Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not Original Enough?

In past reviews, I've made my (sorta) love-hate relationship with Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books clear. I find her writing funny as hell at times, to the point of laughing out loud, but I'm generally left feeling unsatisfied at the end. Doesn't bode well for a Romance. Insert all jokes about "feeling unsatisfied" here.

So after the disaster of Glitter Baby, and whew, does that disappointment list run long. I had such high hopes for it too. So many reviews raved about Phillips' first romantic work as being epic and the love story as unsurpassed. My confusion was clear when I cracked open the re-issue and found that the story began decades before the birth of the heroine and that somehow, we were taken back to read about her mother and her story. What? 

Long story short, I was entirely disappointed by the plot, I didn't feel the heat between Jake and Fleur, and basically didn't care how the book ended one way or another. However, I feel like I'm being harsh on the book. If it were labeled as a coming-of-age story versus a Romance, I would have been happy. It really is a book about a girl coming into her skin and becoming a woman. But the so-called love connection between her and Jake? Didn't buy it. Nope.

And when SEP released her newest book, What I Did for Love, I wasn't flying to the bookstore to pick it up. Coupled with the fact that it released into a hardcover...well, I wasn't going to spend so much on an author that wasn't an instant hit with me. I checked Amazon to read the reviews about the new book and they certainly didn't help. Reviewers criticized the plot as being a thinly veiled attempt to fictionize the Jolie-Pitt-Aniston triangle and the uncomfortable divorce and husband swapping.

And really, the plot to the book is almost identical. Georgie York was America's sitcom darling and though the show has been off the air for eight years, she still can't shake that image. By the opening of the book, Georgie finds herself divorced from her movie-star husband who left her for an exotic looking, humanitarian actress who recently announced her pregnancy. Come on...anyone can see where Phillips got her inspiration from. 

The real story starts when Georgie finds herself pulling a Britany Spears a la the Vegas nuptials, and married to her old co-star Bram, whom she detests (the hate is basically mutual between the two). Desperate to pull together her ruined image, she agrees to pay Bram to stay her husband. Bram, the bad boy actor who ruined his career by way of drugs, drink, and women, is also desperate to renew his credibility in Hollywood. Although he's not as outwardly desperate as Georgie, each has a stake in their pretend marriage.

Despite what should have been a recipe for disaster, it surprisingly wasn't. In the past reviews of SEP's books, I complained about the secondary romances. I felt like they dominated the books and that the main pair didn't get their deserved room. But in What I Did for Love, that wasn't the issue. Yes, there was a secondary romance. Two actually. One that involved Georgie's father and her agent, and another with Bram's housekeeper/chef and Georgie's personal assistant. But the wonderful part about these romances? They collectively added up to be about less than fifteen pages total, versus what normally would've been at least a good third of the book. That was the biggest plus in endearing me to this book.

Another reason I thoroughly enjoyed the book is the nicely time-lined romance. Bram and Georgie genuinely don't like each other in the beginning. I was suspicious about Bram's feelings because it's so typical for the hero to have those love/hate feelings but secretly lust after the heroine. But not so much in this case. Bram might have the ability to appreciate the nice picture that Georgie's legs might make, but they really don't like each other. Georgie especially for the heartache Bram caused her as a kid. 

But the romance between the two evolved progressively and steadily. It wasn't as if they went from hate and full-throttled into lust and then love straightaway. They bickered for a good third of the book with them taking cheap shots liberally laced with sarcasm at each other's expense. If I wanted to nitpick, I would say that Bram's fall into love was kinda cheesy. One minute he's not, the next he has some ocean-induced revelation about his feelings and finds himself in everlasting love with Georgie. But by then, I'd already fallen in love with the characters and book that I excused that use of "divine intervention."

In addition, if you've read other SEP books, you'll notice consistent appearances by other characters. Natural Born Charmer and Glitter Baby characters make an appearance as friends of Georgie's and Bram's.

All and all, this was an enjoyable book. I'd go so far as to say it might be my favorite SEP so far. It doesn't have really heavy emotional tones like her other ones, but if you're looking for a nice read that doesn't have too many emotional ups and downs and is pretty predictable and sweet, this is the read for you.

I enjoyed it enough to say that when it comes out in paperback, I'll be buying my own copy to put on the shelf.


4 out of 5: Predicable and sweet with the emotions pretty much on level for the entire length. 

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