The Review That Gets Me On The PR Blacklist

One of the “perks” of pretending to be a moderately popular blogger is that you can convince authors and publicists to send you free stuff.

Well, free books anyway. I’m still waiting for someone to send me free shoes.

But books? Books are easy to come by. They’re desperate for any type of “publicity” and I’m desperate for something to keep me up late at night and remind me of those carefree days before I had kids. As an added bonus, I get to drop “oh, yes, I need to finish up that book review for this author” into random conversations with my in-laws. I think that makes me sound terribly important and grown up.

I always assumed the most difficult part of getting a free book was that I had to discuss it on my blog, without tanking my readership with the horrific boringness that is A Blog Book Review. Because seriously? Oh. My. God. Boring. Mark as read. Unsubscribe. Yawwwwwwn. I know.

Ahem. ANYway, I was wrong. The most difficult part of getting a free book is reading said book and discovering that… it kind of sucks.

Eileen Cook (and her publicist, incidentally), recently sent me a copy of her debut novel Unpredictable.

I was excited to read it, in part because I read Eileen’s blog. I imagined me doing an exciting “I know a real live author!!!” interview with her here. My readers would flock to buy her book, and she would invite me to meet Oprah with her as a sign of appreciation.

The experts had assured me this was plausible.

Romantic Times said that it was “Destined to climb on top of the bestseller lists.”

Nationally bestselling author Annette Blair promised me I’d find it “Fresh, funny and quirky, an absolute delight.”

I think those people are full of crap. That, or I am so far out of any normal demographic that it is no wonder Tony @ Zappos.com is not responding to my emails.

The official synopsis is basically this:

Sophie Kintock’s world is falling apart. Doug, who she has lived with for the past six years, has left her and now dates a younger, more beautiful, woman. Sophie is determined to get him back. She is willing to go to any lengths to win Doug away from this new woman and drive him back home.

When Sophie finds out that Doug’s new girlfriend is an avid believer in psychics, she decides to pose as one, with the help of her new friend Nick. Sophie plans to give Doug’s new girlfriend a well worded false reading and, hopefully, break them up. But when some of Sophie’s predictions come true, her world is thrown into chaos and Sophie does not know if she can handle the new turn of events.

The premise itself is interesting enough. I mean, sure, it’s no War & Peace. But I love a good chic lit indulgence as well as the next undersexed middle American mom. I tore through Lipstick Jungle in one weekend and wore stilettos to the grocery for weeks afterwards.

The problem with Unpredictable is that it was, ironically, painfully Predictable.

The main character is the classic spunky girl we all identify with because she’s never the prettiest girl in the room. She dotes on her handsome but condescending craptastic boyfriend. We all hope she’ll realize that she is, in fact, too good for him. She does. The end. (Well OK, there was some stuff in there about pretending to be psychic, too.)

To be fair, there were some comical observations in the book that I did relate to. The heroine describes her relationship with the more successful friend who always makes the decisions. It’s an interesting dynamic as the follower becomes slightly more self assertive – if not any more self aware.

And the author’s mental recreation of Vancouver did make me wonder how difficult it is to get to Canada these days. I found myself daydreaming of pristine streets with hip shops and trendy coffees I can’t pronounce.

But the most interesting part of the book is that it is written more like a blog than a real life words on real life paper book. And not one of those deep, well thought out blogs. No. More like this rambling stream of consciousness.

I have to confess, I was distracted for the first three chapters by my own self assurances that “Look! See! You could totally write a book!” It’s entirely possible, I suppose, that there is depth somewhere in those chapters that I missed because of all the self talk.

But I doubt it.

I breezed through 279 pages, waiting for a turn I didn’t expect – either in the storyline or the character development. By page 125 I was fairly convinced that wasn’t going to happen. But I’m an optimist.

I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. And it wasn’t awful, it was just… insulting.

You see, this book is published. It has been read by editors and successfully pitched to publishers. Because I read Eileen’s blog, I know that she has been on a book tour recently and is enjoying a positive reception. And really, truly – good for her.

But I find myself wondering, what the hell does that say about her target demographic?

This is supposed to be “one of the best new voices in women’s fiction”. Man, we’ve come a long way, baby. Apparently our “voice” is still begging for a pat on the head and an afternoon away so that we can buy ourselves something pretty.

Never mind that most women are now struggling with work and family and self identity. Forget that we have become an influential voice in politics. Let’s completely ignore that we are the single most powerful demographic in the market place because we balance the checkbooks and are making major buying decisions both at home and in the work place. I suppose that in itself is pretty impressive, considering that “math is hard”.

Arghh.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I’m being unfair, expecting poor Eileen to carry the entire feminist movement forward on her own.

Or maybe, I’ve come to expect more from “women’s fiction”. I expect that we’ve outgrown the cliches and the superficial. I expect a woman to write a female character with some depth and brains and complexity. I expect that it is possible to write a stream of consciousness about fun, light topics without reducing women to cardboard cut outs of flighty, flaky twits.

Am I being unfair? What do you expect from your chic lit?

I have two copies of Unpredictable that I would still very much like to pass on to a couple of readers. Maybe you can tell me I was wrong.

Leave a comment if you’re interested in doing your own review. I’ll draw two “winners” from the pile.

(PS – I haven’t forgotten about last week’s contest! I promise!)

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