Tangled Up in Love is a pretty charming story at its center: city girl stuck in a small town falls for the local vet. It’s not original, but it has its moments. If the author had simply let Stacey St. Cyr land in Doolittle, Arkansas and get tangled up with Dr. Michael Halliday, this book would have been a much better read. Instead, right from the start, she has Stacey become conveniently brain-dead at an opportune moment just to introduce an eventual subplot that distracts from the romance and goes nowhere, to boot.
Stacey and her dog, a pedigreed Bearded Collie (of course, no pound mutt for Stacey) are headed for some R and R in Hot Springs when True Blue gets carsick. Stacey pulls off the highway in Doolittle after midnight and frantically looks for a vet. The gas station attendant calls Dr. Mike, who agrees to meet her at his clinic on the town square. Turns out True is pregnant and probably could benefit from a few days’ rest.
Stacey, a career woman who will never marry, etc. finds herself ogling Mike’s physique. Apparently the hormonal jump-start fries a few brain cells along the way, because when Mike asks Stacey what she’s doing in Doolittle, she can’t remember that she just stopped to get help for her dog. Instead, she invents a ridiculous story about scouting retirement locations for her parents, and she just can’t seem to stop herself from embellishing it even further. Since her divorced parents don’t even speak to one another, you just know that Stacey’s “uncontrollable” lie will drag them into the story, don’t you?
Mike likes Stacey’s looks, but isn’t too keen on the “city-girl” aspect. He was once a city boy himself - a professor at a Boston university - but for his daughters’ sake, followed his ex-wife to Doolittle when she divorced him and headed for Arkansas with her new lover. He’s built a successful practice and earned the respect of the town. He also has custody of the girls. One is a precocious third-grader; the other is a sullen adolescent.
Mike and Stacey are pretty standard characters. He’s a hunk; she’s gorgeous; the attraction between them is strong and they do have chemistry. Mike is actually the better-defined of the two. He likes Stacey a lot, would love to get involved with her, but knows that it’s unlikely she’ll stay in a hick town, and he can’t leave because of his daughters. Stacey’s reservations aren’t as clear. Her parents’ marriage was a bust, therefore marriage is for the birds? Didn’t work for me.
As for the parents, they take up way too much of the story. Stacey’s initial silly lie is merely a plot device to get them to Doolittle, where they can rekindle a spark and give Stacey a convenient spot in the story to vent her anger at their careless parenting. This allows Stacey to heal and move on, etc. but frankly, it was so contrived it felt mechanical at best, though the scene and dialogue are clever.
There are the usual kooky small-town characters, including a pushy real-estate agent and two sisters who run a bed-and-breakfast in the old schoolhouse (Stacey stays in Third Grade, awwww….) and for the most part, they stay in the background. The most realistic part of the story is the two daughters. The older is openly hostile and bratty and needs to be won over slowly. The younger is friendly but still a bit guarded, just as you’d expect her to be. When Stacey gets involved in helping to fund a local animal shelter, it’s a breakthrough of sorts.
Tangled Up in Love offers two enjoyable, albeit predictable, leads and a nice steamy romance. If you can get past some of the plot clunkiness, it’s a decent summer read.