Faith Forrester and Daniel Montgomery have been best friends for ever. Their family's farms at Bunyip Bay in Western Australia were next to each otherFaith Forrester and Daniel Montgomery have been best friends for ever. Their family's farms at Bunyip Bay in Western Australia were next to each other, and until the day Monty's parents sold theirs and moved to Perth, they saw each other often. Even after the move, Faith spent many a holiday with Monty's family and vice versa. Best mates, they've only ever seen each other in the platonic way.
But when Faith attends her old private girls' boarding school's alumnae dinner, she finds herself turning Monty into her boyfriend in order to not sound quite as boring and lacking as she feels amongst all the glamorous, rich and successful women at the event. Such is her newfound feeling of inadequacy - after all, she's twenty-eight and ever since her mum died eight years ago all she's done is kept house for her father and brother while they work the farm - that she finds herself signing up to the charity fundraising challenge. This is the year, she vows, that she'll do something with her life, make a difference, and start thinking about getting a real job since her dad won't let her help out on the farm in the ways she wants to.
Monty has a good old laugh when she tells him she pretended he was her boyfriend, but he's got his own eyes set on model-like Ruby who's recently moved back to Bunyip Bay and is staying with her parents while she helps them in their shop. Ruby seems like a princess and a fake to Faith, who thinks she needs to protect Monty from the other woman. Monty has worked over the years at any and every job he can find in the area in order to save enough money for a deposit on his own farm, and now that he's been approved by the bank Ruby is suddenly taking an interest in him. It brings out Faith's claws, and she's cold and unfriendly towards Ruby who is, in fact, merely shy and getting over a bad relationship.
It is Faith's efforts to change the direction of her life, which include some new, sexy clothes and a desire for a boyfriend, that make Monty look at his old friend in new ways. Even as Ruby agrees to go out on a date with him, it's Faith who's drawing his eyes. When they drive south of Perth to see a farm that's up for sale, they're mistaken as a couple and the light-hearted flirtation between them turns into something much more sensual and powerful. Things sour after they sleep together, as their fears of ruining their friendship do just that. With Faith immersed in preparing her big charity fundraising event, and Monty working hard towards achieving his dream of having his own farm, is there time in their lives to fix their friendship and face the fact that they love each other, before it's broken for good?
I have to begin by saying that I did not enjoy this nearly as much as other readers did. I will come to why in a bit. First, though, there's much to appreciate and enjoy in Johns' new novel, the first of a new trilogy set in Bunyip Bay.
This was my first chance to read a "rural romance" novel, and in general it was a positive one. I love the setting, though it was not so much described as conjured out of community relationships and the sense of shared history. It has that small town vibe, where everyone knows everyone, gossips and observes, and where people help each other and share in goodwill. It touches on the still-existent gender stereotyping that goes on in the country, with Faith relegated to paid housekeeper, but also speaks to the same problem in urban areas as well, especially among the more affluent: the "society ladies" whom Faith went to school with are all married to rich, high-powered men, have kids and do good deeds, but the fact that many of them hold their own jobs and have real lives is glossed over; Faith just doesn't see them that way. It is still "Mr Successful ... and his wife."
The charity that Faith chooses to support is one that raises and trains dogs as companions for children with autism. She chooses this organisation because she grew up not just with Monty but with his younger brother Will, who has autism (I was a bit startled to read that their mother, Jenni, believed that his autism was caused by infant vaccinations - this "theory" was started by a British researcher whose study was, earlier this year, found to be completely fabricated. The belief that there's a connection between autism and vaccinations has, sadly, stuck - thanks to silly Jenny McCarthy, who has since claimed her son is "cured". But the damage is done. I was disappointed to hear it repeated in this book, though, even as a descriptor of a character reflective of real people - see page 289). It is because of Will that their parents sold the farm and moved to Perth, where they could have better access to treatments and support for Will. What Faith is slow to realise is that Monty has always harboured a secret resentment towards his brother because of it. He feels, deep down, that he was robbed of his inheritance, that he is entitled to his own farm, and that Will's needs superseded his own, always. He loves his brother, and he knows how horrible it sounds which is why he's never shared his real feelings with anyone.
It is also because of Will that Monty has his own relationship problems. Faith learns, almost too late, that he doesn't want children - for fear they'll be born with autism and he has to sacrifice his own life and needs, all over again, for the sake of the child. It's a very human feeling, and I could completely relate to Monty and empathise with him, while also empathising with Faith and Monty's parents. Nothing's ever black-and-white or so straight-forward, and there's no real right-or-wrong either. I could understand Monty's feelings, but I could also understand Faith's anger with him about it, and agree that his perception had become a bit twisted, or skewed. Out of whack. It takes Will himself to wake Monty up to what the real sacrifice would be.
Really, there's nothing wrong with this book. As a romance, it's "lite", focussing more on the building of relationships than the consummating of them. Unfortunately, for this reader, it failed to build any real sense of chemistry between Faith and Monty - who always seemed too much like good friends to me, so that their sexual relationship felt almost like incest - and the few intimate scenes (which don't go further than kissing, touching and the removal of clothing) lacked fire. Overall, there was just no real spark here. No zing. I didn't feel it. I cared for the characters, I liked them, they felt real to me, and I quite liked the story as a story, but without any spark, any heat or chemistry, it was a bit of a slow read for me, and a bit directionless. It didn't start to get interesting until towards the end, but not in terms of chemistry.
Without chemistry, the story as a whole read a bit flat to me. And Faith and Monty, as I mentioned, were far too convincing as friends, that their physical relationship felt almost wrong to me. It also felt off in the sense that, without chemistry, it didn't seem like they were with the right person. Yes, flat. The writing is good (though I wish the setting had been better fleshed out; any mention of being on the coast was a surprise to me, and I could never really picture Bunyip Bay, its size or character or anything), the characters are good, the story is decent, it's all good and fine, but there's no excitement here. It just failed to connect with me in the ways that are so important to good romance - and this is wholly subjective. The chemistry between the book and me just wasn't there. Which is a real shame, but it doesn't put me off from trying more rural romances.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book. ...more
At twenty-six, Emily Crossley considers herself pretty lucky to have a well-paying job with a small non-profit environmental action organisation calleAt twenty-six, Emily Crossley considers herself pretty lucky to have a well-paying job with a small non-profit environmental action organisation called GeoForce. She's passionate about the cause in a deeply personal way, is organised and resourceful, and has been practically running the place since she joined five years ago. Her boss, Andy Hill, is relaxed, egalitarian and a bit forgetful. Her colleague, Carson, is proudly gay and shares her sense of humour. And twenty-one-year-old Rachel, the daughter of a local rich businessman, handles the tasks Emily and Carson don't like doing. It's a cosy place to work, Emily finds, one where she is paid attention to and gets to shine. More to the point, she believes passionately in the cause: reducing pollution to prevent climate change.
At her annual rally against the inefficient and excessively-polluting SUV, "Give Up Your SUV For A Day," where she and her colleagues at GeoForce try to convince the local working class population that they really don't need an SUV and the cars really aren't as safe as people think, Emily encounters Robert Drake. Robert is a PR man for Bell Motors, a big American car company with headquarters nearby, a company that produces some of the worst-offending SUVs, as far as Emily is concerned. Emily notices him for the way he's dressed - he's not wearing sneakers, for a start - and his beautiful eyes. But when she finds out he works for Bell Motors, she becomes antagonistic.
Robert, despite being a conservative Republican to Emily's liberal Democrat, is all for being challenged in life. He enjoys Emily's feisty passion, her intelligence and her sense of humour, and nothing she says seems to put him off, but he believes in being challenged in life and your opinions, lest you become entrenched and belligerent. He begins by emailing her, and she's provoked enough to respond. Soon, she can't wait for the little ping on her computer, telling her there's a new message from him. One date - just to see, because Emily's curious and he does have such lovely eyes and he seems to be intelligent - leads to another, though she can't bring herself to tell Carson she's "dating the enemy"; after all, it might not last long enough for her to have to come clean. But can this really go anywhere, when they disagree on politics and the environment? Is it possible to love, respect and admire someone when their opinions are ones you've always scorned and argued against?
The Drake Equation is a modern-day love story about two very different people struggling not against the barriers of class or wealth, as in so many romances, but against the more basic barriers of opinion and belief. It's a love story that ditches the conventional formula in favour of creating realistic characters, believable conversations and a romance that rings true. Without the formula, you're not quite sure where it's going or how it's going to play out, and that too was refreshing. Walsh's writing is excellent, and provides so much more than what you'd expect from a story billed as a romance - and the story, too, is so much more than a romance. There were many humorous details that captured my attention and made me smile, like this one:
She waited until Thursday after work to call him, figuring that was the latest she could call to ensure a date for the weekend without looking too eager.
