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Friday, August 17, 2012

'Heart of Gold' by J.R. Ward writing as Jessica Bird

From the BLURB:

She has a chance to find something more precious than gold, if she’s brave enough to trust her heart. . . .

Her intense passion for unlocking the secrets of the past is what made Carter Wessex an archaeologist. Now she’s been given a chance to dig on Farrell Mountain where a doomed party of minutemen lost their lives—as well as the gold they were carrying during the Revolutionary War. Carter refuses to let the mountain’s owner, Nick Farrell, rattle her, even though she’s all too aware of his sexy yet sardonic presence. Her work on the mountain could be the most significant find of her career . . . if she can pull herself away from the smoldering attraction that is undeniably growing between them.

Beneath the steely façade Nick Farrell wears like a well-cut suit, he is a man of hidden tenderness. From his first meeting with Carter, there’s an immediate flare—hotter than he has ever experienced before. But no one is more surprised than Nick when his desire for her deepens into something enduring. Now Nick must find a way to convince Carter that the real treasure to be found on Farrell Mountain is a true and lasting love. . .

Carter Wessex has just had the dig of a lifetime dangled before her. A promising young archaeologist, Carter loves a good mystery and a challenge. But she’s going to get both, in spades, with Nick Farrell.

Nick owns a good parcel of land, including Farrell Mountain which, legend tells, is the final resting ground of Revolutionary War soldiers and the gold that got them killed. But Farrell, a renowned businessman, has never given permission for authorities to dig on his mountain. He has even gone so far as to chase money-grubbing archaeologists off his mountain, with the help of his gun-wielding grounds keeper.

But recent evidence has, illegally, come to light confirming that Farrell Mountain holds the key to a Revolutionary mystery and possible gold, and Carter Wessex is determined to dig.

Normally Nick Farrell would flat refuse any offers to dig on his mountain – but Carter Wessex is the estranged daughter of one of Nick’s business partners. Not to mention she’s also disarmingly beautiful, and not afraid to put Nick in his place. He is intrigued and willing to let Carter and her team dig on his mountain if it means getting to the mystery of her. . .

‘Heart of Gold’ was the 2003 stand-alone romance novel written by J.R. Ward (under the name Jessica Bird) which has recently been re-packaged (along with ‘Leaping Hearts’), following the crazy success of her paranormal ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ series.

Before the crux of the plot starts to unwind, Bird introduces readers to two fairly complicated individuals in Carter Wessex and Nick Farrell.

Carter is a smart and gutsy archaeologist, one of the youngest and most celebrated in her field. She can usually be found knee-deep in dirt, wearing tatty clothes and jet-setting all around the world – if only to avoid her estranged father’s pleading devotion. Carter and her father have not spoken since her mother’s death, and while we don’t know the reason for the prolonged silence, Carter is adamant that it’s all her father’s fault. When the gold on Farrell Mountain is dangled before Carter (though she’s far more interested in the bones of the Revolutionary soldiers) she is reluctant to follow the dig, for more than just the reasons of Nick’s infamous refusal to permit people on his mountain. She knows that Nick and her father probably travel in the same business circles, and she cringes at the idea of bumping into him. But the bones on Farrell Mountain call to her, and Carter takes a chance. . .

Nick Farrell, meanwhile, is at the end of this tether. His young sister died a few years ago, leaving Nick as the sole guardian of his teenage nephew, Cort. The boy has some medical problems and unaddressed issues concerning his parent’s death. But worst of all, Cort is a teenager and rebelling against his uncle seems to be his number one hobby at the moment. The two of them seem to constantly be at loggerheads, at a perpetual impasse. But when Nick decides to let Carter Wessex and her small team dig on his mountain, the experience of helping out on the dig opens Cort and Nick’s struggling relationship up and gives the boy a new purpose over the school holidays.

Nick’s motives for letting Carter dig are somewhat selfish. Yes, she is beautiful and feisty and he is intrigued – but Nick is also thinking of business prospects with her estranged father, if he can be the peace-maker that brings these two together again, surely the old man would owe Nick a favour or two. . .

She took a deep breath, wrapping her arms around her body. “So I’m supposed to believe you’ve asked around, read my curriculum vitae, and suddenly decided the sum of my virtues is sufficient to justify changing your mind? I don’t get it.”
“Perhaps conversions happen,” he murmured, “even in people like me.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.”
“Maybe you just need to get to know me better. I could have a heart of gold under this gruff exterior.”
“That would be fool’s gold, no doubt.”
He laughed, a low, husky sound.

I bought this book on a whim – curious to read J.R. Ward when she was Jessica Bird and before her 'Black Dagger Brotherhood’ series. I read her ‘Moorehouse Legacy’ series and ‘The Billionaire Next Door’ book for the same reason, and got some enjoyment out of them.

‘Heart of Gold’ is just ‘okay’ by comparison. The entire storyline is pretty predictable from the blurb alone, and as far as the sexy stuff goes – this is probably the tamest Warden book I've read.

Carter and Nick’s romantic appeal rests in their sparking chemistry and witty parrying. It’s there, but it’s not particularly clever and reads sort of like paint-by-numbers for romantic conflict and tension.

Actually the most interesting thing about this book is reading the escalating drama, when a rival archaeologist called Conrad Lyst starts making trouble on the mountain, and threatening Carter. The storyline is as outlandish as it sounds, and I didn’t find it interesting so much for the cheesy plot-twists, but because I really started to see how Jessica Bird could be slowly drawn more towards the urban fantasy/paranormal romance side of things . . . I really felt like ‘Heart of Gold’ started out as a stock-standard romance. Rich millionaire who can’t commit is intrigued by a made-her-own-way millionaire’s daughter who likes to (literally) get down and dirty. For a little while Bird follows the suspected trajectory – but then she seemed to get a bit bored. She threw a spanner in the works with Conrad Lyst, and suddenly there were threats and kidnappings. The plot just seemed to suddenly explode into this completely different action book. With the BDB series in the back of my mind, I thought I could definitely see why the more outlandish paranormal romance genre would appeal to the Warden – because I truly felt like she wanted to stay with the fast-paced and dangerous kidnapping/action plot for longer.

All in all ‘Heart of Gold’ is so-so. If you’re reading this hoping to fill the ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ void between releases, you’ll probably be disappointed. This is thoroughly contemporary romance, and while the Warden (as Bird) herself seemed to be a bit over the strictly lovey-dovey stuff, judging by the sudden careening action plot-twist, fans of her paranormal work will probably just be bored. As a contemporary romance it’s okay – not great, not terrible, but if this had been my first encounter with Jessica Bird I probably wouldn’t have been moved to read through her backlist.


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