In The Groove by Pamela Britton was originally posted at The Romance Reader in 2006. Back then, I gave it 2 Hearts (D Grade) with an MPAA sensuality rating of G. So yeah, if you're expecting dirty NASCAR racing shenanigans, keep on walking...
After spending over 370 pages reading about Sarah Tingle I needed to make an appointment with my dentist. Readers will be hard pressed to find a sweeter heroine – and no, that is not a compliment.
Sarah’s life has gone from bad to worse. A jealous ex doctored up some nude photographs and got them published, causing Sarah to get fired from her kindergarten teaching job. Unable to repair her damaged reputation, she takes the only job she can find – driving the motor coach for some NASCAR driver. However on her way to meet her new boss, her car breaks down and she finds herself hiking along a deserted road in the middle of nowhere.
That’s how she meets her new boss, Lance Cooper – except she doesn’t recognize him. She has no clue who he is, other than one devastatingly handsome man. Lance is immediately smitten with Sarah, a woman so sweet, so innocent, and so unaffected by his fame. Once she realizes he’s Lance Cooper she’s horrified, but he convinces her to take the job anyway. He wants to keep this woman around.
Why he wants to keep her around is a mystery unto itself. Sarah is the very definition of a Mary Sue heroine, and after 50 pages of her I was ready drink myself into oblivion. She’s sweet, she’s vulnerable, and she’s The Victim. Life has handed her a bad hand, but instead of doing something (like calling the police on the ex who is obviously obsessed with her!), she runs off to work for Lance. Lance then proceeds to shelter her, baby her, and look at her longingly. Good romance heroines fight back when life deals them a bad hand – Sarah just rolls over and dies.
Worse still, her cloying sweetness soon overflows onto the rest of the story. She doesn’t swear and says things like “holy guacamole” and “jeez oh peets.” She bakes animal-shaped sugar cookies for Lance after he has a bad day on the track. She never says a bad word to anybody – including those who think she’s “not much to look at” or her own mother who insults her at every turn. Lance should have thrown her in his race car, driven her to the hospital and demanded a spine transplant.
Lance isn’t a bad guy, and quite charming – but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he saw in Little Miss Goody-Goody. Frankly he merely reinforces the ideal that woman should be good, innocent and sweet if they ever have hopes of landing a man. Heaven forbid she have a brain in her head and can stand up for herself.
Eventually the author tries to allow her heroine to grow, but after 300 pages of syrup, her finding a backbone is too little, too late. In fact, the resolution of the creepy ex angle is poorly handled, but at least Sarah doesn’t need Lance to come and rescue her – which I suppose says something.
The NASCAR angle is well done, and Britton continues to write well. It’s just unfortunate that she saddled this story with a heroine so cloyingly cutesy that I had a mouth full of cavities by the end of it. Sarah is probably a heroine I would have liked to have read about in high school, but being several years past that stage in my life all I could think about was Lance running over her with his car. The yellow flag is definitely out – proceed with caution.
Wendy Looks Back: I love Harlequin, Lord knows I do - but they own their share of "bad ideas." This partnership with NASCAR was one of them. To be fair to Britton, word on the street at the time was that the deal between NASCAR and Harlequin was basically to churn out "wholesome" stories to fit with the whole American Heartland "thing" they like to hawk. But even in the more innocent times of 2006, this portrayal of NASCAR, its drivers, its fans, and the general trappings of the sport strained considerably. I can't imagine it's aged all that well in the 10+ years since this book was published.
Britton is still writing, mostly in category romance and I'm capable of enjoying her work. But this one was a whole bunch of nope for me back in 2006. And interestingly enough? It doesn't exist in ebook format, never mind that Harlequin began digitizing it's entire front list in fall of 2007.