Book Review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Caymen Meyers helps her mom run her collectible doll shop, and she studies the rich people who frequent their store.  She’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing: spending money.  Caymen’s mind is made up about how the 1% live, so when when handsome Xander Spence comes into her life, she’s not quite sure what to do about it.  He’s charming and seems to get her, but he’s also ridiculously wealthy.  She’s sure his interest in her won’t last, so she decides not to tell her mom–who wouldn’t approve anyway.  But when things get complicated, Caymen learns that not everything is as it seems–including her own family.

There’s no denying that this Cinderella story has massive appeal for teen readers (and adults alike).  It’s glossy, sweet, and hopeful.  It’s what readers looking for a break from the dark worlds of dystopian will gobble up.  While the book certainly won’t break any tropes when it comes to predictability, this is a standout romance title for teens.

Both Caymen and Xander are well-drawn characters, which helps move the plot along at a fast clip.  The two have a natural chemistry and charisma that seems to spark off the page.  The witty banter alone is reason enough to read this in one sitting, the fact that the characters themselves are actually fairly captivating just adds more incentive.  This book is frequently funny and smart, and West’s writing is very, very good.  This is one of those titles readers will be in a rush to finish as well as wanting to savor it.

Readers looking for plenty of romance need look no further.  There’s an abundance of that here, but there’s also some interesting family drama and some fairly surface-level examinations of class and socioeconomic status.  A very engaging read, this is a must-have for fans of contemporary YA romance.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West. Harper Teen: 2013. Library copy read for the 2013 Cybils.

Movie Review: Children of a Lesser God (1986)

James Leeds (William Hurt) is an unconventional speech teacher who arrives on a small island off the coast of Maine to teach at a deaf school.  There he meets a beautiful but stubborn janitor named Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin), whose refusal to speak or learn to read lips baffles him. As the two embark on a romance, they must learn to speak the other’s language or face the fact that they’ll never be able to truly communicate.

Adapted from Mark Medoff’s Tony-winning play of the same name, Children of a Lesser God is an uneven movie that showed a great deal of promise before ultimately falling into some well-trodden cliches.  A stellar cast and fascinating look into Deaf culture can’t save the movie from being problematic, dated, and more than a little trite.  However, there’s a lot to examine within the film’s content.

The movie is essentially about tension between two people who speak different languages: James lives in the world of the hearing, and Sarah lives in a world of silence.  At times, the two seem to be at war with one another: James wants Sarah to learn to read lips and to speak, and Sarah is adamant that James enter and accept her world of silence.  This war doesn’t go very far, though, because the movie is only showing one side: James’s.

So, yes, the movie chooses to live in the world of the hearing, and it does so with an interesting strategy: subtitles are never used in the film.  Instead of ever allowing viewers to experience what Sarah experiences, the film has James translate everything that she signs, narrating her experience with his own voice.  At one point, he states, “I like to hear my own voice,” and it’s the line that helps pull off the premise.  And at the same time, it makes the film about him, because it only features his point of view.  Because of this, Sarah becomes the woman who is simply a stubborn object that must be conquered.  She is the problem that must be fixed.  And that might be the most frustrating thing about this movie, because it’s trying so hard to convince viewers that the opposite is happening.

There are some good things here.  Both Hurt and Matlin are excellent in their roles.  Matlin was only 21 when she made the film (it was her first) and more than holds her own against Hurt, who is convincing and powerful as the impassioned (if misguided) speech teacher.  A supporting performance by Piper Laurie as Sarah’s mother is also very good (although it’s somewhat of a thankless role).

The cast can’t make up for the film’s overall predictability, though.  The love story plays out exactly as viewers will expect it to, and although the chemistry between Matlin and Hurt is great (the two were involved in real life for a long time and had a very tumultuous relationship), they can’t save the movie from falling into every romantic drama trope there is.

Still worth a watch, if only for being one of the first movies to feature a deaf actress in a lead role.  The movie’s available on Netflix Instant for a few more days and can be found on DVD.

Book Review: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

Ana and Christian are married and trying to settle into married life.  Both of them are struggling with what this union means.  Ana is trying to adjust to Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own values (I didn’t realize she had them) and beliefs.  Christian is trying to overcome his overwhelming desire to control every aspect of Ana’s life, from what she puts in her mouth (food-wise and, um, otherwise) to what she puts on her body.  Both are having a hard time with coming to terms with the fact that marriage didn’t solve all their problems.  There’s also some sort of conflict involving Ana’s lecherous old boss having it out for her, but it’s sort of beside the point and only serves to justify Christian’s creepy obsession with keeping tabs on Ana. Oh, and Ana gets knocked up.  I don’t want to talk about.