Here was a new medium. Now she would get to hear his voice again. And yet she appreciated that they had relied solely on the written word over [the] past two weeks. It struck her as something quaint and Romantic, especially because they had avoided the choppy, casual style of writing so often seen in emails and texts. They had used complete sentences and semicolons. If a noun deserved a capital, it was granted that honor.
The novel's strengths lie in Walsh's ability to so accurately capture the subtle workings of Emily's mind and emotions - I could relate well to Emily, not because we had a great deal in common but because her reactions and thought-processes felt so familiar, so realistic. She felt like a real person, full of confidence and insecurities, blind to her own flaws. The way she interacts with Robert, especially at first, rang true. As a study of human nature, human character, Walsh has nailed it.
So this was what it had come to. Annoying him, annoying herself, just so she could make it unambiguously clear what she thought, and then say it once more for good measure. And it was not for his benefit - it was for her own. Lately the mere thought of him would suddenly engender a dizzying fear of loss. The loss of her beliefs, her opinions, her identity. This was the only way she could reconcile her feelings toward him. For every positive feeling he elicited in her, she had to counter it with something that felt true to herself. She had to purge the pleasure she took in his smile with SUV crash statistics and fuel economy projections.
But there was another possibility that she considered as she sat there in the wake of those words. They might not be simply a reminder of her political views. Those sentences could very well be barriers that she was throwing down, like someone strewing any available object - a chair, a wastebasket - in their path, hoping at least one of those items would trip the pursuer.
Would she ever stop with the blockades? If she could never let down her guard, then what exactly was the point of continuing this?
Emily is a nicely representative character, a strong, intelligent, witty 21st-century woman. She reminded me of women I've known, women who don't know how to find the middle ground between being strong and independent, and admitting a (male) partner into their lives, and learning to compromise. They often come across as intimidating and overbearing, and very much fixed in their ways, their preferences. Emily's only twenty-six, so she's not so very frightening or rigid, but she's still in that phase of thinking she's figured herself all out and must protect that façade at all costs.
His lifting her up like that - scooping her up like the proverbial bride. She was not supposed to take such pleasure in that. Nor was she supposed to enjoy it so much when he put his arm around her and pulled her into the nook of his shoulder, and she became a small part of him under there, hiding. And being his little one - that was the most shameful one of all. It was her new guilty pleasure. How distraught she would be if he stopped calling her that. Don't betray yourself, Emily. Don't forget who you were before you met him. She could tell herself that all she wanted, but the truth was, if he asked her to live with him and be his dutiful wife, not that he would but if he did ask her to change her name and settle down and learn how to make a good pot roast, she suspected she would not react with immediate outrage. The battle would come eventually - she knew she would never be able to do it. But he dulled the outrage, and that scared her half to death.
A prevalent, relevant theme in the novel is the environment, or rather, the clash of opinions regarding the environment. Walsh deftly captures the black-and-white nature of such discourse, in the way Robert and Emily sound each other out and debate it. I was a little disappointed in Emily's inability to come up with counter-arguments to a couple of Robert's points, which were rather classic points you'll have heard often and easily rebutted. (I would have loved to see Robert lose his cool for once and get emotional, but that wasn't his character.) Emily and Robert are of the same class - white middle class - and are more alike than they, at first, realise, but their different opinions on the environment are a sticking point, for Emily at least.
What's interesting about this is that the whole thing - the romance, the story, their arguments - is more about the black-and-white labelling that goes on in the United States. It's about the rigid, inflexible juxtaposition of opinion and how that blinds people. You're either a Republican, or a Democrat. You're either Conservative, or Liberal. You either support anti-gun policies or you're against. You either believe in Climate Change or you don't. You're either this or that, there's no grey in-between. Emily, who believes herself to be an open-minded liberal, is arguably more fixed in her opinions and viewpoints - and perceptions of other people - than Robert, the supposedly narrow-minded conservative, is. In that sense, this is a coming-of-age novel for Emily, as she realises this about herself and learns not to feel threatened by "the other side", that people don't just come in red or blue, they come in every possible colour and shade.
But the environment isn't just a useful tool for character development. There are real, relevant issues on debate here, as well as the all-too-real sense of uselessness and hopelessness. I very much agree with Emily that if we don't look after the planet, we won't have a planet to call home ("look after your house and it will look after you", right?), and I personally believe that humans are not the superior species on Earth, as in, we do not have a basic right to do what we like with the planet. But I have never been actively involved in any kind of movement - I try to live like a decent, considerate human being and I like to think that the most important thing we can do is alter our attitudes and way of thinking, because our attitudes are the real sticking point when it comes to change and our expectations regarding standard of living. But I could completely empathise with Emily and her "moment of crisis", the faltering of her conviction.
"Carson, have you ever though we could just be wasting our time? Do you really think that my scooter is going to counteract all of those North Prospect housewives in their Hurons? Or that my lonely little boycott of Dynamo Burger is going to save the rainforest? Rachel's stupid prank basically convinced the whole town to donate their own money to buy another Hummer. And even Andy's grants and GeoForce's efforts are drops in the bucket. Compare my rally to 8.8 million acres of land ruined with a signature. We can't win that fight. We could probably make more of a difference if we sold out and took high-paying corporate jobs and then used our money to make big changes, like Bill Gates does. Maybe we only work at a nonprofit because it makes us feel better. There is a very good chance that what we're doing is not making any difference and we're just wasting our time. Think globally, act locally may just be a big scam, and we've all been duped."
(On a side note, I felt more than a small measure of satisfaction, at every mention of the town's police Hummer, to know that they stopped producing the Hummer several years ago, as it really was a completely ridiculous and needlessly-expensive vehicle to run.)
This is a deeply human story, a story that deftly captures a particular slice of American population and ideology and presents it to readers in an entertaining way. The banter between Emily and Robert is rather addictive, the issues raised are thought-provoking, and the characters will be relatable to many readers. Walsh writes with skill, empathy and intelligence. The pacing might be a little slow for some readers, especially if you're expecting a generic romance (this is "fiction" first and foremost), but it is consistent and smooth and gives you time to engage with the story in thoughtful ways. Most of all, I appreciated the skill with which Walsh captured the nuances of human nature, our often contradictory thoughts, and our feeling of safety which we get from choosing a box and staying in it (and, as a result, how threatened we feel when someone doesn't conform to a box we've already received the instructions for).
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book. ...more
Chloe Lane is almost thirty and single, but in her own mind she's a success: she's followed her passion and her dream of being a fashion designer, opeChloe Lane is almost thirty and single, but in her own mind she's a success: she's followed her passion and her dream of being a fashion designer, opening her own boutique in New York City to sell her clothes. Her mother may still harp on at her about finding a man and getting married, but Chloe doesn't beat herself up about it. But after a night out with her two best friends, Isabel and Veronica, which saw all their attempts at meeting men fail, she can't help but feel a bit down about it. So when her good friend since childhood, Ethan Webster, makes a startling suggestion, Chloe decides, why not?
Ethan proposes to test the theory that Chloe, Veronica and Isabel came up with to explain why the men weren't biting: that men like the chase, and that being in a couple makes a person more desirable to others. If Chloe pretends to be in a relationship with Ethan, maybe he'll be able to attract the attention of the woman at work whom he's interested in. And the bonus: they'll have dates for parties, holidays and "other couple-y things". They work out the details of their pretend relationship, and the test is on.
When Chloe unexpectedly receives an invitation to be one of four judges on a new reality TV competition show on NBC, she's excited and also very nervous. Of the four other super-successful entrepreneur judges, one of them is William Shannon, a very sexy, filthy rich bachelor who ignites an electrical charge of desire in Chloe. The chance to test the theory herself sees Chloe extending her lies to her work in order to make William Shannon think Ethan is her boyfriend.
As Chloe begins to get her heart's wish in the bedroom-department as well as in business, she finds that the lies and the truth are no longer easy to distinguish, that maybe the lies are hiding a more profound truth - and it's just taking time and life experiences to know which is which.
This is the first novel Garner has published under her own name; previously she's released three books under the pen name Libby Mercer. I've read Unmasking Maya and really enjoyed it - it was about a textile artist, again showing Mercer/Garner's love of textiles, fashion, design, clothing and art - and I have The Karmic Connection still to read (I don't think that one has a fashion/design angle, but not having read it yet I can't be sure!). Garner is on solid ground with the fashion industry, and I have to say that after reading two chick-lit novels set in the world of fashion this year (the other being Sunni Overend's excellent March), I feel like I know quite a bit about it now, too!
I remember that one of my slight disappointments regarding Unmasking Maya was that it was a bit short, and I wanted more meat on what's an otherwise great story. Well with Lying to Meet You, I got my meat! There's not only great detail in this story, it also really delves into Chloe's life and fleshes out the supporting cast as well. It felt very realistic and alive; the time I spent in Chloe's head and her life was vivid and tangible. This reads as an engaging chick-lit novel (with very few embarrassing - nay, humiliating - moments unlike most chick-lit it seems) that takes the time to let its heroine grow and mature and figure things out. Nothing felt forced or contrived or rushed. The ending - the romance side of it - wasn't all that predictable: because of the tone and nature of the story, I really wasn't sure how it was going to end until we were nearly there. It did turn out to be true to formula, but it worked and was right for the characters.
