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REVIEW:  He’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

REVIEW: He’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

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“Penniless and behind on rent, college student and once famous child actress Ellie Barlow takes on the role of a lifetime when she’s hired by a group of young women to break the heart of the campus player who cruelly dumped them.

Transformed from slob slacker to jaw-dropping beauty, Ellie is dressed, styled, bleached and waxed, her chunky glasses exchanged for violet contacts. Along with physical prepping, she’s coached on Julian’s obsessions, which include long-distance running, Doctor Who, and J.D. Salinger.

In no time, Julian is in pursuit of his custom-made next victim, but when Ellie goes off script and begins to fall for her target the newest broken heart in this risky game could be her own.”

Dear Ms. Weir,

Can you get me to want to read a book with a hero who sounds like an ass? Yes, you can. Do I want to read about a heroine whose physical transformation only needs contacts instead of glasses to suddenly look dazzling? Again, yes I do. Revenge plot? I hate revenge plots but I’m reading this one. Am I still hoping that we’ll get the third cat novella with Sam and Max’s sister? Please! Oh, please!

Ahem. Now back to our review already in progress.

So here I am diving into a novella that ought to have me running in the opposite direction and I’m diving in, voluntarily, head first, into waters of uncertain depth. Let’s examine why the issues that should have canned this one actually didn’t. Revenge plots are common in Romancelandia but instead of the usual hero who will wreck havoc on the heroine, here it’s women aiming to bring down the man they think treated them like shit. I know that to some it might seem like a stereotypical cat fight of women angry at a man but I choose to look at it as women who aren’t going to passively take being dismissed. The way in which they orchestrate the whole affair also seems very modern – using Craig’s List, a notarized contract, and detailed notes for Ellie, the actress, to study. However, I’ll be honest and say the plot is one that just has to be accepted until the action gets going.

Ellie’s transformation from a 6 on a good day to a 10++ smacks of the hated “we’re supposed to believe that all it takes is removing her glasses, letting her hair down from a tight bun and putting her in sexy clothes to turn her into a knockout?” trope. But Ellie is also a real actress, used to the camera, used to being transformed by makeup. And a properly fitted bra can do wonders to change a woman. Ellie’s also smart and realizes that her “change” is only surface deep – inside she’s the same person with her good and bad points and her own scared past.

Julian is first presented to us by others and we see him as a beautiful, fuckwad user who has deeply angered several women. Then his redemption in the eyes of the reader starts. Very quickly it’s obvious that there is some dark secret in his past, dark enough to cause him to be seeing a psychiatrist, dark enough to be on anti-depression medication, dark enough to have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Julian’s got issues but to me they are believable ones.

So we’ve got two broken people who need to be salvaged in my eyes. Two? Well Ellie isn’t lily white pure here either as she’s taking money to try and get someone to fall in love with her solely in order to then break his heart. The reasons given for Julian and Ellie’s actions are ones I can accept. Ellie’s might not be noble but it’s understandable. Poverty can get you to do things you might otherwise never stoop to. Julian has – and is still – going through his own private hell. One that his psychiatrist believes has arrested his emotional development to the age when the event happened. He feels the sexual contact he has with the women makes him feel alive instead of internally dead and he truly believes his casual attitude towards relationships is normal. Watching both of them grow, understand the wrongness of what they’re doing and change is part of the emotional satisfaction of the book.

I thought the novella was also well crafted. The characterization is consistent and I enjoyed the first person POV chance to actually get inside each person’s head. Ellie, Julian and the scorned women might not understand the motivations, changes and evolution of each other, but we do. Readers who want more of the hero’s feelings will appreciate how much time is spent seeing things from Julian’s perspective.

But wait, there are also other things I like about it. Things are shown vs being told such as when Julian first began to notice and become interested in Ellie. The changes in the characters seemed to flow naturally and build slowly instead of conveniently appearing. The trauma in Julian’s past is delicately revealed but the revelation is all the more powerful for its lack of details which leave a reader free to fill in the blanks, or not. The issue of Julian’s mental health, both in what he’s already suffered and the new consequences from what happens in the novella, feel realistic and hurrah for the fact that twue lurve isn’t shown as fixing it all.

Can readers overcome the fact that Julian did, even in his own eyes, treat these young women badly? Will people believe that Ellie’s reasons for what she agreed to do, and signed a contract for, are good enough? I did, in both cases, because of the fact that I believed in their changes by the end of the novella. Despite a few nitpicks – what else Ellie could have done first to make money and the interchangeable feel of the disgruntled women – it was a fast and enjoyable read for me. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  All My Restless Life to Live by Dee DeTarsio

REVIEW: All My Restless Life to Live by Dee DeTarsio

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Life is a soap opera, especially for Elle Miller, who writes for one. (Ellen dropped the “n” in her name in hopes of finding a better ending for herself.) When her laptop crashes, she borrows her recently deceased dad’s computer and gets way more than she bargained for.

Elle unravels mysterious communications from his computer, while her mom decides to give Internet dating a try. As Elle tries to save her career at I’d Rather Be Loved with a storyline featuring a trip through Atlantis, she takes a trip to the Emmys, and finds herself in the middle of a romance between a real doctor and a hunk who just plays one on TV. Friends, family, and clues from “the other side” all help Elle figure out the difference between living the good life . . . and living a good life.

Dear Ms. DeTarsio,

When you submitted this latest book to us for possible review, my initial feeling was “communications from the dead: okay, why not?” And based on my response to “Haole Wood” I decided to give it a go. There’s lots going on here in Elle’s life – some of which worked for me and some of which didn’t.

The book has a kind of Chick Lit feel going on which I like. Elle is a funny narrator but she’s not always right, makes mistakes and is human with faults. This made her real to me. I was afraid Adam, her Gay Best Friend, would turn out to be a stereotype and he almost, sorta was. He ended up being a fairly well rounded character which saved him from total cliché-land. But oh, his choice of boyfriend!

Usually I enjoy seeing characters actually doing the jobs they’ve been given in the story. And that was the case for a lot of this book. Elle toils away, writing, editing, even doing a little acting – when her boss forces her to. Then came her inspired pages, and pages, and pages, and pages, and pages of dialog for the Atlantis storyline of her soap. Now if she had commented on them while writing, or talked about how her dad was inspiring her, or for that matter anything at all, it would have been better but I quickly got bored with nothing but straight dialog and went into skim mode.

Elle’s relationship with her mother was one of the best parts of the book for me. The tug and pull and yank and slight snarls here read true of an adult daughter and her widowed mother who love each other despite driving each other crazy at times. I also enjoyed Elle’s memories of her father and how he loved her and made her feel special.

The romance was another so-so aspect of the book and quickly wore thin. He’s just SO into her from the very beginning – though thank God you had their professional relationship end before he asks her out. He’s willing to put up with all her eccentricities, accusations and blow ups until suddenly, when the plot requires it, he snaps only to oh-so-quickly change his mind and forgive her all. Quez is almost too good to believe.

Liam, the others at IRBL and Dr. Brad are an interesting bunch though it’s only really awful Liam who was totally fleshed out as a character. The others were more interchangeable to me and never quite stepped away from the background.

The final scene of the book was a great way to end it. Elle and her mother got some closure over the father’s death, Elle realizes all the wonderful things that have occurred in her life, and everyone else’s, since she started using her dad’s old computer and it all seems totally believable. Elle’s journey towards self discovery did seem realistic to me even if the romance didn’t quite make it. C

~Jayne

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