Pandora's Box

Lyon's Gate

Catherine Coulter
2005, European Historical Romance (1830s [Victorian] England)
Jove, $9.99, 448 pages, Amazon ASIN 0515138975
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

In the sequel to The Sherbrooke Twins, which in itself is a sequel to Coulter's lengthy Sherbrooke series, begun in 1992 with The Sherbrooke Bride, Jason Sherbrooke returns home after five years of self-imposed exile to face the family he feels he betrayed after being seduced by a woman who was really out to destroy his father. Jason attempts to buy the Lyon's Gate estate to establish a horse stud farm. Instead he is immediately embroiled in a battle with Hallie Carrick for ownership. After discovering the owner sold the property to both of them, they agree to share both the house and stables. As the couple establishes their business, they fight their growing attraction, as each has vowed never to marry. Fate takes a hand in driving them together to battle common foes and love becomes undeniable in spite of Hallie's cynicism and Jason's unwarranted guilty conscience.

Linda:   Well Blythe, after last month's debacle <G>, I started Lyon's Gate with trepidation. But, I was quickly grinning with glee as Coulter started this fast paced sequel to The Sherbrooke Twins with a visit to my favorite Coulter couple - James and Jesse Wyndham (The Valentine Legacy).

Blythe:   Well, I think there should be a warning label on this one: Don't attempt unless you have read all the previous books. And when I say all the previous books, it's a pretty tall order. The couple in this book actually has ties to characters in three previous series. The heroine is the daughter of Genny and Alec from Night Storm (third in the Night trilogy). The hero is Douglas and Alex's son from The Sherbrooke Bride - it's the ninth book in that series, and there is also a connection to the Legacy trilogy (the hero lives with one of the couples from that one, and frequent mention is made of various characters). Amazingly enough, I had actually read all the original books in question - albeit years ago. I really couldn't keep up, at least at first. A family tree (or rather, several) would have come in handy, I think.

Linda:   Since I have read all of the mentioned novels, I didn't have any trouble - but I did wonder if others would get many of the allusions. For me though, the glimpse into the lives of beloved past characters was just a joy. It was such fun to see Jesse and James from The Valentine Legacy with four kids. This fit my image of what their lives would have been. Some of the references were not as detailed, but it was still nice to see these couples living happily everafter. I especially loved the fact that Alex Sherbrooke (the hero's mother) was still getting the back of her mother-in-law's tongue. I also was happy that Hallie Carrick was the heroine, as I remembered her well as a little girl in Night Storm. But, the best part of Coulter's delving into the Sherbrookes' past is that the characters were well used and not just wallpaper.

Blythe:   But see, I read them all too, just like you did. Either they were not as memorable to me, or it had just been too long since I had read the books. I agree that most of the characters served a purpose. I kind of liked the parts where Jason climbed into his twin brother (The Sherbrooke Twins) James' window and got advice from his brother and dad. But I still found the sheer number of people overwhelming. It reminded me of my recent family reunion (I had just gotten back when I started the book). It was my dad's family, and I knew who everyone was and how they were related, but my kids were confused. At one point I gave my daughters a half-hour explanation of my dad's family and which kids and grandkids belonged to which of the seven brothers and sisters. But it's a little hard to do that gracefully in a book.

Linda:   So, perhaps a family tree at the front would have helped you for reference. I am told I have amazing recall of books and I confess I did remember all the characters. But, I think even if I had never read Coulter, I would have liked this book anyway. It's just a great love story. One caution for reader's though, is that the plot and climax of The Sherbrooke Twins is necessarily given away in LG and Twins should be read first. After saving his father's life and a betrayal by someone he loves, it made sense that Jason went to America to lick his wouinds for a while. I thought opening the book after nearly five years was an excellent choice by Coulter.

