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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).

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. Kerry
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 13:47:37

    I just finished this this weekend, and agree–it’s a really good read. It’s also a smart book.

    Mike teaching without a license didn’t bother me as I went to a private school where the requirements are looser–we had a young alumni with a science degree and previous career in ballet and modern dance teaching English, for example.

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  2. DS
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 13:56:51

    In Kentucky, at least in two counties I am aware of, all you need is a four year degree in anything and they will hire you as a substitute– public school even.

    Forgot to say I’m interested in this one. Mike sounds like someone I would like to hang out with.

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  3. Rebecca
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 16:05:59

    At both the school districts in Texas I worked in you just needed 60 hours of College to substitute. As a former teacher I shy away from books about teachers who change the world, but this one sounds fun.

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  4. Jayne
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 19:05:07

    Well, Mike doesn’t end up changing the world that much. She just subs for about a month or two until the regular teacher is back on his feet. She ends up being much more at ease with the students but she’s definitely not going to make a career change based on this experience.

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  5. Kerry
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 19:33:20

    No, but I would have definitely hired her to write a series of articles for a teen magazine based on her lectures!

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  6. Susan/DC
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 11:49:23

    I’d buy it simply because it’s based in a big city and doesn’t trash it. To have Brooklyn be the stand-in for the usual small town is just great. I’m so tired of the assumption that if you live in a major metropolitan statistical area you don’t know your neighbors, are miserable, and have no values.

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  7. Lleeo
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 11:53:41

    Hee, for a second you got me excited that this was a lesbian romance between the unconventional new teacher (Mike, who sounds like such a great character) and Grace the principal (that biology comment was hilarious!). I am crestfallen. How could you do this to me, Jayne? That imaginary book had good promise! Now, where can I find it?

    But this book sounds good, too. I might just pick it up. ^_~

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  8. Jayne
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 13:55:08

    Susan, you make a good point. And Shanman doesn’t trash NYC nor have her heroine long to head back home to a small town. Mike is a native New Yorker, loves the city and has no intention of living elsewhere.

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  9. Jayne
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 13:58:03

    Lleeo, sorry to have raised and dashed your hopes. Mike and Grace are both heterosexuals. Grace is a fantastic character. Every school could use one like her.

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  10. Kaetrin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 22:36:18

    I just finished this book.

    I totally agree with your comments about Grace.

    I liked Mike’s humour – actually reminded me a lot of Eve Dallas.

    I enjoyed the book a lot but at the end, it left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I think that is because I wanted more of Mike and Gunther together. For me, the HEA has to have a bit more “substance” to be really enjoyable.

    I prefer stories where the protagonists spend more time together. eg, I hated Sleepless in Seattle and Serendipity (the movies) because the h/h were hardly ever together and they kept “missing” each other. It just frustrated me. I like movies like Pretty Woman and Kate & Leopold where the characters are mostly together – same with my books. In this book, I was like, “oh, when are they gonna get together already!!!”

    I will definitely read this author again though because the style and prose were great.

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  11. Jayne
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 22:08:06

    I will definitely read this author again though because the style and prose were great.

    I just bought another one of her books and hope to start it soon. I know that people’s perception of humor will vary vastly but she had me laughing out loud throughout “Everything Nice.”

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