Summer Mini-Reviews: Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Look guys!  I am actually posting a review!  Ok, it’s a mini-review.  But I realized recently that I keep picking up books where the heroine gets cheated on by her boyfriend and it sets in motion a series of life-changing events.  I actually put down a book after two pages when realizing it had this same conceit.  Anyways, here are my reviews of two cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater books that I have read somewhat recently.

Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning

Hope Delafield has been with Jack, her childhood sweetheart, for over a decade.  Their mothers are best friends who have high hopes for their relationship.  Hope and Jack own a home together and Hope is certain that engagement is on the horizon for them.  That is, until Hope catches Jack kissing her best friend in a more-than-friendly, definitely-not-the-first-time kind of way.  Hope is crushed, but still loves Jack and believes his assertions that he loves her, too.  They decide to give it another go and Hope takes her share of emotional beatings on her journey to decide what she really wants for herself.

What I liked: Sarra Manning is one of my favorite authors and this book had a lot of the elements that I have come to expect from a Sarra Manning book.  Hope is flawed, insecure, and messy, but also very likeable.  She is forced by circumstances to determine what she wants out of life, as she has kind of coasted by picking both the career and boy her mother wanted for her.  She is also a total pushover, who has yet to grow a backbone, and she lets Jack walk all over her, giving him way more second chances than he deserves.  Her eventual non-Jack love interest, Wilson, is very much a Sarra Manning hero– he’s prickly and hot.  Hope could be a bit of a frustrating character, but I did like her and root for her and enjoyed seeing her grow over the course of the story.
What I felt meh about: This is an exhausting book.  Absolutely exhausting with the will they-won’t they between Hope and Jack.  It was appropriate for Hope’s character to not immediately end things and to keep giving Jack another chance, but it got frustrating to watch.  I really wanted more of the story to focus on things with Wilson and I wish Hope had grown her backbone a little earlier on in the story.
All in all: I am glad I read this book, as I really do like Sarra Manning’s characters, but this is probably my least favorite of hers so far.

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Delia Moss decides it is finally time to get the ball rolling with her boyfriend of nine years, Paul.  They own a home together and a dog together and Delia is ready to get married. So she proposes to Paul.  He is bewildered, but accepts and the two go to a pub to celebrate.  At the pub, Delia gets a text from Paul that is clearly meant for another woman.  She confronts Paul and finds he has been seeing someone else for the past few months.  She isn’t ready to the end the relationship, but she also can’t stand the sight of Paul right now, especially as she finds he keeps lying to her about little things.  When her boring, but safe job goes up in flames, she decides to move from Newcastle to London to stay with her best friend, Emma.  In London, Delia lands a job in PR and her boss is a bit… shady, but Delia wants a new life and tries to learn what she can at this new job.  That is, until she keeps running into a handsome investigative journalist who is hell-bent on ruining the reputation of Delia’s shady boss.  Delia’s life is up in the air and she has to decide who she is and what she wants out of life.  Does she want the relative safety of a relationship with Paul?  Does she want to be someone who bends (or breaks) the rules to be successful in business?  Or is she ready to take some risks and do what she knows is right?

What I liked: Delia is a very sweet and likeable character and the rest of the cast of characters (with the exceptions of Paul and shady boss, Kurt) were also fun to read about.  I particularly liked that McFarlane wrote in some seriously geeky characters, like Delia’s brother and the computer genius, Peshwari Naan, who were perfectly themselves, even though that meant they didn’t really fit into the roles that Delia hopes for them.  There is a lot of scheming between Delia and the cute journalist, Adam, to take down Kurt and while it definitely approaches a silly and ridiculous level of antics, I had a lot of fun with this plot line.  It was a cute, original way to bring two characters onto the same side and allow them to get a little closer.  Really, this book was fun and readable and had great leading characters.
What I felt meh about: I kind of got tired of the whole Paul story.  He cheats, he lies, Delia tells him she wants some time off, and he will just not take no for an answer.  He keeps sending her things to remind her of their relationship and begging for another chance.  Delia has started moving on already, though maybe she doesn’t quite realize it, and I just got sick of seeing Paul pop back into the story.  Probably, this would have bothered me less if I hadn’t read it with Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend in mind, but what can you do?
All in all: I really enjoy Mhairi McFarlane’s books.  They are funny and smart and just great chick lit.  I had high hopes that this would top Here’s Looking at You for me.  It didn’t, but it was a good book nonetheless.  I will definitely be back for more Mhairi McFarlane in the future.