As with my review of Fifty Shades Darker, I’m not sure what else there is to say about this third book.  Whereas the first book had some novelty simply because it was such a train wreck, this one continues to disappoint and bore.  There’s nothing new here, and I’m not sure what there is to say about that, either.

Christian continues to be an alarmingly abusive love interest.  Ana continues to be unbelievably stupid and naive, despite everything she’s experienced since meeting Christian.  Both characters continue to contradict themselves, telling one thing and demonstrating its complete opposite.  Christian is probably the greatest example of a raging sociopath masquerading as a hero.  I guess that’s noteworthy, but is that something to be proud of when it wasn’t intentional?

One can only assume that because James originally wrote this as one long fic, there wasn’t time to really become a better writer.  If anything, her writing tics and cliches get worse in this third installment, as Ana and Christian have an annoying tendency to refer to one another as Mrs. and Mr. Grey.  All of it is so nauseating and creepy and unappealing.  Ugh. This book.

The problem is, there’s no story here.  Like the other two books, James draws out a story that could have been told in 250 pages, tops.  For almost the entire book, Ana and Christian manipulate one another.  It gets to the point where the reader starts to wonder if either of these characters even knows how to speak to another human being.  Apart from that, nearly nothing happens.  They have an enormous amount of fairly boring sex.  Ana still refers to her inner goddess and her subconscious, which sets my teeth on edge.

What else is there to say?  There are the usual character inconsistencies, a couple of instances where James messes up and refers to a character by their original Twilight character’s name (those were the best moments, if we’re being honest), and more than one “down there” reference, which just makes me giggle.  Seriously, that’s the best you can do?

There is, of course, a certain poetry in the title.  With the completion of Fifty Shades Freed, I’m finally able to let go of this abominable series.  I’m embarrassed that I read all three of the books, but I’m glad that I get to forget about them now, just as the rest of the world will.  Eventually.

Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James. Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House: 2012. Borrowed copy.

Book Review: Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins

When rich-girl Parker Welles’s father loses all their family money in an insider-trading scheme gone wrong, she’s faced with some tough realities.  Forced out of her house, she picks up and moves to Gideon’s Cove, Maine, to sell the only property she still owns: an old house in serious need of renovation.  Her father sends his lackey, lawyer James Cahill, to help her, and while Parker’s not thrilled about this, she has to admit that he’s pretty hot–and seems to have a background in construction.

There’s no beating around the bush here–Kristan Higgins writes contemporary romance that fits the genre to perfection, but her novels are so fresh, funny, and full of well-developed characters that it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself.  While Somebody to Love was my first foray into Higgins’s oeuvre, it won’t be my last.  Genuinely funny dialogue, a fairly believable premise, and a vivid supporting cast make this a memorable read.

What Higgins does well is provide the perspectives of two very different characters and allow their own viewpoints to build tension.  Parker and James are both headstrong, smart, and self-motivated.  They’re also very proud, and they both let their pride get in the way of what might make them really happy.  Their banter drives much of the book–their interactions was what I most looked forward to when reading the book.  While Parker is a total mess, James borders on being almost too perfect.  In fact, his actions are too perfect: it’s only through his thoughts that James comes close to being an actual human, and it’s a good thing, too.  Perfect people are boring.

The plot, while predictable, is still a light, fun read.  Because it’s a romance, the reader knows that the two protagonists are going to get together.  However, watching them fight–their own feelings and each other–makes for a fun experience.  This is escapism at its best.

Even the book’s more serious aspects–Parker’s struggles to raise a child with a man who never loved her, her struggle to understand why her father is so distant–never felt overly heavy or too after-school-special.  Higgins manages to balance humor and emotion very well, making for a completely enjoyable reading experience.  She’s a good writer, and she does humor exceptionally well.

Recommended for fans of contemporary romance.  Somebody to Love is out today.

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins. HQN Books: 2012.  Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

Quick and Dirty Mini-Reviews: Readers’ Advisory Edition

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America Along the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Bryson and his friend Katz decide to hike the Appalachian trail, starting in the mountains of Georgia and ending up in Maine.  The trek is long–although no one can say exactly how long–and requires a great deal of faith.  Along the way, Bryson reflects on how the trail has changed since its inception and what it means for hikers today and into the future.

