HQN, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-77098-7
Contemporary Romance, 2006
I have commented in the past that Pamela Britton’s romance novels can get a little too saccharine at times. Well, In the Groove is like… how do they say it? Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
There is an old-fashioned feel to the romance in terms of the plot devices incorporated into this feel-good tale. There are no serial killers, secret agents, vampire heroes, secret agent vampire heroes… just plenty of slow-burn romance with a huge dose of NASCAR thrown in. There is nothing wrong with being old-school, of course, and there is a quaint charm to In the Groove.
Our heroine Sarah Tingle is like a walking homespun apple pie heroine. For one, she’s a kindergarten teacher, which makes her a double treat when it comes to kiddies and being a woman of good virtue. Alas, a bad ex-boyfriend doctored photos of Sarah and plaster them online and let’s just say that these photos are not the kind that kindergarten teachers should be posing for. She loses her job and much of the friendship and respect of the people around her. As sad violins play in the background, our heroine ends up applying for a job as the motor coach driver of a NASCAR driver Lance Cooper. With a name like Lance, I suppose the poor man has no choice but to be a NASCAR driver.
Sarah doesn’t know much about NASCAR thingies and she also becomes the placeholder for readers unfamiliar with NASCAR and how smart people make lots of money off some men’s obsession with fast cars. Lance is a nice guy, the perfect trophy for a woman down on her luck like Sarah. Sure, he knocks her down with his car when they first meet, but that’s an honest accident, I’m sure, although I have my doubts about the wisdom of Lance suspecting that Sarah may be some crazed stalker only to drive her up to his place nonetheless to make sure that Sarah is fine.
There is nothing wrong at all about the characters except for the near one-dimensional niceness of the main characters. Lance is a nice guy with minor issues that never come in the way of his being the best boyfriend ever. He is worried about how it can be unprofessional to have an affair with his employee (imagine that) but he is all about the TLC. Sarah is one hundred percent Mary Sue. She seems to have all kinds of very bad things coming her way, from an unpleasant mother to unpleasant exes and all, and it is only with the hero that she finally finds true friends and true love that appreciate her for what a special person she is. Sarah is poised in a wane manner when she’s facing all kinds of smelly stuff but when given the chance to shine, she’s Oprah and Sally Struthers in the body of a buxom babe. I suppose she’s also a super vixen in bed in a nice non-skanky way, but this story doesn’t really get too explicit in the love scenes. All in keeping with the sweet and homespun feel of the story, I’d wager.
Even the conflicts in this story seem contrived just to drive home how special Sarah Tingle is. Majority of the villains in this story are female, no doubt to make Sarah shine even more brightly in comparison. Sarah protests that she and Lance are not to be: how can they, when he’s so rich while she’s just a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks? A nobody who happens to be beautiful, selfless, wise, and more, of course, as the rest of the cast in this story will be happy to remind me again and again, but Sarah won’t get her Pink Glowing Heart Medal from the United Nations if she doesn’t do that predictable “I’m no good for you due to circumstances that make me a tragic heroine!” thing. Of course, the whole “I’m no good for you!” thing only serves to have everyone in this story to remind Sarah that yes, she is good enough. Heck, she is probably better than you and me because she is so, so, so special.
Still, despite the obvious Mary Sue overtones of In the Groove, it is very easy to like Sarah and Lance. Ms Britton always has a bouncy verve in her prose and her affection for her characters always seem to show and it is no different here. She has a way with making Sarah come off as nearly human at times and there are scenes between Sarah and Lance that put a smile on my face, even if some of these scenes include Sarah actually baking cookies for Lance. The thing is, though, as likable as the characters can be at times, this story is often way too sweet in a calculated manner that the sweetness soon comes off as artificial instead of organic.