At the Heart of it
Kate Geary is a reality television producer taking an advice-book-suggested break at a bed and breakfast outside of Ashland, Oregon in order to attend their famous theatre festival. The locale tends to draw a colorful and more senior clientele, which is why bookish, handsome (and most importantly – her age!) bookshop owner Jonah Porter attracts her attention. Jonah and Kate end up going out on a date on their final night in town, and sharing a sweet kiss so memorable that Kate’s still thinking about it four weeks later.
But real life, as always, intrudes, and soon Kate is back in L.A. pitching a show to her advice guru idol, Dr. Vivienne ‘Viv’ Brandt. By cloaking the series’ premise in a veil of educational sophistication, Kate gets Viv to agree to counsel couples live on the air, with a new couple presenting their problems every week. Thinking that it might goose up ratings, and inspired by the story of marital reconciliation tenderly laid out in Viv’s last book, Kate involves Viv’s husband as a co-counselor in the series, with Viv providing by-the-book advice and ‘Joe’ giving out opinions from the ‘average guy’ – only for Kate to discover that ‘Joe’ and Viv have amicably divorced during the publication of Viv’s last book. The second bombshell drops when Kate walks into the show’s first production meeting and learns that Viv’s ex-husband happens to be Jonah.
This Jonah – more prickly than the bacon-and-book-loving guy Kate encountered at the retreat – is bewildered, to say the least, by the circumstances of his life. He and Viv are outwardly on okay terms but he’s still bitter about the divorce, resenting the attention Viv’s bestselling book has put on his personal life. He also doesn’t see himself as the blue collar average dude she’s painted him. Kate suggests to Jonah that this is his opportunity to show the world who he truly is inside, and piece by piece, Jonah’s past comes to light – his past in the military, his volunteer work with the nonprofit Clearwater Animal Shelter – and it’s clear he’s not the same guy as suggested in the book. Because the animal shelter is running out of money – and because his sister, Jossy needs urgent medical treatment, Jonah agrees to continue with the show.
In spite of himself, he falls into a groove playing the practical realist to Viv’s intellectual advice – and in spite of themselves and their plans to keep everything platonic and professional between them, Kate and Jonah manage to fall in love with one another. With the network demanding a showmance to keep things interesting, will the possibility that Viv and Jonah may rekindle their relationship squash anything Kate and Jonah might have stoked to life?
Cuteness counts sometimes, and At the Heart of It has that in spades. This is a really funny, sweet story; bubbly and tender-hearted, it tells a entertaining story about kind, honest, good people. Kate is intelligent, sensible, a bit romantic and quirky and I loved her relationship with her co-producer and best friend Amy. Jonah makes a fun foil for her, a decent guy who’s just trying to take care of his family and get his life back on track – he’s hunky, loves animals, was in the navy and is a theatre nerd; what more could a girl want?. I really liked his sister, Jossy, and Viv is not the two-dimensional character one might expect; it’s fun watching her try to sprout a personality beyond her psychobabling public image – and while the real villain of the piece is a little bit cookie-cutter, it works.
The romance between Jonah and Kate is such a nice meeting of like-minded people, and the chemistry is there right from the very start. They’re sexy together, and give as good as they get in their verbal sparring matches. They feel like real people, which is a major bonus to the plot.
But there’s one big plot point that doesn’t gel. Kate is obsessed with Viv’s work to the point of having memorized huge chunks of her books. While Viv does say that she and ‘Joe’ had scaled down their personal appearances together, they signed books together during a book tour. How does Kate not know what Viv’s ex looks like until he shows up at the meeting? You’d think a superfan like her would have noticed at some point.
In terms of the writing, the story is smoothly told. There are a few clichéd moments – the heroine’s eyes are described as “mossy amber orbs” at one point – but nothing too major otherwise. Ms. Fenske seems to have done her homework about the television industry as well, and the reality world seems to be aptly portrayed.
At the Heart of It is a lovely light breeze of a novel; it entertains and delights, and makes for fine winter reading.
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