Readers’ Advisory 2: Amber Beach. Elizabeth Lowell

A missing brother, stolen amber, and a devastatingly handsome fishing guide who carries a gun. Honor Donovan has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.


Quick Facts

Author: Elizabeth Lowell

Published 1997 by Avon Books. 97803807775842

364 pp.$6.99US, $8.99CAN

Romance, suspense

Available in print, eBook, and audio

Why I Read It

Way back when I first read Amber Beach, I read it because the cover caught my eye, I was bored, and I was steadily making my way through my library’s romance novels. It was the first Elizabeth Lowell book I’ve ever read, and by the end, I loved the characters. Lucky for me, by the time I got to series, all of the Donovan books were available, so I didn’t have to wait.

This most recent read came about because of an assignment I had to do for class, lead a book discussion. The instructions specifically said that leaders had to choose a book they both enjoyed. My project partner chose the genre, romance, and I suggested Amber Beach. She enjoyed it as well, and we agreed that it was a good novel representative of the genre and subgenre, romantic suspense, and the heat level, the sex, wasn’t too over the top. We also had to take into account that we have a lot of non-romance readers. So, nothing too spicy for those who don’t enjoy sex in their reading material, and nothing too fluffy, so we don’t put off potential romance readers.

This review presents a slight departure from all other reviews. We have a full booktalk rather than ideas, and the discussion questions were decided upon collaboratively. This is because Amber Beach was used in a different assignment wherein I had to lead a book discussion along with a partner. That said, Stacie Schwartz was my project partner.

TLL’s Tag

A missing brother, stolen amber, and a devastatingly handsome fishing guide who carries a gun. Honor Donovan has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.

The Rundown

Honor Donovan, one of six Donovan children, heads to the San Juan Islands after getting a call from her oldest brother, Archer, to do so. Archer doesn’t give her all the details, except to say that Kyle, Honor’s favorite brother, is missing and someone needs to be at his cabin on Amber Beach in case he comes home. Honor’s been at the cabin for about a week with no word from Kyle. She puts out an ad for a boating instructor to teach her how to drive Kyle’s SeaSport boat, the Tomorrow. Many people answer her ad, including a plainclothes cop, a shifty eyed Russian, and Jake Mallory.

The cop answers the ad looking for Kyle. It is said when he disappeared he took a fortune in amber with him, including a piece of the fabled Imperial Russian treasure The Amber Room, rumored to have been dismantled and lost during WWII. The cop, on orders from the US Government, would have seized the panel and Uncle Sam would use it as a bargaining chip in the new world order brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Oh, and arrested Kyle for theft and murder. Honor dismisses him. The shifty eyed Russian answers the ad looking for Kyle, but he plans to kill him. The Amber Room would make him famous, make him rich, and possibly keep him alive in a post KGB world. Honor’s intuition, though, immediately dismisses him, because he creeps her out. She calls him Snake Eyes. Jake Mallory answers the ad looking for Kyle so he can pummel him and get revenge on the Donovan clan for blacklisting him and his company from the Baltic. Jake was the last person to see Kyle before he disappeared, and the last person to see the shipment of amber which, supposedly, contains the missing panel. Donovan International, the Donovan family company, is desperate to find Kyle and will do anything, including shifting blame onto the next obvious person i.e. Jake, in order to find and protect him.

Jake figures the easiest way to get to Kyle will be through the kid sister, Honor. Jake is not prepared for a grown woman with eyes like the sea, a mind like a whip, and a body that won’t quit. Honor sense that there is more to Jake, but she needs him to find her brother and hires him on the spot. What follows is a race against time. No one knows where Kyle is, so when Honor and Jake head out on the boat, they are followed by the US Coast Guard, one of the many alphabet agencies that pretend they don’t exist, and former KGB operatives. It’s a treasure hunt, and Kyle could be the skeleton where X marks the spot.

Here’s what I think

Having read this book three times now, that I know of, I can honestly say that it can stand the test of time. Sure, some of the references are dated. It’s been almost twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and Russia and other Eastern European countries were thrust into capitalism unprepared. The struggles, though, for independence, for a strong currency, for respect from the First World nations; they’re all the same. Just insert Georgia for Lithuania, and you have the 2013 Georgian crisis in which Russian invaded the tiny country.

There was obviously a lot of research put into the minutiae of the story, from boating mechanics to how to spot genuine amber from fake polymers that look like amber. The relationship between Honor and Jake proceeds apace. It’s not too abrupt, nor is it without its issues. They dance around each other, trying not to be attracted to the other, but ultimately failing. Do I think the adrenaline rush from almost being found asleep during a burglary helped the first sex scene along, yes. But the second scene, after the revelation of Jake as out for revenge, is about as clear-headed decision-making as any contemporary consensual sex scene.

Pacing is a bit of an issue. It has a slow start, with all the boat talk and exposition through secondary characters. After the reveal of Jake’s duplicity, though, it picks up. The ending may be a bit abrupt, but it is a definitive ending to this story. Kyle is rescued, Honor and Jake admit they love each other, and loose ends are tied off.

Final decision

It’s always going to be a favorite of mine.

4Q–Better than most, marred by occasional lapses

4P–Broad general or genre appeal

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


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Deadline, Sandra Brown

Fast Track, Julie Garwood

Appeal Factors

Suspenseful, Steamy

Book talk

Family is everything to the Donovan clan. They can and will go to the ends of the Earth for each other. So when Honor Donovan gets a call from her big brother, Archer, with orders to get herself to the San Juan Islands, she goes. The catch? Her favorite brother, Kyle, is missing, along with a fortune in amber rumored to be the legendary Amber Room from Imperial Russia. All signs point to theft, yet Honor refuses to believe her goofy brother is capable of grand larceny. To prove that, she needs help.

Enter J. Jacob Mallory. Jake has it out for the Donovans. He’s being set up to take the fall for Kyle’s alleged misdeeds by Donovan International, the family company. As the last person to see Kyle and the missing amber, but lacking evidence as to the whereabouts of either, Jake’s been blacklisted. The easiest way to clear his name? Pose as a fishing guide and boating instructor to one Honor Donovan. Heat smolders between them, but with Uncle Sam, former KGB operatives, and lies in the way, do they really have the time to explore an affair?

Book discussion questions

1) Why do you think Kyle felt the need to drop off the grid rather than contact his family?

2)Who else’s eyes glazed over during all of the boat talk? Do you think the story would work without it?

3) Do you think the Amber Room really exists? What makes you think so?

4) How do you think Jake handled the outside parties’ manipulation of the situation? Given the powers that be, from the US Gov’t to the Forest Brotherhood, could he have done anything differently?

5) What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?

6) What makes one trust gut instinct even when others doubt?

7) Romance novels have gotten a bad rap in recent years for gratuitous sex. Do you think the sexual tension and sex scenes in this book were handled well?

8) Do you think this book worked for the first time romance reader? How would you change it?

Clues to the Future

Amber Beach, San Juan Islands, SeaSport boats, Jake Mallory, Honor Donovan, Kyle Donovan, Archer Donovan, Uncle Sam, Russian Tsar, Snake Eyes

Awards and Lists

NYT best seller

1997 RT Best Contemporary Romantic Suspense nominee

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site:

BookPage Interview:

Writer’s Write interview:

Publisher’s Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

RT Book Reviews:

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