Julie Garwood
2009, Romantic Suspense
Ballantine, $26.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345500776
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

There are no shades of gray in Julie Garwood’s books of late. The villains twirl virtual mustaches and the good characters are nothing less than saintly. Still, the author remains one of the best storytellers in the business and the one she tells in Sizzle is largely a good one.

Lyra Prescott is a breathtakingly beautiful and oh-so-nice young film student in Los Angeles. While working on a documentary film project, she inadvertently gets caught up in murderous events perpetuated by a confederation of mustache twirlers. When her roommate – who just happens to be Sidney Buchanan – is attacked in the apartment they share by mustache twirlers who say they’re looking for Lyra, it’s time for the Buchanan boys and FBI Special Agent Sam Kincaid to enter the picture.

See, the Buchanan boys are worried about their baby sister and her roomie. So, they recruit super hunk (and super hero) Sam to act as Lyra's bodyguard while they try to figure out who's behind the attack. And, since Julie Garwood isn't really big on character surprises, you can just bet that sparks fly between the guard and the body he's assigned to protect.

A Julie Garwood reader will recognize those bolded names because, yes, the characters feature in previous books and are descendents of families from the author’s classic historicals. Still, if Ms. Garwood hasn’t yet worn out the family's welcome by hammering the connections to death, she does make extensive use of authorial shorthand. All the Buchanan boys are interchangeably stalwart, protective, stubborn, and breathtakingly gorgeous. All of them.

And that goes double ditto for Sam Kincaid. However, since he’s our hero in this one, it’s hardly a good thing that I can’t come up with single adjective to describe him that isn’t generic. Because he is. And the same is true of Lyra. Good, nice, brave, talented, beautiful. And generic.

But here’s the flip side: If I found the characters shallow and sadly black and white, I enjoyed the ins and outs of the plot that largely kept me interested. In fact, I read the book in a fast afternoon and evening, meaning that I didn’t want to put it down and set aside other stuff so that I didn't have to. But there’s no getting around the fact that the romance has a distinct been-there-done-that feel to it, not to even mention that it's kind of hard not to roll your eyes as character cliché after cliché keeps piling on. And on.

Bottom line? Julie Garwood’s romantic suspense outings are largely hit or miss for me and, for the most part, this one was a hit. If the characters didn’t rise above clichés – and they didn’t – I enjoyed the time I spent with them. In other words, though it's fair to say that Sizzle doesn’t even come close to a slow burn, I had fun reading it. And there’s something to be said for that.

-- Sandy Coleman

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