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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Haunting

****½ The Haunting by Hope Tarr. Paranormal romance.

I'd loved two of Hope Tarr's earlier historicals--My Lord Jack and Tempting, but forgot to keep up with her books until someone on an email list mentioned her. Now I'm scrambling to catch up.

American history professor Maggie Holiday is putting her life back together after losing her parents and her sister in a plane crash. Part of that is a new house (well, an 1850s Victorian) in a new town, and a new job as assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Except that her lover, D.C. psychiatrist Richard, calls it running away, and Maggie's starting to notice that he takes every opportunity to belittle her choices, and she realizes she needs to break things off with him.

There's no rush, though--he lives in the city, and hates the small town, and her old house, so he's out of her hair most of the time. First things first--exploring her house.

She finds a diary of a previous inhabitant, Isabel, who describes her romance with a Union officer, and Maggie begins having vivid dreams about the war and Isabel's life.

She gets a little more than she bargained for in the attic: an intruder, dressed in a civil war uniform--though how he got in, she doesn't know. He doesn't seem violent, and the way he talks and the fact that he calls her "Isabel" leads her to believe he's a relatively harmless reenactor who's a wee bit too caught up in his role. And then he seduces her.

Actually, he's Captain Ethan O'Malley, the same man Isabel had written about in the diary, and he was hanged when a man who wanted Isabel framed him for espionage. Now his ghost is trying to be reunited with Isabel, or rather, Isabel's reincarnation in Maggie, and to clear his name.

The Haunting is a short book, 244 pages, but it's complete nonetheless. Maggie's reactions are much more realistic than I've come to expect in this sort of paranormal romance--she keeps trying to figure out how the "intruder" got in, gets a new security system, etc. Even after the seduction, she doesn't immediately trust him, and it takes a lot of convincing before she believes, and remembers.

In addition, her relationship with Richard is, sadly, all too realistic. He tries to control her by belittling her and trying to make her doubt her sanity. But when she's doing what he wants, he acts loving and charming, so it's a real effort for her to break up with him--especially when she's not sure he's not right about her sanity... after all, she's having an affair with a ghost.

Even as I enjoyed the story, I had no idea how they'd resolve the issue in the end. We learn early on that Ethan has a limited amount of energy he can use to become corporeal, so their physical relationship can't continue in the same way indefinitely. I won't give away the solution, but it was clever and satisfying.

This was an "Extreme Blaze," but obviously, I read too much erotica, because I didn't even realize it until I read an Amazon review complaining that the sex scenes were too extreme. Obviously, a case of YMMV.

I'll definitely continue to look for more of Hope's backlist.


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