This was my first experience with Bryson, and I don’t think it will be my last.  There’s a lot to recommend here: Bryson’s writing is engaging, funny, frequently witty, and above all else, extremely accessible.  Bryson manages to weave narrative nonfiction with facts about the Applachian trail in a way that is nearly seamless.  This book will appeal to all sorts of readers: those who love travel memoirs, those who love ruminations about nature and history, and those who are just looking for a fun, smart read.

Lakeside Cottage by Susan Wiggs

A fairly typical contemporary romance set in the Pacific Northwest, Susan Wiggs’s novel features Kate, a single mom, and JD, a reluctant American hero.  Add in a summer lake house, a teenage runaway, and some good summer grilling, and you’ve got yourself a novel.

Any further descriptions of the plot make me feel fairly silly, but the novel itself was pleasant enough (though not so pleasant that I’ll be picking up any more of her titles).  Earnest, moving, and carefully plotted, this will work for readers looking for a gentler romance (we have a fade-to-black approach to any and all sex scenes).  The weirdly didactic social issues were off-putting for me but will work for readers who like a touch of reality to their romances.

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy

Olivia Paras is one of the chefs in the White House Kitchen.  She’s good at her job and likes it that way.  She’s also dating one of the Secret Service officers–but they keep it under wraps for a number of reasons.  When she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and an assassination attempt, Olivia isn’t sure who to trust or what to believe.  A White House Chef mystery, Hyzy’s novel features food, terrorism, and a tiny bit of romance.  It’s closer to cozy-mystery than anything else, and it will definitely work for readers who like the food sub-genre of mysteries (who knew there was such a thing?).  While it was enjoyable enough (like cotton candy without the caloric guilt), I don’t feel compelled to read the next in the series.

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

Jack Reacher roams the country and finds himself in trouble wherever he goes.  He can’t seem to help it–he’s curious, and once he’s onto the scent of something fishy, he can’t let it go until he figures it out.  When he wanders into the town of Despair (no, seriously), he’s struck by how unfriendly everyone is.  Why do they want him out of town so badly, and what are they hiding?

My first and hopefully last experience with Lee Child and his enigmatic hero Jack Reacher.  While I certainly understand the appeal of these books (they are pure and utter escapism for the graying population), they’re way, way too ridiculous for me.  If you can’t get enough of them, I’ve got good news and bad news: the good news is a movie’s in production; the bad is that Tom Cruise is playing the 6’4″ Reacher.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

College senior Anastasia Steele is simply doing her sick roommate a favor by going to interview successful entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine. She doesn’t expect to be drawn to him, and he to her.  When Ana realizes that she wants the mysterious Christian, she’s at a loss, especially when he reveals that he has special tastes when it comes to women.  Can she navigate Christian’s dark world?  Does she even want to?

The fact is, this novel is incredibly problematic.  Everything about this is a mess.  The prose is painfully amateurish and clunky.  The book’s characters are so unbelievably flat and lifeless that it’s difficult to imagine them as anything but little paper dolls.  The lack of an actual plot means there’s no real conflict or tension.  Of course, perhaps the most problematic element of the novel is James’s depiction of BDSM relationships, and the scary, damaging message she sends (unintentional though it might be) as a result.

Let us start with the novel’s prose.  At best, James’s prose is competent, and at worse it’s completely distracting.  For two characters who are supposed to be solidly American, they have an unfortunate tendency to speak with a plethora of British slang terms.  It’s clear that no editing was done to alter this at all.  It’s clear that James doesn’t believe her readers are capable of any sort of intelligent thought.  There’s no nuance here, and there’s certainly no subtlety–details are repeated over and over, as if the reader forgets what they have read immediately after digesting it (one should be so lucky).  The overuse of ellipses and italics also distract from the story and often cause confusion.

There’s also the problem of James’s tendency to use weird verbal tics that distract the reader.  It gets to the point where Ana is saying “Oh my!” on nearly every page.  She also has two inner voices (apparently the fact that the novel is written in first person from Ana’s point of view wasn’t enough): her inner goddess, which seems to be a euphemism for her vagina (a word that Ana never says, by the way), and her subconscious (no, seriously), who seems to chastise her.  The fact that James probably means “conscience” when she says “subconscious” is never addressed.  The fact that Ana couldn’t be aware of her “subconscious” because it is, indeed, something below the level of consciousness is never addressed.  Nevermind the fact that both of these inner voices are totally cringe-worthy, annoying, and completely unnecessary–one of them isn’t even possible.

