Review: The Other Side by J.D. Robb et al

The Other Side I picked up this anthology because I love J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas series and was particularly intrigued by the Eve Dallas novella included in this anthology. Have you ever wondered what Eve Dallas would be like if she were possessed by a 90-year-old Romanian woman? She even learns how to make goulash! This definitely does not disappoint. The ones by Ruth Ryan Langan and Mary Kay McComas are cutesy ghost stories, but Patricia Gaffney’s contribution to the anthology—a ghost story, yes, but so beautifully written that it made me miss the splendid Wyckerley novels she wrote back in the days. *Sigh* The one story that intrigued me and made me chuckle at the same time, however, was the novella contributed by Mary Blayney— a Freaky Friday gimmick that involves the switching of the bodies of a husband and wife… in Regency England. I don’t know if there are any books that contain this trope in Romancelandia—and please, give me some titles if you can think of any—and this might be the first time I’ve ever seen in it. Good times. Anyway, let’s break it down.

Possession in Death by J.D. Robb. I don’t know why, but ever since I started reading the Eve Dallas books, I’ve always pictured Jennifer Esposito in the Eve Dallas role. Does anyone else agree with this? At the start of the story, Eve Dallas is trying to enjoy a post-case wrap-up barbecue party with her ever growing posse of consultants and cop buddies, but can’t quite relax. The last case was particularly brutal and she can’t make with the good times because she is severely bothered by it. When Father Lopez, who I think we first encounter either in Promises in Death or Salvation in Death, begs off from the party early because he has a mass to conduct, Eve volunteers to drive him to church so she can get away and take a breather. The two of them encounter an elderly woman staggering and bloody in the street, so Eve rushes into action and holds the woman as she lays dying in Eve’s arms. The woman starts gibbering something about a warrior and implores Eve to accept and to find some woman named Beata by walking through a red door and Eve just nods and agrees, dismissing it as a dying woman’s delirium. And then… Eve starts seeing dead people. And speaking Russian. And Roarke has no problem whatsoever boning Eve even though there’s a tiny 90-year-old Romanian woman hitch-hiking in her body, that crazy Irish bastard. I love him. It turns out Beata, the granddaughter of the old Romanian woman and a classically trained ballet dancer, has been missing for quite some time and Gizi, the old Romanian woman, may have known or figured out what happened to her, which was why she was murdered. Eve goes into her Avenging Angel Battle Mode and kicks major ass. I was amused by how completely unimpressed Roarke was about Eve confessing that she was possessed by a geriatric gypsy and could see dead people. But then again, it’s probably not something Eve would even joke about. A very different sort of Eve Dallas story, but a recognizable Eve Dallas nevertheless. Grade: A

The Other Side of the Coin by Mary Blayney is the Freaky Friday story. Set in Regency England, Bettina is convinced that her husband Harry, Earl of Fellsborough, is having an affair because even though they were hot and heavy when they first got married, Harry hasn’t given her a good rogering ever since she gave birth to the heir Cameron six months ago. Harry is insistent he is not having an affair and doesn’t want to have an affair, but hasn’t really done much to assuage his wife’s fears and in fact, has been an insensitive boob. Seemingly oblivious that his wife is feeling hurt and insecure, Harry off-handedly remarks that Bettina’s dress was made of the same fabric as a woman at the party they had just attended.

“Oh no!” Bettina’s cheeks burned at the thought, and she vowed to give her maid the dress the very next day.

Laughing, Harry continued, apparently unaware of his wife’s dismay. “I doubt anyone remarked on it. Her d├ęcolletage had every man there watching her breasts. If the material slipped just one more inch, we all would have had an eyeful.”

“You are an idiot, Harry.” His countess grabbed the glass from his hand and put it on the table with enough force to draw his attention if her words did not.

“What? What did I say?” His humor disappeared. “I didn’t do anything!”