There's humour here too, and some funny situations that are all the more comical by not being over-done. Other times it's a more gentle kind of humour, a shake-your-head-at-the-folly kind. And then there are the moments of humour that have a darker undertone, making it edgier - especially certain scenes with William Shannon, or the winning competitors diet bracelet inspired by an electric cattle prod. (Chloe finds herself unable to think of him as just William, building him into a major celebrity in her own mind, which does rather point to how things will turn out.) Throughout the novel, it wasn't the chick-lit formula that kept the momentum and tension in the story, it was the tone, the hint of uncertainty, of Chloe wobbling on her high heels, that gave it real tension. A good chick-lit novel isn't a farce, it's a fine balance of humour, realism and deeper meaning - a kind of reassessment of the character's life. In that, Garner was highly successful with Lying to Meet You.
I also have to say that I absolutely loved reading that in designing a new line of clothing inspired by Queen Boudicca, she incorporates a tartan: the Elliott tartan. She's absolutely correct, it's the loveliest tartan (not the modern version, the original more muted one), and for Chloe it has personal meaning in that her mum was an Elliott before she married her dad. I loved this because my husband's grandmother is an Elliott too (pre-marriage, but once in a clan, always in a clan), and the kilt he wore for our wedding was in the Elliott tartan. We also gave our son the name Elliott as his first middle name, to keep that connection alive. Both of us have lots of Scottish ancestry on both sides of our families, but the Elliott tartan really is the loveliest.
Lying to Meet You was an absorbing, fun, interesting story that brings the New York fashion world to life. I loved reading this engaging, intelligent and well-written novel, and following Chloe on her journey to finding real love and lifelong companionship. Chloe is a smart, endearing, realistic heroine caught up in dreams and lies when the reality already in her grasp is better than both.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book....more
I have Angie at Angieville to thank for getting me to read this - it is SO MUCH FUN!! Funny, sexy, exciting, engrossing... It's hard to go wrong whenI have Angie at Angieville to thank for getting me to read this - it is SO MUCH FUN!! Funny, sexy, exciting, engrossing... It's hard to go wrong when you combine chocolate with Paris with love and chemistry, isn't it? And boy is there some sizzling chemistry going on here! If nothing else, read it for the sheer joy of Sylvain's reaction when he discovers Cade broke into his chocolate shop and ate his chocolates - he follows her path through bins and trays of delicate chocolates like someone tracking an animal. His reaction is not what you'd expect. I just loved this, it's the perfect read when you want cheering up, or a pleasurable distraction, or simply because you enjoy reading good books.
From the snappy, edgy dialogue to the snootiest streets of Melbourne, Sunni Overend takes readers into the heart of Australia's fashion scene as we foFrom the snappy, edgy dialogue to the snootiest streets of Melbourne, Sunni Overend takes readers into the heart of Australia's fashion scene as we follow Apple March's struggles to overcome the past and follow her dreams in this hugely entertaining and fast-paced first novel.
Apple was once the top student at the famous Emmaline Gray Academy, where she won over Emmaline Gray herself with her distinctive fashion designs. But these days, Apple is twenty-nine and working as manager at VoVoChe, a boutique clothing shop where she can hide from anyone in the fashion world who still remembers what happened all those years ago, but where she can still work with clothes. Her boss, Veronica, is in her sixties and still prowling for a man, and her co-worker at the shop, Jackson, is a mouthy, in-your-face but elegant lesbian with a gorgeous girlfriend, Arabella. Apple rents a disused fire station-turned-apartment with her friend Chloe and Chloe's sausage dog, Frankfurt, and casually sleeps with a handsome Swiss, Henri, who lives off his father's money. She has an old car that routinely breaks down, which is when she gives a call to her croquet-playing friend Charlie, heir to a jewellery company based in Melbourne, who comes to whack the engine with a croquet mallet.
Through Charlie, Apple gets invitations to illustrious events where she rubs shoulders with Melbourne's richest and snootiest people - and her most arrogant and crazy too, it sometimes seems. She meets Noah, a friend of Charlie's, and is turned on by his blokey, dominating ways. She also meets Charlie's long-standing girlfriend, Heidi, who comes from another wealthy, well-established Melbourne family, and discovers what everyone already knows: Heidi's a real cow. It's hard for Apple to see her down-to-earth, friendly, kind friend Charlie with a woman like that, but it's not for her to interfere, and she's got her own life to sort out.
Her older sister Meena is getting married and wants Apple to design and make her wedding dress. Her mother, Ginny, has heard from their father, an abusive man who left them when the girls were very little and from whom they've never heard from since. Now he calls Ginny to tell her he's dying and that he wants to reconnect with his children, but none of the women want anything to do with him. When he dies, leaving a lot of money to his younger trophy wife in Sydney, the sisters are torn by the option to contest his will and lay claim to some of the money.
It's when Apple puts aside her misgivings over the past and goes to Sydney to compete for an exclusive internship with a high-end couture fashion house, that the past confronts her with a loud slap, bringing her rapidly back down to earth. Then, the chance to design shoes for VoVoChe seems like a dream come true and the start of something new, but Veronica has other ideas. It is only Charlie who continues to subtly support her and her dreams of designing clothes, but the truth of why she had to leave the Emmaline Gray Academy continues to haunt Apple, and hold her back. If she were to take charge of her future and follow her dream, what would she be risking? For Apple, it might be time to stop hiding and take charge.
First of all I have to apologise for the messy and poorly-written summary above; I'm finding it hard to concentrate today and it shows. But I really needed to get this review out before too much time goes by, as I finished the book over a week ago. I really, really enjoyed this book: it not only satisfied my deep scars of homesickness, it was a real joy to read too.
I've recently learned this about myself, that after years of not reading Australian fiction until signing up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year - which made me pick up and read some of the books I already have, and seek out new titles - and reading a lot of American writers, as well as Canadian and British (and others, in the minority), I've learned that while our cultures may be similar, and we may all speak English, we are actually quite different, culturally speaking, and I definitely connect to Australian fiction more than American fiction. The stories and the characters are more familiar, they make sense to me, from their actions to the way they speak: it clicks. I don't necessary like everything I read that's Australian - that would be unlikely - but I "get" it. There's always been something that creates a bit of a barrier between me and American fiction - not so much Canadian or British, because I grew up on a diet of British TV and books so it's more familiar to me, and I've lived in Canada for nearly 8 years. I feel like I get American fiction, to a degree, but that's about it. The characters don't resonate with me in quite the same way Australian characters do: they're just that little bit too foreign. I don't have the same cultural or social context. So some of the Australian books I've read this year have really worked for me, making me realise just what has been missing from the American books I've been reading.
I wanted to speak to that because that's where I'm coming from when I talk about March. This felt like a distinctly Melbourne book. I lived there once, for nearly a year, and it's a very fashion-conscious, hipster-esque place. It's got old and grand, it's got new and flashy, it's got grungy and edgy. It's a very "happening" city, no doubt about it. The kind of people Apple spends time with here are upper-class Melbournites, an old-school, old-money lot for the most part, while Apple herself comes from a more down-to-earth middle class background. I've never known people like that, personally, but it rang true to me all the same: it felt familiar.
Everything about March felt natural and realistic; it has that realistic edge to it that reminded me strongly of some great TV shows like Love is a Four-Letter Word (from when I was a uni student - god, that dates me!) and Love My Way, also old now (7+ years! hard to believe it's been so long since I last lived there!). I don't know how to describe it, but like with books, we do television (and films) differently too. It's in the way characters interact, the way drama plays out - I never would have actively noticed it before living in Canada, but now the contrast is stark, vivid, and acts like a siren call to me.
Take Jackson. The way she speaks is true to her character, and never felt contrived to me, and the way people react to her rings true too. Basically, they're not offended, they just take her in stride. Here's a scene from the first chapter to give you an idea:
"Girlies," Veronica leant back in her chair. "I have a product launch thingy tonight. I'm desperate and dateless. Join me?" "Gah!" Jackson said. "I was just telling Apple how annoying you are, you've got to stop hanging out with us. The natty old investment banker you're hoping to snag won't take a second glance at you if we're there, take your own sorry arse out, you'll thank me." Apple laughed out loud. "Jackson, you're vile!" "Yes. You're starting to sound like the lanky, bitchy, faux lesbian that you are." Veronica smiled and pulled out a cigarette. "It's not my fault I fell in love with my business and not with a man. Speaking of love, how is the girl-on-girl action working out for you?" "Hottest sex ever. Arabella's a babe." "Oh," Veronica screwed up her face. "Please." "Well," Jackson said, "if you're as desperate and dateless as you say, follow my lead. Men have never been so available. Get yourself a lady friend and a man friend will soon follow." [p.10]
(Ha, having typed that out, I can see comparisons to Sex and the City coming in, but if conversations like this have a similar vibe, the comparison doesn't stretch much farther.)
