Drive Me Wild by Elizabeth Harbison
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Silhouette Special Edition #1476, 2002, Out of Print, Available Digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: The blurb intrigued me and the amusement park / carnival backdrop on the cover reeled me in. It's stayed in my TBR all this time (and dodged weeding) because I read another Harbison (Diary of a Domestic Goddess) during my TRR days and really enjoyed it.
The Review: What we have here ladies and gents is the very definition of a Chocolate Chip Cookie Read. It's tasty, you can't stop yourself from gorging, but it's not a "meal" you rave about to all your friends a week after the fact. In a nutshell? It's the sort of romantic comedy that Lifetime would option for a TV movie.
Grace Bowes couldn't wait to leave the small town of Blue Moon Bay in the dust. She married the high school football star, a union that produced a son (Jimmy), and she settled into life as a stay-at-home Mom. Then one day her husband announces he wants a divorce, which she saw coming. She probably would have gotten around to asking for one eventually, it's just Michael pulled the trigger first. But not before she learned that their well-heeled, upper-middle-class lifestyle was all smoke and mirrors. Their garage sales became legendary. She and Jimmy are now back in Blue Moon Bay, living with her mother, and Grace is discovering former housewives don't have a ton of marketable skills, even in a small town economy. She's got one option. Her former school needs a bus driver.
Yes, a bus driver.
Luke Stewart used to have a it bad for Grace, but she was his best friend's girl. Then there was a fateful night when he gave her a ride home from the boardwalk and they partook in some "reindeer games." But ultimately Grace opted to stay with Michael and Luke stayed in his hometown nursing a broken heart. Well, now Grace is back and guess who would be her new boss, assuming she can convince him she's cut out to be a bus driver? Yeah.
There's a lot to like here, most notably that Harbison doesn't make a muck of things that could have easily been mucked up. For one thing, the details about being a school bus driver. Grace doesn't just waltz in and get the job. No. You need a commercial driver's license, which she doesn't have, which requires a test, and that test? Besides the road test, Grace has to be able to identify all the various bits and bobs on a bus.
Luke, of course, has preconceived notions about Grace - not only because of his unrequited feelings for her, but also because Michael planted erroneous information in his head. I wouldn't go so far as to call this Enemy to Lovers, but there's some definite friction between Luke and Grace, which creates some nicely well done verbal sparring matches early on. It infuses a nice amount of humor into the narrative.
What doesn't work so well? The author kind of loses her way a bit towards the end involving funding issues the school is having. It's how those funding issues are resolved that were a bit fantastical, but it's the kind of thing that small town contemporary readers will be used to and likely gobble up. I also felt like the romance ran a little fast to the finish line. These are two characters with a history, and the author has an extended time line (several months) - but a marriage proposal seemed like a little much to me.
But what makes up for it all is that The Ex stays off page. I seriously read this whole category waiting for Michael to show up on page, spread a bunch of BS around, and drive a wedge between the couple to spur the reader towards the HEA. And...no. Harbison avoids that all too common cliche. Which is ultimately what I'll remember about this book. The avoidance of well worn plot devices and the fact that the heroine drives a school bus. No, this won't change your life - but it's quick, breezy and just the sort of lighthearted palate cleansing book you keep around when you're tired of Angst-O-Rama-Jama. Break glass in case of emergency.
Final Grade = B