“Fire And Ice,” by Julie Garwood; Ballantine Books (2008, $26 hardcover)

The strengths of Julie Garwood’s books are the engaging characters she brings to life, and the chemistry she brews between the hero and heroine.

“Fire and Ice” fits rather nicely into her well-honed formula.

Sophie was peripherally introduced in “The Murder List.” Don’t remember? No wonder. It was written four years ago.

So to save yourself the frustration of not being able to remember Sophie – or other characters – from that book, you might want to read it again before you start “Fire and Ice.” Or, you can read this brief synopsis:

Regan and her friends Cordie (perhaps within the next decade we’ll read about her romance with Regan’s brother, Aidan … or maybe not) and Sophie go to hear this quack self-help guru to help Sophie (a reporter) expose him as a fraud. He tells everyone to write a “Murder List,” names of people they’d rather not exist.

Regan scribbles down a few names so he doesn’t suspect her of being a spy.

The next thing she knows, people on her list start getting killed. And she receives threats. She’s assigned a bodyguard, Alex Buchanan, who is a few weeks away from leaving Chicago and returning to Boston to work for the FBI.

They fall in love.

So in “Fire and Ice,” Regan and Alec are back, and so are some of Alec’s police buddies. But the new guy is Jack – Alec’s partner, and the hero of this piece.

Jack loses a bet and consents to a favor, which results in him sticking close to Sophie. Of course, eventually he sticks real close.

Sophie is a strong heroine, and Jack makes a good match for her. Their chemistry is good and it’s obvious to everyone that they’re head-over-heels – everyone except for Sophie and Jack. And that just makes it fun to watch.

The suspense is intriguing and will keep you guessing in some aspects. The trip to Alaska is rather fun to read about – but keep a blanket handy. You’ll get cold when you read it.

How it stacks up

Overall rating: 4 of 5 hearts. Garwood doesn’t release books very often, but when she does, it’s a must read. This book has ties to the Buchanans (the modern-day ones), which gives it additional appeal for fans of that series. But it’s also well-written, with engaging characters and a suspenseful storyline – which will appeal to all romance fans, and perhaps even to some mystery readers as well.

Hunk appeal: 10. Jack isn’t the flowers and candy romantic type. Thank goodness. His toughness, eventual protectiveness and capability give him a gruff appeal. His reluctance to accept his love for Sophie is endearing as well. It’s just fun watching him fall.

Steamy scene grade: XXXX. And fall hard.

Happily-ever-after: Good. Garwood has a knack for fun endings (who will ever forget Laurant’s and Nick’s finale in “Heartbreaker”) and while this one doesn’t match that one, it’s still a good one. Maybe a bit predictable, but that’s OK, too.

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