A Time For Us by Christine Holden
(Jove, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-515-12375-7
A Time for Us is the first novel by newcomer Christine Holden. Any first novel will have its share of problems but unfortunately A Time for Us is burdened with more than its fair share.

The story begins in England in the early 1400s, with lovely Ailith deCotmer facing a trying situation. Either she submit to her liege lord's lust, or he will throw her beloved parents in the dungeon. Disliking either option, Ailith declares she would rather do time in the dungeon herself before becoming Lord Preston's leman. Handsome and virile he may be, but he has much to be desired in the areas of tact and diplomacy. In short, he's a brute.

How does Ailith escape? Quite accidentally, as it happens. After she encounters a magician at a fair, she touches a mysterious orb and is immediately whisked forward to 1998 New Orleans.

Ailith awakes to find herself at a medieval fair of a different sort, such as those enjoyed by Living History buffs. The event is hosted by Joshua Kenley, who just happens to be the descendent of the lecherous Lord Preston. Coincidentally, Joshua is also Lord Preston's identical twin er, identical distant progeny. The resemblance is so uncanny that Ailith at first mistakes Joshua for Lord Preston. Joshua, unlike Lord Preston, is presumably much nicer.

Joshua, a rich, handsome, single, heterosexual antique dealer and medieval enthusiast, is quite discomposed by the sudden appearance of the exquisite Ailith. Ailith further flusters Joshua by speaking medieval French and antiquated English. Fetching as she is, Joshua shoos her off, thinking she is one of the fair revelers. Or a weirdo.

Ailith, however, has nowhere to go. Though she is discombobulated by landing five centuries in the future, she still has the wits to sneak into Joshua's house, and hide out in his clothes closet. There, snugly ensconced in his voluminous wardrobe, she munches on purloined cookies and observes Joshua dress and undress. Her tenure in Joshua's closet serves as her education in everything 20th century. Not only does she wisely use her time to pick up contemporary English, but learns about such modern devices as TV, telephones, and flush toilets.

Eventually, Joshua discovers his secret lodger, but rather than call the police, offers to let her stay. He even allows her to chastely! share his bed. Though he briefly considers if she might be an amazing con artist, a serial murderess or a lunatic, he is utterly smitten by her beauty. Concluding that she must be an amnesiac, Joshua resolves to help her but on one condition. That is, that she continue hiding in his closet so his interfering mother and bitchy girlfriend don't find out.

However, Ailith's charms are so irresistible that over the ensuing weeks, Joshua falls as helplessly in love with her as she has with him. But can he ever believe her unbelievable story? Will Ailith ever return to 1413? What about Joshua's interfering mother and bitchy girlfriend? Has Lord Preston thrown Ailith's beloved parents in the dungeon? Pressing concerns indeed but sometimes I found the story so hard to read it seemed the pages were cast from lead.

The plot of A Time for Us, though oft used and conventional, is basically sound; but I had difficulty involving myself because of the way the story is written. The writing itself sometimes showed promise, but at other times was awkward and plodding. For every lively sentence, there are five cliched phrases culled from other romance-novels, and the dialogue veered from the wooden to the cutesy. Furthermore, there were factual errors Days of Our Lives fans will be surprised that in August 1998, Ailith watches an episode of the soap opera where Marlena is still possessed. Poor Marlena.

But the technical problems would be less noticeable, had the characters not been lifeless cardboard cut-outs. Ailith is a generic romance heroine: sweet, wide-eyed, virtuous and innocent, and dumb enough to imbue the previous qualities with a childlike charm. Though her adventures exploring a flush toilet or a refrigerator are amusing, they have been done better elsewhere. And I really hated being reminded at every turn that Ailith is beautiful, heartstopping, breath-taking, precious, adorable. Geez, where is Janeane Garofalo when we need her?

Joshua is no improvement. Though gorgeous of face and physique, he seemed underendowed when it comes to the organ located betwixt his ears. The plenteous "shits" and "damns" peppering his vocabulary are meant, I suppose, to denote his masculinity, and distinguish his point-of-view from Ailith's. Instead, Joshua impressed me as being linguistically impaired, and a downright pantywaist when it comes to his mother. As a reader, being privy to his juvenile interior monologues are about as romantically rewarding as eavesdropping on a swarm of fourteen-year-old boys in a locker room.

Thus, since I found the hero and heroine unconvincing, none of their emotional responses struck me as genuine. This is a critical failing indeed in a romance.

Despite that I found it a wearisome read, A Time for Us did show some potential. I only wish that a good editor had pointed out its problems before I had to.

--Meredith Moore

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