by Julie Garwood
(Ballantine, $26, PG-13) ISBN978-0-345-50077-9
Anecdotal evidence (that great proof for whatever one wants to prove) suggests to me that there are two kinds of Julie Garwood fans:  those that love her historicals but can’t stand her contemporaries and those who like her contemporaries but avoid her historicals like the plague.  Count me among the latter readers.  While I have enjoyed just about every one of Garwood’s contemporaries, some more than others (Mercy is my favorite and is a regular reread), I’ve been unable to finish any of her historicals.  I finished Sizzle in record time and find it to be her most enjoyable contemporary since Mercy.

Like all of Garwood’s romantic suspense tales, Sizzle has a connection to the Buchanan clan, that extensive family filled FBI agents and prosecutors and special forces guys.  What genes!  The connection in this story is Sydney Buchanan, the youngest sibling and Lyra Prescott’s roommate.  When two thugs break into the apartment that Lyra and Sydney share, knock the latter unconscious, and plan to kidnap the former, the Buchanan connection moves into high gear.  Within twenty-four hours, two FBI agents are on the scene to protect the women.  Lyra’s protector is Sam Kincaid, an FBI language specialist with an irresistible Scottish accent and a face and body like, I don’t know, whose the latest hunk?

Lyra seems an unlikely target for a kidnapping plot.  A documentary film graduate student in Los Angeles, she is focused on finishing up her degree and protecting her beloved grandmother from her parents’ greed.  Her final class project – using time-lapsed filming to document the destruction of a once lovely neighborhood park by illegal dumpers – is taking all of her time.  She is a bit annoyed when her grandmother’s parish priest demands that she come home to San Diego and convince her Gigi to stop stealing the holy water.  But she does have time on the way to stop at a most unusual yard sale and pick up some great old books and CD’s. This will have interesting consequences.

Sam Kincaid is free to rush to Lyra’s side because he is on a good-will trip, giving speeches about his work with the FBI.  (Garwood’s heroes often seem to find themselves giving speeches and workshops; I guess it’s as good a way as any to give them the space from every day supervision to become romantic heroes.) Lyra is immediately drawn to her protector; the proverbial sparks fly; Sam is proverbially unready for romance; the proverbial danger brings them together; and they proverbially live happily ever after. 

Okay, the plot, the hero and the heroine in Sizzle  are completely, shall I say, proverbial.  Garwood has a formula and she sticks to it.  But she does formula so very, very well and makes it so much fun.  Sure, we like Lyra and Sam, but what makes the book so enjoyable are the off-beat and humorous secondary characters: the pompously liberal tyrannical artsy egomaniac film professor (history professors are nothing like Dr.Mahler, I assure you); the amazingly inept and unbelievably lucky muscle and aspiring hitman, Milo; the delightfully eccentric grandmother and her sneaking gardening competitor .  Sure, there is suspense and danger and murder in Sizzle.  Garwood does a fine job of leaving the reader wondering who is the bad guy.  But what makes this book a recommended read is the humor and nobody does humorous romantic suspense in a voice quite like Garwood’s.

I think that Garwood’s unique voice is what keeps this reader from enjoying her historicals.  It is so completely contemporary that I cannot believe in the past she creates.  But when she applies her voice to a novel like Sizzle, I just sit back and enjoy the ride.   

--Jean Mason

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