The story manages that fine balance between realism and exaggeration, between the familiar and believable and that slight tinge of the ridiculous. The ridiculous is, of course, in the snobby elitists that Apple meets, characters like Heidi Huntingdon, and even in Charlie and his friends, some of whom are those classic obnoxious, chauvinistic Aussie males who are the new bloke. I loved Charlie, he was harmless in that sense, and quite a gentleman and very sweet, but making him a character who not only plays but wins at croquet, well that just made him seem more like someone who lives on another planet.
Oh I'm not doing very well at articulating what I enjoyed about this book am I. I kinda just want to quote it a lot, because there are so many good scenes and snappy dialogue that just rolls so naturally, everything comes together so smoothly - not that Apple's story isn't without hiccups, it has plenty of those, but that nothing feels contrived or forced or out of character. The pacing is just as smooth and fairly fast; this is a book you can read quite quickly because it moves along so well. It wasn't entirely predictable, perhaps because of that realistic feel to it, but it does have a fairly conventional ending that ties it up neatly.
If anything, I would have loved to have seen a more rounded Apple: I got to know her and yet I never felt as close to her as I wanted to. I loved the scene where her mother gets out the scrapbook she made as a girl, full of photocopies of a Cabbage Patch doll on every page, over which Apple had designed different costumes. It was a lovely glimpse into Apple and her lifelong love of fashion design, but I wasn't sure what else there was to her character. I never felt completely familiar with the way her mind worked, the choices she made - or which way she was going to turn. It certainly kept me from getting bored, but it also made it hard for me to feel friendly with Apple. Or maybe it was because she held onto her secret for so long, and without knowing that it was hard to understand her other choices, which were influenced by the past. Still, it worked with the story, to have that revealed only at the end. In the same way, I would have liked to know Charlie a bit more thoroughly, though what I did know of him I liked a lot. March has some great moments reminiscent of rom-com movies, British style, that gave the story a bit of juice.
Finally, I love the cover and the book design. Overend, who has studied design herself, has created a book that's beautiful to hold and look at and read. It makes what happened to my lovely copy all the more cringe-worthy: I dropped it. Outside. After it had been raining. In the mud. The pages now have some distinct stains on the edges and it looks like, well, it looks like it was dropped in the mud. But the cover cleaned up well! There are some typos, especially around dialogue punctuation (as you can see from the quote above), but other than that the writing is very good and matches the tone and style of the story to a T.
If you're looking for a fresh new voice in the chick-lit department, I highly recommend Sunni Overend's debut, March. It wasn't just fun to read, it also took me back to Melbourne in a way that not only satisfied my cravings for home, but transported me to someone else's life in a truly escapist sense as well. I loved the natural way the characters talked to each other, and I greatly enjoyed Apple's story as she grows into herself, faces her own fears and the humiliations of the past, and takes charge of her own life. Almost a perfect story.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book....more
Poppy Wyatt, a physiotherapist who works at a private clinic with her two best friends, Ruby and Annalise, is just ten days from being married to handPoppy Wyatt, a physiotherapist who works at a private clinic with her two best friends, Ruby and Annalise, is just ten days from being married to handsome university professor, Magnus Tavish. His parents, Antony Tavish and Wanda Brook-Tavish, are also professors, the kind that appear on television, say controversial things and have numerous books published. They completely intimidate Poppy, who's not stupid but is no academic genius, either. Half of what they say goes completely over her head, and she constantly feels like they're deeply unimpressed by her and disapprove of the match - and of Poppy wearing the family heirloom engagement ring, an emerald surrounded by diamonds, which Magnus had retrieved from the vault.
So when, at the Marie Curie Champagne Tea held at a hotel where she's celebrating with her friends (Annalise, Ruby, Natasha, Claire, Emily and her wedding planner, Lucinda and Lucinda's young intern, Clemency), Poppy loses her engagement ring, she's in an absolute panic to get it back. Her friends had been passing it around, trying it on, and then the fire alarm went off and everyone evacuated in a hurry, and Poppy's friends don't have it anymore. It's not just losing a family heirloom that terrifies her, it's Magnus' family finding out and thus cementing their poor opinion of her forever more (she can just picture it, the old "remember the time when Poppy lost our grandmother's ring?" being trotted out at all family gatherings).
Then a second disaster strikes: Poppy's mobile phone is stolen, and gone is her only means of hearing from the hotel, or the police, or all the hotel maids she gave out her number to. So when she sees a phone in a rubbish bin in the hotel lobby, she decides "finders keepers" and requisitions it for her own personal use. There's a company name on it, White Globe Consulting, and someone's name tag in the bin with it: Violet. Small details. But when Violet's boss, Sam Roxton, calls the phone, he's far from pleased with Poppy's decision to take the phone. Poppy agrees to forward on all the emails in exchange for borrowing it, and Sam's left with little choice but to agree.
Aside from losing the ring, Poppy's wedding is coming together in fits and starts. After a mere month-long courtship, Magnus's proposal came out of the blue but Poppy felt she'd met her prince charming. Their wedding planner, Lucinda, is a family friend, but she seems extremely stressed and put out by all the arrangements, and Poppy ends up taking on a lot of the tasks herself. Despite her best intentions, Poppy finds herself reading all the White Globe emails and forming her own opinions about the taciturn Sam. But it's when she starts writing emails to the company in his name that things get really messy.
Which is nothing to the mess Poppy finds herself in when the ring does finally turn up, and she discovers some very startling and unpleasant facts about what's going on around her - and that her perceptions of the people she knows is decidedly askew, including Sam - and herself.
I've Got Your Number is Kinsella's best novel, without a doubt. Okay so I haven't read all of her books, but it was better than the others that I loved (Remember Me? and Can You Keep a Secret?), better than the ones I really enjoyed (Wedding Night and the first three Shopaholic books - Becky Bloomwood can really frustrate me!), and really puts to shame the one that I consider to be Kinsella's worst book ever, The Undomestic Goddess (I couldn't even finish it, it was that bad). With I've Got Your Number, Kinsella has struck gold. It's the perfect combination of interesting plot, engaging and well developed protagonist, not-so-obvious and charismatic-without-trying-to-be male lead, humour that makes me laugh out loud, and even some subtlety.
Poppy is a clear winner of a character. She's trademark Kinsella but without the qualities that have frustrated me in her other books. She narrates - in equally-trademark first-person present tense (Kinsella is one of the few authors who can actually write in present tense) - with that slightly bubbly, slightly cringing enthusiasm and the sense that disaster is always just around the corner. But something about Poppy is different, and refreshing. It isn't until Sam points out Poppy's deep flaw to her that it clicks, and the character takes on a whole new dimension. More than that, she's imminently likeable and sympathetic, whatever her flaws are: you feel sorry for her, not in a pitying way, but in an empathetic way.
I'm back to the black hole of dread. What do I do? I can't keep dodging for ever.
I don't have a burned hand. I don't have an engagement ring. I don't have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scrabble words. I'm a total phoney. [p.121]
The male love interests in Kinsella's novels usually come across as a tad under-developed, mostly because the perspective and narration is all the heroine's and they're always caught up in whatever foolish, idiotic mistake they've made to spare much time to really, intelligently, understand the hero. Sam Roxton somehow managed to rise above all that and figure very strongly in this. He had oodles of charisma without even trying. We get to know him mostly through texts and emails, and the way he comes across whenever he pops up in a scene (and he was a bit of a scene-stealer!). He seems so well-contained, and as if there's a lot going through his mind that he doesn't give voice to. This edge of mystery to him makes him charismatic, and makes you want more of him.
I didn't know Sam had a brother, either. As I sit there, digesting all this, I feel a bit chastened. I've never even heard of Tim or Andrew or Josh. But then, why would I have heard of them? They probably text Sam directly. They're probably in touch like normal people. In private. Not like Willow the Witch and old friends trying to hustle some money.
All this time I've thought I could see Sam's entire life. But it wasn't his entire life, was it? It was one in-box. And I judged him on it.
He has friends. He has a life. He has a relationship with his family. He has a whole load of stuff I have no idea about. I was an idiot if I thought I'd got to know the whole story. I know a single chapter. That's all. [p.326-7]
Magnus you'll be able to see through fairly quickly, though he does seem perfectly reasonable and sweet and loving at first. Kinsella is able to share subtle little details with us through Poppy, that enable us to form new opinions better and quicker than Poppy, thanks to our impartiality.
