Rhapsody by Felicia Mason
(Thorndike Press, $25.95, PG) ISBN 0-7862-1474-0
****
"Sometimes I wonder if my life would have been different had Billy wanted me enough to stay. I know that eventually I'll fall in love with someone. I'll marry him, have his children and be a good wife and mother. But a part of me, well, a part of me will always regret what I didn't have with Billy Dixon."

How many of you, given the chance, would spend a secluded week alone with that one great love of your life? You know, the one who got away . . . What would you do? Would he look the same? How would you act together after fifteen years apart? What would you talk about?

That's the dilemma Lenore Foxwood faces in Rhapsody. Not that anyone's been counting, but "fifteen years, eight months, three weeks and a day" have passed since Lenore last saw her college sweetheart, Billy Dixon.

Billy has made his mark as "Buster Dixon" and "Buster D," a successful singer, songwriter and producer. But to Lenore, Billy was her first love, the man who inspired her master's thesis, broke her heart and changed her life. Lenore is now Dr. Lenore Foxwood, an English professor at a small Midwestern university. For more than fifteen years, Lenore has been Billy's muse.

When millionaire Marvin Woodbridge, a mutual friend and Billy's college roommate, died he made a bizarre bequest that brought the two lovers face-to-face at the reading of the will. A stipulation in Marvin's will left Lenore a sizeable sum plus one million dollars to endow a scholarship fund for needy students if she spent an entire week with Billy in "shared living quarters." Marvin's motives for the bequest were not altruistic. Billy abruptly left college and Lenore to pursue a chance in the music business. Jealous of her relationship with Billy, Marvin withheld the letters she wrote to Billy.

Rhapsody is a story of sex, lies and audiotapes. It's also about second chances and big misunderstandings. Felicia Mason breathes life into what could have been a very contrived take on a familiar premise. She injects humor, style, emotion and even a few surprises. The dialogue is snappy and the pacing is rhythmic. There are several interesting plot twists that make this book a page-turner.

The characterization is, for the most part, plausible. There are some very funny scenes that merge Lenore's staid, straight-laced Midwestern persona and Billy's laid-back funky California alter-ego, Buster.

Felicia Mason is one of my favorite writers. When she's not writing award-winning romances, she has a full-time journalism career. She is, for me, a writer's writer. She knows how to tell a great story and she has a healthy professional respect for the written word.

Her 1995 novel, Body and Soul, was the first multicultural I'd ever read. Her story of a May-December romance single-handedly sparked my interest in the genre. (Rights to the novel have been optioned for television.) Her novels, along with those by Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson and Gay G. Gunn, are automatic must-reads for me. Three of the stories on my Top Ten List were written by Felicia Mason. You can't go wrong with Rhapsody or anything else from her backlist.

Note:

Rhapsody was first released by Arabesque in September 1997. Thorndike Press has reissued it in a hardbound, large-type version, making it available to a wider audience. (Copies of Arabesque's small-type, paperback version are also still available.)

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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