Sweet Harmony by Felicia Mason
(Steeple Hill/Love Inspired, $4.75, G) ISBN 0-373-87245-3
***
I reviewed Sweet Accord, the first novel in Felicia Mason's "Sweet" trilogy for Steeple Hill's Love Inspired imprint, when it was released last year. At the end of my review, I said I'd like to revisit the fictional town of Wayside, Oregon. Psychologist Kara Spencer was on sabbatical during Sweet Accord. A year has passed and Kara is back. Sweet Harmony is Kara's story.

When we first meet Dr. Kara Spencer she is late for a panel discussion. Kara can't remember whether it's the discussion on the role of religion and media in today's society or the one about psychological influences of archetypes and stereotypes. She is so busy. But the topic really isn’t important because Kara Spencer’s got one-size-fits-all notes. Once she arrives she is, by her own admission, “late and out of control - all because she didn't have her own stuff together.” In a very short period of time, she manages to insult most of the people on the panel and a few in the audience.

However, her most scathing remarks are saved for singer/actor Marcus Ambrose, an invited guest who has come to town to perform at a local music and film festival. In sweeping generalities, she discounts him based on his occupation and the ravings of her younger sister, a die-hard Marcus Ambrose fan. According to Kara, Marcus ranks somewhere between the Lucifer and the village idiot. “Dr. Kara,” as Marcus calls her, also comes equipped with one-size-fits-all opinions of the newcomer.

At 31, the sanctimonious Dr. Spenser is haunted by her own deferred dreams. Her best friend Haley is now happily married. Her younger sister is on the way to living the life Kara planned for herself. Kara is in a boring relationship with the town computer geek and writing grants for projects to save Wayside. Quoting Langston Hughes, she wonders what will become of her dreams.

However, Kara’s biggest problem is that she really doesn't know what she wants and wouldn’t recognize it if she saw it. Kara shifts between being attracted to and repulsed by Marcus. For his part, Marcus sees Kara as a curiosity, a challenge, a nuisance and someone he would like to know better. Despite Kara’s churlish behavior, Marcus is a truly nice guy who raises turning the other cheek into an art form. Throughout the novel, the lady really, really doth protest too much.

Wayside is a small town. With a superstar in residence for a month, it begins to get smaller – particularly when Kara discovers her family has all but adopted Marcus. What’s worse, he has rented the house next door to hers. Like Frost, Marcus believes “something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ and he is determined to break through the barriers that prevent Kara from considering a relationship with him.

A series is like a relay race. After a strong lead by Sweet Accord, this second book in the series bobbles the hand off. The result is a weak three-heart read. Sweet Harmony is hampered by a wishy-washy heroine and conflicts that are too similar to those in the first novel. There are loose ends in the plot and, after a while the Mayberry references begin to wear thin.

Kara’s character never quite took shape for me. She is an educational snob. However, when her skills and training are needed in a crisis situation, she has no idea what to do. In addition, Kara needlessly has hurt two people. In this inspirational novel, she never acknowledges her wrong. She never asks God or the people whom she has wronged for forgiveness. Kara’s HEA comes; her redemption does not.

On a positive note, the secondary characters, most in the large and loving Spencer family, are more interesting in the heroine. Like Marcus, I enjoyed spending time with them and several members of Wayside Community Christian Church who were introduced in Sweet Accord.

Sweet Devotion will end the trilogy. From what I’ve seen so far, the women in Wayside are not kind to strangers. I may consider revisiting Wayside – if Kara Spencer is not on the welcoming committee.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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