As well as the characters feeling realistic and believable, likeable but flawed (something Kinsella also did well with in Wedding Night), the plot felt the same way. It all flowed together, all the disparate parts, so that it never seemed contrived or "if Poppy hadn't done X which was so obviously stupid, none of it would have happened" - something I tend to feel when reading a Shopaholic book. I could completely sympathise with Poppy's ideas of Magnus's parents, and Kinsella handled the difference between truth and perception deftly. If Antony and Wanda hadn't been the over-bearing, over-achieving (and very messy) smart-arses that they are, Poppy would have been in less of a panic over the ring, and less opportunistic when she lost her own phone. (Yet where would have been the fun in that?)
Speaking of her phone, Poppy's dependency on it wasn't something I could sympathise with (I do now have a mobile, for the first time since 2005, but while it's useful at times, it in no way has my whole life on it or is a crutch), but I could understand it. It's very, well, 21st-century, I guess.
I'm starting to shake all over. I've never felt so bereft and panicky. What do I do without my phone? How do I function? My hand keeps automatically reaching for my phone in its usual place in my pocket. Every instinct in me wants to text someone, 'OMG, I've lost my phone!' but how can I do that without a bloody phone? [pp.17-18]
It may be a book about things going wrong, but Kinsella can really make you laugh, time and again. This must be her funniest book to date, or maybe I should say, her most ironic. Part of this is achieved by use of footnotes - yes, footnotes! Poppy observes how Magnus and his family are big on footnotes, as a way to say things that aren't directly relevant, and starts including them herself, to superb affect. Humour also comes through in her observations, which are quite astute, though it's the way she words them that has me laughing.
I went over the whole place yesterday, replaced all the old manky bottles of bubble bath and got a new blind for the bathroom. Best of all, I tracked down some anemones for Wanda's study. Everyone knows she loves anemones. She's even written an article about 'Anemones in Literature.' (Which is just typical of this family - you can't just enjoy something, you have to become a top academic expert on it.) [p.41]
As you can tell by now, I absolutely loved this book and have nothing negative to say about it. It was the perfect read when I was wanting something absorbing, funny, intelligent and surprising. It's entertainment that actually perks you up and makes you feel better about the world. If you're after a story that will cheer you up, take your mind off things and make you laugh, this is the book. For sheer entertainment value, I couldn't suggest anything better, but it had the added bonus of providing an engrossing story full of depth, warmth and humour, a story that really came to life for me. I was sorry to have it end....more
If there's one thing I've come to count on, it's that Sophie Kinsella can make me laugh. Out loud. Numerous times. Not as easy as you'd think, for a bIf there's one thing I've come to count on, it's that Sophie Kinsella can make me laugh. Out loud. Numerous times. Not as easy as you'd think, for a book to do with me, but when a book can make me laugh, I treasure the moment as much as when a book makes me cry.
Lottie Graveney is thirty-three and finally - finally! - about to hear the proposal from her boyfriend Richard that she's been eagerly awaiting. He's been dropping lots of hints, and booked a table for lunch at their favourite Italian restaurant. She was so excited she even bought him an engagement ring. So when the question turns out to be regarding how to use his extra Air Miles before he goes to San Francisco for several weeks on business, Lottie is floored. She's so upset that Richard didn't propose - and doesn't look likely to ever do it - that she breaks up with him on the spot.
As Lottie's older sister, Fliss, knows all too well from past experience, Lottie has a habit of doing something rather rash and foolish after a break-up. Like the time she got a tattoo, and the time she joined a cult. Lottie's post-break-up wildness only lasts a few weeks, and then she comes crashing down to Earth and Fliss has to help her pick up the broken pieces and put her back together again. With their own parents long removed from the picture, Fliss has filled the mother role for Lottie for years now. Her own marriage, to the insufferable Daniel, is going through the divorce wringer, and the only good thing to come out of it is eight-year-old Noah, their son - whom Daniel isn't helping out with much. Fliss has her own issues, harbouring her resentments and hoarding her complaints against Daniel, and is slowly becoming the bitter woman she always wanted to avoid.
So when Lottie calls her up and tells her she's getting married to some guy called Ben whom she knew when she was eighteen and living the high life on a Greek island during her gap year, Fliss pulls out all the stops to prevent it. If she can just make Lottie wait, she'll wake up soon enough and realise it's not what she wants. The last thing Fliss wants to see is her sister in a situation like hers: battling a pompous idiot for divorce and custody of their child.
Fliss isn't alone in her goal: Ben's business partner Lorcan also wants to stop the foolishness and get Ben to pay attention to the company he inherited but which he mostly ignores. Lorcan's style is much more heavy-handed than Fliss's though, and before she realises the damage he's done, her sister has married a man she barely knows and flown off for her honeymoon on the same Greek island where they once had their "summer of love". Luckily, Fliss is the editor of a global travel magazine, and she knows people - including the hotel manager, whom she manages to coerce into making sure Lottie and Ben don't consummate their wedding before Fliss can get there and talk some sense into her sister. It will make getting an annulment all that easier.
Yet it's not only Lottie who is making a mistake: Fliss too is doing possibly fatal damage to her relationship with her sister by interfering and ruining her honeymoon. Things aren't going well for Lottie and Ben, though Lottie is ever the optimist and doesn't give up easily. Can their marriage work, or will she have to admit to her sister that she made a mistake - again?
More so than in any of Kinsella's previous books - the ones I've read, anyway, which is most of them - Wedding Night combines some heavier, more serious issues regarding relationships, denial, being misguided and in general facing up to yourself, with her trademark humour and flair for writing realistically flawed characters. It was very nicely balanced, neither too serious nor too silly, and created an extra layer of tension and made the story more meaningful overall.
This is largely thanks to Fliss (short for Felicity), who I found easy to relate to and sympathise with. She provides the saner voice, the voice of reason, the counter-balance to Lottie's rather ditzy naïveté. Fliss is your classic working mother going through a messy, prolonged divorce who's trying to give Noah the childhood every kid deserves, untainted by the contempt she feels for his father or the anger that takes over her at times. I certainly didn't agree with what she did to Lottie - or how - but she made it make sense, she provided the kind of justification that worked, and I felt her own sense of rising panic. It's clear that Lottie's doing something pretty stupid, but it's just as clear why - and we all need the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. So, since events are set in motion anyway, Wedding Night takes the opportunity to have a good laugh at the whole thing along the way.
Both female characters (and I'm sure the male ones too) are trademark Kinsella, just re-jigged so that they feel fresh and new and their own people. Fliss I loved, as I mentioned above, while Lottie was that classic well-meaning but short-sighted twit, not stupid but not really thinking things through either. She was more your Becky Bloomwood character. If the entire book had been told from Lottie's perspective, I don't know that I would have been able to finish it. Dividing the story between Lottie and Fliss - each telling their own chapters in first-person present-tense - ensured that I never got sick and tired of either of them: just as one begins to get on your nerves a bit, it switches to the other sister and you get a fresh voice and new laughs.
And I've mentioned this before, about Sophie Kinsella, but she is one of the only authors I've ever read who actually knows how to write in present tense properly. Present tense is becoming the new fad, I've noticed, especially in Young Adult fiction but also in adult fiction, and it's really annoying me - a) because it's not half as flexible or versatile a tense as past tense, thus limiting what you can do with it; and b) too many of those writers simply don't know how to use it and write as if they're still using past tense. If you want a really good example of how to use present tense, start with Wedding Night or another of Kinsella's, like Can You Keep a Secret? And no, I'm not about to stop going on about this, not until people stop using present tense or learn how to write with it properly!!
This is a highly entertaining storyline that doesn't feel all that predictable as you're reading it because Lottie is something of a wild card and even Fliss is a surprisingly resourceful woman, and you never know what she's going to pull out of her bag. Literally, like when she makes a hot air balloon for her son's class project in the carpark because Daniel hadn't passed on the letter about it, and she uses a gift box as the basket and a condom for the balloon. Very funny scene. Nice to know that I can still laugh at condom jokes.
The other things I found myself laughing aloud at were the ridiculous but very funny ways the hotel manages to keep Lottie and Ben from having sex. It became so exaggerated, with the butler and the assistant butler constantly popping up and dogging their steps, and the horde of workers scratching their heads and arguing over how to remove two single beds when the suite should have had a giant king size bed, and many other antics. It's a farce, no doubt about it, but Lottie and Ben are so caught up in themselves - and, to a lesser degree, each other - and so incredibly horny, that they don't see it as anything other than over-zealous employees, incompetent contractors and so on. The hotel staff never go far enough to have to a formal complaint against them, they just over-do the normal services. To say that I laughed out loud several times is high praise, especially because I was half afraid the whole plot and all the shenanigans were going to really irritate me, not amuse me.