Guitar Girl- Sarra Manning

It’s no secret that I looooooooooove Sarra Manning.  I’ve read most of her adult books, but hadn’t tried her YA stuff.  That is, until I came across Guitar Girl at my library’s book sale.  I figured I would give it a shot, even though the cover and description make it sound like fluffy YA of the sort I don’t normally read.

Molly and her friends start a band on a lark.  They want something to make them stand out in a crowd.  So they start The Hormones and quickly add a couple of guys to their band and before you know it they’ve made it big.  But fame is hard and takes its toll on Molly and her friends.

I enjoyed this book.  While the plot is well-trodden ground (fame isn’t all it’s cut out to be), I liked this more than other fame books I’ve read (namely Between You and Me).  The tone was much darker than I expected from a book with pink lettering on the cover, but that was actually a good thing.  Molly was an interesting and flawed character going through her late adolescence under a microscope.  I always like the introspection and emotional growth of Sarra Manning’s main characters and Molly felt very much in the vein of Grace or Neve or Ellie– insecure, imperfect, but really likeable.

I have also noticed that Sarra Manning’s male characters are not really nice guys.  In Guitar Girl, none of the male characters were appealing.  Like at all.  Which was ok, because Molly is a teen and bound to make dumb romantic decisions, but geez.  The men were just awful in this book.

One great thing in Guitar Girl was a very honest look at the issue of sex and teens and teen idols.  Molly’s sex life (or lack thereof) is big news.  She is expected to be both a virgin and a sex symbol.  It was reminiscent of Britney Spears.  It was just a really frank discussion of teen girls and sex, which is always refreshing to see in YA.

Anyways, this was a quick, addicting read (like all of Manning’s books have been for me) and just reaffirmed my love for Manning’s work.  I am a huge fan and will certainly be trying read as many of her adult and YA books as I can get my hands on.

It Felt Like A Kiss- Sarra Manning

Ellie Cohen has got her act together.  She’s successful in her work at an art gallery, has a very close relationship with her mother and grandparents, and has strong friendships with her roommates.  But Ellie is terrible at choosing men, always ending up with “lame duck” boyfriends who aren’t near as put together as she is (as in they are often alcoholics or unemployed or both).  One such lame duck, Richey, is kicked to the curb after he humiliates her at Glastonbury by going on a cocaine binge (again) and generally being awful.  Richey takes his revenge on Ellie by selling the story of her father to the tabloids.  You see, Ellie’s father is the incredibly famous (and married) rock star, Billy Kay.  Suddenly, Ellie is being followed around by cameras and reporters and unflattering pictures of her in bikinis are on the front pages of all the gossip rags.  Billy Kay’s lawyer, David Gold, is assigned to manage the Ellie crisis and things get even more complicated for Ellie.

She and David have met before, at Glastonbury, where their chemistry and attraction to one another is instant, but interrupted by crazy Richey.  David doesn’t trust Ellie to not leak her story to the press and Ellie is desperate for a little privacy, so David decides to offer his flat as a hiding place for Ellie.  Being in close quarters with one another is difficult, as they cannot deny their mutual attraction, but neither one trusts the other’s motives.  Ellie and David are both perfect on the surface, but emotionally damaged and have to get past their prejudices about one another and their emotional hang-ups to get together.

I adored Sarra Manning’s Unsticky and this gave me much the same feelings as Unsticky did.  These characters are flawed and emotionally scarred.  Ellie tries to get everyone to like her and suffers some uncertainty about herself because of her absent father.  David compartmentalizes his feelings and is pretty closed-off, mostly to cover any sense of immorality and wrong-doing he might feel as a result of his career as a cut-throat entertainment lawyer.  Their chemistry with one another is intense and goes against their best interests, but fighting it doesn’t work for long.

Although I have mostly been talking about the romantic plotline, there is a lot more to this story than just romance.  Ellie is faced with intense public scrutiny of all areas of her life and is surprisingly strong in the face of a really crappy situation.  She learns that she cannot control how other people perceive her; she may be made out to be a “tart” by the tabs, but she is able to win over David’s parents or the audience of a talk show by being herself.  So what if not everyone loves her or believes her to be perfect?  In addition to the character development, we get short flashbacks to Ellie’s mother, Ari’s, affair with Billy Kay.  These probably weren’t necessary to the story, but I thought they were interesting and they definitely cleared up any questions about Billy’s role in Ellie’s life (she is so0000o better off without him).  Ellie’s family relationships were also really nicely portrayed.  She may have the worst father in the world, but her life is filled with people who genuinely love her and that was nice to see.

I had two big complaints with this book.  First, there is a completely out-of-place don’t-worry-about-the-condom-I’m-on-the-pill conversation, which definitely dampened a decent sex scene.  It felt out of character and unnecessary and I’ll leave it at that.  We all know that is a stupid romance genre convention that needs to die.

