Windswept, by Ann Macela

>> Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TITLE: Windswept
AUTHOR: Ann Macela

COPYRIGHT: 2008
PAGES: 510
PUBLISHER: Medallion Press

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: No

REASON FOR READING: I've heard so much of Medallion Press and how good their books are, that I had a browse through their website and decided to try the first book that struck my fancy. Windswept was it.

A terrible secret lurks in the papers of the Windswept Plantation, and its revelation will ruin the Jamison family name. To Barrett Browning, however, the collection of correspondence, ledgers, and journals is a treasure trove of potential publications sure to gain her a valuable promotion at her university. As a historian, her job is to root out secrets from the past and hold them up to the light, no matter the cost. The farthest thing from her mind is getting involved with the papers' owner.

To venture capitalist Davis Jamison, the pile of boxes is a headache he must deal with to protect the family. What better way to solve the mystery than to have an expert inventory the papers in his own house? He expects neither his cousin's frantic obsession to keep all the family sins hidden, nor the fierce need he comes to feel for Barrett. He's sworn never again to trust a woman with his property or his heart. Can he rely on Barrett to guard them both?

As the dark past—a tale of deception and murder—emerges, Davis's question becomes harder and harder to answer...
While this wasn't the best book I've ever read, I quite enjoyed it. It's the sort of thing you don't see much of these days, a Southern gothic, with thrilling hints of dark family secrets. No paranormal and not much suspense, just two characters getting to know each other and discovering the secrets of the past.

I started it right after rereading one of my favourite Barbara Michaels, Houses of Stone, and they actually had quite a bit in common. In both the heroine is an academic who gains access to a career-making set of papers related to an antebellum Southern plantation and family. In this case, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (yes, I know, and so does she. She goes by Barrett) was selected by the old gentleman who owned the Windswept plantation to classify the plantation's records. Barrett is eager to do so... the plantation has been occupied by the Jamisons since it was built, and they were all packrats, so there is a complete record. She sees visions of hundreds of articles and tenure floating before her eyes. However, soon after striking their deal, the old gentleman dies, and Barrett is left having to convince his grandson, who's the new owner of the papers, to continue with the deal.

The new owner is millionaire venture capitalist Davis Jamison, and after some hesitation, he decides to keep the deal (feeling some attraction for Barrett helped, and so did being harassed by some academic rivals of hers, who are also after access to the papers and very willing to talk trash to get it). However, he knows that some of his family are paranoid about unspecified family secrets coming out, so he decides to have Barrett work in his house. And of course, with attraction on both sides, what you would expect to develop does develop.

This was fun. There are three distinct threads developing throughout the book, and Macela handles them well. Every chapter starts with an excerpt from the diary of one of Davis' ancestresses, Mary Maude. She was the wife of the first Jamison to own the plantation, and we track her life from the time she was a newlywed, completely in love with her husband.

As we find out more about Maude, Barrett is cataloguing the Jamison papers and gradually building up a good idea about what these people were like as well. Her work is not helped by the current Jamison family having fits about family secrets coming out, and it was fun to try to guess exactly what those secrets were going to be. I didn't exactly guess, but there's a fair bit of very obvious overshadowing in Mary Maude's bragging about how she and her husband share the love affair of the century, unlike those poor neighbours of hers. The same sense of build-up is there with the actions of Davis' cousin Lloyd, who's rapidly disintegrating under business trouble and his mother's cryptic threats of doom and gloom if those awful secrets were to come out.

Finally, as all this is happening, Davis and Barrett are falling in love. It was a nice romance, too. It develops gradually, as Davis is quite old-fashioned and his strategy is to court Barrett very deliberately. However, beyond that, it's not an old-fashioned relationship at all. Barrett is smart and loves her career, and Davis completely respects her. When the issue comes up at the end of what they're going to do, given that they live in different cities, the solution was really the best for all concerned. All in all, it wasn't the most exciting and passionate romance ever, but it was nice, and well balanced with the rest of what was going on around them.

I'm surprised I'd never heard of Macela before. The writing's good; it's quite smooth and it flows well, and the characters are well drawn. I'll definitely read this author again, even though all her backlist seems to be funny paranormals, which are not really my favourite type.

MY GRADE: A B.

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