Then there’s the issue of the novel’s characters, who are also supposed to serve as the book’s plot.  In her attempts to keep Ana completely innocent of the world around her, James makes it so that she has no access to a computer or to an email account–which, in 2011, is completely preposterous, especially for a college senior.  In addition to these total stretches of credulity, James spends an awful lot of time telling the reader things about her characters–and then manages to show the complete opposite of what she’s just told her audience.

Ana is so completely bland and unremarkable that it is astounding anyone would be drawn to her (let alone every male in the book).  She’s also completely stupid and seems incapable of inferring anything from any human interaction.  It’s not her supposed innocence that’s the problem here: it’s the fact that we’re told over and over again that Ana is smart, when in fact she demonstrates the total opposite throughout the novel.  Her only real defining qualities, besides stupidity, are her propensities for immature adolescent thought and shallow judgments about the people around her.  She wants the fantasy–admits as much–and struggles with the fact that Christian has any sort of baggage.

Christian is another problem entirely.  He’s an asshole of the finest order, only he’s supposed to be Ana’s protector and stalwart hero.  He’s a total manipulator, a control freak, and completely abusive.  When he has Ana sign a non-disclosure agreement before unveiling the fact that he lives a BDSM lifestyle, he is ensuring that Ana can’t discuss it with anyone but him–and she is a virgin who has no understanding of what is normal or healthy with regard to BDSM.  If this isn’t abusive and a total disregard of kink ethics, I don’t know what is.

Ana views Christian’s propensity for dominant/submissive sex as a monstrous thing.  There’s this underlying sense that if Ana teaches him how to really love, she can “cure” him of enjoying kinky sex.  This is where this book’s fundamental problem lies: more than the bad writing or the lifeless characters, it is James’s untrue and damaging portrayal of BDSM that is the most worrying.  By creating characters who view BDSM preferences as being the product of abuse as a child and as being “darkness” that must be cured, a message is sent that says that BDSM is something for people who are too damaged and screwed up to have a “real, normal” relationship.  There’s also this strange dichotomy throughout the novel wherein James separates the concept of romantic love from BDSM, as if the two cannot coexist.  What, exactly, is that about?

Of course, there’s also the fact that the kink factor in this book, while much talked about, is woefully tame.  It allows the average reader to be mildly scandalized while also feeling fairly ensconced in safety.  The whole reason a novel like this becomes popular is because it allows readers to have their moral high road while secretly getting off on the supposed “danger” of what is occurring on the page.  All of this is easier to swallow, of course, because readers know that eventually Ana will “cure” Christian of his monsters.

TL;DR: No conflict, no character development, and no real chemistry makes this an overlong read with nothing to recommend it.  Those looking for good erotica should go elsewhere.  Hell, those looking for good Twilight fan fiction should go elsewhere–there’s nothing here worth delving into.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House: 2011.  Borrowed copy.

Book Review: Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter

Kate Winters survived the seven tests and has ascended to immortality.  As the new wife to Henry (Hades), god of the Underworld, she still struggles with Henry’s closed-off personality and secrets.  As he becomes more distant, Kate struggles with her feelings for him and the very real possibility of losing him–and the life–she’s fought for.  When the gods start preparing for a war with an evil that could destroy them all, Kate must navigate the maze that is Tartarus.  All of this leaves Kate with one question: what if immortality isn’t forever?

Well, then it’s not really immortality, is it?

The sequel to last year’s The Goddess Test finds Kate, Henry, and all the other Greek gods (still prancing around with their confusing, unnecessary, modern names) exactly where they were in the first book.  A lack of character development, a plot that feels like complete and total overkill, and a weirdly sex-negative message make this book a huge steaming pile of disappointment.

As in the first book, Kate is a glutton for punishment and is willing to sacrifice everything to save Henry.  There’s been no real development with regard to her characterization.  Her quest to rescue him from capture in the Underworld takes up much of the plot, and while it works in keeping the pace clipping along at a fairly quick rate, it doesn’t provide much actual intrigue, as Carter’s book is clearly aimed at readers who want all of the angst and the romance and none of the actual action.

Perhaps Kate’s mounting panic at losing Henry would be more compelling if Henry felt at all like a real character.  What is supposed to be stoic mystery comes across as condescending vagueness.  Henry…Henry kind of blows, actually.  There’s not enough of a personality to find him at all complicated or interesting, and his complete inability to take responsibility for his own feelings or actions is frustrating (but not as frustrating as the fact that none of his fellow gods or goddesses hold him responsible, either).

