Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hot And Cold Running Books
I've read several books now by Susan Meier and I don't think she's yet to land out of the my "OK" territory.  So why then have I continued to keep reading her?  Because the stuff she does well, she does very, very well.  Case in point, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, which has a candy-coated shell hiding an OMG Angst Ahoy! dark chocolate center.  Parts of this story ripped my heart out, threw it on the carpet, and danced a rumba on it - and I mean that in the best possible way.  And then there was the other stuff.  The other staff that had me wanting to reach through my Kindle screen and throttle imaginary characters.  More on that in a bit.

Eloise Vaughn may have come from a wealthy family, but our girl needs a job.  She's fresh out of college, working crappy temp jobs, and has just lost one of her roommates to New York City.  Is it any wonder she's stuffing crackers in her purse at a cocktail party so she has lunch for tomorrow?  On top of that, the holiday season is in full swing and Eloise is alone.  Her wealthy family disowned her when she married a completely unsuitable man.  She nursed him through a bout of pancreatic cancer, which inevitably took his life.  She's young, she's a widow, she's underemployed, and stealing crackers.  And then she literally runs into Ricky Langley, who crushes the crackers.

Ricky is an entrepreneur who is tired of being pitied.  It's been just over a year since his infant son died and he wants to reassure his friends, colleagues etc. that he's "fine," even though nothing will ever be "fine" again.  And that means making the holiday party rounds, of which Ricky has many invitations for.  He wants to avoid attempts at matchmaking, of which he's already had some run-ins.  When he meets Eloise near the buffet table?  It's fate.  She's attractive, personable, a snappy dresser - just the kind of gal his friends would be happy to see on his arm.  So they enter into an agreement.  He gets her protection to get through the holiday party whirl and she'll get his help in securing a more permanent job with a decent salary.

One thing I've discovered about Meier, as an author, is that she's a big fan of The Fairy Tale.  This one has Rescue Fantasy written all over it, but the author side-steps some of the more obvious pitfalls.  It's the kind of story that was literally made to be a Hallmark Channel holiday movie.  Eloise used to have access to family money, which means she has nice clothes with designer labels.  Clothes now several years "out of fashion," which in Ricky's social circle would stick out like a sore thumb.  So she "remakes" her clothes - altering them into her own designs.  Being Ricky's "fake date" is basically networking for her, until of course she starts falling for the man.

Another writing tic I've run across is that Meier's books have a bit of an "old-fashioned" feel to them.  Sort of like those category romances you read when you were a teen.  That comes into play here, mostly because of the wealthy circles the characters are traveling in.  Sometimes you just stumble across something odd.  Like when Ricky muses about buying Eloise a thank-you gift and thinks maybe jewelry or.....a fur.  Now do people still wear and buy furs?  Certainly.  But a young women in her 20s?  It's little things like that.  In another Meier read the wealthy family (including hero) referred to their hired cook simply as "Cook." 

Where this book really worked for me is with Eloise and her struggle over her feelings for Ricky.  It's heartbreaking.  Ricky is very tight-lipped about his past, under the guise that he doesn't want Eloise to look at him "differently" (as in, with pity).  So he keeps her totally in the dark even after she hears passing bits of conversation among his social circle.  She asks him.  He declines.  And in more will power than I would have, she doesn't snoop.  She figures, he'll tell her when he tells her - if he tells her.  She may care for him, but he obviously does not feel the same way about her.
But he didn't want her to know him, and he certainly didn't want to know her.  He'd listened to her story with bare minimum curiosity, and when she was done talking he hadn't consoled her.  Leaving her empty.  Feeling like no one.  Nothing.  Who'd have thought going out with someone could make her so lonely?
Which brings us to Ricky, who I felt was an ass for 95% of this book.  Yes, you lost your son.  Yes, that sucks.  But this guy is an inconsiderate douche.  Even though she respects his privacy, when a mutual friend mentions Eloise's past (at a bare minimum) - Ricky snoops.  Finds out she was married.  Gets all butt-hurt and confronts her about "being married."  And then she tells her story about her husband dying, her family disowning her, yada yada yada.  And even after all that, after Eloise bares her damn soul to him - he remains tight-lipped.  He comes off completely selfish and hypocritical. This, of course, does bring on some good stuff because Eloise eventually does get angry with him.  There are arguments.  And she's right!  It was good to read her smack him down.

The ending also leaves us on several problematic notes.  Ricky doesn't realize what a douche he is until a third party has to tell him.  Also the portrayal of his ex, the mother of his child, was completely Old School (party girl tramp yada yada yada) which especially galled since Ricky is held up as some fine example of fatherhood - when that means for him weekends and having the money to hire a nanny (dude, go sit at the back of the bus).  Also the resolution to Eloise's family estrangement was just - annoying.  Frankly I don't think this needed to be resolved - especially given the fact that over the course of the story Eloise makes peace with being estranged from her jerkface parents.  Couldn't we have just left it at that?

So, what are we left with?  A hot-and-cold running read.  A yo-yo read.  Just when I was ready to throw up my hands in frustration?  Meier would ramp up the angst, and break my heart all over again.  I was totally all over the place with this book.  Part of me wanted to pull out my hair, and part of me wanted to fall into a swoon.  How the heck do you "evaluate" that as a reading experience?  In my case, I'm taking the easy way out.

Final Grade = C


Miss Bates said...

I read this too and didn't dislike Ricky, nor like Eloise as much as you. I think where we can agree is the "yo-yo." I thought, though I like the writing, that the narrative yoyo-ed too much between their inner torment and the lighter moments ... I felt a little dizzy by it all, as you did. I noted the "fur" bit too and had quite a laugh over it. It felt kinda of all early "Mad Men" to me ...

Wendy said...

Miss Bates: The fur thing was just odd. LOL! I was thinking, what is this Goodfellas? Certainly I'm not traveling in monied circles, but fur strikes me as the exception as opposed to the rule these days. But hey, maybe I'm wrong.

Meier always gets me with her angst - which is why I keep trying her books. Eventually I figure she's going to hit one out of the park for me, or I'll stop trying....angst or not.