BELIEVE IT OR NOT
Sourcebooks, March 2012
Premise: Non-believer accountant agrees to run her mother's psychic business while she is in hospital, meets neighbour who runs a bar with male exotic entertainment.
Cover: Title - Belief (what it's based on, how it changes) is the theme for the whole story, so this title makes a lot of sense. Art - Dreadful. Apprentice Writer hoped the cover would change from the Advanced Reader Copy she received, but judging from the Goodread listing it didn't. Blurry background beachy boardwalk has nothing to do with anything, foreground couple look like they spend too much time in a subpar tanning salon, and the tarot card in the woman's hand looks badly photoshopped. AW's unsolicited advice to the author: insist that future covers be done by artist responsible for fellow Sourcebook Author Amy Thomas' debut, which was one of the best ever by this publisher.
What Works: AW liked the premise, which promised much potential in the form of a straight-laced, super pragmatic character who moved across a continent to get away from her new age, paranormal-open upbringing being forced to masquerade as a psychic or risk seeing her mother go bankrupt. Equally promising was the conflict between modern day heroine and hero who makes a living by having men get naked. As novel building goes, the author came up with a great pair of sources for narrative tension.
AW also really liked the hero. Amiable and believable as he strove to build up his business, look out for his naive ex-brother-in-law, and work through some issues leftover from marital breakup. He also got all the best lines:
"You don't understand,"she slurred. "Psychics don't exist."
"Oh. Okay. Well, then, you're a pleasant figment of my imagination."
"Chris is a normal guy. A safe guy. A wholesome, healthy guy," (she said).
"You make him sound like a salad."
What Doesn't: Often in romantic-comedy type stories, the secondary characters are exaggeratedly one-dimensional. This serves a purpose for the sub genre, and AW accepts this. Even so, she had some trouble with how often and persistently both the hero's dates and his exotic dancers were shown as stupid.
She also struggled with some of the heroine's behaviour. AW couldn't quite buy the straight laced accountant heroine drunkenly falling off tables and smacking the dancers on their behinds. Especially when it felt like she was judgemental about the hero's dates having a specific pair of physical assets. It made the former out of character, or the latter hypocritical; either way, it distanced this reader from the protagonist.
What AW Changed her Mind About: AW is not fond of popular culture references in novels. Partly because half of the time she is unfamiliar with it and then spends the rest of the story irked that she's missing something, partly because of how often they make the book seem passé. Her favourite illustration of the latter is a character who wished for a relationship as romantic and committed as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
So when the many glam rock band names and song titles started and kept on coming, she was not impressed. However she warmed up to them more as it because clear that rather than mood-setting window dressing, they were a integral part of the plot.
One of the criticisms of the romance genre is that it relies too much on stereotypes. There is some truth to this, and fans of the genre will laughingly talk about favourite and least favourite
tropes. AW's view is that she gets impatient with seeing the same situations over and over, but adores it when an author manages to tweak it in a new way. One overused standbys involves the heroine stumbling or starting to fall and the hero saving her. AW is DYING for a heroine to catch a stumbling hero, for once, or for the hero to try and actually miss.
So the Gentle Reader can imagine that when this heroine is - wait for it! - saved from a fall by the hero, it was not a high point. However, when the heroine had been in the same type of situation three times by page 40, AW decided this met the criteria of successful stereotype tweak and it moved from "Doesn't Work" to "Works".
Overall: Breezy and lighthearted, this is an example of the kind of story usually described as "romp" with the term "hijinks ensue" attached. If the reader usually enjoys that type of story, including exaggerated secondary characters and physical comedy, then this is a good choice.