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REVIEW: Don’t Forget to Smile by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

Dear Ms. Seidel,

63d0eb6709a05a2c12ae2110_aa240_l.jpgI've been slowly going through your backlist and have enjoyed most of what I've read so far. Your books aren't flashy, but down to earth. They take their time to get where they are going. There is however, a welcome realness to the characters, surroundings, and events. At no point do I ever have to suspend my disbelief in some unlikely plot twist that comes out of nowhere or roll my eyes because a character's behavior is not in keeping with his or her personality or profession.

There are times when I find myself thinking that since the pace is sedate and there are no werewolves, serial killers or dukes, I should be bored, but in fact I'm rarely less than wholly absorbed in your stories. The writing isn't gorgeous, the words don't melt on the tongue or gurgle pleasingly in my ears, but somehow I am quietly seduced, perhaps by the wealth of detail, perhaps by the conversational tone, or possibly by the fact that there is usually something going on with your characters that goes beneath the surface.

All of this is true of Don't Forget to Smile. Published in 1986, the book is now out of print but worth looking for. The story takes place in Sullivan City, an Oregon logging town where Tory Duncan owns and runs a bar. Tory purchased her bar after her divorce from her ex-husband. Tory is something of an outsider to Sullivan City when her bar is held up by two inept teenagers. During the robbery, a customer distinguishes himself in making sure that nobody gets hurt. Tory learns that he is Joe Brigham.

Joe comes from a big, warm family. After working for the sawmill company, he has recently taken over the job of financial secretary of the union's local branch. Soon after the robbery, Joe begins to meet with union members at Tory's bar because they find it easier to approach him there, and Tory sees a lot of him.

Joe and Tory get to know each other slowly. Tory learns that like her, Joe is divorced, but unlike her, he has a six year old son. Joe is having a hard time getting over his wife's leaving and getting used to seeing less of his son. Though he doesn't entirely admit to himself, Joe is brighter and more ambitious than most other members of his family or for that matter, many of the loggers, and Tory realizes that he is different before Joe himself does.

One day Joe mentions that his younger sister Lisa is competing in the local beauty pageant, and Tory says she wouldn't be caught dead at one. She later regrets the comment, which has to do with her past, and, in order to face her demons, she goes to the pageant. Since her car won't start, Joe gives her a ride there, and they sit together. That's when Joe learns that Tory was once the second runner up in the Miss America Pageant. It was her mother's goal for Tory that she become Miss America when Tory was only three years old, and Tory was competing in pageants even before that age.

Joe and Tory gradually become friends. Tory encourages Joe to think beyond the confines of his working class upbringing and plan for a future. Despite a mutual attraction, they don't jump into bed together, or even think of the other as anything more than a friend at first. But one Christmas, when they are both alone and lonely they become physically intimate, too.

Joe wants to bring Tory to meet his family, but although Tory continues to sleep with Joe, she refuses. She can hardly comprehend such a large family, since she was the only child of a single mother, and she fears a more personal relationship than what she already has with Joe because both her relationship with her mother and her marriage failed badly. Joe wants Tory to meet his son, and there too, she is afraid. What does she know about kids?

And then there is Lisa, who comes to Tory asking for help in preparing for the Miss Oregon Pageant. Tory knows from personal experience that pageants can destroy a young woman's self-esteem, but Lisa needs the scholarship money to go to college. Will Tory be able to bring herself to help Lisa, and if she does so, will the demons of her past come back to haunt her?

Like your other books, Don't Forget to Smile was thoroughly engrossing. I started the book intending to read for an hour and didn't put it down until several hours later. I loved the way you made Joe and Tory so real and so interesting to me. Even though their backgrounds are different from my own, I could relate to their conflicted feelings about the choices they were facing. And although they were a bartender and a union employee, I didn't find reading about them any less exciting than reading about spies, vampires, and earls.

I liked the way you took the time to have Joe and Tory get to know each other before they became sexually involved, and despite the fact that there was only one brief love scene in the book, I almost didn't miss the sex. I also appreciated very much that characters like Joe's ex-wife and Tory's mother weren't villainesses, just human beings who made mistakes as most people do. I find it's often much more interesting to me to read books in which there aren't any real villains, because those characters who err and hurt their loved ones feel so much more real and complex.