In the middle of the argument, Bettina is distracted by the glitter of a coin on a nearby table (SQUIRREL!!!) and picks it up. She asks Harry what it is and Harry demands if it’s REALLY the coin she wants to argue about. Coin in hand, Bettina goes berserker and yells, “I just wish you could be in my shoes. Then you would not be so patronizing.” Then throws the coin at him, which Harry unthinkingly catches and says, “And I wish you would trust me.” BOOM! Presto Change-O, they’re in each other’s bodies. Since they can’t figure out how to switch their bodies back, H & B have to spend the next few days as each other, while trying to figure out how the switch happened in the first place. Harry gets to experience how hard it is to run a lord’s household, while Bettina learns how to handle unexpected erections and the consequences of running one’s mouth when one is unable to hide behind the cover of “But I’m just a girl!” She inadvertently gets Harry into trouble with an evil, despicable lord and puts his political career as well as his life in danger. I know what you’re thinking, pervs: Do Bettina and Harry have sex while they’re in each other’s bodies? Heh-heh-heh. There is a mysterious nanny figure who “oversteps [her] bounds” and might or might not have something to do with the coin, but unless I missed something, I don’t think this thread went anywhere. Anyway, this novella is fun to read and a bit different, but I wish it had been longer. As it is, it’s an amusing look at what happens after your usual Regency romance epilogue of the lord and the lady lounging together cuddling a fat little baby. Grade: B

The Dancing Ghost by Patricia Gaffney is my favorite. It’s just… romantic and witty and funny and makes you go “awwww.” The novella starts out with a correspondence between a Miss Angiolina Darlington and a Mr. Henry Cleland in 1895. Mr. Cleland is a highly sought-after paranormal investigator and Miss Darlington is a poor country miss whose grandparents left her a supposedly haunted house but no money for upkeep. Mr. Cleland commands a pretty stiff sum for his services, but Miss Darlington cannot afford to pay him much. Or at all. They haggle over the fee in correspondence until Mr. Cleland succumbs and agrees to provide his services for free. When Henry arrives in the picturesque little town, he is expecting Ms. Darlington to be a little old lady, but she is not. Abby is expecting Mr. Cleland to be an old, staid, scholarly-looking fellow, but he is not. They are both attractive people who instantly connect and fall in luuurve. Abby wants Henry to “investigate” the house as a delaying tactic so she can come up with the money to keep it. They join forces and plot against a dastardly uncle who owns the town bank and wants to foreclose on the property. They’re both so clever and everything is going according to plan and they’re having so much fun together… But Henry is not exactly who he says he is. And the house? Most probably haunted. And the uncle? Oh, don’t count him out yet. This novella? So good. I can totally see it turned into a movie where Abby is played by Rachel McAdams, Henry by Ryan Gosling, ( “Hey girl, I can’t wait to get home and give you a foot massage”), and the dastardly uncle by Oliver Platt. How come Patricia Gaffney no longer writes romance novels that make you sigh and shiver and take a delighted sip of your hot cocoa? Grade: A

Almost Heaven by Ruth Ryan Langan, while charming in its cheesiness, was definitely not my favorite. This one is a little old school featuring rich people, rich people who call each other “darling,” a villain so immersed in his own douchebaggery that he steeples his fingers while plotting villainy and laughs “chillingly,” and a “special” little boy who’s supposed to make you go “awww.” Ted and Vanessa Crenshaw are dead. They died on the night of their only daughter’s engagement party in a car accident because the dastardly villain paid some people to cut their brakes and they plunged off a cliff. Ted and Vanessa think they’re going to heaven since they’re secure in the knowledge that their beautiful only daughter Christina has found the love of her life and this man will take care of Christina and their “special” little angel. But the pearly gates don’t part, there are no angels to sing a welcoming chorus, and they’re not going anywhere. Ted and Vanessa have unfinished business. Dun-dun-duh. I knew from the first page that this novella and I were not going to get along because the first page describing the daughter and her fiance reads like a profile ripped out of some hoity-toity society page:

Mark Deering, charming owner of a successful Internet software company, had long headed the list of California’s most eligible bachelors. No one was suprised that he had finally lost his heart to a woman like Christina Crenshaw. She was her parents’ pride and joy. A brilliant student while at Harvard, with an MBA from Wharton, she had taken over an executive position at her father’s company, one of the most solid agencies on the West Coast. Under her leadership the company managed to land Lyon Entertainment, an account they’d been coveting for years. The future of Crenshaw Advertising looked even brighter with Christina leading the way.

