As wild and mysterious as the Louisiana swamp he called home, Lucky Doucet was a dangerously attractive Cajun no woman could handle. His solitary life left no room for the likes of elegant Serena Sheridan, but Lucky couldn’t deny her desperate need to find her missing grandfather. He would help her, but nothing more–yet once he felt the lure of the flaxen-haired beauty, an adventurer like Lucky couldn’t help playing with fire.
Serena felt unnerved, aroused, and excited by the ruggedly sensual renegade whose gaze burned her with its heat, but she did not dare tangle with a rebel whose intensity was overwhelming, who claimed his heart was off limits? Deeper and deeper they traveled into the steamy bayou, until with one electrifying kiss her resistance melted into liquid desire. And the devilish rogue found he’d do anything to make Serena Lucky’s Lady.
HelenKay: We all have books on the keeper shelf that have been there for years and read dozens of times, even if we’re not quite sure why. For me, Lucky’s Lady is one of those books. Is it a brilliant piece of fiction? Well, no. But, there’s something about the combination of a wounded alpha male with a shady past, a spiraling family crisis launched by a loved one and a hint of a bumpy ride between the hero and heroine on the road from sexual attraction to commitment that has always worked for me. This time wasn’t any different.
Here, prim and proper Serena left her beloved Southern mansion home for a different life. She built a life, became a psychologist, married then divorced, and generally stayed away. She is forced to return home to find her missing grandfather who is less missing than hiding from his troubles in a Louisiana swamp. A resolution should be simple but standing in her way are a devious twin sister driven more by dollars than family obligation, a connected but useless brother-in-law, a serious of nasty creatures determined to prevent Serena from saving the estate she loves, a cantankerous grandfather with a hidden agenda and Lucky – a rough-edged Cajun who vows to take her to bed then forget her.
H: Your first favorite pick was Slow Heat In Heaven by Sandra Brown. This book is reminiscent of Heaven in that both are driven by family sagas, a Louisiana setting, strong alpha males and an opposites-attract romance. Did you find the books similar and was one more effective for you than the other?
W: Slow Heat In Heaven and Lucky’s Lady are both set in Louisiana with Cajun heroes and heroines that grew up in Tara-like plantation homes, but that is where the similarity between these two works ends. Heat is a multilayered suspenseful family drama that includes a romance, whereas LL is a romance with a subplot that involves the heroine’s family. The structure, writing style, and quite frankly, the success of these stories are vastly different. Heat remains a favorite, but LL reads like a generations removed copy of Heat.
H: Both Brown and Hoag made the leap from romance to mainstream fiction which could be termed as suspense with lesser romantic undertones. Their careers have been comparable in terms of NYT bestseller lists and career trajectory. With Heaven and Lucy’s Lady there is a rare opportunity to compare writing styles by authors who objectively are at the same level in their careers and who wrote books with similar themes earlier in their careers. How would you compare the writing styles and abilities of these two ladies?
W: Comparing only these two works—as I haven’t read another Sandra Brown title in the last ten years, or more, and this is the only Tami Hoag I’ve read—Brown is a much more deft weaver, a much more clever storyteller, and commands a better use of basic mechanics. She’s very good at distracting with her right hand, so what the left is up to never comes to mind. Hoag spoon feeds in blunt fashion, she lack subtly in her storytelling and layers neither her plot nor her characters. Her frequent POV switches never find a rhythm or smoothness and are commonly jarring, forcing the reader to stop and assess rather than read without interruption. She handles multiple character scenes poorly, often springing a third or fourth character into a well-established scene. And, she uses secondary action as a space filler rather than as a opportunity to reveal character or advance the plot. Where Brown shines, Hoag needs a good polish.
H: There is an opportunity in Lucky’s Lady for the setting to play a major role, almost as a stand-in for another character. Did Hoag squander the opportunity or did she manage to make the Louisiana Bayou integral to the plot?
W: The setting could have been persuasive and essential to the story, like another character, as the town of Empire Falls is to the Richard Russo’s novel Empire Falls. However, Hoag uses the bayou and the surrounding community simply as a backdrop. There’s no sense of the space the story takes place in dominating the story or the characters in it, which, in order for the setting to be character-like needs to happen. Unlike James Lee Burke, whose stories are predicated on the setting (they couldn’t take place anywhere but Louisiana), his character gleaning a dependence and often an anger from life on the bayou, its influence then is almost parental. This is not the case with LL. This story could have been set anywhere.
H: Along the same lines, readers often complain that certain ethnic groups are inappropriately depicted in hero roles in romances. For example, there are those who refuse to read Native American romance heroes because they find the characteristics given to the hero stereotypical and offensive. Many folks have the same reaction to Scottish heroes in historical settings. Any trouble with Lucky’s Cajun roots or his depiction here?
W: Lucky is a clichéd and stereotypical alpha male character: he’s domineering, he’s overtly sexual, he’s master of his domain, and he pulls it all off with amazing ease and nonchalance. Whatever else he might be falls so far behind these defining points as to scarcely register on the radar. His cultural and ethnic background is not intrinsic to his character; remove Lucky from the bayou, take away his pirogue and deposit him in any other city or state and he would still be Lucky, the traits that most clearly define him would not change. However, Hoag does fall back on the romance stereotype that bi or multilingual heroes should mix their speech with English and—in this case—a French dialect.
