Pandora's Box


Jeanette Baker
2001, Contemporary Romance
Pocket, $6.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0671034588

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Molly Tierney planned to spend a year teaching, and learning about the Irish part of her heritage, in Inishmore, a small island off the coast of Ireland. But when she arrives, her brother and sister-in-law, Kerry and Danny, have just died - leaving behind three young children. Kerry's brother Sean O'Malley is caring for the children, and although Sean and Molly are attracted to each other, can they form a new relationship - and a ready-made family - out of the ashes of tragedy?

Blythe:   Well Linda, this book was a big improvement for me over last month's Scandalous. I found Spellbound to be a satisfying read. It's not as good as Nell, Baker's book from two years ago, but I found myself interested in the characters and engrossed in their story. I believe this is the first book you've read by Baker. What did you think?

Linda:   I was pleasantly surprised. I had kind of dreaded this one - first, it's Irish, which often means dreary <g> and second, it opens with a mother dying in childbirth, followed by the death of the child's father - not exactly cheery fare for an opening chapter. But, once the story got rolling I became very involved with the characters. This is very much character driven with a relatively light plot and I found these characters very interesting.

Blythe:   This book does have a melancholy feeling throughout, I think. The death in childbirth sets the tone - it reminded me of a similar scene in Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (I wouldn't read either of these books while pregnant).

When the hero and heroine meet they are both mourning Sean's sister and Molly's brother, and much of the book concerns Molly coming to terms with her past as well. So the book is rather moody. Sometimes angsty contemporaries can be a little hard to believe; you just want to tell the characters to get over themselves. But Molly and Sean have very different backgrounds, so it makes sense for them to really wonder if a relationship between them would work.

Linda:   I think also the atmosphere on the tiny island off the coast of Ireland is conducive to melancholia - I could understand why Molly's mom went bonkers and had to leave after 10 years there. I loved the interweaving of the lives of the older generation and how their actions had affected Molly and her now deceased brother Danny.

There was one aspect that bothered me though - the two little girls seemed to accept the death of their parents so easily and adjusted so quickly to Molly and Sean's care taking. I thought that it was just a bit too pat that they adjusted so quickly and easily.

Blythe:   I have to disagree with you there, based on my own experience. I lost both parents before I was twenty, and my siblings were much younger. You do what you can to cope, and at that age you really need to latch onto someone else quickly. The one that didn't make much sense to me was the baby, who was surely the most well behaved baby alive. He is never a problem, and always seems to fall asleep (and even more amazing, stay asleep) right on cue. Mine never did that.

I found Molly's parents both very interesting. At first I could not imagine how the author could make me like either of them. Molly's mother divorced her father and left her son behind on the island. I couldn't imagine a justification for abandoning her child. And then her father, Patrick, turns to drink and does a shoddy job of raising Danny. Amazingly, though, Baker made me sympathize with both characters, and I actually understood their actions and came to accept them.

Linda:   Yes, she managed to make them both seem sympathetic - especially when she dealt with the terrible depression Molly's mother suffered after she left her son behind and the real grief for his loss that she felt for all those years. One feels very sorry for the deceased Danny but I found Patrick a bit harder to like. His total neglect of Molly caused her much grief and his poor job with Danny and his motives in keeping him from his mother made him a much more problematical character. But, by the book's end I was rooting for his romance with the very patient Alice.

As for Luke, the baby, he was kind of like one of those soap opera babies that take naps until they are 10. He was just kind of hauled around and used as a prop and didn't seem like a real baby at all. I guess I could understand the young girls, but really expected to see a bit of "acting out" as they settled in and felt they didn't have to be good all of the time. We got some "real" behavior when they had chicken pox, but otherwise they seemed too good to be true, particularly the older girl. But, these are minor quibbles - the book is engrossing and the characters, other than the children, are multi-dimensional and in many cases truly fascinating.

Blythe:   I was rooting for Alice too (and patient is really a great word to define her, Linda). I thought the girls really served to bring Molly and Sean together, because while they were falling in love with each other they also both came to really love these children. I did think some of their angst was unnecessary. The solution they eventually settled upon occurred to me much, much earlier in the book, but Baker did manage to solve it eventually - without resorting to the dreaded long separation.

Linda:   I'm with you, the solution seemed obvious and it seemed like he was just being obstinate at times. But, on the other hand there was something about the island that seemed to call to him and I think he genuinely didn't want to uproot the children from the only home they had known just after they had lost their parents. I think you hit the nail on the head about the children serving to bring Sean and Molly together - that was the problem - they seemed more like props to me then real children - I guess mine were just never that well-behaved; and the baby was like an alien baby - just grinning and happy all the time unless he was asleep! Wouldn't we all like one of those? But, I really enjoyed this book and I found myself really caring about Sean and Molly and rooting for their blossoming love.

I also applaud one of the author's choices at the end of the book. The obvious and trite choice would have been the dreaded long separation followed by reconciliation. The author had Sean spell out that choice, but she didn't use it - Hallelujah!! I hate long separations and in a character-driven story like this it would have totally ruined the end of this book for me. This was my first Baker book, but certainly won't be the last. I thought she did a marvelous job of capturing the Irish character, stoicism, and endurance of tragedy extremely well. One also got the sense of claustrophobia and separation that living on an isolated island can induce.

Blythe:   For some reason Molly and Sean just seemed real to me. They were both gorgeous, but it didn't seem important to them. And I liked that Molly saw motherhood as an important goal. I guess I've read too many contemporaries lately where the heroine has to be a high-powered business tycoon. Not that I have anything against tycoons, but we can't all have it all. And like you, I liked the way they avoided that long separation - it showed that Sean had an actual brain. I think Baker is a talented writer who writes some beautiful prose - which meshes well with her Irish settings. Since you enjoyed this one, you've got to try Nell, which received DIK status from both Nora Armstrong and myself. It also won a RITA last year.

Linda:   Oh no - I feel a glom coming on!. I will obviously have to hunt up Nell, as I really enjoyed this book. It was also a nice change to read a truly character-driven book after some of the "plot-heavy" books I have been reading of late. The solution to the dilemma of raising the girls is obvious from the first, but watching the characters stumble their way to the correct answer is interesting. I also loved Molly and Sean - they were believable and although they were both drop dead gorgeous neither seemed aware of it and that always makes a character more attractive to me - vanity is not an appealing quality to me.

Blythe:   I think character-driven is a good way to describe Spellbound. Although it has some exciting moments, no one would mistake it for an action-packed road romance. However, I did find it to be a surprisingly quick read. My one last question would be about the title, which seemed to be an odd choice. Yes these two fell in love, but no one seemed really spellbound to me.

Linda:   Yes, the name seems kind of out-of-left field now that you mention it. I sometimes wonder how they come up with some of the titles they do, some of them are really off the wall and Spellbound isn't really descriptive of the book. And I wonder if those looking for an Irish novel might pass it by based on the title and the cover, which doesn't suggest much that is Irish either.

Blythe:   Well at least we are both recommending it anyway! What's up for next month, Linda?

Linda:   Susan Mallery's Sweet Success. She is another favorite category writer who is having her first single title published, and the heroine is the owner of a gourmet chocolate shop.

Blythe:   I'm excited to read this one because I read one of her historicals that I really enjoyed - A Fire in the Dark. I may have to stock up on Hershey's kisses before I start this one, just as a preventative measure.

Linda:   LOL, I only eat See's and Godiva chocolate, I'm very choosy when it comes to my chocolate - but reading a book about a woman running a gourmet chocolate shop will surely call for me to eat some. <g>

Blythe:   Well, I'll see you next month - happy (and hopefully not too fattening) reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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