From whose point of view was this story being told? Cindy Adams, maybe? Anyway, the “charming,” handsome Mark Deering is not the kind, gallant, perfect man Ted and Vanessa thought he was and the beautiful Christina Crenshaw is in danger of falling into the arms of this dastardly evil douchebag of a man. Oh noes. Heaven help us. Ted and Vanessa figure the only way they can save poor beautiful Christina is if they can find an even more handsome, noble, kind, gallant paragon of manhood who is not secretly an evil scheming douchebag and throw him and Christina together so they can fall in lurrrrrve and Christina and their “special” little boy will be saved! So they find such a man and oh noes, his name is Mark too… or is it?

No, it totally isn’t. His name is Jake Ridgeway! But of course it is. Did you really think the hero was going to be someone called “Mark Deering”? Pleeeaze. That’s not a romance novel name at all. I think Ms. Ruth Ryan-Langan made the same mistake I did once when I called my new boyfriend by my old boyfriend’s name. Oh, he was not happy. He was all, “How would you like it if I called you by [his ex-girlfriend]’s name?” I would not have liked it. My name is so much cooler. Anyway, you know Jake Ridgeway is a good guy because he rolls up his sleeves and has muscles and a “handsome poet’s face.” We find out nothing about Christina except her parents apparently don’t trust her to live her life without the guidance of a man (though they’re totally okay with leaving the company to her)… and she’s attracted to good-looking men who carry power tools and measuring devices. You know those stories where there are meddling ghosts and you wish the meddling ghosts would just go away so that the love story can be told? This one is ALL about the meddling ghosts. Darling. Grade: C

Never Too Late for Love by Mary Kay McComas is ALSO about meddling ghosts, but one of them is crrrrrazy. Like scary-crazy. Our heroine M.J. Biderman (Maribelle Joy, much to her dismay) is trying to demolish the house left to her by her recently departed mother so she can sell the lot to a restaurant chain and get on with her life. But the house won’t budge. Not against bulldozers, not against explosives. And the doors and windows won’t open. M.J. takes the time out of her busy life and decides to check out the house herself and find out what kind of funny stuff the foreman has been smoking. M.J. walks into her childhood home and finds the ghost of her dead mother hanging out in the kitchen while the ghosts of her equally dead sisters, Imogene and Odelia, are chatting and chopping up apples for pie. M.J. implores her mother and aunts to go away so she can mow the house down and sell the lot, but the women are staying put. They have an “unresolved business” they need to take care of, but are not quite sure what it is. To make the situation worse, the neighbor next door is a “scrumptious,” “mouthwatering” man named Ryan Doyle who has an imaginative young son who sees dead people. Ryan wants Maribelle Joy to tell his young son that there is no such thing as ghosts, but that’s a little hard for M.J. to do when her Aunt Imogen won’t stop going to the backyard to pick apples for her pies and her Aunt Imogen is one of those annoying crying ghosts. I actually really enjoyed this one. M.J. has mommy issues that she’s never quite resolved, Ryan is at a loss about what to do with a son who sees dead people, and they just… click. The so-called meddling ghosts are not annoying for once and I was actually curious as to why they can’t quite move on. I thought the dynamic and relationship of the ghostly sisters was actually essential to the plot and I enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed the h/h. Grade: B

This was a pretty solid anthology and an easy read. There are gems to be found here if you’re an Eve Dallas fan or old-school Patricia Gaffney. Check it out.

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