Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 1-58314-487-0
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Judging from Straight to the Heart and the author’s previous few books, Bettye Griffin is on a roll, creating characters that are usually a little different from the usual central casting types in plots that try to examine interesting aspects of love and heartbreak. Often though the execution could use some improvements here and there, and this book is no different.
Monique Oliver returns to Washington, North Carolina, not exactly with her tail between her legs despite having lost her man, her hair, and her job. She ends up running her uncle’s bed and breakfast. To her dismay, many men start paying attention to the new woman in town. Monique has sworn off men. That handsome Mac MacDonald is definitely not the right man for her, certainly not! Meanwhile, Mac’s niece Adrian and Monique’s nephew Jerome embark on a teenage love thing while Monique’s handyman and housekeeper start their own thing too. Looks like love is catching hold on Washington, oh dear.
Monique and Mac are older than the usual contemporary romance couple. Monique is trying to put her messed-up life together while Mac is the usual hero on the “all women are sneaky and greedy” trip. This is one of the few books I’ve read where the heroine is far more interesting than the hero. On the whole, while there are some fun banters in a few scenes here and there, Mac and Monique’s relationship is flat as they spend more time circling or running around each other. The author isn’t above blatantly using Adrian and Jerome as transparent plot contrivances to force Mac and Monique closer while the sparking staff play the predictable wiser couple. The story feels heavily padded with filler or unnecessary conflicts, resulting in a book that seems to lack a clear direction.
Bettye Griffin’s sense of wit and her quaint views on people and love are still evident on Straight to the Heart, giving this story a zesty bounce that I find hard to resist. But compared to the author’s previous books, it lacks strong and memorable characters to make up for the author’s tendency to allow her story to fizzle out towards the middle. If she can somehow overcome these two problems, she’ll no doubt deliver a really good book someday.