Letters to Kelly
Grade : B-

Letters to Kelly takes a lot of risks in a relatively short book. Any one of them would make this stand out as a series romance; the sum total, however, interesting as they all are, make the book a little too crowded to work everything out in 250 pages. Author Brockmann wrote this book very early in her career - it would have been her second published book had Meteor's Kismet line not gone defunct in 1993 - which may explain why it's not her best work.

Kelly O'Brien is a college student of 23 when T. Jackson Winchester (T. to Kelly, Jax to everyone else) suddenly reappears in her life after an absence of seven years. They have a history together but Kelly doesn't want to revive anything. She's getting over a short, disastrous marriage and doesn't trust her instincts about men, particularly since Jax already broke her heart once.

What we know, but Kelly doesn't, is that Jax's disappearance from Kelly's life wasn't entirely voluntary. He spent several years in a Central American prison, where he kept his sanity by composing the titular letters. He also began writing fiction, and has parlayed that into a successful career as a romance novelist since his return to society.

If you've done the math in that second paragraph, you will see that Jax's history with Kelly did indeed occur when she was sixteen. He was 22 at the time. Not only did they have an actual date at that time, it was also the occasion when he admits to himself that he already loves Kelly, and has for some time.

I will say up front that this was handled as well as it possibly could be in the book. Kelly comes off as mature enough to handle the situation, and Jax is appropriately appalled at himself and fearful of ruining Kelly's life. Secondary characters raise the obvious problems with the relationship and force Jax and the reader to really face what's going on. Jax intends to chastely date her until she turns 18 and then propose; however we can see immediately that there is no way that will work. Also, eighteen still seems way too young. So in a way it's good that things go awry for seven years. Nevertheless, the age difference and the age at which the relationship begins will certainly be disturbing and even a stopper for some readers, and it's something to be aware of going in.

I actually had a bigger problem with Jax's extreme neediness and willingness to hound Kelly until she lets him back into her life. Brockmann makes this as endearing and charming as possible, but Jax is dancing on the borderline of stalkerdom, if not downright falling over it a time or two. I found myself making excuses for him based on his imprisonment but realized I was doing what Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans call "fan-wanking" - reading between the lines to explain something that isn't sufficiently explained in the text. If the author has done her job completely, the reader doesn't have to do the work.

In addition, there are many plot elements vying for attention. There are the glimpses of Jax's novel-in-progress, along with the hero of that novel and his conversations with Jax about Jax's romantic dilemmas as well as the hero's own. These are actually some of the funniest scenes in the book and had me laughing out loud a few times. There's also the back story of both Jax's imprisonment and his previous relationship with Kelly. Brockmann juggles all those flashbacks and letter excerpts deftly but it's still a lot to get through before the present day story finally revs up. And finally, there are the issues to face in the current day: what will Kelly think when she discovers all the different pieces of information that Jax has been holding back, in particular, where he was all those years and why he didn't show up for her eighteenth birthday as promised.

Through it all, I was waiting for the moment when Jax would finally, finally fully reveal his history to Kelly and she would see that he his absence in her life was not his choice. Instead, because so much else has gone on up to that point and pages are becoming few, the moment felt rushed and superficial. That was the biggest letdown in the book for me.

I have to admit my bias in that Suzanne Brockmann is one of my favorite authors. I realize that different elements, especially Kelly's age when the relationship begins, will make this book a downright failure for some readers. However, Brockmann's writing style, endearing characters and storytelling skills go a long way for me, and I'd rather read a problematic book of hers than the best book from many other authors. For the new Brockmann reader, this might not be the best place to start, but for the fan, this will certainly be a nice snack while waiting for the next Troubleshooters or Team Ten book.

Reviewed by Colleen McMahon
Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : April 5, 2003

Publication Date: 04/2003

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