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REVIEW:  Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May

REVIEW: Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May

much-ado-about-sweet-nothing

Ben Messina is a certified maths genius and romance sceptic. He and Trix met at university and have been quarreling and quibbling ever since, not least because of Ben’s decision to abandon their relationship in favour of … more maths! Can Trix forget past hurt and help Ben see a life beyond numbers, or is their long history in danger of ending in nothing?

Charming and sensitive, Claudio Messina, is as different from his brother as it is possible to be and Trix’s best friend, Henrietta, cannot believe her luck when the Italian model of her dreams chooses her. But will Claudio and Henrietta’s pursuit for perfection end in a disaster that will see both of them starting from zero once again?

Dear Ms. May,

As I get older, I find myself having problems with some of the Bard’s masterpieces. The idea that Kate is some shrew just because she’s strong willed irritates me while the way Claudio basically announces to the world that he thinks his sweet Hero is a skank before she takes him back now sends me into a rage. I’ve tried some modern interpretations of “Taming of the Shrew” and have basically written it off as a play that I can’t tolerate any more. When Choc Lit offered me a look at your telling of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I crossed my fingers and decided to see if I had to bid this one farewell and ado. Yippee, skippee for me that it can still stay on my “Go to” list.

I think this is a marvelous updated retelling of the play. Some recent “takes” on it seem forced but this one has the needed wit, humor, and pathos required to tell the tale as well as seeming fresh and modern. Nothing comes off as incongruous or out of place while it still keeps to the necessary details required of the story.

I love what you’ve done to bring the characters into the 21st century. Everyone’s an adult, out on their own and responsible for themselves. Ben is a mathematician whose brilliance can get in the way of his social interactions with others. Trix is a childrens’ librarian who works with their mutual friend Danny, though everyone loathes Danny’s lover John who loves to cause mischief for spite. Claudio is far too aware of how handsome Englishwomen find his Italian good looks while, due to a tragic past event, Henri is frantic to always be the good daughter or girlfriend. Most of the other characters can and have been pared down but the plot is so cleverly constructed that I didn’t notice their loss.

The plot is easy to follow and the way certain aspects of it are executed are very up-to-date and believable. Even if I had no knowledge of the original, this one makes sense and never feels contrived. As with the original, the relationship of Ben and Trix carries the story. They’re the witty ones who amuse their friends with their decade long bickering. The scene where their public argument got them both a ticket for disturbing the peace – really £80 tickets for this? – is a riot. Later, their discussions about how to break the news to their friends – I totally agree that they’re going to have the piss taken out of them – and practicing using the word “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” had me giggling. Ben’s solution for their living arrangements is inspired. But then he does have a Dphil from Cambridge.

But the rub for me was going to be Henri and Claudio. What were you going to do with them? Claudio does come all over as an Italian stallion who astonishes tiny Henri when he picks her. Her tendency to natter and eager puppy personality do the trick to make him seem out of her league but you still show what Trix says and Claudio knows – that Henri isn’t dumb, she just has security issues. As the plot unfolded, I groaned a few times. Is she really going to forgive and forget? I wondered. Can I respect this character as she’s acting now? I did wonder but by gosh, you made me a believer in her final decision. And Claudio does end up paying for not taking her wants into consideration – and in a very modern way, too!

The first person PsoV keep the various characters’ motivations, inner thoughts and feelings cloaked from each other, and I liked how you filled us in on background stuff by going “ten years earlier” or “five months earlier” rather than having each character unload an info dump of information.

The book finishes with a hopeful ending but one that’s not entirely settled. If Claudio finally wises up, he just might be worthy of her – should Henri decide to give him another chance. But in the meantime, things are looking up for Danny and positively blissful for Ben and Trix. Now if those two can just get used to holding hands in public… B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

REVIEW: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

 

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.

Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

Dear Ms. Kinsella,

This is only the second book of yours I’ve read but I’m seeing a pattern developing – namely plots that sound more than a little ridiculous but which have to be accepted in order to enjoy your particular brand of literary chaos. So far, I’ve had enough fun with the books that the outlandish things going on haven’t fazed me. But when it comes right down to it, the plot descriptions do make it sound as if your novels are peopled by complete fucking lunatics.

