Again by Sharon Cullars
(Brava, $14.00, R) ISBN 0-7582-1370-0
With most books I review, itís easy to assign a grade. In fact, I often donít have to think about it ó itís simply become intuitive. Sharon Cullarsí Again offered an interesting challenge when it came time to rate it. While not a conventional romance, the bookís strengths make it a story I recommend.

Tyne Jensen has trouble sleeping. In her dreams, sheís haunted by a man who satisfies her sexually before saying ďWeíre going to be together foreverĒ in an ominous voice. Her dream lover has no face, and he both attracts and frightens her.

David Carvelli experiences similar dreams, except his are about a woman who tempts him, then tortures him by walking away. The dreams are bittersweet ó even as he hates them, he welcomes them.

When David and Tyne meet at a wedding, both feel a sense of familiarity that culminates in a relationship now that began in a previous life.

The first thing that should be said about Again is itís not a conventional romance novel. Yes, it has an optimistic ending, one I found satisfying, but I suspect some readers wonít agree. If you want a story full of sweetness and light, youíll be wise to pass this one by.

Second, be aware that the book deals with something thatís often an issue in stories of reincarnation ó the level of control and free-will the characters have if they are acting on what occurred in a previous life. This issue takes some dramatic turns toward the end of the novel.

If you can get past these things, youíll find that Again is a hauntingly beautiful story that alternates between the star-crossed affair of a white man and black woman in 1880 New York, and the contemporary relationship set in Chicago 2006. While itís obvious from the beginning that things ended badly in the historical relationship, the full details unfold slowly throughout the book.

Tyne and Davidís relationship is more optimistic at first, although Tyne finds herself oddly reluctant, which makes her want to pull back. The relationship is largely a physical one that both characters enjoy until a flash from the past threatens to ruin everything.

Though not usually fond of stories with multiple points of view with frequent switches between them (none that qualify as head-hopping, by the way), the format works perfectly with this story and shows adept skill with pacing.

While the pacing is good, Cullarsí beautiful language is even better. At times exquisite and lyrical, it made the book lovely to read.

If thereís one thing I wish had been different, itís the ending. I mentioned earlier that itís optimistic, and under the circumstances, itís entirely fitting. However, the historical relationship ended so badly that I needed more than a hint of a positive future for Tyne and David.

Nevertheless, Again offers an engaging story that stands out from the norm. I canít wait for Sharon Cullarsí next release.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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