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A Pocketful of Paradise
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This Time for Keeps
by Kathleen Kane
(St. Martins, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-312-96509-5
***
Word of mouth recommendations and the back blurb are what convinced me to buy and read This Time for Keeps. The recommendations were glowing, and the back blurb was intriguing. After finishing the book, I decided that people's interpretations and expectations are different, which makes life interesting. While I did enjoy This Time For Keeps, I was expecting too much. I believed the hype.

Tracy Hill has just died – for the eighth time – each time the victim of a freak accident. This time a bowling ball handled by someone who's just eaten greasy french fries does her in. The ball slips and is airborne – the wrong way. End of Tracy. Of course, she should be used to it by now. In past lives, beginning in 1320, her knight in shining armor trampled her. In 1912, she drowned on the Titanic – in a vat of beer – the night before it sank!

Tired of the whole thing and not wanting to be reincarnated for the ninth time, she's got some demands when she meets the Heaven "Resettlement Committee." If she's got to go back to Earth, she wants to be healthy, wealthy and impervious to love. They agree to her demands and promise that she'll live into her nineties. The celestial threesome leave out one detail. Tracy is heading for 1875 Montana, not returning to 1998.

Tracy awakens in the body of Nora Wilding, previously a sickly woman with little backbone. Not anymore. Now she's a spunky woman who's determined to make the best of being in the wrong century. Before being placed in Nora's body, the Resettlement Committee told Tracy that she had a one month window in which she could contact them. On her first attempt, she gets a busy signal. Later she's put on hold. She's trying to contact them to complain about her time placement AND Seth Murdoch, her ranch foreman. He's just a little too familiar for her comfort. Seems that he's been in her past eight lives. Each time they became engaged, Tracy died. This time she's determined to avoid Seth and thus prevent her early demise. Eluding Seth is as impossible this time as it has been in her past lives. He is her forever love.

Twentieth-century Tracy is smart, successful and assertive. Yet as Nora she makes no attempt to acclimate to 1875 mores. She immediately throws away all her corsets, buys jeans from the mercantile and spends an hour stone washing them. She wants to determine her wealth and demands a month-early cattle round up, refusing to listen as Seth explains how impossible it is to find cowhands that early. The only time she's interested in propriety is when she realizes that, with a tarnished reputation, she'll be unable to sell her cows and will lose her wealth. Instead of being a refreshingly honest, open character, her snubbing of all conventions is a bit tedious. She was just a tad too vinegary.

The secondary characters of Richard, who claims to be her fiancé, and his sister Elizabeth are caricatures from the beginning. They telegraph their motives. Tracy is assertive until it really matters, then lets Richard and Elizabeth walk all over her. She's more than willing to berate Seth on his attitude, but seems brain dead when it comes to the machinations of Richard and Elizabeth. One of the less memorable scenes involves Richard sneaking into her bedroom, kissing her and then claiming that they're compromised and must marry. Why twentieth-century Tracy didn't decimate him with her sarcasm still baffles me.

The story does have it humorous moments but the running joke of calling Seth by twentieth- century names becomes wearisome. She mentions that she doesn't like endearments, but continues for the whole book alternately to call him Kemosabe, Hoss, Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood, etc. Does Seth ever really demand an explanation? No, he just accepts impassively that this woman is a new, if not improved, Nora. At one point, his true thoughts are revealed.
Nora Wilding's bread wasn't quite done.
Her horse was missing one shoe.
Her train had run out of track.
Nora Wilding was crazy as a bedbug.

Seth and Nora share a past, and each is becoming more aware of their past connections each day. What Seth calls his dreams are really his remembrance of past lives. I did get a warm feeling when Seth finally accepts that he and Nora are each other's destiny. I also got a tingly feeling when they decided that the middle of a sun-warmed meadow might be an enjoyable spot to . . . dally.

Had Tracy/Nora not snubbed her nose at 1875 life, had she not frequently talked about twentieth-century occurrences as if everyone should understand, had she been more savvy to 1875 attitudes, this story might have worked for me. Yes, there are laugh-aloud moments. However, the heroine's refusal to use her smarts instead of being so adversarial lessened the story's credibility. Smart is as smart does.

If you want to read more by Kathleen Kane, she also writes under the names of Maureen Child, Ann Carberry and Sarah Hart. That should keep you busy for a while.

--Linda Mowery


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