To balance Lottie's silliness, Ben's childishness, and Fliss's over-protectiveness, we have Lorcan. He's a tall, dark, serious man, a lawyer by profession who's been putting all his energy into saving his friend's paper company without realising how much Ben resents him for it - and how much farther Ben runs when Lorcan tries to rein him in. He, too, has an important life lesson to learn. He comes across as serious and grumpy, and he is a bit grumpy, but his sense of humour - irony, possibly dead-pan - comes across at just the right times. All the characters are flawed, all are struggling with certain aspects of life that come with growing up, and they all require a bit of work (some more than others) to get us on their side and liking them. They're realistic, in that way.
Wedding Night reads like a romantic comedy, and I see a movie adaptation coming in the near future: it's perfectly cinematic and the right kind of story for the big screen. Its humour is nicely countered by its life messages, and the only part that disappointed me was the ending. It was an ending straight out of Hollywood, where the characters have their big confessional in as public a place as you can think of - a device I absolutely loathe but which is really common in Hollywood rom-coms anytime there's any kind of deception involved. But still, it is a satisfying way to end things. I will also say that I found it a bit long, too long for the story it contains, and while there were many times when I found the sisters' internal monologues highly entertaining, there were others when I thought they could be trimmed a bit. Oh and boy do the British drink a lot!!
A very entertaining read that doesn't require anything of you except to sit back and enjoy, Wedding Night is a silly, flirtatious story of sisterly love and trying to recapture the magic of youth, with just that little bit of meaningful eyebrow-raising to make it grounded - almost as if Kinsella were aiming to transition away from Chick-lit and into Fiction and wanted to test the waters. Not my favourite of Kinsella's books, but a good read when you're in the right mood....more
Don Tillman is a thirty-nine-year-old genetics researcher and professor at the university in Melbourne. He's fit, a non-smoker, and super smart. But hDon Tillman is a thirty-nine-year-old genetics researcher and professor at the university in Melbourne. He's fit, a non-smoker, and super smart. But he's still single. This is what he refers to as the Wife Problem. Then he hits upon a way of weeding out all the women in the area and finding one who's actually compatible without having to meet them all: a questionnaire. The Wife Project is his own name for it, and the survey he creates certainly filters out the undesirables. That is, pretty much every woman who fills it out. But Don is learning a lot, like how looking for a non-drinker because he intends to quit drinking isn't such a good idea after all. His friend Gene, the head of the psychology department whose own pet project is sleeping with a woman from every country in the world (he keeps track with a giant wall map in his office), and Gene's wife Claudia, a clinical psychologist, give him advice, and Gene takes on the task of working through the online dating applicants (clearly looking to push more pins into his map).
When Rosie Jarman walks into Don's office one day and says she was sent by Gene, Don figures Gene thinks she's a good candidate for the Wife Project, and promptly asks her out to dinner. Except she's no good at all. She's a bar tender, she smokes, she arrives late and she's a vegetarian: all instant disqualifications. She's also the most beautiful woman Don's ever seen, but that's not enough for the Wife Project, it's the answers to the questionnaire that matter. But they get along well and become friends, of a sort. Rosie tells him about how before her mother died when Rosie was twelve, she told her Phil, her dad, wasn't her father at all, that her father must have been one of the men she slept with at her graduation - because Rosie has brown eyes and both her mother and Phil have blue eyes. After all, her mother was a doctor, she should know.
Don takes on a new project that makes him completely forget all the other ones: the Father Project. As a geneticist, he knows the foolproof way of solving the mystery is to test the DNA of the men in Rosie's mother's graduating class. That's a lot of men. But together they concoct schemes to lift harmless samples of DNA from them and unethically run it through the powerful computers at the university. Strangely, Don finds himself enjoying the time spent with Rosie and the Father Project much more than his own Wife Project, and he's learning some new life lessons, like how much fun it is to eat a meal on the balcony, or exploring New York City. He makes friends with strangers he meets while in Rosie's company, and gradually realises that being with Rosie makes him a different man, a better man even.
Could his survey, designed to find his perfect mate, be a failure because it doesn't take into consideration human emotions? Yet, Don doesn't feel love. He's always believed himself incapable of the feeling. And yet, while he can't pretend that he cares about the characters in classic romantic movies - which he watches for research - he realises that he does care about Rosie.
This is a wonderful, delightful story of two very different people connecting in surprising ways and bringing out the best in each other. We see the world through Don's eyes as he narrates with complete deadpan irony, not even realising how humorous he is because he possibly has a touch of Asperger's - though the doctors have never been able to settle on any one diagnosis - and doesn't seem to have a sense of humour at all. There's a whole other layer to the world going on between Don's sentences, which we see but that he doesn't, that really fleshes this story out and adds that heightened sense of realism that really makes The Rosie Project ring true.
It's also a sweet, funny, insightful novel. Originally written as a screenplay, you can certainly picture it cinematically in your head. It'll make a great movie - for it will surely be turned into one now that it's had such success as a book. Don Tillman is often described as "quirky" but I didn't find him quirky in the slightest. He's many things but not what I think of when I think of quirky. There's something both strange and comforting about him. He's awkward and inept in social situations, often saying the wrong things and not even realising it - that would be so refreshing! He's genuine and caring even when he doesn't realise it, like going to buy Claudia a scarf in New York City, and wanting to help Rosie find her father in the first place. His reasoning for things might be less sentimental and vague than most of us, but he's no cold, dead fish. His Asperger's - if he does indeed have it (it's a very broad range) - gives him almost an excuse to say things in a bald, honest way, without sugar-coating or showing tact. I actually found it really refreshing and freeing to have Don call it like he sees is. I rather wish we were all a little less P.C. - mostly because I've been known to say things and then realise how it must have sounded, judging by the sudden stiffening of people and the looks on their faces.
The Rosie Project is, in a way, a celebration of individuality and being a bit different. It's not just Don, though he's obviously different: it's Rosie too. She stands out in her own way, a bit wild, certainly unconventional - though in a more "acceptable" way. At its heart, this book tackles the pervasive social and cultural ideology around the notion of what's "normal" and acceptable. Don spends most of his life worrying about where he fits in, and is very conscious and aware of the kinds of things he gets "wrong", and what his social weaknesses are. When he's with Rosie he relaxes and stops trying so hard, and it's then that his social ineptitude actually disappears a bit and he just becomes Don. But it's clear that we have very distinct ideas of what "normal" is, and Don and Rosie learn to embrace oddity, rather than be ashamed or embarrassed by it.
Structurally, the story works around the plot of finding out who Rosie's father is. It's quite obvious from the beginning that Phil really is her father - making her ruined relationship with him absolutely tragic. But as a way for Don and Rosie to spend more time together and to create a fun investigative plot, it's highly entertaining. Like when, in just days, Don learns how to make hundreds of cocktails so he and Rosie can wait tables at the reunion for her mother's graduating class, and Don becomes the star of the hour with his knowledge and gets a job offer by the owner of the clubhouse. There are other amusing encounters as they work through the list of men who graduated alongside Rosie' mother, but the Father Project is mostly a means by which we learn more about Don and Rosie, and they learn more about each other.
Full of amusing and astute details, believable characters and an engaging, fun storyline, The Rosie Project is the perfect summer read - or anytime read, really - when you are in the mood to be entertained but also emotionally and mentally engaged. This wasn't as fluffy as you might expect, though how much you get from it in terms of themes and underlying social critiques is up to the individual reader. Either way, I absolutely loved it, it gave me a good laugh and also made me feel sentimental (not something I feel very often); it is sweet and satisfying but never self-indulgent or melodramatic. It's an honest story, told honestly by one of the most bracingly honest men you'll meet in fiction, and you can't help but want a happy ending for Don and Rosie....more
Ethan Foster left town and his older brother Dean when he was eighteen - two years after the death of his parents - and has only been back for a handfEthan Foster left town and his older brother Dean when he was eighteen - two years after the death of his parents - and has only been back for a handful of short, unsatisfying visits. The last time he was here it was for the opening of his sister-in-law Bree's shop; now he's back for her funeral. At thirty-two, a tragic accident has robbed her of her life and left her two children, Rowan and Nina, alone with their father, Dean. No one expects Ethan to stay or to even be there the next day, and watching him drink and leave the wake with a beautiful woman looking for a way to drown her feelings in a lusty encounter seems to match up with people's expectations.
But Ethan does stay - for now, at least. The children open up to him and he helps them overcome their fears and return to a kind of normalcy. His old girlfriend, Sam O'Hara, seems to have moved on but is secretly, privately destroyed each time Ethan leaves, and is trying to smother the slumbering embers of her desire for him, for good. His old friend Caleb, Sam's brother, has a new girlfriend, Anna, whom he loves and plans to propose to, but he seems blind to the fact that Anna can barely tolerate it here in this small rural town. There's a whole life here that Ethan ducked out on but which he slides back into - not without difficulty or animosity, but with some ease - and which he doesn't actually want to leave. But with his relationship with his brother, whom he was once so close to, under continued strain, and everyone holding such a low opinion of him, Ethan has never felt like anyone wanted him to stay.
