Sunday, August 22, 2010


Holly Denham

Sourcebooks, August 2010

Premise: After finally getting her man and a chance at a great promotion, London working girl comes close to losing it all due to scheming colleagues, misunderstandings in love, and eccentric family members.

Cover: Title- Corresponds to Book 1's title and is a tongue-in-cheek nod to that chicklit juggernaut on this side of the Atlantic: 'Sex and the City'. Art - in shades of girly purple, with iconic cartoony figures and a cover girl pose that says 'talking to friends while at work', there is no mistaking this as anything other than neo-chicklit. Altogether, this cover gets full marks for accuracy.

What Works:
Apprentice Writer enjoyed the original 'Holly's Inbox', the aptly named Bridget Jones for the e-generation, and found to her happy surprise that she enjoyed this one just as much if not more due to Holly's increased level of maturity and take-chargeness.

For those unfamiliar with them, these books are written entirely in epistolatory form similar to the original Bridget Jones, however instead of a diary the medium is email. This is one the one hand brilliant, allowing as it does for the reader to 'see' from multiple viewpoints (the heroine, the love interest, the parents, the colleagues, the rival, the open and secret admirers) rather than just the single one of the diary-owner. It is also, on the other hand, an incredibly risky thing for an author to do. Anyone who has ever surfed the internet and witnessed the almost daily flaming explosions of people becoming vastly offended by something someone else posted and responding in ever-escalating kind knows that it is very, very difficult to consistently get one's true message across in the truncated form so beloved of blog commentators and texters. Without the context of body language, voice tone, volume, and chance to backtrack if it looks like someone misunderstood, as happens in personal conversation and in 'regular' novels, there is a tremendous amount of room for faulty communication - most especially with the rapidfire exchange made possibly by today's technology. It would have been much harder to have a flamewar in previous times, when the hotheaded remarks were tempered to the eternities it took for post to go back and forth.

Yet, in what is no small accomplishment, the author pulls it off. The reader gets a clear sense of the underlying personality and motivations of the characters through the flavor and content of their writing style. And in what may be the most remarkable writerly accomplishment of them all, the writer does so while being male. Holly Denham is the pen name of a man who runs a temp agency (if AW has understood correctly). AW learned this after the fact, and did not suspect while reading Book 1. Well played!

AW was also much entertained by how the author worked a real-life, much publicized public relations snafu into the story. Further details cannot be shared due to spoilery; suffice it to say that it made AW laugh when she heard about it in real life, and it made her laugh again when she recognized it here. What she did not think about at the time of the original incident was how the consequences would play out for the staff involved, and the possibilities of that fallout are explored here.

What Doesn't:
The antagonist was a bit over the top for this reader's taste, and resolution to the romantic problems felt a tad rapid (though not entirely implausible in method.) Wanted to see a little more grovelling on the love interest's part after putting Holly through such a horrible emotional wringer. That's about it. Not much to grouch about in a full-length novel, and did not detract from overall enjoyment.

An entertaining, satisfying romp taken straight from headlines and zeitgeist of the new millenium, well worth the time for any fan of chicklit or romantic comedy, and readers who liked Book 1. Those who may feel faint at the door-stopper size of the volume, take heart: it is a actually a super-fast read due to large amount of whitespace on each page devoted to email formatting.

But does it make you laugh? YES!
Apprentice Writer's expectation of Britlit of any genre is that there will be eccentric secondary (or, for that matter, primary) characters and plenty of them. This novel does not disappoint. Holly is the endearing 'straight man' to many equally endearing oddballs, and she never, ever, makes them feel like embarrasing goofs no matter how questionable their choices may be. We should all embrace the 'Live and let live' philosphy so well, and with such good humor.



Rachel said...

I lurv stories told through letters! I just read "Love in the Afternoon" by Kleypas and the story starts off with letters. Swoon! (fyi - first half very good, second half peters out) Also, I love "My Sweet Folly" by Kinsale because of the letters which are to die for!!! Ahhhh, sigh. And, have you read "Almost Like Being in Love?" The entire book is in non-trad form. Not all letters but all written forms of communication but not straight prose. Also enjoyable.

Anyway, can't wait to give this one a try!

M. said...

I absolutely adored the letter sequence in 'My Sweet Folly'. I just about died when he confessed in that last letter.

I think I've read two or three Kleypasses and felt sort of meh about them all, though the hero of one was fab (st. vincent). Can't quite see what all the fuss is about with that author.

Rachel said...

That last letter was priceless, wasn't it??

I am not enamored with Kleypas historicals but I really like her contemps. Odd because, in general, I much prefer historical romance. Just looked up the St. Vincent book. Have just accumulated a bunch of paperbackswap credits so maybe I'll request it.

Re your question on goodreads. The short answer is yes. The long answer is: what a coincidence! I just finished reading my neighbor's novel (he is also an aspiring author) and really enjoyed the experience. If you want me to take a look, I'd love to (am quite honored and blushing a little actually:). Fair warning: I am very thorough and honest! As in, I read my neighbor's book twice, think I gave him about three pages of notes (not including "track changes" stuff) and we even discussed stuff for about three hours after my second reading. And that's not even mentioning his trip with me out to the barn where I keep my horse (he has horse stuff in his book) so he could experience what he was writing about. It was a really cool way to read a book. And we had a lot of fun discussing things. He agreed with some of my feedback but not all, which was fine. We were happy to disagree. (That's the fun of books after all.) One of our favorite moments was our completely opposite takes on a particular character (I quite liked the char while he didn't). Anyway, if you are interested even knowing how, let's say, enthusiastic I can get (i.e. notes may include something like "this is not metabolically accurate":) do let me know. And, again, I'm quite honored that you would ask and share your work.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Interesting take on the letter/diary format. Though one of my local RWA workshops was on YA, and there were several books using texting and emailing as their formats.