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The Highwayman's Daughter
by Anne Avery
(Lovespell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-505-52259-4
***
Well, my friends, I am going to let you in on the secret of rating books. I have an incredibly scientific method known as the put down/pick up scale. My rating of any book depends on how easy it is to put said book down, and how anxious I am to pick it up again. Using this measure, Anne Avery's contribution to Lovespell's Legendary Heroes series garners a three heart rating.

Let me explain. I started reading The Highwayman's Daughter Thursday evening, but put it down without any regret when dreamland called. Then, on Friday, I proceeded to read three other books before I picked it up again on Saturday afternoon. But picking it up did not cause me any psychic pain. Hence, three hearts!

Actually, I started out rather intrigued by what Avery set out to do: to use the well-known Alfred Noyes poem, The Highwayman as the basis for her particular take on the "Legendary Lover" theme. But, if you know that poem (and I, like Avery, remember it from childhood), then you know that a HEA is not in the cards for our star-crossed lovers. Instead, Avery chooses to create a story for the daughter they left behind when they died for love.

Lizzie Tynsdale runs the King George Inn in a remote part of Yorkshire. She inherited it from her grandfather, who had raised her after the unfortunate demise of her parents a quarter of a century earlier. Lizzie knows all too well the cost of letting emotions rule over reason, and she has kept herself heart free despite the attractions of her person and her property. (That many of her suitors had strange misadventures while visiting the inn she attributes to coincidence.) But the handsome stranger with the colonial accent whose intense gaze follows her around the taproom she simply can't understand why he makes her feel so self-conscious.

John Francis Carleton has come to Yorkshire at the behest of his recently deceased father. His purpose is not to heal the family rift that led his father to seek his fortune in America. Rather, he has come to let his uncle, Lord Malloren, know that his title and property will in fact pass to the son of the brother he hated and drove away. He is also there to meet the mysterious Mr. Randall with another, more friendly final message from his father. He certainly had no intention of falling in love with a prickly innkeeper.

But Lord Malloren does not willingly accept his nephew's claims. Rather, he chooses to use his position as magistrate and his power over the local military commander, the slimy Lieutenant Lamberre, to squash this inconvenient claimant. And so, John must flee from danger, and like her mother Lizzie finds herself protecting a man from the king's soldiers.

There is nothing especially wrong with this book. Certainly, Lizzie and John are good characters, and I especially appreciated the fact that she was the kind of heroine who could save herself and her beloved. I suppose I am not always enthralled with paranormal elements in my romances, but the particular ghosts in The Highwayman's Daughter were entertaining enough. Certainly, Avery created her usual fine cast of colorful secondary characters.

But despite the fact that I am an admirer of Avery's previous books and impressed with the breadth of her talent (How many writers can move from futuristics, to sweet Americanas, to westerns, to 18th century English paranormals?), The Highwayman's Daughter simply did not grab me. I disagree with those who insist that reviewing is simply a matter of personal opinion. I believe there are some standard criteria that we can apply to evaluate a book. But sometimes, it does seem to come down to a matter of taste.

The Highwayman's Daughter was too easy to put down, and having been put down, too easy to ignore. So, I must evaluate it as merely an acceptable read, although others may find it more entertaining.

--Jean Mason


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