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Monday, January 18, 2010

Loving Luke by Jenny Andersen

Loving Luke by Jenny Andersen
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (282 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Edelweiss

Luke Stone has spent ten years in prison for someone else’s crime. The last thing he wants when he gets out is to return to the town whose people falsely accused him, but a man with no possessions, no home, and no future has little choice.

Hannah Bluefield has loved Luke all her life, but he doesn’t know it. She knows he's innocent, and his parole is a godsend. Luke needs a job. Her struggling ranch needs a strong back. And Hannah needs to know if she’ll ever mean as much to him as he does to her.

Luke wants desperately to leave Stone’s Crossing, but he can’t resist his attraction to Hannah. Can he put aside his past and let himself care for her, or will the pull of freedom be too much?
Loving Luke by Jenny Andersen is an unusual love story because it is so straightforward and direct. Hannah loves Luke full throttle from page one and the question is how and whether she will land him for keeps. As a child, she loved him as the unattainable older boy, and she still loves him as a single woman running a horse training ranch as she nears thirty. Problem is that Luke has been imprisoned ten years for a crime he didn’t commit. Even after Hannah executes a clever plan for convincing the parole board to set him free, her challenges have only begun. Although not bitter, Luke is scarred by his experience, including the unfaithfulness of his first wife--which disillusions him to further romance. He’d prefer to focus his energies exclusively on proving his innocence, but some members of the home town crowd are determined to end his freedom. The mystery segment of the story centers on why that is happening in such a virulent way and on resolution of the original murder that sent Luke to prison.

The strength of this book is its prose. It is spare and compact, and as energetically fast moving as you’ll find anywhere. And it starts off so swiftly that it’s like sledding down a slope you didn’t realize was sheer ice. Suddenly you’re there, racing inside a story of love and suspense. Part of this feeling of being catapulted into the drama is the fast plot pacing of the early chapters. Here there are many unexpected turns and this part of the story, propelled even faster by the lightning prose, is exhilarating to read.

It is hard to cover a specialized subject in a book of this scope, and few authors do it well. But Andersen does a good job of introducing us to the fine points of horse training and the culture of ranching life. City slickers will learn a few things and in an interesting, effortless way. I stumbled, though, over the story’s setting. The dialogue is well done, contributing to the successful characterizations. But the drawling cadences took me to West Texas or Oklahoma, not to Northern California where the story takes place.

This book does have a few flaws. Some plot developments in the book’s middle third have a recurring quality to them that seems repetitious. These are related to the crime plot and at least one of them should have been edited out. Another issue is that the villain of the piece does not behave consistently. So the author has to give him a kind of split personality to make the pieces of the mystery converge.

But the weakness of the mystery is more than compensated by the romance. Hannah’s story in Loving Luke is a glorious expression of unconditional love, as exhilarating to read about as it is rare in real life.