Review: YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME by Sarra Manning

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me looked like a fairly predictable book to me. Even before I cracked open its spine, I knew it was going to be a typical romantic comedy, a prime example of “chick lit”, just like hundreds of books I’d already read, but was always willing to give a try nonetheless. Mostly, I picked it up because a person whose taste in books I trust implicitly told me it was a must-read. Needless to say, she was absolutely right.

Along the lines of the inimitable Bridget Jones, Ms. Manning’s protagonist, Neve Slater, is an intelligent young woman who works at the London Literary Archives, but she’s also a highly insecure person. Since her teenage years, Neve had been teased mercilessly about her weight. Over the last three years, she has taken great pains to lose that weight, but she’s still not happy. For Neve, happiness means a size 10 dress and a happily-ever-after with her intellectual soulmate, William, a friend from university who currently lives in L.A, and will be returning in a few months. Neve is not only physically preparing herself for their reunion but, as a 25-year old virgin, she desperately needs some experience with relationships and romance as well. Thus, after a super bumpy start, she winds up in a “pancake relationship” with her sister’s boss and charismatic womanizer, Max.

To cut a long story short, Max and Neve fall in love, have issues they end up resolving, and readers of the genre can easily predict what happens when Wiliam returns. And still, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a beautiful book I will read multiple times in the future. What makes it such a page-turner is the endearing way Ms. Manning has fleshed out Neve. From the start, her voice has an authenticity that I instantly related to. Even when it seemed like she was constantly cribbing about her size, her insecurities came across as real and her journey is one many women can identify with.

The manner in which Ms. Manning explored Neve’s world, showing how her issues affected not just every part of her life but also her thought process, and the change that came about in her as her relationship with Max progressed, was delightful yet plagued with the same issues a lot of feminist readers have with the genre of romance. Neve’s sense of happiness was constantly linked with the state of her relationship with Max. While their relationship is shown to progress in a very realistic manner, it was only when Neve was finally sure about her feelings with Max does she stop caring about how she looks. While that’s great for her, it still sends an incredibly problematic yet very common message. You don’t need a man to love you for who you are (as amazing as that is) to feel good about your body. You can be single and still live a happy life without constantly weighing and measuring yourself. That’s not a message this book succeeded in sending because it felt like if Max ever left the picture, Neve would just relapse.

Neve, when the story begins, is just another woman who was been body-shamed by society and its idolization of stick-figure beauty. Her insecurities persist despite having lost over 200 pounds because of the psychological trauma inflicted by her childhood bullies. The worst of the lot is now her sister-in-law, who lives downstairs and still terrorizes the hell out of Neve. An independent and well-educated woman, completely healthy for her size now,  Neve refused to see herself as “fit” or “healthy” or happy till she attained her goal of fitting into a particular dress size. And while this is a very common struggle, Ms. Manning paid scant attention to the body image issues of the other women in the book, like Neve’s younger sister Celia.

And despite the above-mentioned flaws, I really cannot stress how much I loved reading this book. I enjoyed the hilarity and realness of Neve’s narration and her blundering, romantic and utterly sweet relationship with Max. Of course, I love wicked, sexy, and surprisingly sensitive Max. I can’t remember his last name, but I fell hard for him. I feel like Ms. Manning could have told us a lot more about him, but whatever I read, I adored. Despite my problems with the trope, it was amazing to see him deal with Neve’s food issues and accept her for who she was, even at her worst moments. So while Neve’s self-image is linked to her love life, it is also glaringly evident that she has come a long way from the person she was, and like all of us, she has a long way to go.

Ms. Manning has written a compulsively relatable novel that kept me reading and laughing well into the night. Although the book tackled some very real issues, it was still a super-cute contemporary romance. I just wish there was an epilogue so I could read more. 🙂

Advertisements

Review: “It Happened on Love Street” (Everland, Georgia #1) by Lia Riley

It Happened On Love Street

At first glance, it seems too schmaltzy to be true. And in the beginning, it was. The town is called Everland. The address is actually Love Street. The hero is named Rhett Valentine. And, in theory, I should have been gagging and/or derisively snorting while reading this book, but Lia Riley’s small-town contemporary romance is so charmingly adorable that, despite my horrible mood, I couldn’t stop awwing and laughing out loud while reading it.

