REVIEW: By Design by Jayne Denker
Dear Ms. Denker:
While told in the limited third person, this book read like a chick lit story reworked into a romance. Emmie Brewster is a young interior decorator working in a small town under an overbearing boss with overblown and stifling tastes. As the story opens, Emmie is too timid to voice her ideas in front of clients for fear of her boss’s reprisal. Her good friend, Trish, provides the comic relief and encouragement. Emmie has a terrible boyfriend who she has caught cheating on her and she develops a crush on a potential new client but does nothing about it.
The plot of the book is obvious from the beginning. Emmie will grow a backbone, pursue her crush, get rid of her old boyfriend, and move out from under the oppressive shadow of her boss. The problem is that the story doesn’t actually start until chapter seven. The first six chapters are all set up and backstory. We learn that Emmie’s father is recovering from the death of his wife (Emmie’s mother) in a way that Emmie doesn’t approve. Emmie and Trish look up old classmates on a made up social media network. We witness Emmie having a run in with her ex. The connection between Emmie and her crush doesn’t occur for some time.
The lack of progress in the story was frustrating. I felt like I was in a ride at Disney World where you’d stop, observe a vignette and then be jerked forward. A few contrivances were needed to bring Emmie and her crush together. Graham is an architect and without seeing any of Emmie’s work or having any kind of referral, Graham decides he’ll hire her to redecorate his recently purchased home he is in the process of restoring.
While there were some interesting plotlines such as Emmie trying to find the nerve to start her own business and her mixed eomotions with her dad moving on with his wife after her mother’s death, some of these were underused. For instance, Graham was a widower and I expected and wanted to see some parallels drawn between how she and Graham were falling for each other and how it would be natural for her dad to seek out companionship. Instead of coming to some deeper understanding with her father due to her own burgeoning feelings for a widower with a young daughter, the conflict primarily revolved around a former high school classmate who had dated and lost Graham but was trying to lure him back through emotionally manipulative ways.
There was a lot of the story told almost allusively, particularly the attraction between the two. Perhaps if the story had focused primarily on Emmie’s journey instead of inserting a romance it would have been more interesting. There was almost no sexual tension between the characters and their intimate contact seemed as if it was a real struggle to write.
As tentatively and tenderly as they had kissed earlier that day, the hungrier and more calamitous their collision was at that moment. Emmie thought she was going tolaunch herself at Graham? No, Graham launched himself at her; suddenly he was kissing her lips, her eyes, her chin—
Emmie let out an involuntary yip, and Graham immediately pulled back. “What is it? Did I step on your foot?”
And she laughed softly. “No. You . . . uh . . . that was . . . my . . .”
He grinned wickedly. “Oh, that’s a good bit of information to have. Where was it, now . . . here?” And he kissed her again at the base of her neck. Emmie’s knees buckled.
I read this section a few times. What was it that caused her to yip? A nibble on her chin? She was embarrassed to say that? The next scene is Emmie telling Trish she gave Graham something to think about. What was it that she gave him? Kisses? Are they dating? Did she sleep with him? What kind of relationship do they have? I needed more than a few ellipses to provide the basis for the romantic connection. I think for romance fans the expectation of a strong romance wouldn’t be met. Emmie does get a backbone and there are moments of comedy but the ending wasn’t as fulfilling as I hoped for. C-