Blythe:   Well, I was pretty impressed with what you remembered at RWA. As you met various authors, you could almost invariably recall some tidbit from your favorite book. I can generally remember whether I liked an author's books or not, and sometimes I can remember which ones I liked best, but that is often the extent of it for me. I also should add that I hadn't read James's book (The Sherbrooke Twins), so I didn't know the backstory with that. However, it was all explained. I guess part of the problem was not just the sheer number of characters to remember, it was also the whirlwind pace of the book, which gave it something of a manic quality. At times I felt like I was sitting in a room, whipping my head back and forth to keep up with the conversations going on.

Linda:   LOL, I guess one person's "fast-paced" is another person's "manic quality." I never felt lost and frankly spent most of this book smiling, I hated to see it end and was engaged by Hallie and Jason from their first clash at Lyon's Gate. It turns out that both of them were sold the same estate. After each is finally convinced that they cannot get rid of the other either by hook or by crook, they agree to share the property. I loved the fact that macho Jason had wonderful taste in home furnishings. And Hallie's idea of furniture placement was also humorous. Hallie was a valiant and endearing character as a child and she has grown into a woman to be reckoned with; certainly a perfect match for Jason. Also unusual in a romance, this couple doesn't go to bed together until after page 300; although there is plenty of longing and sensual tension going on. Did you love it when a hopelessly overcome with lust Hallie attacked Jason in the barn? It is hard to envision nowadays how the mere glimpse of a bare chest can provoke such a reaction - but in an age where women never showed their wrists or ankles or men their bare throats - let alone their chests - it did make sense.

Blythe:   I did think that the premise of the plot was interesting. Hallie and Jason begin the book competing to buy the property, and they find out that the person thought to own it had already sold it. The new owner hits on a "wisdom of Solomon" solution and sells them each half. However, hadn't Hallie already given actual money to the crooked former owner? I expected her to go get that back, but that never happened.

I thought the scene in the barn was pretty sexy, and it also ended in a very interesting way when Hallie's dad walked into the barn. Parental interection - at least loving interaction - is somewhat rare in romance, probably because it's a little hard to have sex at the drop of a hat when mom and dad are looking over your shoulder. I think it's more common to have orphaned heroines, or heroines who are on their own in some way. Alec (Hallie's father) does manage to keep his head and deal with the situation in a civilized manner.

Linda:   Yes, he behaved just as I would have expected him to - based on his behavior in his own book. Alec is also more tolerant of his daughter's dreams of raising horses and having her own stud when a typical Regency era parent would have been. This is because he married Gennie Paxton, who was and is a ship builder. Gennie runs her own shipyard and Alec was always very accepting of her talents. Many a Coulter character has sailed on Genny and Alec's ships.

Hallie did lose the money she gave the owner of the property, but managed to get more from her trustees. Jason was lucky as he paid the money to an attorney and was able to get it back.

Blythe:   She seemed a little too cavalier about that lost money to me. I had read the book with Alec and Genny in it, but remembered nothing. The only Night book that stuck in my mind was Night Fires, the one with the heroine who had been abused by her former husband. I believe the hero and heroine of that one are Hallie's aunt and uncle. As for this book, I think the initial whirlwind pacing put me off to the extent that I wasn't quite sure whether I liked Hallie and Jason. Toward the end I warmed up to them a little more. But unlike you, I think I would have preferred for them to have sex sooner than they did. For some reason, I just wasn't really feeling the tension. I think the relationship might have suffered because of the sheer number of other characters.

Linda:   Yes, Hallie's Aunt and Uncle were Burke and Airiel Drummond from Night Fire, although I think the relationship is honorary as the Drummonds are close friends of Hallie's father. I suppose that Hallie and Jason could have had sex earlier, but I kind of liked the fact that they didn't leap into bed right away - a nice change to have the couple actually build a relationship before they sleep together. It made sense too as Jason was an honorable man who didn't want to take advantage of Hallie's innocence. But one thing did bother me - each time he got hot about Hallie he went to visit a prostitute. I would have preferred him to work himself to exhaustion in the barn. I really prefer a hero to remain true to the heroine after they meet. I don't know if it would bother others, but it disappointed me a little.