It Happened on Love Street opens with recent law-school graduate and big city girl, Pepper Knight, relocating to fanciful Everland, Georgia, only to find out that the job she moved halfway across the country for has been given to someone else. Having always been the responsible one in her family, Pepper refuses to ask for help until she bumps into local vet and hottie, Rhett Valentine.

Rhett Valentine, (yes, of course, the name made me swoon) was left at the altar by his first love a few years ago and now he spends his time trying to build a local animal shelter while feuding with his father, and keeping his personal life from again becoming local gossip. When his new sexy, dog-fearing neighbor needs help, he jumps to her rescue and obviously sparks fly and they start a steamy affair.

As I said, it all seems very sweet on the surface, so sweet that it’s cloying. But as I read It Happened on Love Street, I fell in love with the protagonists and the kooky town of Everland, Georgia. While the “Southernness” of it all seemed a bit too much at times, Ms. Riley has peppered (LOL) the story with hilarious dialogue and endearing secondary characters. There are a couple of plotlines that seemed out of place, like a lifelong cynophobe becoming a dog walker overnight just because the cute guy asked her, and the completely unneeded Psycho scenario that popped up in the middle.

But I would recommend It Happened on Love Street to all readers of contemporary romance. It is sexy. It is funny. For some reason, it has a treasure hunt. It is peppered  (I can’t stop!) with hilarious pop culture references. And it has dogs named after authors and a hero named Rhett. If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will.

Review: “The One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes

The One Plus One

Rich is paying every single bill on time without thinking about it. Rich is being able to have a holiday or get through Christmas without having to borrow against January or February. Actually, rich would be just not thinking about money all the bloody time.

Jess is a single mother, struggling to make ends meet after her husband upped and left.  In a small English seaside town, she is trying to be both a role model and the best parent she can to her daughter and step-son, all the while working two low-end jobs only to, still, barely cover the bills. Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math prodigy, who solves complex equations all day with their huge dog, Norman, at her feet. Her teenage stepson, Nicky, is forever getting beaten up for expressing his individuality.

Then, a chance to turn their lives around presents itself when Tanzie’s math teacher mentions an upcoming Olympiad, all the way up in Aberdeen, with a generous prize for the winner, which will enable Tanzie to go to a good school. So Jess piles them all up in her husband’s barely-working Rolls Royce and starts driving to Scotland only to be stopped a few miles out of town for driving a car without insurance. Here, a relative stranger steps up and offers to drive them to their destination and thus starts a quite incredible and unexpected journey.

Why does Ed Nicholls, Jess’ boss, volunteer to drive an employee he doesn’t even know very well, plus her carsick daughter, moody stepson and flatulent dog, such a distance? Well, Ed has made a few bad decisions of late which has him facing a lot of trouble. Ed has just been done over by an unstable ex-lover. His family is expecting him for a very important lunch across the country. His ex-wife is plaguing him for more money. His lifelong friend and business partner won’t talk to him and Ed is about to be charged with insider trading.

Told from the shifting perspectives of Jess, Ed and the children, Moyes explores a number of issues facing modern western society today, such as the impact of bullying and antisocial behaviour, family breakdown, the slow erosion of community values and the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. In the given set up, it would have been easy and stereotypical to have a Mr. Rochester-Jane Eyre type relationship develop between Ed and Jess. Instead, Moyes paints her characters more like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy–each equally sharp-witted and neither superior to the other, despite their finances.

Moyes has an unerring sense for the serious as well as for the ridiculous, and The One Plus One shimmers with both unyielding warmth and canny incisiveness. While it captures the desperation exposed by the chasm of income inequality and the horrific aspects of bullying, it also catches the more enchanting elements of life’s rich pageant, from “the magnificence of total strangers”   to that moment when someone first notices the relaxing effect they’re having on another person and experiences the joyful epiphany of realizing that they are exactly where they belong.

This was my first Jojo Moyes novel so I am not going to go on about how this was like (or better than) Me Before You. I will also not compare it to Little Miss Sunshine because that movie annoyed the hell out of me. But I will say that The One Plus One is one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does. But it makes the book all the more hilarious and heartbreaking. All in all, The One Plus One is a likable, not terribly memorable, but a far from simple-minded story.