Tuesday, July 23, 2013

His Uptown Girl

All books have two things in common - they all have beginnings and endings.  The magical, intangible thing that makes a book a "keeper" for a reader is often hard to define.  Over the years I've struggled with my own definition, those elements that make a book rip my heart out of my chest.  I often say it's when a book makes me swoon, or when a book makes me want to immediately go back to the beginning and start all over again once I finish the final page.  His Uptown Girl by Liz Talley had me adding another requirement to my list of keeper rules: Not wanting a book to end.  I didn't want this book to ever be "over."

The author takes us to present-day New Orleans, a city rich and vibrant, but still with the shadow of Hurricane Katrina lingering around the edges.  Dez Batiste is back in town with the dream of opening up his own upscale jazz club.  He evacuated to Houston, and spent several years there, trying to shoe-horn himself into a "normal" life.  The fiancee, the "regular job," but naturally it all blows up in his face.  He's determined to open his club, but is getting static from the local merchants who think it will lead to crime and drunks puking on their doorsteps.  His biggest opponent is Eleanor Theriot, owner of an antiques store. So imagine his surprise when she walks across the street and does her half-assed best to hit on him.

Eleanor is mortified!  She noticed the hunky guy across the street, and tired of being a shriveled up old widow at age 39, takes a dare from her friend (and store manager) and walks across the street.  Turns out the hunky guy is not only "too young" for her (Dez is 30), he's also the guy who bought the old building across the street, determined to turn it into a jazz club.  Eleanor has had a rough go of it.  After Katrina she fell into depression, her politician husband took up with his secretary, and later died at the end of his mistress' gun.  Her in-laws are vipers, her daughter is turning into Paris Hilton on acid, and now she finds herself attracted to a man who isn't "her type."  He's young, he's hot, he's a musician, doesn't wear polo shirts and he doesn't play golf.  But can she stay away?  Of course not.  Even when everyone in her life thinks she's gone off the deep end.

What makes this story work is what makes every good romance work (at least for me): it's about the heroine's journey.  Eleanor is scared.  Her husband was several years older than her, and from a powerful family.  She was young, in love, and carefully fit herself into that life being the best wife, mother and politician's helpmate she knew how to be.  Katrina changes everything.  She reverts into herself, her husband strays, and when she gets "better" and he tries to cut the mistress loose?  He ends up dead.  This is all somehow her failing in the eyes of her in-laws, but because she has a daughter to think of, she bites her tongue.  A lot.  It's only when she meets Dez, and decides to really live her life, hell to even find out what "her life" truly means, does she find herself having to confront her past and deal with it.  Does Eleanor run scared in this book?  Yes, she does.  Do her and Dez have some of the most emotionally charged dialogue I've read in ages?  Boy howdy, do they!  And I loved every moment of it.

The author rounds out her story by including a number of interesting secondary characters - most notable being the young delivery man that Eleanor employs - a 19-year-old kid who can play the tenor sax like nobody's business but gave it up to take care of his younger brother and toddler cousin.  The author also does a nice job with the melting pot city of New Orleans.  One of the best lines in the book is when Eleanor gets snotty with her white blue blood in-laws about Dez's ethnicity (he's white, Creole and Cuban) and they tell her those aren't their objections - because after all they're Democrats!

It's a romance about a woman who is scared, who needs to find herself, and the man who pushes her towards that goal.  There were moments of heartache that ripped me to shreds, and dialogue that had me bleeding with need.  It's a great story.  A wonderful read.

Final Grade = A

11 comments:

Brie said...

You pretty much had me at "she's 39 and he's 30" but everything else sounds perfect. Heartache and emotionally-charged dialogue is the cherry on top.

azteclady said...

Wow. This truly must be a helluva book, it got you almost squeeeeeeing!

Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks for shaking me out of my rut. I would never pick up this book except on your recommendation, and now I'm hooked.

Rosario said...

I love the sound of this, off to buy.

Wendy said...

Brie: There were moments when I thought she was a little too hung up on the age thing, but Talley wisely steers that around to them just being so "different" from one another. Also, the fact that Eleanor has certain expectations of "proper behavior" thrust upon her by her in-laws and daughter.

Cheryl: Yippee! I'm so glad you're enjoying it!

Rosario: I inhaled a good portion of it on the flight back from RWA (I would have finished it - but dang, I was tired. I had to take a cat nap!).

Hilcia said...

Okay Ms. Thing, I read "keeper," "not wanting the book to end," and "New Orleans." Plus, there's that A Grade. I'm not reading further, instead I'll go get the book and experience it on my own. What is it you like to say? La la la la...

Wendy said...

Hils: Only my second A grade of the year ;) I really enjoyed it - and hope you do too.

Ridley said...

You tempt me with this review. If it were any other author, I'd buy it, but I had an ugly run-in with Talley over matters of class and race in a book, and I'm not sure I trust her with a multicultural, cross-class romance.

I'll have to think about it. She might write better fiction than she does blog comments, and I want to support these kinds of stories in a big way.

Wendy said...

Ridley: I think the romance holds up - but I'm wondering about the main secondary character, the delivery boy turned sax player. He's the one aspect of this book I would love to see more commentary about - just to see where other readers stand. He's young, he's black, he's caring for two younger relatives (a brother and a toddler cousin with developmental issues) because grandma is in a rehab hospital after breaking her hip, and his aunt has a drug problem (so yeah, not really up to the task). He lives in a neighborhood prone to gang violence and the dialogue during these moments of the book are heavy on slang.

It's a time when I really wish my sister (who has experience teaching labeled "bad kids" in urban schools) read straight-up romance (erotic romance, romantic suspense, but not JUST romance). Just to get some opinions on the authenticity of the language, that particular storyline etc.

nath said...

You gave it an A, so of course, I'll have to check this one out ;)

Kaetrin said...

Putting this one on my list. Thx Wendy :)