Carried Away

Heat of the Night

The Legend MacKinnon

Legend of the Sorcerer

The Royal Hunter

Tease Me

Walk on the Wild Side

Your Wish is My Command

The Charm Stone by Donna Kauffman
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58457-X
Donna Kauffman is usually an entertaining author, but an unappealing male lead and too much reliance on Fate and Destiny to explain the connection between hero and heroine made The Charm Stone a less than satisfactory reading experience. And that’s a shame, because the delightful heroine deserved a better mate.

Professional surf board artist Josie Griffin (when’s the last time you encountered a heroine in that line of work?) is relaxing by catching a few waves near her South Carolina home, when she crashes into an old treasure chest containing an unusual necklace. When she puts it on, she is immediately confronted by a pint-sized man named Bagan, who informs Josie that she now belongs to his laird, an 18th century Scottish clan leader. Josie uneasily brushes aside Bagan’s warnings that she must go face her Destiny, but when she coincidentally ends up taking her father’s place on a business trip to Scotland, she figures it can’t hurt to look up the MacNeil clan that Bagan is blathering on about and give the necklace back to the family.

Josie finds herself on the small island of Glenmuir, where the last MacNeil died hundreds of years ago and the population has since dwindled to a handful of elderly residents. When Josie explores the ruins of the clan’s old castle, she meets Connal MacNeil, a ghost who has waited patiently for 300 years to meet the woman who bears the charm stone necklace. He can be patient no longer, though; Josie is his, and she must bear his son to carry on the MacNeil line. After all, he sold his soul to the gods to make sure his death wouldn’t be in vain.

Josie’s flattered by the offer, and Connal is a compelling hunk even if he is rather on the dour side, but she has no plans to become his or anyone else’s brood mare. So she’ll just be on her merry way, thank you. Except that the ferry back to the mainland has been flooded out. And the charming Glenmuir townspeople try to convince her to give them surfing lessons. And although she doesn’t want to get pregnant, she wouldn’t mind having a “Highland fling” with the ghostly but nonetheless sexy Connal.

It’s easy to identify the book’s strength - its heroine. Josie Griffin is a strong, cheerful, virtually neurosis-free character who has a rewarding career and a good relationship with her father (she doesn’t even mind that he named her after a cartoon character). Her growing bond with the colorful Glenmuir inhabitants works well because Josie never treats them like kooky senior citizens. Josie’s actions when the situation looks bleakest prove her to be a creative, assertive woman who thinks outside the box. She would have made a great corporate business leader, and how many ditzy romance heroines can claim that honor?

Too bad she’s stuck with such a dud. Fate and Destiny may be leading Josie towards Connal, but I couldn’t see any compelling reason for her to stay with him. He’s humorless and arrogant, and his rants about the gods, Fate and Destiny quickly become tiresome (in fact, Fate and Destiny are mentioned so often that they almost seemed like secondary characters). And don’t get me started on Connal’s Scottish brogue, I ken ye have already encountered no’ a wee bit too much of it in yer readings - and so have I.

The plot degenerates almost past redemption when Connal and Bagan plot to steal Josie’s birth control pills. That type of controlling behavior borders on abuse, and the whole question of will-she-or-won’t-she get pregnant is not my idea of interesting internal conflict. Connal redeems himself towards the end of the book, but I would have been happier to see Josie end up with one of the seventy-year old men from Glenmuir.

Donna Kauffman has written other, far more enchanting paranormal romances. I much prefer the reclusive loner heroes of The Royal Hunter and Legend of the Sorcerer to this bonehead alpha. Send him to charm school and let Josie swim far away from him.

--Susan Scribner

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