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The Kissing Stars by Geralyn Dawson
(Pocket Books Sonnet, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-671-01518-4
Well, judging from the two pages of glowing quotes that preface the story, Geralyn Dawson has it in her to write very charming, witty, original tales. Unfortunately, The Kissing Stars isn't one of them.

Oh the premise is unique a woman astronomer living in a Victorian-era commune in West Texas is reunited with the husband who disappeared years before. But the story becomes annoyingly predictable. The mysterious kissing stars (the now famed Marfa Mystery Lights) are a great premise that the author basically abandons. She opts instead to shift the focus away from the celestial to the more earthly concerns of bandits, kidnapping, family secrets and about a half dozen additional romance cliches. The hero is a grade A macho man who takes himself way too seriously, and the book's humor is limited to the antics of a the family's beloved pet a pig. How cute.

Tess Cameron, the woman we're told has overcome innumerable obstacles to achieve her independent status, has set herself up in Aurora Springs, Texas, to study the mysterious lights that have also attracted an assorted number of groupies including a divining rod-armed diamond hunter, a turbaned psychic, and a hallucinogenic malaria victim. Into their happy little new age lives marches Whip Montana, Tess's long-lost husband and my vote for the hero with the most ridiculous name.

Tess and Whip (real name Gabe Cameron) split up following the death of Tess's brother over a decade before. So when Tess spies Gabe, the man she thought might very well be dead, in a greased pig catching contest, she is stunned to say the least. For his part, Gabe thought Tess divorced him all those years ago. When he finds out it isn't true, he hightails it to West Texas.

There he finds that Tess has taken up his boyhood passion for the stars. Gabe has long since given up looking at the night sky as penance he blames himself for the death of Tess's brother Billy because he was "stargazing" with Tess when an explosion killed Billy. Of course, he really blames his father for the accident because of something involving a dirty Bunsen burner, so much so that he changed his name to Montana. So Gabe feels a little out of place in Aurora Springs, with so much of life revolving around the kissing stars.

When he finds out that he and Tess are still legally married, Mr. Charm is ready to take full advantage of his connubial rights. He starts giving Tess the bum's rush and she gets all starry eyed and starts worrying about how to tell him all her deep, dark secrets. Every time she tries, Gabe changes the subject or proclaims "I love you" as if that solves everything and makes up for a dozen years of loneliness. Unfortunately, the reader has to put up with far too much of this, "Hey honey I'm home after twelve long years, ain't you glad to see me, gimme some lovin', oh and by the way we're moving to Austin" authoritarian malarkey before Tess finally draws a gun on him and tells him to shut the heck up and stop trying to control her life. But it's a little too late. By then Gabe has a firm grip on Tess's emotions and the independent woman has vanished in the face of the ultimate alpha male.

One gets the feeling when reading The Kissing Stars that author Dawson couldn't quite decide which movie to model the book after "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" or "Shane." The combination of the two simply doesn't work the book's segue from science fiction to horse opera is forced. The truth behind Gabe's dreaded father, the revelations regarding the youngest member of the Aurora Springs commune and the identity of the bad guy are obvious from the start. What's more, the kidnapping plot that becomes the book's focal point was a major miscalculation on the part of the author. She should have stuck with the stars.

--Ann McGuire

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