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While in the local thrift shop the other day, I was browsing through the book section and found Lovesong by Valerie Sherwood. I could tell by the cover art and the yellowed pages that it was an older romance, reminiscent of the novels that I cut my little Fabio Files teeth on as a teenager. Upon looking at the copyright date, I saw that it was written in 1985—when I was 7 years old! I had to give it a shot, for old times’ sake—and for only 25 cents, how could I pass it up?

The book begins in 1688. The story is set partly in Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Tidewater area, which I got a kick out of because that’s where we’re living right now. Also, Sherwood obviously went through great lengths to ensure that the book was historically accurate, going so far as to include a long “author’s note” in the beginning, detailing how all of the plantations mentioned were actual working plantations in 17th century Virginia and how all of the books read by the heroine and her friends were actual titles. The author obviously did her research, and I appreciated that. After all, there’s nothing saying that just because a book is a trashy romance novel it can’t be accurate. Unfortunately, in her effort to be historically thorough, Sherwood bogs the reader down with minutiae regarding 17th century social customs and clothing, not to mention a rambling, convoluted plot involving a veritable cast of thousands (most of whom end up being completely unlikable characters to boot).

In the book’s beginning, we meet Carolina Lightfoot, the daughter of a prosperous Virginia planter. Her parents have been mired in an unhappy marriage, causing her older sisters to elope at the earliest opportunity in an effort to get away from the bickering. Carolina’s mother sends her away to a girls’ school in London in an effort to keep her out of trouble, but, while in England, Carolina meets a young lord who quickly steals her heart away. But is he as faithful as he says?

The rest of the novel—all 526 pages!—revolves around Carolina chasing her erstwhile lover to the Caribbean, where she becomes the “guest” of a mysterious buccaneer, who might turn out to be a better match for her. The book is a maze of characters, plots, and sub-plots, with mistaken identities, red herrings, and myriad other devices all jumbled together with long, expository speeches. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t even keep the plot straight in my head well enough to give a proper synopsis for this review! And you would think that if a romance novel is over 500 pages long, there would at least be tons of love scenes. But, sadly, poor Carolina tends to go through some lengthy droughts—and the scenes that we do get are brief and underwhelming.

Basically, to make a (very) long story short, Sherwood over-extended herself. Lovesong is like six novels in one, and, as campy and entertaining as romances written in the ‘80s were, a reader shouldn’t have to keep a diagram handy to keep all of the plots and characters straight. This is a romance novel best left for the most die-hard fans. As for me, I think I might donate it right back to the local thrift store.

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