H: Hoag’s roots are in shorter romances, like those from Bantam Loveswept and Harlequin. She eventually transitioned to a successful single title author. Lucky’s Lady actually is the follow-up to one of those shorter romances, a Loveswept called The Restless Heart, about Lucky’s brother. For me, this book is a bridge between her romance work and the more suspense-intense works that follow. This isn’t a suspense or thriller of the variety for which she is now known. In your view did Hoag successfully expand from category romance to a fleshed out single title romantic suspense or is this book really a sign of a career in transition?
W: Even though this is the only Tami Hoag work I’ve read, I’m familiar with the perception that LL was a transition—a step from one genre to another—for Hoag. However, the Bantam website labels this work a romance and I think that’s entirely correct. The central focus is the love story, in fact, the sister-wants-to-sell-the-homestead-for-personal-and-political-gain subplot barely percolates until a over a hundred pages into the book and that plot point wraps up thirty pages before the end of the book. It would seem a true evolution—a work with one foot in romance and the other suspense—would rely less heavily on the romance aspect and spend more time on the thriller/suspense angle.
H: Lucky is rough and untamed and, at times, a bit more gruff and demanding than the heroes found in many contemporary romances written today. The fractured core of his character doesn’t come from the usual romance construct of a dysfunctional family. Instead, it arises out of a personal crisis that separates him from that otherwise grounded family unit. Did his character ring true, believable and consistent for you throughout the book? Was he a hero you could cheer for despite his obvious faults?
W: I open romance novels with the preconceived notion that I will cheer for the hero, the heroine, and the happily ever after. Frankly, a work has to derail for me not to root for the characters and Lucky was no different. That does not mean I accept everything on the page and find it all believable. While Lucky isn’t entirely like today’s contemporary heroes, he isn’t the over-the-top ultra alpha of the eighties, either. He’s tender toward Serena almost immediately, in his mind, if not in his speech. However, Lucky’s life before page one is melodramatic. He gets his heart broken in college and it alters the course of his life. Dropping out seemed a convenient plot point rather than a well thought out character choice. And further, his time in a South American jail rings hollow. It’s the impetus for Lucky’s withdrawal from society yet the details of the events and the exact impact they have on his life are given the broadest of brush strokes. While his reclusiveness makes an interesting counterpoint to Serena’s need, first, for his services and then his love, as a character he needs motivation that grounds his actions as opposed to opportunely making empty conflict.
H: Serena is a bit prissy, somewhat vulnerable and a tad naive for the successful therapist she is supposed to be. I struggled with her character at the beginning of the book but grew to believe in the romance between these two folks. What is your view on Serena – was she equal to Lucky and was their romance developed in a satisfactory way?
W: Serena is a difficult heroine to relate to because there is a gap between what Hoag tells the reader about Serena—for example, she’s a cool as a cucumber psychologist—and what she shows the reader—Serena doesn’t think or act like a doctor of psychology and cries and falls apart rather often. And, like other romance heroines, Serena’s feet don’t quite touch the ground: she’s the good twin, divorced but carries no scars, polite but not a doormat, she doesn’t have casual sex and on and on. There is little about her that grounds her or breaths life into her. Serena does, however, go toe to toe with Lucky and his demons. She sees the truth of him despite what he’d have her believe.
As the romance develops, Hoag puts her hero and heroine together in situations that scream convenient contrivance, as when Serena’s grandfather tells her she isn’t welcome to stay in his bayou retreat and should stay with Lucky. After which Serena and Lucky choose to stay in physical proximity to one another because it suddenly suits their needs very well. Serena handily forgets that anyone besides Lucky can take her to see her grandfather and Lucky—despite his protests of not involving himself with others—wants to oversee the family dealings. Like many romances, Serena and Lucky fall in love very quickly—Serena knows she loves Lucky two days after meeting him and it doesn’t take Lucky much longer. Hoag makes an interesting choice with the last chapters of the book: she forwards the story first a month, and then another four months past the end of the suspense plot, to conclude Serena and Lucky’s story. In that time she gives Lucky the opportunity to fight for his happily ever after with Serena.
H: There are some obvious bad guys in this book and several secondary characters, all of whom seem determined to hurt Serena in some way. For me the suspense wove together with the romance but the emphasis stayed on the sexual attraction between Lucky and Serena. Was the conflict set out and then developed in a way that connected with the romance and in a way that reached a believable conclusion?
W: The love story and Serena’s family subplot run parallel to one another, but do not intertwine in an inseparable way. Despite the fact that Serena’s twin sister Shelby once broke Lucky’s heart, his past entanglement with Shelby weighs lightly on the action and progression of the story. Save for Lucky’s involvement with Serena, he and their romance are otherwise uninvolved in her subplots. As for the suspense conclusion, it’s never believable when the bad guy confesses within earshot of a sheriff.
H: Hoag is not an author you’ve read widely. What were your overall impressions of the writer’s strengths and weaknesses? What were your impressions of this book?
W: Hoag is a very obvious writer, she lacks—at least in this work—finesse. The characters, the conflicts, the plot were all very convenient when organic would have served better. That said, the love story is not without its charms. The writing is just compelling enough to encourage the turn of the page, the spark between Serena and Lucky is sexy enough to root for them, and the suspense aspect just menacing enough to wonder who will do what to whom.
H: This book is one I point to in a series of romantic suspense works that begin with Brown’s Heaven, continues with this book, and ends with Linda Howard. All three authors transitioned from shorter romance (category) to single title. Despite their differences and the varying writing strengths of each, I would recommend all three. Is this a book you would tell readers to pick up? Would you pick up another Hoag book?
W: Lucky’s Lady is a somewhat worthwhile read–though I’m considerably less enamored with it that you. For me, it’s a drop in an endless sea of romance.