Saturday, November 15, 2008

Desperado by Sandra Hill ****

This is my first Sandra Hill - but not my last! Well, I glommed her in a big way with at lot from eBay, so it's a good thing I enjoyed this book.

I'd been reading that her books were funny, so I'd been looking forward to reading them one day, but had so many others in my TBR pile that I hadn't started on her yet. Then I got an offer from a PBS member to take a freebie, and the only thing I found I might want was a Sandra Hill, and of course it was the 3rd in a series, so I had to get more, and then on eBay... You get the picture? ("yes, we see" "that's when I found him, the Leader of the Pack vrrooom")

This one, by the way, is a stand alone time-travel romance. The heroine is Helen Prescott, Major Helen Prescott that is, career military. Helen is the daughter of General Prescott and engaged to be married to Elliott, also career military. Helen is the senior officer on a training mission for National Guard members fulfilling their annual 2-week obligation, and she has a group going out for a parachute drop.

In the group is Rafael Santiago. Rafe was a classmate of Helen's at military school 12 years before, but is now just keeping his National Guard status to pay back his college loans. In real life, he's an L.A. lawyer, looking to get the debts paid and live the high life. He hasn't forgotten his crush on "Prissy" Prescott - or the matching butterfly tattoos they each sport as the result of a drunken escapade in school. He pushes all her buttons when they meet again, and she (trying to forget the major crush she had on him) is all rules-and-regulations, straight backed and, well, prissy.

Then something goes wrong on their jump, and they fall out of the plane, together, with only 1 working parachute... into California 1850! Because of his resemblance to a Mexican bandito "Angel", they are picked up and dragged off to town for the reward. And because she's with him, they assume she is Angel's whore, Elena.

Ms. Hill does write hysterically funny prose - there are some real laugh-out-loud moments on every page. It isn't funny in the style of Julia Quinn or Susan Andersen, with witty dialogue and amusing situations, it's more Three Stooges/slapstick stuff - outrageous pranks and over-the-top lines. She also pulls a little on the heartstrings, and she writes smokin' hot sex too.

Rafe and Helen manage to bumble their way through life in the past, where they meet a gold prospector and hide out in his cabin. In all, they spend 3 months in 1850. Hill interjects an interesting time travel twist - apparently, the operations and subsequent scars they bore in 1997 are gone because they would have been anachronistic - and this includes Rafe's vasectomy he had because he does not want to have children. Since he only had 3 condoms in his wallet (notice his wallet, as anachronistic as that might be, managed to make the time leap...) he decides they must remain celibate in spite of their raging chemistry because he cannot risk getting her pregnant. He wants to save the condoms for their last night in 1850...

They do manage to wait for several days, but then use all 3 condoms in one memorable night. Of course, that just stirs the fires in Prissy/Helen - she never felt this way about Elliott, I can tell you that! So she decides to work on Rafe - to get him both to end the celibacy and also give up his pledge never to have children, since her greatest wish is to have children. In fact, that's why she was going to get married even though she didn't love Elliott. (I'm actually slightly uncomfortable with a heroine's nagging the hero to change his mind about having children, but it's a minor quibble in an uproariously funny book that is so unrealistic anyway.)

I sorta missed how they decided that if they could recover the parachute and jump off the cliff under which they originally landed, they would be back in 1997. But every time travel book has to have the way to get in and out of the past, so that was their way. Unfortunately, one of the original banditos ran off with it, so their quest in 1850 (besides boinking like bunnies) is to get the parachute. And while they are at it, Rafe wants to get enough gold to get him out of debt. His motivation is to be worthy of Helen - he figures she won't be interested in a poor Mexican-American lawyer, but if he was rich...

There's a strong thread in the story of the class and ethnic divides - he is painted as a kid who grew up poor, in L.A. gangs, not worthy of her upper middle class background. In 1850, it's even worse - the prejudice against him as a "greaser" is widespread. Hill pulls no punches on this - while she doesn't exactly moralize, it's blatant and it's a major part of the story.

The real story, in my mind, is the last few chapters after they get back to the future. Helen is whisked away by her father and fiancé, and Rafe is taken back to the base and grilled for hours about his involvement in their disappearance. In 1997, they were only gone 24 hours, and each of them remembers the time travel past slowly. Rafe tries to contact her, but cannot find any phone numbers for her. Then he goes to Mexico to help his younger brother who is in prison, and ends up imprisoned alongside him. A photo in the paper of Rafe and his sister going to Mexico is shown to Helen, who jumps to the conclusion that his sister is instead his girlfriend, and when she doesn't hear from him, she agrees to go ahead and marry Elliott (after breaking off their engagement right after her return from 1850).

Well, any more details about this part gets me into major spoiler terroritory. I was really enjoying this book as a 5 star read until this part and then Helen stepped slightly into Too Annoying and Almost Too Stupid To Live Land. While I still really liked it, after that it dipped into 4 stars for me. But I'm going to keep reading because I know I'll probably live a little longer on the belly laughs this book gave me.

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