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Ellen Shanman

REVIEW: Right Before Your Eyes by Ellen Shanman

REVIEW: Right Before Your Eyes by Ellen Shanman

Dear Ms. Shanman,

Right Before Your Eyes by Ellen ShanmanYou seem to enjoy writing tough, smart mouthed heroines who don’t seem to know when the right man is just under their noses. I actually read your next book, “Everything Nice” first and backtracked to this one. Liza is not as masculine acting as Mike but she also has her moments of pushing away The One and nearly losing him. She’s also got life lessons to learn as well as lessons about herself.

Outspoken playwright Liza Weiler left Yale with everything she thought she needed to make her mark on the New York stage. So why, nearly a decade later, is she still waiting for her “real” life to finally begin? But like any great drama, Liza’s life only needs one good twist. And that’s what happens when she turns her ankle on the way out of a downtown nightspot and falls into the arms of a suspiciously gallant Wall Street prince and a practically perfect ER doc. Suddenly Liza not only has a couple of men in her life, but her play has fallen into the hands of a uber-hip theater director. Now Liza’s about to discover how much mess she can make of a seemingly good thing … and how terrifying, slightly tragic, and utterly hilarious a little success can be.

As I read the story, I got an image in my mind of a smart, acerbic young woman in NYC with a deadpan sense of humor. Liza can’t help but let her frustration at being a Yalie who’s forced to temp for rent money while her playrighting career goes nowhere. I like the foils you’ve created for her in the characters of her college friends Jeremy, thank God *not* the Gay best friend, and Parrot, the daughter of a man who might be a Mafioso but who is fiercely devoted to Liza.

And then there’re are the men in Liza’s life. Dr. Tim who honestly seems like he came straight from a box at Walmart marked, “The Perfect Man” and George, whose box would say, “The Asshole.” All through Liza and Tim’s dating sequence, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it did, I was happy that you hadn’t turned Tim into some kind of monster in order to move him off of center stage and make room for the man who is obviously meant to partner Liza through life.

Because it’s also pretty obvious, as in any good RomCom, who the main couple is meant to be. And just as obvious that after blissfully getting together for a while, they’ll have to hit the act during which they break up and suffer before finally getting their HEA and fade to credits. Now, would the driving force behind the breakup and makeup make sense or would it ruin the book for me?

The breakup actually worked for me. You’d laid the groundwork and the dividing factor seemed to flow from the characters you’d created. Everyone has their vulnerable spots and people in love have even more of them. So far, so good. The misery each feels afterwards also seems realistic and heartfelt. The makeup, hmmm. It just seemed a little sudden and too conveniently timed for me. The epilogue wraps things up nicely but I just never quite felt I caught onto what brought George back into Liza’s life.

After all is said and written, I enjoyed the humor, I enjoyed Liza and George’s Meet Cutes, I liked the secondary characters but the resolution of the romance didn’t give me the emotional payoff and Feel Good feeling I was looking and hoping to get. B-

~Jayne
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Dear Author

REVIEW: Everything Nice by Ellen Shanman

Dear Ms Shanman,

book review Mike is like a breath of fresh air. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever read another heroine like her. I probably don’t need to tell you that readers are either going to love her or loathe her. They’ll cheer as she gets pushed off the cliff of the advertising business or groan in sympathy as her bank balance dwindles and she’s forced to move back in with her father. She will be judged worthy of her eventual HEA or thought to have lucked out into a relationship she doesn’t deserve. My guess is that readers will happily plunge into her story or abandon the book after 3 chapters.

She’s such a guy. Her attitudes, her behavior, her language, what she says or, I should probably say, what she doesn’t say. Mike’s one word answers to questions would drive most women insane. We’re used to faux gushing and fishing for complements. Mike has none of these social niceties and most times doesn’t even realize she’s supposed to produce them. I hate the manipulation women resort to though I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it many times. I hate the reliance on looks and how women are held to impossible standards because of it. I love Mike because not only does she not resort to them but I’m not sure she ever will be able to.