In fact, one of the book’s biggest weaknesses has to do with the characters and their refusal or inability to speak to one another.  For too much of the novel, everyone refuses to tell Kate what is going on.  Everything that Kate manages to extract from her new coven (I guess?) requires so much prodding and pleading that it becomes almost comical.  All of this felt forced, as if Carter was trying so hard to create tension and suspense that she completely lost her footing.  It feels manufactured, never authentic, and certainly not suspenseful in the least.

There’s also the fact that the book has a weirdly sex-negative message.  It’s hard to tell if it was intentional or is subconscious on the part of Carter, and that makes it all the more disturbing.  Virtually all of the female characters, save Kate herself, are made to be morally-corrupt nymphos.  All of them are slut-shamed in some way or another for choosing to indulge in sexual activity.  While some of Kate’s thoughts about Persephone’s past indiscretions can be chalked up to Kate’s (irrational) jealousies about her, it doesn’t excuse her judgement about her supposed best friend Ava (Aphrodite).  Kate’s own preoccupations about physical intimacy with Henry are oddly prudish and often feel forced.

The problem with the sex-negative message, and with the treatment of the female characters in general, is that it doesn’t really feel intentional.  Virtually all of the women in these stories are motivated by their interest in the men they either have or desire, and as a result they are willing to sacrifice everything–their friendships, their families, and themselves–in pursuit of these aforementioned men.  If there was some hint that Carter was aware of this–that Kate was heading towards some sort of epiphany about her own pathetic behavior with regard to Henry or a realization that her judgment of these women and their choices was wrong–the book would be much more palatable.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Despite my obvious issues with the novel, it’s likely to find an audience.  Carter has potential as a writer, and readers interested in Greek mythology (but not actual mythology), retellings, and angsty romance are likely to be satisfied by this sequel.  The book’s ridiculous cliff-hanger will definitely work for some readers, but this one found it way too derivative of some other YA paranormal romances out there.

Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter. Harlequin Teen: 2012.  Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.


Book Review: Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison

Izzie and Mark have been dating for a while.  Izzie’s always been secure in her relationship with Mark because he feels safe.  Her life is pretty good until new boy Tristan shows up and shakes up her entire world.  She decides that the best way to deal with Tristan is to give him a love potion (which he’ll share with her best friend Brangane).  Things go wrong when Izzie herself ends up sharing the potion with Tristan.  As she falls for him, she realizes that life is about to get a lot more complicated–and magical.

Honestly?  I don’t know where to start.

Everything about this book screams unfinished: the prose is so badly written that I found myself wondering (quite often) if the book got its start as fan fiction somewhere.  It certainly seems plausible: hailed as a modern retelling of Tristan and Isolde (a story which most readers probably aren’t familiar with, unless they’ve seen the atrocious movie version starring James Franco from some years back), there’s got to be a group of people out there who devote time to rewriting this classic love story.  I should state, for the record, that I have no problem with fan fiction in general.  It’s a creative outlet, and I respect that.  What I have trouble with is the fact that this book is a complete and total mess.

The problem starts with the fact that apart from borrowing some character names and the concept of a love potion, there’s not much to this story that could be considered a retelling of the love story.  After Harrison sets up the basic premise, she allows the narrative to spin wildly out of the realm of the original legend.  Tristan is from another world (kind of?) and so is Izzie.  The two must face off against a slew of monsters and beasties who want Izzie dead.  The original legend is convoluted enough; Harrison’s rendering of the story even more so.

Fantastical story elements would be easier to swallow if every aspect of the story didn’t seem so clunky.  The magical elements of Tris and Izzie’s world are so awkwardly inserted into the story that it’s jarring.  There is an unbelievable amount of exposition, and the narrative itself is disjointed and repetitive.  None of the characters are developed in any real way and most are vapid and unlikable.  The dialogue is stilted and unnatural.

I can’t recommend this book in good conscience.  The cover is gorgeous, which makes the book all the more deceptive.  It’s possible that very young teen readers will enjoy this book for the simple romance and the light action sequences, but I have my doubts about that.

Tris & Izzie hits bookshelves TODAY.

Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison.  EdgmontUSA: 2011.  Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

Movie Review: One Day (2011)

Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess) meet on the night of graduation from Edinburgh University.  After going home together and having a “near miss,” the two form a friendship that spans 20 years.  Although the two are complete opposites–she’s a middle-class, steady, focused girl and he’s a wealthy, spoiled prat–they have a connection and a love for one another that sustains their relationship.  The film, directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education), follows these two characters as their lives cross over these two decades, checking in on them on the same day each year: July 15th.

One Day is built upon a central gimmick, and while the results are mixed, it certainly is interesting.  By checking in with these characters on the same day each year, viewers miss most of what occurs in their lives.  Nearly all the action in their lives occurs off screen, meaning that the characters have to catch viewers up through some quick exposition as the years pass.  This makes it hard to judge the film as a whole, but it does make it easy to enjoy specific pieces of it.

There are things to enjoy here: both of the leads are strong actors (although the same can’t be said for Hathaway’s weird, disappearing accent), and they have good chemistry.  The film is also quite charming, observant, and touching at times.  Having a supporting cast boasting Patricia Clarkson doesn’t hurt, either.  There’s a certain freshness to the script, written by David Nicholls (who adapted the story from his eponymous novel), and there are moments of genuine witty banter between the characters.  So yes, there are things here worth seeing.

The problem arise when you pause to consider the film as a whole, though.  Like romantic comedies/dramedies before it, it examines the age-old film conceit that it takes the love of a good woman to make the man.  Dex is a pretty terrible human being, but Emma’s steadfast love and support of him eventually turn him around.  It takes several tragedies and some hard moral lessons for this to happen, though.  Like other films before it, the film also sends the message that a long-term platonic friendship between a man and a woman must always lead to romance, a statement I take issue with not only because my best friend is a man but because it’s total bullshit. (I blame When Harry Met Sally for establishing this as the norm.)

Of course, the film plods along well enough until the end, where it is guaranteed to split viewers.  I won’t spoil it, but my guess is that reactions will fall into several camps: you will see it coming and won’t be surprised (like me); you will find it moving and fitting; or you will cringe to see the film’s general wit crushed by maudlin sentimentality.  The ending will likely determine how you feel about the movie in general, which is too bad, because up until it, it’s not a bad film.

One Day is playing in theaters now.

(#69) Book Review: Craving Perfect by Liz Fichera

For Grace Mills, life would be easier if she were just a little skinnier.  If she were a little thinner, maybe she could catch the eye of the hot guy at the gym. Maybe then she could turn a profit at the bakery she co-owns with her sister.  Unfortunately, Grace is not a little skinnier, and Max, the guy at the gym, doesn’t know she exists.  When Grace passes out on the treadmill at the gym, she wakes up a different person–literally.  Suddenly she’s straddling two lives: one where she’s regular old Grace, who has caught the eye of the cute gym janitor Carlos, and one where she’s Callie, a skinny weather girl engaged to Max.  Deciding which path is right for her is the question, and Grace isn’t sure she has the answer.

Here’s the thing about Fichera’s fairly innocuous contemporary romance with a fantastical bent: had I read this book about ten years ago, I would have probably loved it.  Back when I was a teenager, I tore through chick lit like my life depended on it.  In my twenties, I flirted with literary fiction for a while before settling into my preferred area of YA fiction.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy books outside of the YA canon, but I’ll admit that it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that falls solidly in the chick-lit-romance genre.  Craving Perfect fits the bill.

To be fair, it wasn’t an unpleasant read.  The fact that the actual plot doesn’t make a lick of sense isn’t something that Fichera nor her characters seem to be concerned with, so struggling with the concept of a magical treadmill is completely my own obstacle.  Grace herself is a likable enough character, and the characters of Carlos and his sister are particularly well done.  The pacing is quick, the writing straightforward, and the plot is predictable but oddly satisfying.

So yes, it was enjoyable, but I didn’t love it.  I kept getting tripped up by how fast-and-loose Fichera played with the magical elements of the story.  I also struggled with how completely flat and one-dimensional the story’s antagonists were.  There was no complexity to the characters that populated the alternate world in which Grace finds herself in.  Readers aren’t supposed to root for the shallow, shady Max, and Fichera makes sure that this issue is black and white.  I like a little depth to my stories, and if there’s a love triangle, there should be some complexity to it.

This won’t bother most romance fans, though.  This is a light, fluffy romance that’s best enjoyed by readers who are okay with not thinking too critically about the characters and events transpiring.  There’s some chemistry and heat between the two main characters, and that should be enough to sustain most readers through to the final page.

Craving Perfect by Liz Fichera. Carina Press: 2011.  Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.