Pandora's Box
by Natale Stenzel
(Love Spell, 6.99, PG-13) ISBN  978-050552752-3
***
English teacher Pandemina Avery's painfully normal life has taken the fast track to the toilet: she found her boyfriend (who also happens to be the superintendent of schools as well as co-signer on her mortgage) in their bed with the head of the PTA, she subsequently lost her job, and she doesn't have the savings to fix up her house so she can sell it and she also doesn't have the money to pay to live there.

Things are looking up when Mina is informed that she's got an inheritance coming from a distant cousin in England. Apparently, the Avebury branch of Mina's mother's side of the family are sticklers for passing their inheritance to an unmarried female of the bloodline. When Mina finds out that the inheritance is really just a rock, she's less than enthused. Discovering that it comes with a letter for her eyes only doesn't improve her mood. She lugs the cornerstone home to find the contractor she's not sure she can pay in her front yard.

Well, maybe things are looking up a little more than she thought; Teague's poster-on-a-fourteen-year-old-girl's-wall hot and he's nice to boot. However, Mina digs into prying open the cornerstone before she reads her letter, and pandemonium (okay, wrong Greek, so sue me) ensues. First, the outside wall of her kitchen explodes, demolishing it. Mina is whacked in the head by her inheritance and suffers a slight concussion, which leads to hearing voices in her head and driving Teague to distraction with worry.

Only, it turns out the voice she's hearing is the family puca - her true inheritance. The puca, Riordan, was cursed two milennia ago by an angry Druid supposedly protect his daughter's virtue. Since the Avebury family was also somehow involved, their single daughters won the task of acting as guardian to the errant (and unabashed) puca.

Even when Riordan isn't wandering around in animal form or in his faceless human form (for reasons unbeknownst to Mina, she is not allowed to see his face), he can still get into her thoughts, which makes pursuing a relationship - or even a quick dalliance - with her carpenter a little less than comfortable, especially since Riordan is a bit of a trickster. Mina still manages to develop a somewhat uneasy relationship with Teague. Unfortunately for her already frazzled frame of mind, Mina has growing feelings for Riordan. However, consummating that relationship sends a real wrench into the works. Now, their problem isn't finding a cure for Riordan's curse - now that problem is that their relationship has altered the curse and made it unbreakable.

The book went from pretty close to a five-heart rating to three at this point. We're still sixty pages from the end, and this is pretty clearly the climax. Unfortunately for Stenzel and her readers, at this juncture she veers into Mina mending her relationship with her family and confronting her absentee father, all in the name of saving Riordan. There is valuable information to be learned during this last chunk of the book; it just should have been including in earlier segments.

So what you have, in essence, is a fairly harmless (if a little off-kilter) fairy tale. The female characters in this book are wonderful: they're colorful, outspoken, and individualistic down to their toenails. The men may not shine as much, but that personally did not trouble me too much; Stenzel has done a good job of letting you know what you need to know, even if the detail is absent.

If the ending is lame, so what? We're talking about cursed faerie-borne men falling in love with school teachers here. The ending didn't live up to the fun-loving, witty comedy of errors that precedes it, but Pandora's Box is still well-worth the read. And if there are ends left loose that perhaps should not have been, Stenzel is working on a follow-up and will have a well-deserved opportunity to redeem herself - and answer our questions.

--Sarrah Knight


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