Monday, April 8, 2013

Summer Loving

Summer Loving
by Rivka Spicer

Elise Waterford is a struggling writer, working as a columnist for a tiny local paper, when an article she wrote about the perils of internet dating lands on the desk of Taylor Stone, editor of the most influential magazine in Europe. Impressed with her style, he offers her a challenge she can't refuse: 6 guys, 6 weeks. . . can she turn around their hapless internet dating history and blog for the magazine while she does it? Confused by her deliciously dishy boss and swept off her feet by the local librarian, Elise sets out on an emotional journey with her projects, only to discover that the path to love is dark and sometimes painful. Who is the mysterious Mr X leaving love letters on her blog? Who knew that life in the city could be so complicated? Sometimes it's not about who's out there, it's about who's looking.  Packed with humour, emotion and lots of cake, this is a book for anyone that's ever looked for love and been surprised where they found it.

My Reaction:
I haven't read that many "Romance Novels" (as opposed to "novels in which romance plays a part")-- especially not lately-- but I thought I might try to work a few in between other books.  Light reading, a change of pace, etc.  This was a freebie on Amazon, and the approach (Internet dating, blogging, secret admirer) sounded interesting, so I gave it a try.  It was alright, and for someone who really enjoys romance as a genre, it could be worth a read, but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it. 

Some of my complaints feel unfair because they fall into the "Hey, it's Romance; what did you expect?" category.  Others feel unfair because they point out ways in which the book runs counter to what you expect from Romance, which should maybe count as a good thing (because the author's not afraid to try something different).  What it really came down to for me was that I didn't find it riveting, and I got annoyed with the main character and how everyone loooves her.  (Hello, "What did you expect from Romance?" category!)  I only finished the book because I was over halfway through when I was seriously tempted to pull a DNF, and at that point, I just wanted to see how it would end.  Was the conclusion worth the time and effort of finishing?  Eh, it was ok.  (I wish I could be more flattering.  I always feel a bit guilty putting down a book that I've gotten for free.)

More Specific Comments (Including SPOILERS):
-- The setting was Scotland and England, which was interesting.  Well, actually a lot of what I read is set in England, but this was set in modern Scotland and England, so that was different.  The author herself is British, too, I believe, so it was authentic.  (g)  I was interested that something in the book was described as looking like a million dollars.  (...Since they don't use dollars over there, obviously.)  The cultural/lingual divide provided fodder for a few more comments, as well...

--  ...such as this one.  I think I've read/heard that "the f-word" is considered less... shocking? taboo? whatever... in Britain than in the U.S.  In any case, it's used quite a bit in portions of this book, which was surprising, since there wasn't a ton of swearing, otherwise.  (Yes, I'm an awful prude for even noticing.  For fellow prudes, this is not one of your "pure" romances, either-- though to be fair, the "pre-marital activities" are not described in much detail at all.  There are no "shades of grey" here.)

--  Lots of people say "excellent" lots of times.  (That word, spoken/written alone, always reminds me of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.  In case you were wondering.)  Query: Is "excellent" the new "brilliant" in UK-speak? 

--  I was disappointed that the blogging and Internet dating aspects of the story turned out to be less interesting than I'd hoped.  The blog entries were mostly blah, and I found it completely unbelievable that her writing (as evidenced by those blog entries) would've been enough to catch the eye of a big-time magazine editor, much less turn Elise into an Internet sensation. (But maybe I'm just being mean...)

As for the Internet dating... Her "projects" all had some deep, dark secret that was holding them back from being Dating Material.  This is where I should probably applaud the attempt to diverge from the typical Romance formula.  Instead, I found it vaguely depressing... boring to read about... and completely unrealistic.  Sorry, I just couldn't buy it that 1) her cases all just happened to have Deep-Seated Issues, or that 2) Elise could magically see through to the root of the matter and set them on the Path to Recovery so quickly and easily, or that 3) they were all so open to her (sometimes silly) methods.  It was just far too easy, despite all the "this is just the first step in a long process" stuff. 

It felt like the author wanted to tackle a few (love-related) Serious Issues, but decided to do so within the confines of a romance novel.  The problem (for me) is that the two don't really meld together very well.  Either I want to read an Issues novel (except, no, I hardly ever want to read an Issues novel, so I avoid them like the plague)-- or I want a fairly lightweight romance where the hero and heroine interact a great deal.  I don't want to read a book where the two story types struggle against one another to the detriment of both.  It makes for a less satisfying read, unfortunately. The result was that the Issues felt rushed, too-convenient, and ultimately fake, while the romance got the short end of the stick.  I'd much rather have gotten more time with Elise and Taylor and less of the "projects".

--  Elise on the subject of the difficulties of being an author:  "It's so hard.  You really have to be exceptional and back then I wasn't.  I got one book published but after a brief spell on the bestseller lists it vanished into total obscurity."  I'm no expert on the subject-- and maybe this is realistic-- but if that's really how it works, I'm surprised.  How often does someone make it to the bestseller list and then vanish into total obscurity?!  I thought that once you'd made it to the bestseller list, however briefly, you'd have a pretty darn good chance of getting your next book published.  Maybe not...

--  Where are my commas?  I want my commas!

--  The people in this book (Elise, Nathan, his friends/family) become very intimate with astonishing rapidity.  Friendships and romances seem to take hold overnight.  Similarly, sometimes it seems like they'll laugh at anything.  Everything's hilarious!  Oh, what good times!  Either it's not realistic, or the people in my life are very, very sad and dull... and take more than a day to become BFFs.

--  "On a scale of one to amazeballs it rates around the level of awesomesauce."  Please excuse me while I indulge in a slang-OD-induced gag or two.  Phew!  Sorry, it's probably just me.  I am extremely sensitive to modern slang.  Makes me ill.