A few things did mar the book just slightly. I sometimes felt that I was getting too much in the way of explanations. A good example is the opening. Three pages are spent on describing Sullivan City, Tory, Tory's bar and Tory's employees, without the characters interacting or anything much happening. I was patient with this because I'd read your other books and enjoyed them, but if I hadn't, I might have been tempted to put the book down.

Another problem is that Tory and Joe spend much of the last third of the book apart, and the focus shifts to Tory's relationship with her mother. While I understood that Tory had her own issues and had to resolve them in order to find happiness with Joe, I still wanted more interaction between the Joe and Tory.

Despite these quibbles, I deeply enjoyed the book, and overall I quite liked the fact that although it was a romance, it was about more than just the romance. Don't Forget to Smile is also about families, the ways they push us forward and the ways they hold us back, the ways we make our own families and give back to the families we are born to. I liked it very much. B+.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

13 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 07:09:12

    This is my favorite of her books next to Till the Stars Fall. So glad you finally read it. Good wasn’t it? Are you planning to read her contemporary novel that was recently released? It’s not romance I’m told, more like chick lit.

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  2. Barbara B.
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 07:54:35

    This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for these days. I just want a romance with “real” people. No espionage, crime, eccentrics, vampires, shifters, demons, unfunny humor, navy SEALs, etc. As a reader I long to get back to the basics of romance. It’s boring to some, but I love character driven stories like Don’t Forget To Smile. I’m at the point where paranormals, half-assed romantic suspense, and all the other silly contrivances just don’t work for me anymore.

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  3. Janine
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 12:12:40

    Keishon, yes, it was very good. I’ve actually already read her recent novel, A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity. I wouldn’t describe it as chick lit, more like women’s fiction with a slightly ironic tone. I liked it, though not quite as much as most of the Seidel romances I’ve read. Have you read all of her romances, Keishon?

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  4. Janine
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 12:24:58

    Barbara, have you read Kathleen Gilles Seidel before? If not then it sounds like you are in for a treat. All of her books are about real and down-to-earth people and what I love about them is that she manages to make them so interesting. I really feel the absence of this kind of realistic contemporary these days, and I think Seidel wrote those kind of books as well as anyone.

    My favorite of hers so far is probably Again, but since I remember you saying (when we discussed Megan Hart’s Dirty) that you like emotional and intense books, I think you might like Till the Stars Fall better. But Don’t Forget to Smile is also very much worth reading.

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  5. Keishon
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 18:17:36

    I still have Maybe this Time to read and that’s it. Her books are pretty good, some are better than others but Till The Stars Fall is my favorite of them all so far. She also has those category romances that I’ve yet to read either.

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  6. AAR Rachel
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 18:50:15

    Great book! Seidel is one of my most favorite authors and is criminally neglected IMHO. I just re-read this one myself.

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  7. Karen W.
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 21:10:33

    Seidel is one of my favorite authors too, and TILL THE STARS FALL is on my list of my Top 10 all-time favorite romances.

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  8. Barbara B.
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 06:15:38

    Janine, thanks for recs and for this great review, btw. No, I’ve never read Gilles Seidel. Sounds like I’ve really been missing out.

    I think I might have Till The Stars Fall. I know I’ve had an unread book with that title around for over 10 years. I hope I didn’t get rid of it in my last reluctant book purge.

    You’ve got a phenomenal memory! I did say that I like emotional and intense books. I’m old-school that way. I want to read romance that’s angsty and emotionally wrenching. I want that HEA to be a reward, a victory.

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  9. Janine
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 09:40:05

    Keishon, I’ve only read one of her categories so far, but I enjoyed it very much. If the others are anything like it, then they are worth seeking out.

    Rachel and Karen W., I don’t usually think of Seidel as one of my most favorite authors but almost every time I read one of her books I’m reminded that she deserves a place on that list.

    You have some wonderful reviews of her books at AAR, Rachel, and I plan to read and probably review more of her in the future, so maybe we can do a little bit to rectify her being so overlooked.

    Barbara B., just to clarify, so you’re not disappointed, I wouldn’t describe most of Seidel’s books as emotionally wrenching. Of the ones I’ve read Till the Stars Fall (which sounds like the favorite here) probably comes closest, but I don’t know if I’d call it wrenching, either.

    Seidel’s books are far from lightweight, though. They are serious books, but in a more quiet and thoughtful vein. It is hard for me to say which authors she is close to, so maybe someone else will help me out here? LaVyrle Spencer’s contemporaries (but not nearly so conservative), perhaps?

