Arabesque, $4.99, ISBN 0-7860-0280-8
Contemporary Romance, 1996
Janice Sims is a favorite author of mine because she is consistently able to deliver my favorite kind of heroines – smart and very sensible – and family relationships that are often oozing with wise and down-to-earth principles regarding matters of the heart. It is with great interest that I start on this author’s debut romance novel. I’ve read her subsequent novels that come after Affair of the Heart and hence I am keen to discover how far the author’s skills have evolved.
In this book, Cara Lynn Garrett decides to take a break from her vet career in the city after a broken relationship for some R&R at her father’s horse ranch in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Here, she finds romance with the new guy in town, Jordan Davidson. I don’t know why the back blurb hypes up a love triangle between her, Jordan, and another guy, Evan Fitzgerald, because the author makes it very clear that Cara Lynn is attracted to Jordan and she tells Evan clearly that she doesn’t want to get busy with Evan. Still, I can understand the person that wrote the back blurb because Affair Of The Heart does not have a cohesive external conflict or a long-drawn internal conflict. I have problems trying to figure out an interesting approach to giving a synopsis of this book. This story is more like a blow-by-blow account of Cara Lynn’s adventures in Shelbyville in the form of many standalone episodes and anecdotes in each chapter. Kind of like a James Herriot novel, come to think of it, only with sex between the human characters.
From a technical viewpoint, Affair of the Heart really suffers from the too much telling syndrome. Still, on the most part I really enjoyed reading this book. The reason is chiefly because Cara Lynn is just wonderful – she is smart, she does not have weird sexual hang-ups or neurotic viewpoints regarding dating and the opposite sex, and she is free from all those contrivances romance heroines tend to have to play the damsel-in-distress role. I don’t even think “damsel in distress” is in Cara Lynn’s vocabulary. Her relationship with her father is idealized, but it’s still a realistic form of idealization in that it is very easy to imagine that there is a real loving father and daughter that behave just like Cara Lynn and Frank.
But there is a limit to the perfection I can tolerate in a story, and by the midway point, the absolute faultlessness of Cara Lynn, Frank, and Jordan causes the story to sink into a monotonous funk. Cara Lynn, Evan, and Jordan are beautiful people, just like everyone else in this story. While I enjoy seeing Cara Lynn behaving and acting like a sensible woman, she soon mutates into a too-wise and too-know-it-all type that starts to get my nerves. Maybe the monotonous perfection of the main characters will be tolerable if there is a cohesive conflict or obstacle Cara Lynn and Jordan have to overcome, but here, whatever misunderstandings or other forms of conflict are cleared up one or two pages after the problem first crops up because someone will say something so wise and correct that the people around this person will nod sagely and life goes back to normal soon after.
Because of this, the author’s attempt to introduce some emotional vulnerability in Cara Lynn’s character in the last few chapters of the book rings false. Cara Lynn by that point has become some sort of demigoddess of wisdom, sagacity, and perfection. I find it very hard to believe that she will have any emotional vulnerability that she can’t solve by looking into the mirror and doing that Miss Wise Thang prep talk on herself. Because of this, Jordan and Cara Lynn’s final conflict before the happy ending feels as if it is just that – a final conflict introduced by the author for the sake of conflict.
So while this one is fundamentally a good romance novel because it features great family dynamics, a wonderful main couple, and some heartwarming homespun anecdotes to enhance the small town feel of the story, the lack of urgency in the story due to a general absence of genuine conflict only brings out the more annoying side of the characters’ too-wise, too-wholesome, too-goody-goody personalities.
Janice Sims’s writing has improved tremendously over the years and her stories have a stronger plot and better pacing to sustain my interest beyond the midpoint of the story. Affair of the Heart does offer a tantalizing glimpse of what this author can really offer should she reaches the peak of her potential. If I read this book first before any of the author’s later books, I’d still be impressed enough to keep an eye out for the author’s next book. So while this book will not stand up well alongside later books by Ms Sims, it’s still a book worth looking out for if one wants to complete a collection or is just looking for a nice small town story featuring a smart and sassy heroine, as long as this person is okay with the overwhelming gloss of perfection that will set onto the story soon enough.