--  "Gurning".  Apparently it's a British word for "making faces".  Never come across it before this.

--  Into the category of "Romance: What did you expect?"... I don't see what's so special about Elise.  I mean, yes, she seems like a nice girl, and she should have no problem making friends, attracting men, and having a normal career, but the way the other characters go on and on about her!  For instance, Dave finds her "intimidating" because she's "so bright and articulate".  Really?  Then she writes things like, "It scares me because my gift is to bring out the best in people."  How many people do you know who talk about "their gift"?  I think we all have talents or "gifts", but it irks me when someone calls his/her own talent "a gift".  (Yep; I probably am just a big ol' meanie.)  She also writes: "I didn't expect to see so many facets of myself in these men, especially Jim.  He was so horrible, so abrasive.  It scared me on a very deep level that I could so easily have turned out that way if I hadn't had help right when I needed it most."  Oh, horrors!

--  Elise's go-to comforts are tea and baths.  I can't relate.  (Not a bath person.  Not a tea person, either.)  This just made me laugh right out loud:  "'I came in to find her crying in the bath surrounded by empty chocolate wrappers.  This feature is really taking it out of her.'" Srsly, LOL.

--  "If he hadn't been so lonely in his life he wouldn't have been internet dating in the first place."  Gee, way to make anyone who's ever done Internet dating look pathetic and desperate.  Internet dating is no more an indication of being "so lonely" than any other kind of dating, people.

--  Oh my gosh, the confrontation scene between Taylor and his brother (Anton?)!  It was so ridiculous!  (I shouldn't complain; it thoroughly enlivened an otherwise dull treadmill session.)

"'Taylor you sounded infatuated, like a teenager with a crush.  But she's not of our world. Look at her.'"  ... "'You need to be courting someone from your own class who would fit in with the social circles we move in.'" ..."'You cannot date this woman.  Look at her.  Look at her!'  His lip curled in a sneer. 'She probably buys her clothes at the supermarket and this is who you want to be seen with in the society pages?'"... "'You wait until I tell father about this!'"  

See what I mean?!  And then, after Taylor has defended her honor by punching his brother in the nose, he tells Elise, "'And don't pay any attention to those awful things he said.  It's not about what's on the outside, it's about what's on the inside.  You're one of the most amazing people I know.'"  Well, gee, thanks, Taylor!  Thanks for talking to me like I'm a Kindergartener-- and thanks even more for suggesting that my "outside" is somehow lacking, since you're only concerned with what's on the inside.

The whole thing is just so... Wow.

-- "Kerb".  Vaguely familiar alt. spelling of "curb".

--  Someone else in another review commented on the fact that Taylor apparently never tried calling Elise on his own.  He only had his secretaries put through the calls (which they never did).  I hadn't thought about that, but it's true.  If a man were really interested in a woman, he wouldn't be satisfied to just leave it at that.  He'd be trying to call her on his own time, from home, which would've ruined the plot.  So we just pretend it's perfectly normal that he never tried dialing her number himself.  (g)

-- Ok, so Elise doesn't want a life in the limelight...  Or something.  I can understand being a bit freaked out by sudden celebrity, but the way she reacts, it's almost as though she's a criminal on the run.  She acts like there's much more at stake than some inconvenience and reporters asking her nosy questions (that she is free to completely ignore).  I guess she gets over her fear of fame by the end of the book, because marrying Taylor certainly isn't going to make it possible for her to keep her anonymity.

--  "'He's old enough and ugly enough to make his own decisions.'"  That's an odd phrase.  I think it's the first time I've ever come across that "ugly enough" part.  "Old enough", yes.  "Ugly enough"... No, I won't be adding it to my lingual repertoire.  ;o)

--  Mr. X was obvious.  It's hard to believe that Elise couldn't guess who he was.  She's supposed to be an intelligent woman, after all.

--  It felt like you were supposed to root for Taylor to win Elise's heart-- and yet we got very limited interaction between the two, and for most of the book, Elise seemed to be in a pretty happy relationship with Nate... which felt weird, honestly.  Rooting for her to leave this perfectly nice guy so she can be with the one she met first... Wondering how the author will "get rid of him" in short order without making the book tragic... I felt guilty.

I must admit that I preferred Taylor (though that's not saying much, in this case), but I still felt bad for Nathan.  What did he do to deserve being thrown over at the last minute?  He was too possessive?  Well, I'd say that a lot of women want men to be a little possessive.  (Not to the point that it's abusive, of course-- but come on, you want your guy to be a little jealous of your attention/affections, right?  You want to feel that you matter.  If he's completely laissez-faire, it's a bit cold and depressing.)  And as it turned out, he wasn't really wrong to be suspicious.  She was being more emotionally intimate with Mr. X (telling him about her marriage and cheating spouse/friends) than she was with him.  Now, he wasn't completely open with her, either-- and again, Taylor seemed more interesting-- but it seemed like he was treated a little badly, just chucked out of the story with very little explanation or closure. 

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure Nathan was revealed to be magically wealthy just so no-one could accuse Elise of being a gold-digger, later on.  Dumping a poor librarian for a wealthy media mogul?  Tsk-tsk.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself, young lady!  Dumping a temporarily poor librarian who will inherit lots of money in a few years for a wealthy media mogul?  Acceptable behavior.

- - - - - - -

And that's it.  I think I've exorcised the demons... aired the dirty laundry... had my say about every little thing I made a note of in this book.  Whew.  On to the next one!

P.S.  I started reading this one soon after Donald and I started reading P.G. Wodehouse's Summer Lightning, and did so without immediately noticing the similarity in titles.  Maybe my subconscious nudged me in this novel's direction as a joke.  (It has an odd sense of humor.)