I was provided a copy of this by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to Story Plant for giving me this opportunity.
I have a very tenuous relationship with women’s fiction. This stretches into most contemporary fiction in general, but I’ve noticed it specifically with women’s fiction the most. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my own personal relationship with feminine culture and whatnot, maybe it’s just the topics they tend to talk about, I don’t know. But I remember one of the first books I read for Story Plant, and I remember how much rubbed me in all kinds of uncomfortable directions. (That was predominantly because the topic hit very close to home, but that’s neither here nor there.) So every time I get one, I’m just a little nervous that I’m going to be biased against the book just because of my own brain ideas about what the genre should be/is.
But the first few sentences of Campbell’s blurb on the back of this book, and I was sold–and I wasn’t led astray.
Our protagonist is Beck Throckmorton (what an unfortunate last name), who is a barista by day and an erotica author by night. She pushed herself out of a relationship only to have her sister and her ex get married, and the closest she has to a best friend is her across-the-street neighbor, an octogenarian named Ella. She has no interest in children–almost to the point of an aversion–and is endlessly frustrated with her life. And then Bob Bowers skips into her life, and everything gets flipped on its head. Bob (short for Roberta, but don’t call her that) is Ella’s granddaughter, having been shipped off from her maternal grandparents, since her father is deployed over seas and her mother is an addict who gave up custody rights. So now not only for Beck have everything else pouncing in on her, now she has an eight-year-old next door who just thinks Beck is The Best. Add in the necessary dose of familial strife, non-communication, and sudden about-faces of strides, and you have yourself a classic little story.
It reads a little like it was first a romance and then the author got a different idea and veered off from it, but never quite got rid of the romance vibe. Beck’s friend Gail is Bound And Determined to hook Beck up with someone, because there is No Possible Way that Beck is happy the way she is. And truth be told, Beck isn’t happy the way she is, but this forced matchmaking isn’t exactly helpful. On a reader side of things, I started getting annoyed with Gail before Beck even did. There’s tough love and then there’s pushing your own agenda, and Gail leans far too far to the latter for my taste. (Anyone seen the movie Must Love Dogs? Yeahhh.)
However, Campbell’s characters are engaging and believable, and it’s incredibly easy to fall in love with Bob. She’s precocious, funny, and just a shade of jaded, and she was perfect. The way she handled the problems thrown at her was very well balanced between wise beyond her years, and exactly her age–as someone with her backstory should be. Beck’s family is well-rounded and real, the distant detached mother, the self-centered sister. The men of the story are where the character development falls down a little. Bryan–Beck’s ex–is painted in this whirlwind of emotions, and then doesn’t really seem to embody any of them well. He acts oddly, he’s very in and out–he gives the feeling of a character who’s there to fill a space rather than serve a purpose. The love interests brought in through Gail’s manipulation are equally flat–though that is essentially the character description of one of them, so maybe that’s less of a problem. But it felt like a superfluous plot line that was never developed, other than to add to Beck’s ever growing pile of “things to deal with.”
That being said, even though the book wrapped up precisely the way I expected it to, it didn’t keep me from getting tears in my eyes a few times at the end, and I had a grin plastered on my face for about the last four chapters. It starts slow but hooks you in well right when it needs to, and there’s a good chunk of character development that comes as just a bit of a welcome surprise. (And I’m going to say right now, if the thing with Simpson had ended ANY WAY other than how it did, I would have been hunting this woman down. Sweet baby.) It’s one of those rare, wonderful stories where you know how it’s going to end, but it doesn’t matter because you’re invested enough in the characters to want to see it through anyway. Very well done.
Rating: **** (Recommended)