Tangled Up In Love
by Hailey North, contemporary (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82069-2

As Hailey North seems to be coming off better with each new book, I am looking forward to Tangled Up In Love. Unfortunately, half-baked is the best and kindest description I can give this book. There are subplots that are introduced but never going anywhere, the main characters' motivations are vague, and this city gal in small town schtick is also a very familiar one. Oh well, that dog picture above each chapter header is very cute.

Stacey St Cyr brings her dog True Blue and her baggage filled with marriage and men issues to the small town of Doolittle in Arkansas. Yes, I see the name of that town and I groan. The author may as well put up a billboard saying "Cutesville, Population Precious except for Mrs Giggles who packed up and left for sinful LA last week".

When True Blue becomes sick, she tries desperately to look for a vet. She finds Dr Michael Halliday (good grief, that name), a divorcee/single daddy who has issues with City Girls (we all know that city girls are frivolous, greedy, materialistic ho's and career women, and yes, I'm always puzzled as to how a fickle woman can also be a good career woman). Turns out that True Blue is pregnant (oh no!).

As Stacey stays on in Doolittle for some R&R, she soon falls in love with the smalltown James Herriot-wannabe, learns that smalltown life is good, and even invites her divorced parents over so that they can reconcile. The last one, by the one, goes nowhere.

Mike is strictly a stereotype, as is his ex - he is the noble smalltown doctor who aims to live a simple life and charges the clientele very little money, and wife leaves him because she wants city lights and money. Trust me, on this one, I'm on ex-wifey's side. I want money and I want to live in a house with a T1 line and the biggest home theatre system ever. The people of Doolittle are happy, fuddy-wuddy bumpkins and their animals have all sorts of eccentric problems, no doubt in an attempt to channel a third-rate Herriot atmosphere. If that's not subtle for you, Mike's house has a menagerie of animals for more quack-quack oink-oink amusement. I keep waiting for Old McDonald to show up.

But I find it hard to pay attention to his relationship with his daughters or with Stacey. He's a stock character, the relationship occurs in a way that doesn't stray from predictability, and Mike doesn't come to life at all. Stacey, despite her usual baggages about not wanting to be her parents and all, rarely comes to life, except for a scene where she sticks it to both her parents for screwing up her childhood.

But I have to admit that there is a certain charm to the scenes where Mike will think of life's dilemma as he performs less-than-pleasant treatments on his patients. It's truer than you think: I know a vet who during one of my visit to his clinic, while shoving a thermometer up the anus of a struggling St Bernard's dog, asks me, calm as you please, "You want me to order us a pizza?" Uhm, no thanks, Richard. I'll pass.

Tangled Up In Love is an unexciting, familiar tale of the triumph of smalltown simplicity over city life glitz, although it doesn't go overboard in ripping apart career women like some of these types of books do. It does have its moments, but these moments are few thanks to underdeveloped characters and half-baked subplots. Maybe it does the smalltown thing too well, like too many smalltowns, this book just isn't happening at all.

Rating: 67

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