This time, he's finding it harder, both to stay and to leave. But the one thing that poisons the water between Ethan and Dean - the truth of their deaths, a truth Ethan has held to in silence for years - stands between them, and Ethan seems determined to never share it. But in facing up to the past and laying himself bare to Dean, Ethan will have to face up to himself as well, and his fears that he is just like his father.
Ask Me To Stay is a sweet, shortish romance story with no graphic scenes whatsoever - something I point out in case you're a reader looking for romance with no sex. I loved Ackers' The Man Plan, set in Melbourne, and have a few more books by her to read; I picked this one off my Kindle at random, and it's a very different story. Where The Man Plan is funny, light-hearted and fully of an endearing kind of whimsy, Ask Me To Stay is a much more serious story, beginning with a funeral and dealing with the falling-out of siblings, suicide and possibly self-destructive behaviours. It has a rural setting but I didn't get much of a sense of place, sadly; I would have loved a bit more detail on the location, to really get a feel for it (I don't remember the name of the town, sorry, and it's very hard to "flip" through an e-book!).
The characters resonated in a realistic, genuine way, but the story does lean more heavily on the drama side - if you enjoy those kinds of TV series you would I'm sure enjoy this more than I did. I liked it, Ackers writes really well and this had some really lovely scenes and characters who felt real to me, but it was all a bit too melancholy for me. The theme of untimely death runs all the way through it, which is a tough one for Romance - just as well there wasn't any sex in it, then! The drama was handled well - not ladled on too thickly, the characters not quite self-indulgent (though you could argue that Ethan is) - but I still struggle with this kind of story-line. The big bad secret that Ethan is keeping mum about, which ruined his youth more effectively than the death of his parents' could have, was something I never quite understood. I mean, I understand what happened, but not why Ethan wouldn't tell his brother about it. He was only sixteen, they were close, and had just been orphaned. Maybe I'm just thinking of what I would have done in the same situation, and obviously I'm not Ethan. But to let something like that ruin your relationship with your brother, drive you from your home, make everyone think you're a shit and just sit there and take it? That's tragic. I couldn't quite understand it, and it is what the whole story hinges on.
I liked Sam, though, and her brother Cal - he was probably my favourite character, in fact. In such a short novel, you don't really get to know the characters beyond the here-and-now all that much, and that was a shame. I wanted to understand them and feel more familiar with them than I did; knowing that I can revisit the characters in the next books in the series wasn't much help for getting into this story. In short, I liked Ask Me To Stay as a well-written, rather sweet but sad Romance story, and it certainly connected with me emotionally (it's a bit of a tear-jerker), but there was a lack of chemistry between Ethan and Sam that surprised and disappointed me and ultimately made this less than fully satisfying.
Ellie O'Neill is seventeen and living with her mum in the small coastal town of Henley, Maine. It's the summer holidays and she's working two jobs toEllie O'Neill is seventeen and living with her mum in the small coastal town of Henley, Maine. It's the summer holidays and she's working two jobs to save money for a poetry class at Harvard that she's been accepted into in August. When a Hollywood movie crew arrive to film scenes for a new romantic movie, Ellie doesn't have much time to take notice of it all, unlike her best friend Quinn whom she works with at the ice cream parlour, who's weak at the knees at seeing gorgeous young celebrity actor Graham Larkin, one of the stars of the film.
What Ellie doesn't realise is that she already knows Graham Larkin, the seventeen-year-old movie star made famous from his lead role in a trilogy of movies about a magician. She's been emailing him since March, when he accidentally sent her an email asking her to walk his pet pig, Wilbur. She replied to tell him he'd got the wrong person, and a flirty, friendly ongoing conversation began. While neither told the other their name, they shared many other details about their lives, details that were both vague and deeply personal all at once.
From these emails, Graham pieced together where exactly Ellie lived, and that she worked at an ice cream parlour. When the original location for the film fell through, Graham managed to convince the director to try Henley, Maine instead. Graham wants to meet Ellie. She doesn't know who he is or what his life is really like, and because of that he's been able to talk to her as if he were a regular teenager, not a celebrity.
When Ellie meets Graham in the flesh, she's torn. A part of her misses the emails they shared, the mystery of it all. Part of her wants to know him better, spend more time with him. And a part of her - the reasonable, clear-headed part - knows just how important it is for her to stay away from cameras, which makes dating Graham Larkin - who is always stalked by paparazzi - an impossibility. It's not just for her, but for her mother as well, who moved them up here when Ellie was five in order to escape the press and the stress of being watched, but also to protect Ellie's father. And it's this kind of secret that comes between Ellie and Graham now, a secret that seems impossible to overcome.
I greatly enjoyed Smith's previous novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which was fast- and smoothly-paced, tightly written, poignant and thoughtful. I was excited to get her new book, and after reading a very heavy Israeli novel, a book with a title like this seemed just the thing for me. And while I still greatly respect and admire Smith's writing, the maturity of her characters and their ability to grow, and her avoidance of the usual clichés, I did find that this novel was missing something, for me. Some spark of magic, or chemistry, or oomph. I'm not sure what exactly, only that I was left feeling a bit disappointed.
There is much to enjoy here, nevertheless. The emails at the start are fun to read, and both Ellie and Graham are likeable and sympathetic characters who are learning independence and how to balance their conflicting wants. Graham, after the surprise of landing his first major acting role when he'd just been goofing around in the school play, finds himself really enjoying the job of acting, and wants to do it for as long as he's interested in it, even though his parents, both ordinary, unadventurous middle class teachers, want him to go to university instead. He lives with his pet pig, Wilbur, alone in a big house in Los Angeles, and finds himself isolated by his celebrity status. His parents seem uncomfortable in his world, and treat him like visiting royalty - a stranger, in other words - when he goes home to see them, so he's started avoiding them. Graham is young, and new to it all, and has a fan base of screaming teenage girls, so he's got a long road ahead of him in terms of balancing a career in the film industry with having any sense of normalcy in his personal life.
Ellie is a strong heroine, intelligent and thoughtful but her moments of great maturity are balanced by her moments of adolescent drama - which aren't often but they do happen. Though I must add that I found her a bit, well, cold. She was just so very confident and "together". I found it hard to feel much interest, or sympathy, for her family secret, and felt a bit resentful on her behalf about it all. It also seemed a bit, well, tacky, and rather irrelevant. I would have quite happily cut that part out completely. But Ellie knows how to hold her own, even if she is rather serious about everything. (I liked Ellie, but I think I liked Graham more; aside from anything else, he just seemed a bit more human than she did.)
I don't know how realistic the premise of their original meeting is, or whether we should be romanticising it. Too many girls get trapped or taken advantage of or worse, through anonymous online communication of various kinds. Granted, Ellie is clearly too smart to fall for an online stalker or creepy pervert masquerading as someone younger, but still, she never really had any doubts about continuing to communicate with some unknown person half a country away. And true, they never discussed meeting in person, never went from slightly flirty to anything more overt, never wanted to exchange photos. But still, it's one area where I feel a great deal of caution around, because the mystery of it all makes it very tantalising to the teenage mind.
This is a lot longer than Smith's previous novel, and I found it a bit slow. It works in the sense that you get the chance to get to know the characters and understand them, but there just wasn't a whole lot else going on. I'm also unconvinced as to Ellie and Graham's chemistry. I just didn't really feel it. Perhaps because Ellie was so sensible and oh so mature, and perhaps because, like Ellie, it was a bit anticlimactic to meet someone in the flesh whom you've created as a certain person in your head while texting back and forth, all this time. As I mentioned, it's the mystery - the romance of the mystery - that appeals, but once the mystery is solved, well, then it's more of a struggle to remain interested. (The mystery isn't much of one to the reader, but you still pick up on their feelings about it.)
They always felt like real people, Ellie and Graham (though not, perhaps, as flawed as real people), and their friendship and budding romance was realistic - not rushed, not instant, but cautious and tender and a bit anxious too, lit with possibilities, not certainties - and the romance was not really the point of the story: growing up and figuring things out, was. As such, it was a successful novel, a solid chapter in adolescent life, but while I did like it, I did find it lacking in oomph. And that, for me, with this book, was a critical ingredient in making me care. Instead, I found the novel - which I read a couple of weeks or so before writing this review - to be sadly forgettable, especially in the details. I couldn't even remember the characters' names. Smith is a strong writer and I like her style and the characters she creates, but I just wasn't all that interested in this particular story....more
When Meg Koranda arrives in small town Wynette, Texas, for her best friend Lucy Jorik's wedding, she already has a feeling that Lucy is making a mistaWhen Meg Koranda arrives in small town Wynette, Texas, for her best friend Lucy Jorik's wedding, she already has a feeling that Lucy is making a mistake. The daughter of the President of the United States, Lucy is marrying super-handsome Ted Beaudine - or as Meg refers to him, Mr Perfect. He's a genius, has invented and patented several technologies and helps whole towns be more energy efficient. He's beloved by all, was elected mayor of Wynette even though he didn't run for it, and he's irresistible to women - and a famous lover to boot. Whenever Meg sees him, trumpets play or birds sing or shafts of sunlight beam haloes on his head. But two things tip Meg off that Lucy shouldn't marry him: one, Lucy is miserable and stressed by how she doesn't fit in in Wynette and no one really likes her - she feels like she isn't good enough for Ted; and two, Meg sees in Ted a calm, very controlled man who feels no real passion - or love - for her best friend.