Blythe:   How funny...I wasn't bothered by that, but probably would have liked more detail. Not about him visiting the prostitute, but about his thoughts on the subject. This is not exactly an introspective book; there's a lot of converstaion, but not a whole lot of thinking. I guess I prefer a balance. I like witty dialogue as much as the next person, but sometimes you like to hear what people think about what is happening. I would have liked to hear Jason muse about his attratcion to Hallie, or perhaps about his disappointment when having sex with a prostitute just wasn't good enough.

Linda:   What I really liked about LG is that it was a wonderful romance - not heavy on plot as The Sherbrooke Twins was (although I liked it too), and without horrid villains. There are just two people solving problems together and growing as a couple. After all the Romantic Suspense I've been reading, it's kind of nice to read a book that concentrates on the couple. Even Lord Renfrew's pursuit of Hallie (Renfrew was a fortune hunter who almost tricked Hallie into marrying him previously and his immoral behavior had soured Hallie on marriage completely). Renfrew's first wife is dead and he decides he will have another crack at charming Hallie. It was nice to have a heroine who completely sees through a jackass like Renfrew, and he was dispatched in a rather humorous fashion. In fact, he was easily dealt with...I was soooo happy he didn't kidnap her and subject us to all of the trite plot devices that would then have occurred. BTW, do you think Renfrew's friend Charles Grandison will get his own book? There certainly seemed to be some hints in that direction.

Blythe:   I think the lack of a really horrible nasty bad guy did work well. Most of that plot takes place in the last half of the book (which is likely why it is stronger than the first half). Their jockey is shot during their prize stallion's first race, and it appears that several other horse owners may be in collusion against them. Jason and Hallie work together to deal with threats to their business in an effective way, and it works. No one is killed, and hardly anyone is hurt. Still, I'm not sure that I will be reading Coulter anymore. I'm not sure if she changed or I did, but I used to really love her books when I first started reading romance. In fact, it was The Hellion Bride that really got me hooked. I had read a handful of romance novels during my teens, but I avoided them during my hoity-toity college years....

I picked up THB at the library about 12 years ago, and it truly hooked me into serious romance reading. I devoured a bunch of Coulter's other books, and then tried various authors at the library and ubs, trying to discover what I liked and what I didn't. I continued to read Coulter for a time, but she lost me when she started rewriting old Regencies into full-lenght historicals. I gave up after that.

I think we should also mention the price of this book. The front says that it is "specially designed for comfortable reading." I noticed that, but you were the one who noticed that readers will be paying ten dollars for that privilege. <g>

Linda:   Yes, the book is $9.99 - I think most reader's would prefer less "comfort" at a cheaper price. If this is a trend, it will cut back on the numbers of books bought, as our income and book buying funds don't go up just because book prices do! I like Coulter's historicals a lot, but I haven't cared for the few contemporaries I've read. Perhaps it is the linking of new books with beloved characters that hooks me in - same as it does with Diana Palmer, about whom we disagreed the last time around. Coulter has definitely not jumped the shark for me and I still auto-buy her historicals. I like her humor a lot, and as I mentioned before, she uses past characters well. The scene at the end when Douglas' harridan of a mother (and bane of his wife Alex's existence) pushes the butler she has sparred with for years in his wheel chair brought a tear to my eye.

Blythe:   Well, I think I if I feel the desire to read Coulter again, I'll hunt up some of her older books from my keeper shelves. I remember finding her humorous and touching in the past, but this one just didn't work well for me.

Linda:   Well, I guess we will agree to disagree on Coulter, but I do think her current fans will really enjoy Lyon's Gate. What is up for next month, Blythe?

Blythe:   Next month we plan to tackle Feet First, a single title release by Leanne Banks about a woman shoe designer. Hey, any book with a pair of strappy sandals on the cover is going to be of immediately interest to women!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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