat -- and she knows nothing about Jake Mallory until he answers her ad. One of the things she doesn't know is that Jake is much more than a fishing guide. Until Kyle disappeared, Jake was brokering amber deals in the Baltic for Donovan International. Honor is completely unaware of the old wars, new politics, greed, and stolen amber that have lured ruthless, high-stakes players from around the globe.

Jake wants no part of the intrigue, or of a Donovan woman in his life, but he suspects the Donovans have set him up to take the fall for Kyle's treachery. The way Jake sees it, some Donovan is going to pay for his troubles, and it just may turn out to be Honor

Jake and Honor cast off on a journeys moldering with distrust, betrayal, vengeance... and temptation. A hunger grows between them that is as dangerous as the secrets they keep. Alone at sea, they pursue the stubborn mystery of the Amber Room, flee from relentless enemies, and fight against trusting each other. Yet when Honor and Jake dare to confide in one another, they face a final truth: the penalty for betrayal is death; the reward is a lifetime...together.
Pretty good, this was an enjoyable read. I'd give it a B.

Amber Beach was the type of romantic suspense I enjoy the most: the type where the strong suspense subplot doesn't detract from the romance and a book which didn't have a breakneck pace. The slower pace allowed our protagonists to spend quite a bit of time together, and to spend it in conditions that allowed for more communication than the running from the villains that happens in so many books.

On the whole, I found the romance satisfying, though there were certain things, certain aspects of the personalities of Jake and Honor that I wasn't crazy about.

I understood Jake's feelings after being betrayed by his friend, but he went quite a bit overboard with his "all Donovan's are the same" mentality. As for Honor, I really liked the way she was not a pushover and stood up to Jake and I admired that she did what she felt she had to do, even if it involved doing things she was afraid of, like sailing in a small boat and entering a dangerous world. However, I groaned at her sexual history. It didn't feel so much like something that fit the person she was, but something tacked on by the author to please readers who demand that if heroines are not virgins, they must never have enjoyed sex before.

Still, I really liked the two protagonists together. Their relationship developed mostly through witty bantering which was a delight to read, even if it was sometimes a bit *too* wittily elaborate to be realistic dialogue. And these two definitely had wonderful chemistry. I especially liked what happened once Honor realized who exactly her fishing guide was ;-)

There is a lot of information on several subjects here, and most of it enriched the story. I liked the stuff about the amber, which was fascinating. The meticulous research on boats and how to drive them was much less interesting, and made for some very dry reading, but it wasn't really overwhelming. This meticulous research makes me doubt that something that seemed to me very wrong could actually have been so wrong. Lowell goes on and on about Lithuanian separatist groups, though, at the time, Lithuania was already independent, as far as I know. Given the level of research in other areas of the book, I want to believe that what Lowell meant was something like that even if Lithuania was now independent, their government was too influenced by the Russian one, and *that* was what these separatists wanted to achieve (I've no idea if this could be true), but I'm afraid the impression I got was that Lowell didn't realize Lithuania was an independent country already.

Now for the real negatives. As I said above, I'm planning to read the four books in the series, but one of the side effects of Amber Beach was a definite dislike for Honor's brothers. They are the types who refuse to "let" their sisters go into a business that could become dangerous, though of course, they can do whatever they want. I do NOT want to read about such sexist pigs!

Also, the ending was quite disappointing. I'm not asking for 20 pages of Jake and Honor declaring their love, but a measly half a page of "we are getting married, I love you" - "ok, I love you, too", and in front of her brothers? That simply didn't give a satisfying conclusion to the romance side of the book.

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