Most of the time, I get books from BooksFree, and I have a queue as long as my arm of books I want to read. I glom backlists [BF is good for that] and I skip from contemporary to Regency to historical to paranormal depending on what arrives in the mail.
Sometimes, I am between shipments, or as in this case, a shipment went awry, and I end up with Nothing to Read. Oh, the shame. The terror. The 25 minutes on the train with nothing to do but stare at the other passengers who do disgusting things.
So the other day, while waiting for Hubby to pick me up at the train, I stopped into the Duane Reade, which is a New York City drugstore chain, and picked out a book. I paid retail. I am as shocked as you.
I was torn between a book about a cat burglar who has to cooperate with a hunky policeman, and a book about a small town in Georgia. While I usually go to books set in England in the historical/Regency set, I am a sucker for contemporaries set in the South. Something about the South lends itself to fiction, because place is of such importance in Southern culture that the town itself becomes a character in the book.
I started She Drives Me Crazy last week while Hubby was watching sixty-five consecutive hours of NCAA basketball, and finished it today while in my pjs on a Sunday afternoon. That alone gives me good feelings about the book.
She Drives Me Crazy is the story of Emma Jean Frasier, who returns to her hometown of Joyful, Georgia, after years of living in New York City. She has a bit of a scandalous past, and is trying to put her life back together in her hometown, despite having to face rumors of a wild prom night in which she ended up being found by the entire Senior class buck naked in a gazebo with Johnny Walker.
Yes, that is the heroâ€™s name.
Johnny Walker also left and came back to Joyful, having obtained a law degree in his absence. A boy from the wrong side of the tracks now sits as the county prosecutor, and tries to manage due process in a town of good olâ€™ boys who get the blind eye of the police, and kids from the wrong side of the tracks, like him, who get the full paddle, even if theyâ€™re innocent.
Emma Jean expects to walk into town and deal with an upsurge of rumors about her wild prom night with Johnny, but ends up facing a galloping gossip story that links her to the nudie-strip-club thatâ€™s being built outside of town â€“ on land that she thought belonged to her grandmother, and that was passed down to Emma Jean. Not understanding the innuendos and comments being passed her way, she moves into her late grandmotherâ€™s home, starts seeing an awful lot of Johnny, who is convinced sheâ€™s using him for help and companionship as she did on prom night, and tries to figure out who stole her land.
As is expected in a story set in the South, the town of Joyful plays a major role in the story â€“ the characters are plentiful, from the town gossip who is also the roving housecleaner (and therefore privy to whatever youâ€™re hiding in your underwear drawer) to the gaggle of women at the hair salon. The town is full of people who are passing on stories or listening to them, just as one would imagine any small town. The secondary characters move the story along, and form a tide of influence on the heroine: either they are collectively shunning and condemning her for being an alleged porn star, or they are supporting her in her efforts to right a wrong, once the rumors of her blue background are corrected. The collective of secondary characters is still entertaining, however.
The novel falls short, though, when it comes to the depth of the major characters. One gets a good sense of the background of the hero, the heroine, and some of the major parallel-story players, such as Claire, Emma Jeanâ€™s best friend from high school, Claireâ€™s husband Tim, their daughter Eve, and Daneen, a common enemy to both Emma Jean and Claire, who now lives in town as a single mom. But the background one does learn is all told by the characters themselves, and while the reader learns the facts about the events that shaped these characters, one doesnâ€™t get the sense that they really happened, except as convenient methods through which to set up the Insurmountable Tasks ahead of the heroine as she fights her way back from professional and personal failure.
For example: (Spoiler ahead; you know what to do)
itâ€™s revealed in the mid-section of the story that Emma Jean had suffered a major head injury, and had been so seriously injured in the cranial sense that her head was shaved and her skull opened to relieve pressure on her brain. That story raises the protective instincts of the hero, and her injury comes up more than once, but the heroine doesnâ€™t dwell on it as much as one might think, except to mention how much she misses her long hair, sacrificed when the doctors shaved it off. The hero is more worked up about it than she is, and while it does make her a more sympathetic character in light of what happens to her later in the backstory, her reaction to this major event, or lack of reaction, is curious and, for me, distracting.
The hero and the heroine are both likeable, and the romance rekindled between them is hot like Georgia summer and quite titillating. Moreover, author Leslie Kelly does an admirable job of building romance and sexual tension, even after the characters have sex for the first time in the book, which is a tough challenge that many authors let slide. In other stories, once the main characters defuse the sexual tension, the story can take a nosedive tension-wise and sometimes focuses only on the external forces working against the couple. Kelly keeps the tension and the emotional stakes on a slowly-increasing incline so the climax of the parallel stories meets up with the emotional climax of the coupleâ€™s romance, and the ending is delightfully satisfying.
On the whole, Iâ€™m not always pleased by contemporary chick-lit-style novels, especially since they are often heavy on plot twists, populated by a buffet of secondary and background characters, but light on depth of character on the part of the protagonists. But there’s a reason “Chick Lit” sounds like “chocolate.” Both are guilty pleasures that, on a molecular level, are actually good for you. While I wish She Drives Me Crazy had delved deeper in to the emotional ramifications of the protagonistsâ€™ pasts to make them each more three-dimensional characters, the romance, the story line, the background characters, and even the town of Joyful itself, all made me happy. If I had to pay retail for a book, Iâ€™d want it to be at least as good as this one.
But then, that speaks volumes as to my expectations of contemporary romances, Harlequin Enterprises, and drug store romance novel purchases in general.