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REVIEW: Beauty Shop Tales by Nancy Robards Thompson

REVIEW: Beauty Shop Tales by Nancy Robards Thompson

Warning: no way to avoid some spoilers

Dear Ms. Thompson,

The plot of “Beauty Shop Tales” could be taken directly from the description of this Harlequin line of books. “Through old friendships, new relationships and newfound personal strength, the heroines in these novels discover that an unexpected fork in the road can be exactly what you need.” The description of the actual book does it a disservice by making it sound a lot more light hearted than it is.

Avril Carson had to try. Because the hairdresser-turned-actress (turned hairdresser) had left little Sago Beach, Florida, with her whole life in front of her and the man she’d loved by her side. Now she’d come back, with his ashes in an urn, and not even the chance of a child in her future. But she had a sneaking suspicion there was one in her late husband’s not too-distant past…

And as for romance — well, those days were behind her. Or were they? For Max Wright was pursuing her with a vengeance that made her feel things she thought she’d never feel again.

Maybe it was time to practice some beauty shop magic on herself…

“Beauty Shop Tales” is from the “Next” line. As with the “Everlasting Love” line, these have to be done just right to work for me. The heroines are often disillusioned with love having had past bad experiences. Will I want to follow them through the recounting of how some man did them wrong? Or do I want the attention of the book to focus on the here and now? “Beauty Shop Tales” is also more in vein of chick lit in that it’s first person POV, more involved in heroine’s growth and problems, and the hero could be considered a secondary character.

As I mentioned earlier, I found Max to be a secondary character with no point of view to help flesh him out for me. Then add to that the fact that he’s perfect. He drives 2 hours round trip several times just to see Avril – including a trip to help her move into her new house – before they’ve even had a second date. He doesn’t just send her a bunch of flowers from the grocery store but gives her a huge, expensive bouquet that practically has the delivery person staggering under it. He takes her to nice places on their dates, he’s handsome, from wealthy family, will drop anything to help her. He’s just perfect and hardly believable. Has the man no faults?

The people of Sago Beach are more cutesy than real and the “you’re in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business” aspect is hammered home. LA isn’t too demonized but obviously living in a small town is more real and wonderful. The comparison to a fake movie feel also repeated a lot. I do like how even though Avril hates the surprise stuff her mother engineers, she realizes it’s done from love and is touched by how much the people of her hometown like her enough to go to all the trouble. But there is a definite “small town substance beats big city flash” feel.

There are lots of issues here. The fairy tale marriage Avril reminisced about at the start of the book was already getting tarnished in her memory even before the final devastating blow. Then add to that what her husband did and with whom. Then Kally’s son and illness, Avril’s return to her small hometown, the troubles of the other beauty shop workers and Avril’s new love interest. All the threads are visited and concluded but still there’s a surface skimming feel.

No one issue is dwelt on in depth. Avril’s mother is severely injured. No wait, after one night in the hospital she’s okay. Dani explodes in anger at what she feels is interference from the stylists in her private life. But after a group hug all is forgiven. Avril is devastated by Chet’s actions but she’s soon given an “out” to forgive the one person left alive who betrayed her. Steel Palmettos. Will readers want to watch Avril work through her own problems much less witness and or try and untangle the life issues of others?

I do like how Avril isn’t perfect. She has her moments of selfishness and times when she’s not sure she can forgive the wrongs done to her. And let’s be honest, she’s got some justification for her feelings. She’s human. And Sago Beach isn’t the same place she left 17 years ago. She has to make peace with the fact of change as well as the things that have changed.

She has issues she’ll never be able to settle with Chet but she can see them playing out in Dani’s life. Maybe if she and the others can help Dani deal with the mess of her life, she can come to terms with what she can’t go back and deal with in her own. Kally’s illness also puts a time limit on how long she can wait to deal with it.

Kally did Avril wrong. The proof is there and there’s no way to deny it. But poor Kally is being made to pay for her sins. Is this to make her more acceptable to romance readers? The romance community is still overall very conservative about what it will allow in characters and them what done wrong must be seen to atone and pay the price. Kally’s payment is among the most extreme. And with it, Avril can now forgive her. I would have been more impressed if Avril had had to reach this point in her life in the face of Kally’s glowing good health and success as a business woman.

I know that a lot of readers don’t want too much angst and heartbreak in their novels. They read to escape, to make themselves happy, for a “pick me up” after a long day at work, whatever. And sometimes I feel that way too. But I also feel that if an author is going to include sturm und drang in a novel, then have it mean something. Don’t introduce it, play it up for 10 pages then sweep it away as if it’s nothing.

I think some of my dissatisfaction with this novel is because I went into it expecting more lite and humorous. But once I figured out it had darker undertones, I wanted them to be dealt with instead of just mentioned then quickly eliminated. Perhaps there’s a reason why this line never really caught on. C

Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

REVIEW:  Annie on the Lam A Christmas Caper by Jennifer Archer

REVIEW: Annie on the Lam A Christmas Caper by Jennifer...

Dear Ms. Archer,

037388148701mzzzzzzz.jpgThe other Next book of yours I read, “Off Her Rocker,” also featured an older heroine stranded in the snow who ends up in a small town where she finds people to help and who help her. Only this time you also throw in a cute former police officer turned PI and send them both on the run from drug dealing bosses and over protective rich daddies.

Annie Macy might seem like she’s an unbelievable character but I know fourty-some year olds who are still daddy’s girls, drifting around life and waiting for Mr. Right. At least Annie is trying to earn a place in her father’s bank even if he’s too protective of her to allow her to take over after he retires. And when she discovers that the latest man her father hoped she’d marry is in love with another woman and that her long dead mother might have been mixed up in something shady, she takes a chance and heads off to find out about it. I admire her for wanting to learn the truth about her mother, even if it might not be what she wants to hear, and for wanting to stand on her own two feet.

I’m not as sure that Joe Brady isn’t too much like a stereotypical NYC ex-cop/PI/part time taxi driver. But since I’ve never met one, I’m basing my feelings on watching too much Law & Order and reading romance novels. However, even though I’m not a police department expert, the way that Joe’s career was sandbagged seems reasonable. The hints, innuendo and police anger at his willingness to turn on bad cops makes sense as reasons he ended up leaving the police force. I also like that you don’t try and use a convoluted way to bring Joe and Annie together but instead rely on the six degrees of separation. Only it’s really just two degrees here. And I love his parrot.

Annie’s “investigation” isn’t really one and wisely you don’t try to make her suddenly become some expert undercover agent sleuthing out the details of her boss’s drug laundering scheme. Her banking background does help her determine that something fishy is going on at work though I feel it realistic that in the end it was something she didn’t realize she had that clinches the case. But it sure took Annie a while to figure out that Joe didn’t just “happen” to be there when she needed a quick get away from her enraged boss.

If I were ever on the run, I’d want to find myself in Pineridge, NY. Boy they take Annie and Joe to their hearts in an instant. Maybe a little too quickly? And spending the night, during a blizzard, in an unheated car while still nekked after sex? Sounds like hypothermia or frostbite time to me no matter how much heat Annie and Joe generated.

I liked how you took the typical stereotypes of these two lead characters and gently made fun of them by having Annie and Joe make fun of them. Then each discovers what’s beneath the surface of the other and that’s what helps me believe in their quick romance. I just wish the story actually had something to do with Christmas to justify the title. B-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.