From the Heart by Nora Roberts
(Jove, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-515-11965-2
Reading a collection of reissued Nora Roberts novels is more fun than reading 90% of the new romances that are on the shelves today, in my opinion. I had vague recollections of reading these stories long ago, but they were still an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Whether you are a long-time Nora fan or a Nora-come-lately fan, this isn't a bad investment as you wait for your next Nora fix.

From The Heart contains three Silhouette novels, first published in 1983 and 1984.

Tonight and Always, the first one, is the weakest. I'd give it three hearts. The romance between Kasey, the free-spirited anthropologist, and Jordan, the wealthy writer, was a little too cliched for my taste. The domineering Society mother who forces apart the lovers is a dated plot device. The relationship between Kasey and Jordan's orphaned niece was the most poignant part of the story, as Kasey's love transforms the niece from a lonely and too quiet little lady into a giggling girl who discovers a predilection for making mud pies.

The second and third stories are much stronger, fully deserving of four hearts. In A Matter of Choice, Jessica Winslow, an antique store owner, matches wits with James Sladerman, a policeman who is sent to protect her and break up an international smuggling ring (Nora-philes will see the predecessors of the characters in her later, superb hardcover novel, Hidden Riches). A Matter of Choice has the benefit of three-dimensional characters and a nice mystery that keeps the suspense building.

The third story, Endings and Beginnings, was my favorite of the collection. It is a Front Page-type romance centered on two competing television reporters. The heroine, Olivia, carries a tragic secret that prevents her from becoming deeply involved with men. The hero, T.C. Thorpe, begins his quest to win Olivia as almost a strategic challenge. The character development is excellent, as Olivia slowly comes out of her protective shell and Thorpe reaches inside himself to find the tenderness and understanding Olivia needs. When the tragedy in Olivia's past is revealed, I reached for the Kleenex. One powerful story.

Re-reading these novels after so long caused me to reflect on the reasons that Nora Roberts was leagues beyond any other Silhouette authors in the 1980s and why she has had such tremendous success. I think it boils down to several factors:

  • She has an ear for sparkling dialogue. You feel as if you are watching a good Katherine Hepburn - Spencer Tracy movie. Maybe in real life people aren't this witty and articulate, but they should be.

  • She knows how to capture the chemistry between a man and a woman. She builds romantic tension and diffuses it through love scenes that are always tasteful and lyrical, but never clinical.

  • Her characters are varied and usually three-dimensional. The characters in From the Heart grow through their experiences and are remarkably complex, considering the Silhouette format and restrictions.

Readers should be relieved that the author is not choosing to either "embellish" an earlier series romance and reissue it as a full-length novel or publish an old series romance in a hardcover version, as some authors have done. At little more than $2.15 per story, you're getting your money's worth if you buy From the Heart.

--Susan Scribner

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