My second complaint is the ending didn’t really work for me.  Ellie tells David he has to change for her to accept him.  He can’t continue to compartmentalize and he can’t continue to work on her father’s behalf while in a relationship with her.  Ellie is right to make these demands and stand up for herself.  Their relationship would not work with David still representing Billy Kay’s interests.  But David is described as being very career-oriented and very concerned about climbing the ladder in his law firm.  For him to give up his career without a back-up plan to be with Ellie seemed far-fetched and character-breaking.  It was the most convenient route to a Happily Ever After, but that made it seem like even more of a cop out.  One thing I really liked about Unsticky was that the characters are a better version of themselves when they are together, but they do not suddenly become perfect people because of one another.  Vaughan, who appears in It Felt Like A Kiss as Ellie’s boss, still remains prickly and moody and demanding and unreasonable a lot of the time.  There really needed to be a solution to the David-Ellie problem that allowed David to stay David.  I don’t know what that is, but in absence of a better solution, the two needed to not end up together.  I know, I’m rooting for the couple in a romance to not get together.  I don’t think the ending was a total deal-breaker for me, but it kept this book from hitting the 5-star territory it was headed towards before the last 15% or so.

In any case, this was still a good book with a lot of depth and difficult, complex characters.  I am really liking what I have seen in terms of British chick lit lately (see also You Had Me At Hello); a lot of heroines growing as people and finding love along the way and a lot less of the angsting and silliness that chick lit is known for.  There may be brand name clothes in these books, but the characters don’t max their credit cards out for them and if they do, it has real repercussions.  If you haven’t given some of the recent British chick lit a try, this is not a bad one to start with.  I think it has more likeable characters and less moral gray area than Unsticky, but still maintains the emotional depth and character development that I liked so much from Sarra Manning’s other hit.

Unsticky- Sarra Manning

Grace’s boyfriend dumps her very publicly in her favorite department store on her birthday.  Grace, who is starting to cause a scene, is whisked away to a fancy club by a well-dressed stranger.  This stranger, Vaughan, a very wealthy art dealer, has a proposition for Grace.  He’ll pay her generously to be his mistress/party planner.  Grace, who is in quite a lot of debt and is working a dead-end job as an assistant at a fashion magazine, is tempted by Vaughan’s offer and his extravagant lifestyle– after all, it would just be a business transaction with both Grace and Vaughan using one another to get what they want.  Over the length of their “mistress contract,” though, the lines between business and relationship become blurred and the two misfits find themselves facing a possibility they’re not prepared to deal with: emotional involvement.

This is one of those books where you end up loving characters that aren’t really all that lovable.  Grace has no faith in herself whatsoever, has major abandonment issues, lets people walk all over her, lies compulsively, and spends money she doesn’t have like it is going out of style.  Vaughan, on the other hand, is extremely moody, demanding, unsympathetic, and completely closed off.  Yet I was totally rooting for the two to work it out.  Grace had potential under everything and Vaughan had moments where he was actually a nice guy.

Reading this, I kept thinking about Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.  Vaughan, like Rochester, is older, very rich, very moody, feels the need to play games in order to have love proven to him, and is hiding from a dark past (Vaughan’s is no where near as detailed or scandalous as Rochester’s, though, sorry), but can be very charming and sweet when he feels like it.  Grace is like Jane in that she is young, practically parentless/friendless, dependent, and in need of cultivating her own independence.  (Grace, however, doesn’t have the moral scruples that Jane does.)  Both couples start with an employer-employee relationship, yet find that they actually enjoy the company of one another far more than they expected to.  They also banter with one another similarly. Anyways, I am a HUGE fan of Jane-Rochester, so I think that is one reason why Grace-Vaughan resonated with me so much… and why I was able to forgive Vaughan for being a complete jerk at times.  (Seriously, there are things Vaughan does that should make me hate him, but I don’t.  I can’t.)

This was a book I had a really hard time putting down.  The characters would get stuck in my head and I just wanted to know what would happen. Could they possibly overcome their massive emotional immaturity and make things work?  Could Grace actually get herself together enough to feel like she deserved more from her career, her friends, herself?  How would things end for these two?  I’ve been having trouble staying engaged with what I’m reading lately, so the fact that this was so addicting speaks very highly of the author’s ability to construct interesting characters and to keep a well-trodden plot fresh and entertaining.

If you like romance, are a Rochester fan, or enjoy difficult characters, I would recommend you track this one down.  This has been the only thing I’ve read so far this year that I have actually been excited about, so yeah, go read this book.