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  10. Keishon
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 21:34:10

    I think of Seidel as writing “adult romance” where people deal with real problems. Average people with flaws. She is not for everybody. Her books are very difficult and even expensive to find but they are so worth it if you enjoy meaty contemporary stories where you have romance but it’s not the sole focus of the story. I’d say she is akin to Spencer in that she writes about the everyday person. You just don’t find the average joe in romance books anymore. The hero is usually a Navy SEAL, a cop, or a secret agent. JMO.

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  11. Barbara B.
    Jul 02, 2007 @ 05:47:01

    “Seidel's books are far from lightweight, though. They are serious books, but in a more quiet and thoughtful vein”.

    That’s good enough for me.

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  12. Kathleen Gilles Seidel
    Jul 25, 2007 @ 08:36:24

    I’m thrilled! I write slowly, I’ve changed publishers often, I don’t send out newsletters or run contests. You would think I wanted people to forget about my books, but of course I don’t. So I am truly grateful for how loyal readers are.

    DON’T FORGET TO SMILE is my mother’s favorite of my books. When she was trying to get some sleep a few hours after my father died, this is the one she picked up. That it brought her a measure of comfort at that moment means that it will always have a very special place in my heart.

    The hero and heroine are apart for a couple of chapters toward the end, and that was partially a result of my inexperience. My background was as a Harlequin American Romance writer. Harlequin Americans are between 70-75,000 words (the shorter series books are 55-60,000). Those are perfect lengths for telling a character-driven story about the relationship between two people. But DON’T FORGET TO SMILE was my second 100,000-word book. (AFTER ALL THESE YEARS was the first, and that book is nearly impossible to find.) Once you add the extra 25,000 words, it really helps to have a vampire or some other drama-filled subplot. Given my interests, I turned those extra words over to the hero and heroine’s other relationships.

    But at the 2/3-3/4 point in my first two 100,000 word books I sent one of the main characters on the road for a couple of chapters. Perhaps that was the only way I felt subconsciously comfortable about not resolving the romantic relationship within the time frame/word count that I had been so comfortable with. It was as if I felt “if I leave these folks in the same town, they’ll fix their problems and my book won’t be long enough.” None of this was conscious, of course. Consciously I was thinking that this heroine needed to resolve her relationship with her mother before she could be happy with the heroine … and that led me to realize that the mother had issues with her mother (the heroine’s grandmother).

    All the rest of my books have been 100,000 words, and I’m gotten secure enough at that length that I don’t need to send people on long road trips anymore.

    I vote with Keishon and Karen; TILL THE STARS FALL is my favorite of my books, but I am responding to process as much as product. I learned so much when writing that book. When I started the book, I could have never written what I ultimately did. (Prior to TILL THE STARS FALL, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS was my favorite.)

    My most recent book, A MOST UNCOMMON DEGREE OF POPULARITY, is not a romance. In my previous few books the love story was just one of many strands, and readers who were drawn to the romance covers were disappointed. But you’re published on your resume. As long as there was a hint of a love story in a book of mine, it was going to get published as a romance. So while A MOST UNCOMMON DEGREE OF POPULARITY is about love, it isn’t romantic love.

    The next book, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND WEAR BEIGE, will be out next spring from St. Martin’s. It is about a mother of the groom.

    I learn a lot from thinking about my older books. (This was the first time I had noticed the “road trip” phenomenon and connected it with learning how to write a long book. ) So not only am I grateful to people reading and remembering my older books, I appreciate the chance to sit down and think about them.

    My very best,
    Kathy Seidel

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  13. Janine
    Sep 03, 2007 @ 12:46:04

    Oh! I just found this wonderful post. It’s such a pleasure to have a review of mine received with such enthusiasm by the author, and especially by one whose writing I’ve enjoyed so much! :)

    I’m also delighted that you shared your insights into the subconscious reasons behind Tory’s road trip in Don’t Forget to Smile. It’s always interesting to hear such tidbits.

    I’m glad your mom was able to take such comfort in the book at such a difficult time. There is something very comforting about it, so I can see why she would turn to it. I haven’t read all your books yet (I plan to, though) but my favorite of the six I’ve read is Again.

    I have to admit that I wish you were still writing romances! The romance genre could use more romances like yours. Nonetheless, I look forward to Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige. Is there a publication date yet?

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