All that being said, I hated the times she lowered herself to casual sex. Not because I can’t tolerate seeing a woman taking advantage of the sexual offers she receives or I’m prudish about females enjoying themselves in bed. No, it bothered me because Mike knows she’s lowering herself and, like Gunther, I came to care for her and wanted to see her demanding better for herself.

I am not sure about the teacher stuff by which I mean whether or not school principal Grace would have or could have been allowed to get away with sticking Mike in a classroom as a substitute teacher. But you did say it’s a charter school so maybe. However, I have a feeling that certified teachers and holders of degrees in childhood education might stare at this book like it’s got a tarantula crawling across the top it. But may I add that I would love to have had a teacher like Mike. Her lesson “What’s Wrong with this Asshole?” could just save someone from going insane on the NY subway one day.

I get that as Mike teaches real life skills to her band of 11 students, she in turn learns some herself. What I appreciate is that you don’t Make a Big Deal of making sure readers Get It. My thoughts would mirror Mike’s if I were suddenly shoved in a room with 11 ankle biting piranhas, I mean sixth graders. Complete brain freeze followed by deer in the headlights look. By the end of their time together, Mike has helped these budding young women evolve into some savvy customers while she’s unwittingly devised the means to get herself back into her ad career.

Grace is a joy of a character. I enjoyed every time she waltzed across the pages. She’s willing to take a chance with untested Mike but, by God, she’s still going to be looking after her students. Her comment to the person about getting the biology stuff was a scream.

“I want you to listen to me carefully, and I will speak slowly to make sure you comprehend. By Friday morning, there will be a human nervous system on display in my eighth-grade biology classroom, and either it will be in a book, or it will be yours. Are we clear?”

Ditto her comment (which could apply to where I work) “I swear to God, the Dairy Queen fires these people and we hire them.”

I wasn’t too sure about Gerry, though I could see how his unchecked influence had lead to Mike being the way she is. Deja – oh that name – seemed like a shrewd cookie and it seemed only natural that she’d been a teacher for so long. She acts like she’s seen it all though she’s not cynical like so many of us. She just uses her wealth of life knowledge to gently bring Mike and her father into her family. One thing though, Gerry seems to have a lot of time on his hands for being a top level orthopedic surgeon.

I also wasn’t too sure about Kimmy – again with the name – and Kirsten though they turn out to be wonderful. An enforced day at the spa with Cheryl could be survivable with them to roll their eyes at her. In a way, those two remind me of my own two stepsisters. Funny, lovely women who welcomed me warmly into their family years ago.

The resolution of the plot thread with Jay was something I wasn’t expecting but you use it so well to move Mike past the point she was stuck in with her relationship and show us that she wasn’t that crazy for having spent years of her life with him.

Brian is a twat. No question about that yet in the end, he looks like he’s going to get what’s coming to him.

Poor Gunther. And I’m afraid that’s how I saw him for a long time. He almost takes the usual woman’s role in the story – the one who knows his feelings, who waits for his love to come to her senses long past when he probably should have, who takes crap and pain over and over. I like him and yet, he comes off as too much of a marshmallow. He’s supposed to be a manly man from the manliest country but I got so tired of watching him suck up the pain Mike was dishing out to him. I don’t care for this kind of heroine and since he’s taking the heroine’s role her, I don’t care for it from him. I guess he’s supposed to be “quiet strength” but at times he’s a sap.

It’s obvious that you know and love NYC. And that you have no illusions about it. I snickered at your portrait of Brooklyn and the thoughts you gave your characters about it. And yet they come to love it or maybe it’s just Mike getting down off her Manhattan high horse about it.

Mike really has to be broken down and built back up before she can fly. As she says, her shell is finally broken and she has to ooze some before she can stand up on her own. Usually character changes such as this are way to short and abrupt. Here her more gradual awakening and rebirth worked well for me. Plus I loved the advertising jingle chapter titles and wicked humor. B+

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market (and trade) from Amazon or Powells or ebook format. (There appears to be a Sony version and a Kindle version but I can’t find the other formats).