Lucy already had her doubts but she kept them so close to her chest that when she does leave Ted at the altar, the entire town turns on Meg as the culprit. Lucy disappears immediately and not even her adoptive parents know where she is, but Meg has been cut off from her wealthy, famous and super-succesful parents and her last credit card has been rejected. She's not just the pariah of Wynette, she's stuck there too. With no money to pay her hotel bill, she ends up working off the debt as a maid and sleeping in her rustbucket, gas-guzzling old car (which she had to buy when her father stopped making payments on her Prius).
For Meg, her entire life has been one of avoiding responsibility - and avoiding actually trying anything serious, lest she fail. With such succesful parents and siblings, she considers herself the screwup in the family. While she's grown up soft and spoilt and never had to work for her living, Wynette is a cold hard slap in the face. Not only does everybody hate her for ruining their precious golden boy's life and leaving him broken-hearted - not that Meg can see any evidence of a broken heart in the man; but for the first time in her life she has to resort to her own wits to stay afloat.
As Meg discovers that she does have what it takes to make her own way in the world, albiet from the very bottom of the ladder, she also discovers her own sense of pride and a streak of stubbornness. She's not ready to quit Wynette, she's not ready to flee with her tail between her legs, and she's not ready to let the townsfolk get the best of her. But she's also not ready to leave because of Ted. These two very different people, one messy and wild, the other calm and controllled, start off hating each other, and Ted finds small ways to get some revenge on Meg. But as they keep crossing paths and Meg keeps on riling Ted up - this the man who never loses his cool - something much more intense grows between them.
But Meg, who used to fly around the world having fun in remote places, realises she doesn't want to settle for just a fling. She wants something more meaningful in her life, and she also wants to touch Ted in a deeper way, connect with his heart, see emotion in his eyes. Can Mr Cool, Mr Perfect, Mr Irresistible lose his control enough to see that what his head dictates isn't always what his heart wants, or deserves?
This is my first time reading one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I wasn't sure what to expect really - my only previous attempt was an audiobook of Glitter Baby (about Meg's parents) which I had been enjoying but just as it started getting really interesting, the CD started skipping and getting stuck so I took it back and bought the paperback, which I (clearly) haven't got around to reading yet. So I have no comparisons to previous books to share with you, and can only talk about this one in isolation. Though it was clear very quickly that it features, in the sidelines, many characters from her previous books (she lists them in her Afterword), this is a standalone novel like all Phillips' books.
I'll admit that for a while there I was unsure whether I would, or could, connect with this, and worried about where it was going. Funnily enough, I couldn't see until later that these feelings were produced deliberately: I was experiencing pretty much Meg's own emotions, about the town and its people as well as Mr Perfect. Ted comes across as sickeningly perfect, and the way the townspeople worship him and try to protect him and so on, is likewise sickening. I couldn't really understand it. It didn't seem even remotely realistic, but then again I've never been to Texas. While Meg comes with the outsider's perspective, she never goes as far as I would have. At times it was hard watching her get walked all over in the most unjust way. She is made into the biggest scapegoat - not just for Lucy running off, but for other things.
The town is struggling to employ its people and pay its bills, and one of the solutions that Mr Mayor, Ted, has put together is to turn a landfill site into a new golf course and resort. He's courting Spence Spitjack, a wealthy businessman who owns a toilet company who has a massive ego and likes to think he's king shit on the golf course. Wynette is home to a couple of famous and very wealthy professional golfers, including Ted's father, but otherwise it's a backwards little town in the middle of nowhere - or so Spence sees it, until his super-confident daughter Sunny decides to go after Ted in the wake of his failed wedding. Things get complicated for Meg when Spence, after learning who her famous parents are, starts hitting on her.
Everyone, including Ted, want Meg to be nice to Spence; aware that if she rejects him outright it could cost the town its much-needed injection of cash, Meg does her best to fend him off without insulting him while also pandering to his ego. And for all the townspeople's faults, they are always on hand to save her from being taken advantage of. But when she and Ted begin a secret affair, things become more complicated. And that's not to mention the fact that someone in the town is harrassing her, vandalising her car, breaking into her home, and leaving her personal hate messages.
I can safely say that this was like no contemporary romance I've read. Without meaning to insult all those other books I've read and liked, this had a touch more ... glamour, to it. Probably because most of the characters are super-rich, super-successful, super-attractive and super-awesome. But they're so flawed that after a while I just didn't mind it so much. They seemed quite human, at the end of the day. The dialogue was entertaining, there was humour and also irony laced throughout the narrative, and I really really liked Meg and Ted. Meg is a lot of fun but also someone I grew to respect, and Ted is much more interesting than you think he could possibly be. It was certainly fun watching the two of them spar, in the early weeks of Meg's time in Wynette.
For a romance novel, the focus is on the characters and their emotional growth and development, as well as building their chemistry with each other, not the sex. There is some sex, not very detailed, and certainly not the focal point of their relationship. I thought it was fun how Ted was such a perfect lover, ensuring Meg has multiple orgasms and the time of her life, and yet because he's emotionally distant she's not satisfied and he actually starts getting grumpy and trying even harder without realising that that's precisely the problem: messy wild Meg wants messy, wild, uncontrolled sex. That Phillips uses what sex there is in the book as a way to understand the characters just speaks to the intelligence of the novel. It's true that you don't really know a person you're in a relationship with until you sleep with them - I think it's essential to live together and have an intimate relationship before ever embarking on commitment like marriage - and Meg's sexual relationship with Ted gives her greater insight into his character. She realises that he always tries to please everyone, that he can't put himself first, and that the town holds him to far higher expectations than anyone should have to bear. Ted manages to remain perfect and irresistible even after we get to know him better and discover he's human too.
One of the things that I had a little trouble with was how Meg could champion Ted, and humiliate herself, in order to help or protect him. She was just like everyone else in that town, and it was hard for me to watch her debase herself like that - even though I understood her reasons. I couldn't help but wish she wouldn't fall for Ted like every other woman does, though it was soon apparent that Ted doesn't have an ego about this side of his life. He just can't stop himself from treating every one like they're special, and women tend to fall in love even just a little bit when we're treated special, especially by a very attractive, intelligent man. I know, pathetic isn't it. So it was fun that Meg hated him, but no one was ever around to witness their golden boy being human - all their antagonist interactions happen in isolation. But even before Meg realises she's fallen for him, she deliberately embarrasses herself in ways involving Ted.
For instance, she pretended to be lusting after and in love with Ted as a way to deflect Spence's attentions - something that would probably read funny to some readers but to me just made me cringe and wither a bit - and she made out to the women of the town that it was always her being inappropriate or coming on to Ted. These were sacrifices to her pride and, I would say, integrity, for a greater purpose. She always had Ted, the town and its people's welfare uppermost in her mind whether she realised it or not, and even when he had her believing that he was a womaniser who had screwed around on Lucy and is now having an affair with a married woman, she didn't reveal him. This made her both special and also maddening. I don't mean that she was a doormat - Meg has a biting tongue, she speaks her mind and she knows how to stand up for herself. But whenever she was attacked by those mean, cruel women (they come across as pretty horrible for much of the book), she wouldn't defend herself in the way you wanted her to. It was a tricky balancing act and I have to admire Phillips' ability to manoeuvre Meg through it all, giving her the space to grow as a person and figure her own shit out. It was just a hard pill for me to swallow. I so wanted to see those townspeople - and Ted, often - put in their place, make them wake up to reality and their own judgemental, hypocritical attitudes, just for my own personal satisfaction. It's a fantasy, nothing more: in the real world, you don't get far if you deal with things like that in that way, and a fleeting sense of satisfaction is all you're going to get. It always backfires, and you don't win.
Call Me Irresistible has a very satisfying ending to such a lively, engaging story. I didn't really want it to end, to have to say goodbye to Meg and Ted. While Phillips' characters do cross over into other stories - and I have Lucy's story to read next - I got so invested in Meg that I rather hate to let her and Ted go. I became so much more invested in this town than I expected to be, so I'm glad that Phillips sets so many of her books there. A fun, intelligent story with a deep heart, I can definitely recommend this. I know I won't hesitate to read a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book again. ...more