Heart on the Line
On her 29 birthday, Loretta D’Angelo endures a torturous afternoon with her family in Long Island, listening to them tell her how she needs to find a man. Unmarried and unattached, Loretta is happy enough with her single status. Sure, she wouldn’t mind meeting someone, but she’s not exactly on the prowl for Mr. Right. Her family, on the other hand, thinks prowling is exactly what she should be doing. Loretta receives several books promising to teach her how to find a man and she has to spend some time avoiding her family’s attempts to set her up with a dentist (just like her father and both brothers). So now, she’s more than ready to flee back to New York and avoid men altogether. Except that on the train back to the city, she meets Josh Kaplan.
Impressed by the way he deals with a rude cell phone user on the train, Loretta makes Josh an offer to appear on the TV talk show where she works. A successful attorney, Josh has no intention of going on some trashy talk show. That doesn’t prevent him from holding onto her card and eventually calling to set up a meeting. At first, it’s supposed to be a working relationship, and then they agree to be just friends. That’s all it can ever be, since he’s in a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, Melanie, who recently took a job in Florida. But after a while, it becomes clear what they feel for each other goes beyond mere friendship.
Judith Arnold’s follow-up to last year’s terrific Love in Bloom’s doesn’t reach the same heights, but it is a nicely entertaining change of pace. It’s a sweet, amusing light contemporary romance that’s entirely character driven, perfect for anyone wondering where stories like this have gone in the current marketplace. There’s no suspense element whatsoever, no angst and very little in the way of high drama (which proves to be a bit of a mixed blessing, as I’ll explain in a moment). Quite simply, this book is about two nice people falling in love. Loretta and Josh are perfectly normal people without an abundance of baggage, those too-rare romance characters that you could actually imagine wanting to know and hang out with in real life. (Talk about an endangered species.) It’s easy to see their natural chemistry, since the story is basically made up of the two of them meeting, talking, and coming to realize just how well they fit together.
It also features a cast of people who truly are characters. While the story is more focused on the romance than Love in Bloom’s, Arnold’s canvas is filled with a wide range of vivid personalities, from Loretta and Josh’s respective co-workers to Loretta’s family and the senior citizens Josh is involved with at a local senior center, all of whom are painted with affection. The whole story is told with a great deal of charm and low-key humor. After enduring so many romantic comedies that tried so hard and failed even harder to mine any humor from their situations, Arnold’s approach is a relief. She has the confidence to let the humor build from the characters, making for a much more engaging and effective read. It’s more the kind of book that earns a lot of smiles rather than outright laughs, but I’ll take that over a book that makes me wince on every other page any day.
Heart on the Line was a change of pace is another way as well. After reading a string of books that started poorly before getting better, this was the first in a while that had an opposite effect on me. As enjoyable as the early portions of the book were, my interest gradually flagged as the story went on, for two reasons. It’s not exactly a fast-paced book. “Leisurely” would be the nice way to describe it. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t help that there’s very little conflict other than the impediment of Melanie, which starts to seem more forced as the story goes on. She is really the only thing standing in the way of these two very nice people falling in love, and she’s such a non-presence, mostly limited to a few short phone calls and one brief appearance, that any threat she poses is nonexistent. The story is so nice and everyone is so reasonable that there’s never really anything at stake, something that was really driven home in the ultimate handling of the Melanie situation. I just had to shake my head at how easy it all was. As sweet and well-written as the story is, I started to get a little restless after a while.
The book started as a high B, slid down toward the low B range by the end, and wound up being a straight B overall. Others hungry for a entirely character-driven light romance may not mind as much. Heart on the Line still offers a few hours entertainment with thoroughly likable people who are easy to care about. And that’s not a bad deal at all.