Heart On The Line
by Judith Arnold, contemporary (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-702-9

Now this is a fun book! Heart On The Line is one fun romance starring a very likable couple with enough chemistry to share and spare. Without any gimmicks or bandwagon trends adorning its pages, Heart On The Line is an entertaining, almost old-school style romantic comedy in today's overkill of smalltown screwball comedies, romantic suspenses, and chick-lit tampon commercials.

Loretta D'Angelo is almost thirty. She is happy to be single. Really. So why don't her family members believe her? Spending her twenty-ninth birthday with her family is a nightmare as her family - dentists all - keep trying to get her to marry a dentist whom she doesn't even know. It is a relief to be back to Manhattan and to her life of being a TV talkshow producer. It is even nicer to meet the very nice Josh Kaplan on the Long Island Railroad, and she offers the man a chance to come on her show. He refuses but keeps her card, they talk, and finally, they decide that they will be really good friends forever.

His girlfriend Melanie has moved to Florida and he's conducting a long-term relationship. She's happy being single. I bet you can't see where those two are heading towards, can you?

Let me just say that if you really cannot read stories where one or both main characters are involved with someone when they meet each other, well, you are missing out on a really fun couple. Loretta and Josh are a likable couple and these two characters are so adorably normal. No weird sexual hang-ups, nothing. Josh spends some time playing chess with some old coots at the Home, while there are always Loretta's family and colleagues to guarantee that this book has no shortage of secondary characters. And what fun these characters are - these characters are enjoyable to read because they are funny but they are also added-value characters in the sense that they feel real and come off like people I'd like to have as friends in my own story. For the longest time, Heart On The Line is a pleasant, often amusing romantic comedy that deals out the laughter via simple, deceptively effortless way.

The story drags towards the end when the two characters fall in love and consummate their relationship. The characters begin to engage in tedious and circular psychoanalysis, and all this mental angsting feels like wasted toil when it becomes evident that Melanie and Josh aren't really that big a deal at the end. Maybe it's true - sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a fun couple is to get them to sleep together, and Judith Arnold doesn't actually succeed in disproving this concept in Heart On The Line.

Still, the sag isn't too severe. Heart On The Line still ends on a high note. Readers not keen on the self-conscious cynicism of chick-lit and too cynical for apple-pie smalltown screwball romances can do a lot worse than to lay $6.50 on the line for this book. With so many calculated gimmicky sequel-ho bandwagon books around trying too hard to be funny but failing miserably, Heart On The Line's simple yet effective no-nonsense "Just read this book and let me entertain you" style is an unexpected delight.

Rating: 88

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