Kimani, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-86160-6
Contemporary Romance, 2010
Rhythms of Love is a collection of two short stories by Beverly Jenkins and Elaine Overton. Both share a common theme: both main characters are involved in the music scene.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that Beverly Jenkins’s You Sang to Me is the technically superior story of the two. Regina Carson once dreamed of breaking into the music business but one hard knock is all it takes to get her to abandon her dream. I know, she can be such a wimp. Now she works for housekeeping in a popular hotel when she’s not teaching music at the neighborhood school. Jamal Watts, our producer hero, happens to hear Regina singing while she’s working and he thinks that he has found a hot stuff in her. She takes some convincing to sign over her heart as well as her career to Jamal, however.
This story boasts some good pacing and credible romance-building, but unfortunately, the characters are all so one-dimensionally perfect that they are a snooze to follow. Regina isn’t just so talented to the wazoo, she is a selfless and talented volunteer teacher, a MVP in housekeeping, a dedicated friend, and a tireless crusader for justice and what not. Jamal is probably the most honest music producer in the world and he is so perfect, so kind, so understanding, so sweet, and so… bland. There is no feeling of suspense as to whether these characters will encounter any genuine problem in their relationship because these two are not going to have a single hair out of place anytime soon.
Compared to the previous story, Elaine Overton’s Beats of My Heart boasts a far more interesting set of flawed main characters and there are some intense emotional conflicts here. Unfortunately, pacing problems mar this story.
Tristan Daniels decides to do what his family members believe to be an insane decision, walks away from his teaching job in Albany, and tries his luck at making it as an artist in New York. As luck would have it, he finds himself hired as the lead singer of Rayne Philips’s group Optimus Five. But love will have to wait Rayne has plenty of issues and her past with Tristan’s are actually intertwined in a manner reminiscent of an unpleasant story line in a soap opera.
The link between Raine’s past and Tristan’s is plunked suddenly late in the story, so it’s hard to view that aspect of the plot as anything but a plot contrivance introduced gracelessly for the sake of conflict. It doesn’t help that this conflict causes plenty of women to shriek and wave their hands hysterically – the whole thing comes off as so unnecessarily overwrought.
The story also suffers from pacing problems. The first chapter, which is nothing more than a roll call of Tristan’s family members, can be easily eliminated because all the background information does little to advance the story. In addition, some of the details in this chapter are repeated in the next chapter. The developing relationship between Rayne and Tristan in the middle parts of the story is told rather than shown. I’m told by the author that these two are somehow in love, but there isn’t enough shown in the story to convince me of this. The earlier chapters of this short story are bogged down by too much unnecessary and even repetitive information dumping (especially when it comes to that of Tristan’s family members who do not play significant roles in this story), and as a result, the romance doesn’t have much room to grow.
The last chapters see Raine playing the tedious victim to her past, but it allows Tristan to show some tender moments and romantic gestures of love. Seriously, I think Ms Overton writes capable heroines better than flawed heroines at the moment. When she delivers heroines with baggage like Raine, Raine is annoyingly stubborn in her determination to play the martyr, often refusing to listen to reason, and as a result she comes off as rather dim. There are moments in this story when I feel that Tristan is better off sedating her instead of being so patient with her – at least the sedatives would keep her quiet.
Up until that point Raine turns into a drama queen, however, Beats of My Heart is a far more interesting story than the previous one because both Tristan and Raine have strengths and flaws. And as irritating as Raine can be in her determination to be a martyr to her crazy mother’s ways, at least she gets Tristan to react very nicely to her nonsense. Some readers may find the lack of resolution about Tristan’s career unsatisfying, but I don’t mind this as it allows me to imagine a future of Raine being dumped by our hero if she doesn’t get her act together and the hero moves on to someone less prone to hysteria when it comes to dealing with stress.
Rhythms of Love is a familiar song where short stories are concerned: if you are a collector of these authors’ works, you will of course want to get this book, but everyone else should be aware that the authors had delivered much better full-length works in the past and will no doubt do so as well in the future.