Lottie is a pulled together professional woman with a tendency to go whack-shit when love lets her down. She’s spent years remembering her gap year in a hazy, golden glow that she tries to wrap around herself after the disappointing turn of her relationship with Richard. This jump from the frying pan into the fire of her sudden marriage is the set up that must be bought – hook, line and sinker by the reader. And let’s face it, if this wasn’t a comedy and it hadn’t been written by you, I would have closed the book right then with the thought that Lottie was as crazy as a shit house rat. But, as told by Fliss, Lottie’s past actions and the fact that Lottie and Ben were sympatico at one time makes it easier to shake off the WTF aspect of the plot set up and get on with reading it. It takes the horrormoon with its final trip back to the scene of her memories to jolt it home to her – you really can’t go back.

I literally crowed with laughter – earning me strange looks from my kitties – at so many points — the condom landing in Lorcan’s G&T at the sidewalk bistro, Richard upending his “won’t fit in the overhead bin” suitcase and then, after pawing through it, standing in the Heathrow departing lounge holding his wadded up boxer shorts, Ben’s loud and persistant (despite another guest thinking him a perv) efforts on the beach to rent a hotel room from a fellow hotel couple for quick sex and then there’s the sheer, demonic brilliance of manager Nico & Co’s fiendishly clever “in flagrante delicto” inhibiting efforts at the resort. It’s a shivaree of epic, long distance proportions.

Wedding-Night-by-Sophie-KinsellaBut, there’s something more going on here. The wedding night sabotage is funny but had the book been only that, it would have grown rom-com stale very soon. Lottie and Ben are slowly discovering that maybe you can’t just ignore 15 years of separate living and perhaps at 33 you really do need to know something more about your mate than what you knew as hormonal 18 year olds.

Meanwhile Fliss might come off as a nutcase for her choice to stick a spoke in Lottie’s wedding night wheels. Her defense makes more sense than might initally be believed given Lottie’s long history of kooky post-breakup actions and Unfortunate Choices – this being the worst of them. And then there’s Fliss’s own hellish divorce that drives her to try and avoid watching Lottie endure the same. As Lorcan tells Fliss, after blowing up at her for the epic interference in her sister’s life, in a fucked up way, Fliss is trying to do the right thing and help Lottie, but she can’t be Lottie’s keeper forever and Lottie deserves the chance to succeed or fail in her marriage choice

Then Lorcan shouldn’t be throwing stones in his glass house because he’s just as obsessed with continuing his efforts on behalf of Ben’s company. Fliss gets to raise her eyebrows at Lorcan trudging across half of Europe to browbeat Ben into making the best – in Lorcan’s POV – decision for the paper products company. Just as Fliss is almost blinded in her efforts to “save” Lottie from a mistake, Lorcan can be so singleminded that he can’t see the forest for the trees. This trip, the situation and his time with Fliss will be the things that beak the lock the job has on him and sets him free to get back on with his own life.

Fliss and Lorcan bring the book to some deeper moments as they trade divorce horror stories and find shoulders to cry on about it. Fliss, at least, has spent yonks complaining to anyone she can corner about her soon-to-be-ex husband’s shittiness but it doesn’t seem as if she’s taken the final step to emotionally let it all out and thus let it go until now. This is what finally brings Fliss closure and begins to heal her wounded spirit. It helps Lorcan too I think, as he sees how far Fliss and Richard will go for family and loved ones.

And Richard! Richard is aces in how he comes through romantically – flying around the world, being willing to discover the truth about something that means a great deal to Lottie and even the fact that he knows this means a great deal to her. Bless him that he’s even halfway to accepting the ring Lottie’s bought him.

The alternate first person takes a little getting used to but both women are astute observers and I felt I was getting the unvarnished reactions of the others in the story – mostly men now that I think of it. Both sisters find what they need – Lottie gets the man she really loved all along – and Fliss gets letting go, peace and a new start. I love the gift that Lorcan gets her which shows he remembers what she’s said.

This could have been little more than a light, frothy beach read but underneath the frivolity is some deep shit. My advice for readers is just to let yourself go and flume with it. B

~Jayne

 

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