Taming Rowan

Wild Irish Rogue by Suzanne Barrett
(Bouquet #53, $3.99, PG-13) 0-8217-6649-X
There were many reasons why I wanted to like Wild Irish Rogue: for one, the hero is an aspiring writer with red hair, which is a refreshing change from the crowd of dark-haired billionaires populating category romances these days. Unfortunately, the pleasing idiosyncrasies of this novel were lost in weak characterization, among other problems.

Declan Walsh is just inches away from being deported to his native Ireland, due to a misunderstanding with an ex-boss and an INS officer who has his guns out for him. So he decides to lay low for a while by keeping away from work sites where the officials could come looking for him. His cousin Tim sets him up in a carpentry job, a job for which he is ill-qualified, at the dilapidated California home of two sisters and their aunt, an offbeat, vegetarian trio.

Declan can tell by first looking at Justine Farris that she's a "rules" person, and that rankles him, though he's immediately attracted to her. That was probably one of the best parts of this book, because I could feel Declan's need to shake Justine's orderly world up a bit.

The problem is that Justine is about to be married to this arrogant boor named James Petrie, a high school teacher who wears his intellect on his sleeve, along with his bad manners. She realizes as soon as she meets Declan that she's never felt a similar level of attraction to her betrothed. The Irishman's proximity rattles her comfortable little world.

When the INS comes sniffing a little too close to Declan, Justine tells officials that they're married so he won't be deported. Of course, James isn't too happy about this, but Declan, who makes it clear to everyone from the beginning that he wants Justine, is thrilled.

This is where the book really fell apart for me. While Declan's attraction to Justine was clear, it seemed totally out of character for Justine to tell such a bald-face lie to immigration officials to keep Declan in the country. Her attraction to him wasn't as clear-cut. It was also highly unbelievable that telling such a lie would prevent Declan from being deported. Once the INS saw that there was no marriage license on the day they caught up with Declan, he'd be stuffed in an Aer Lingus jet and sent back to Dublin faster than you can say "green card."

Justine's character annoyed me. It was clear from the beginning of the book that there was no great love between her and James Petrie, and I wondered why she even agreed to marry him. He was such an unlikable character, that it reflected badly on her that she would even hang out with him, not to mention spend the rest of her life with him. In that respect, it was a good thing Declan came along. I also thought it was a little unrealistic that Justine was the sole breadwinner for her family; not only did she have this miserable marriage to look forward to, but she also had the burden of running a failing bookstore to keep her aunt and grown sister in aromatherapy classes.

The book is also very confusing. In one scene, Justine is "overhearing" a conversation between Declan and his cousin, but then she "disappears" as the point of view shifts to Declan. It wasn't very clear if Justine walked away, or if she heard the whole conversation. Further along in the story, Justine remembers a harrowing dating experience. The author hints that this was somehow a big issue for the character, but then no mention is made of it ever again. Declan is also supposed to be a writer; he talks about having a publisher, but there is little evidence of his craft except for a few scenes where we works on a manuscript. Wouldn't he have some books to show Justine? As a bookseller, wouldn't she have taken more interest in his writing? Lastly, the character of Justine's sister, Willow, is simply bizarre. She is supposed to be a free spirit, but she spends most of the book angry and bitter at her sister for treating James so badly -- a man she herself covets. Declan doesn't fare much better with Willow's moods. She seems to take an instant dislike to him for a reason that's not clear in the book.

I think that this could have been a good story with better characterization. Justine's Aunt Laverne and Declan's cousin Tim were interesting characters and could have played a bigger role in the book, but they seemed almost prop-like as they helped move the plot along. Willow needed to be, like, on a chill pill, and the whole engagement thing between Justine and James should have been scratched out of the first draft. The author has a deft touch with humor (I really could empathize with Declan's distaste for vegetarian foods) and she does a nice job illustrating Declan's Irish ways, but not enough for me to recommend this book.

--Diana Burrell

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