Midsummer Lightning
by Kate Ivers
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12884-8
Some of my favorite reads this year have been penned by relatively new or first time authors. Set in a castle in contemporary County Cork Ireland, Kate Ivers' debut novel for Jove's "Irish Eyes" line is worth making a trip to the bookstore to purchase.

American hotel executive Kelly Sullivan is set to become the next VP of her company. Before jetting off to Ireland, her boss implies that the promotion is all but hers after she cements the sale of Whitlock Castle and turns it into a luxury hotel for the company. The O'Meara family has lived at Whitlock for generations. They don't want to leave, but finances dictate otherwise. They agreed to the sale not only because they had to, but also because the CEO of Lawrence Hotels promised on a handshake not to dissemble the castle's interior.

When hard-nosed, strictly business Kelly arrives at Whitlock, she tries not to involve herself with the O'Mearas on a personal level. She has a promotion at stake, after all. But the O'Meara clan - which consists of the sinfully handsome Conor, plus his father and two spinster aunts - are hard not to love. The elders treat Kelly like family and make her feel more welcome and at home than she has ever felt in her life.

Between her burgeoning affection for the elders, her growing love of the Irish countryside and the castle itself, not to mention her steamy affair with Conor, Kelly is done for. So when her boss outlines his intention to gut the interior of the O'Meara family's precious Whitlock in order to turn it into a medieval theme park, she vows to do all she can to stop him.

Conor O'Meara is physically attracted to the snooty Yank the moment he lays eyes on her. He doesn't do anything about their mutual attraction at first because he finds Kelly too prickly to warm up to, but he quickly realizes that she is all bark and no bite. During the time Conor and Kelly work together to figure out a way to save Whitlock Castle from being rendered extinct, Conor grows more and more attached to the feisty American and realizes he now has two problems. Not only must he save his family home from Lawrence Hotels, but he must figure out a way to fix his broken heart if Kelly decides to leave him for her glamorous job when all is said and done...

Kate Ivers has penned some terrific characters. For the first few chapters of the book, Kelly is not a woman any reader will like. She's rude, obnoxious, condescending, and personifies every negative stereotype Europeans have of visiting Americans. But then the author manages to do something not many writers could do: she makes you really, really like Kelly Sullivan.

Usually if you start out lacking empathy for a character, it pretty much stays that way. Ivers' takes the reader through the same maelstrom of emotions about Kelly that the hero experiences - you start out not liking her, get to a point where you think "well, perhaps I'll give her another chance", and before you realize it even happened, you genuinely care about her.

The hero starts out a good guy and stays that way, but that doesn't make him a boring protagonist by any stretch of the imagination. Conor has a lot of internal issues he's dealing with, including the fear that Kelly won't think him good enough to stay in Ireland for. He might be a Mel Gibson look-alike, but that doesn't mean he spreads himself around to every female that bats her eyelashes his way. When Conor gives his heart, it isn't lightly felt. He is vulnerable to Kelly and she has the power to hurt him.

The setting in the Irish countryside is also wonderfully penned...and this bit of praise is coming from a reviewer who usually could care less about the setting in the book so long as the read has a great story line and empathic characters. From Ivers' descriptions of Whitlock Castle, to the quaint country shops, to the neighborhood pub, the backdrop of County Cork is bedazzling.

Midsummer Lightning has a lot to recommend it. Great characters, engaging plot, and a vivid setting. Stop by the bookstore and pick this one up the next time you feel like indulging in a little Irish escapism.

--Tina Engler

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