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A Woman's Heart by JoAnn Ross
Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-551-66461-5
****
JoAnn Ross has fallen in love - with Ireland. Her love for the Irish people, their customs, their myths, their land permeates every page of her latest novel, A Woman's Heart. When the cynical American author Quinn Gallagher falls in love with a lovely Irish woman, Nora Fitzpatrick, he is clearly also falling under the spell of the magic of this mystical land, and the reader shares this magical discovery of love.

Quinn writes horror stories, stories that unleash the monsters within him, beasts that were created during his tragic childhood. One of his books took as its main character the mythical Lady of the Lake, a creature who reputedly lives in a lake near the Irish village of Castlelough. He has come to the west of Ireland with the film crew that is making a movie of his story. A shortage of accommodations has led to his being assigned to stay at the farm of Brady Joyce and his family.

Nora Fitzpatrick is Brady's widowed daughter. Her dashing husband, a steeplechase rider, was killed in a tragic accident. Now she is trying to raise her son as well as serving as mother-substitute for her brother and sisters. She is the heart of the family, but fears that she will be forced to leave her beloved farm to find employment in the city. A paying guest will permit her to postpone this unhappy fate.

This then, is a romance of opposites: the wounded hero who, for all his talent and success, is incomplete because he fears and avoids intimacy and the heroine whose beauty comes from her soul and whose loving heart reaches out and touches and heals.

At first, there seems to be an uncanny resemblance between A Woman's Heart and Nora Roberts novel, Born in Ice. But, at bottom, these are very different books. Roberts' Concannon family was clearly dysfunctional and her heroine was almost as wounded as her hero. But the Joyce family is a very different creation. Yes, Nora has lost her husband and yes, her marriage was less than idyllic. Yes, the Joyces have lost their mother and their story-telling father is sweet rather than successful.

But the Joyces are a warm and loving family and this warmth pulls Quinn in and unthaws his heart almost as much as his growing love for Nora. Ross has created a whole gallery of winning characters, from the young Rory Fitzpatrick who so wants a father to the confused teenager Mary who is on the brink of womanhood to the eccentric grandmother Fionna who is crusading to have an Irish nun made a saint.

Above all, there is the love story between Nora and Quinn. Quinn quickly admits his love and need for Nora, even while he fears that his past and his nature make him unworthy of her love.

This is not a typical Ross novel. Her stories are usually focused and intense and often have a brooding character. A Woman's Heart is rather a sprawling, warm and winning story of the redemptive power of love. There is love aplenty here, familial love, romantic love, sensual love, and even love from beyond the grave. Above all, there is Ross's undoubted love for Ireland, a love her readers will come to share.

--Jean Mason


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