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Nota bene: for someone who generally doesn’t like continuities, I sure have been reading a goodly amount of novels which are part of them lately, haven’t I?

Entangled, by Eileen Wilks

First title in the twelve title continuity Dynasties: The Ashtons, published by the Desire line of Harlequin/Silhouette in 2005. Set in California’s Napa Valley, each title tells the story of a different member of Spencer Ashton’s far flung family, exposing his lies, his selfishness, and bringing home the true meaning of family.

Entangled both tells the story of Cole Ashton and Dixie McCord, and sets the stage for the series’ overarching plot. It also introduces several characters whose stories are told later in other installments, by other authors. (The complete list of titles and authors is available here)

The back cover blurb:

Passion Aged to Perfection

After one sultry summer together, Dixie McCord’s affair with Cole Ashton had grown chilly. Unable to stay with a man who put business before love, Dixie had left Napa, never expecting that one day she would return to Louret Vineyards—and once again feel the irresistible thrill of Cole’s touch.

Cole couldn’t believe Dixie had agreed to work for him after their years apart, and he set plans in motion to seduce her. He’d fulfill all of his fantasies… and then leave her as she’d once left him. But the fire burned hotter with Dixie’s every surrender, bringing her closer to his family’s secrets… and his own melting heart.

Dynasties: The Ashtons
A family built on lies… brought together by dark, passionate secrets.

One of the things I enjoyed the most is the flow of this novel. The pacing is really good, going from the slightly awkward re-encounter between Cole and Dixie after eleven years—with some bitter memories from their last fight between them—and moving to a friendship between adults, who can control their hormones better now and who know themselves better.

It is also interesting to see how differently their memories of each other and of the relationship are—the fights or other incidents may be the same, but their individual interpretations of them are so very different, colored by their own expectations more than anything else.

I liked both main characters, but I really really liked Dixie. Why, you ask? Because once she and Cole started interacting again, as adults this time, she was able to see past her memories of the time, and accept that perhaps even if he had behaved the way she thought she wanted him to… perhaps even then, she would have left.

Of the secondary characters we get sketches rather than full out characterization, which I think is very clever of Ms Wilks, given that other writers will flesh those characters out later on the continuity. Still, we are given enough insight into their relationships and the dynamics between them for the purposes of this novel, while leaving the stage open for later installments.

I have two quibbles with Entangled. The first is that the final crisis didn’t truly solve the issues between the two protagonists. I don’t believe that Cole has changed in the basic ways necessary to make their relationship work, and I found Dixie’s capitulation (for lack of a better term) out of character. Second and worse, there was an epilogue which seemed to have as its only purpose to introduce more characters (via exposition to boot) for future installments.

Still, the writing is very engaging, as is Dixie. Entangled gets a 7 out of 10.

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Just a Taste, by Bronwyn Jameson

Just a Taste is the fourth installment in the same continuity. This is my second novel by Ms Jameson (here’s my review of the first one). I enjoy her characterizations, only wish she would write longer novels *hint hint*

The back cover blurb, as usual not more than half way accurate:

Forbidden fruit

Jillian Ashton had been lied to, cheated on and tragically widowed. Seeing her through it all was Seth Bennedict—her brother-in-law. He’d held her, comforted her—and she’d felt the simmering of an impossible attraction. But now the fire was not just simmering, it was threatening to boil over. And she wanted it to!

Seth had never forgotten the pain his brother’s widow had suffered. In his dreams, he’d made love to Jillian a thousand times, but now the aching desire had grown out of control. Yet her eager passion made him uneasy. Now that Seth’s fantasy had come true, the secret burden he’d been hiding from her all these years was suddenly too heavy to bear…

Dynasties: The Ashtons
A family built on lies… brought together by dark, passionate secrets.

A couple of years before the novel starts, both Seth’s wife Karen and his younger brother Jason, Jillian’s husband, die in a car crash. In the aftermath of this, Seth is left widowed with a very young toddler and Jillian is left a young widow with irrefutable evidence of her late husband’s mishandling of her money, as well as proof of his many infidelities. Almost paralyzed by grief and the realization of her poor judgement over Jason, Jillian returns to her parents’ house, to a simpler life—while tacitly accepting Seth’s help in untangling the legal and financial mess she found herself in.

At the beginning of the story, Jillian is still struggling to recover her self respect, once again working at the family business—a winery, of course—and trying to overcome both the stigma of being the youngest child (oh man I sooooo can relate!) and the resentment she stills nurses towards Seth. Unfair resentment, as she is well aware, born of embarrassment that he saw her at her lowest point and, furthermore, took over for her.

For his part, Seth has fought his attraction for Jillian since he met her, well before his own marriage. Now, with a young daughter to raise and protect, he’s convinced himself he has neither time nor interest to try for a relationship with anyone, let alone cool and aloof Jillian. Besides which, he is uncomfortable with the knowledge that he has lied to her—for her own good, of course (no, really *ahem*), but lied to her he has.

I read most of the novel in one sitting, it’s paced so well and the characters drawn so vividly. Do keep in mind that, since I don’t drink, most of the wine references flew right over my head (and I could have done with fewer wine-related allusions and similes too) but it seemed to me that Ms Jameson did her research both on wine making and the setting. This is particularly nice for me since the continuity is set in California’s Napa Valley while Ms Jameson hails from Australia.

The two main characters were believable enough, and I thoroughly enjoyed the dance Seth and Jillian did around and toward each other for a good four fifths of the novel. It is, after all, a delicate situation, since there are family ties to consider, as well as a relatively small and close knit community in which they are bound to cross paths regardless of how things work out between them.

I was happy that the bits intended to further the continuity’s overarching plot, while recognizable, weren’t overwhelming to the protagonists’ story. They provided a background and frame that explained some of Jillian’s reactions to Seth, to his daughter Rachel, and to her feelings for both, as well as cemented her drive to regain—in her eyes at least—her family’s respect.

Unfortunately, for me the story lost a bit of consistency near the end. Seth’s resistance to developing an actual, honest-to-goodness relationship with Jillian seemed a bit forced to me. And for her part, Jillian’s reactions after their first night together and, later, after she finally learns the secret he’s kept from her, seemed a tad out of proportion. To compound matters, the resolution to this—in my eyes overblown—conflict happens without any fanfare at all. It sort of… fizzles, peters out if you will, instead of exploding with fireworks, light and noise.

Still, an enjoyable read, which left me wanting to find all the previous and later titles in the continuity (yes, I read this one first 😀 )

7 out of 10

Entangled is available through amazon.com here and through amazon uk here; Just a Taste is available through amazon.com here and through amazon uk here.

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