Attachments: Thumbs up for the emails, thumbs down for the romance

I love to snoop but I also have an equally strong fear of being snooped. The result is my real-life snooping is kept to the bare-minimum and only when it’s mom-approved. As in, if my parents haven’t heard from my sister in a few days they’ll ask me to log on to her Facebook and make sure she’s alive (we may have a strange family dynamic).

Because of my need to snoop but equally strong notion that “snooping is bad and the sort of action that destroys trust in relationships”, there’s a special place in my heart for epistolary novels. I receive my snoop-fix without risking alienating friends and family (or getting arrested… can you get arrested for snooping?).

Most epistolary novels read like a dusty stash of letters you found while exploring some old English manor you are Airbnb-ing for the summer. You don’t feel guilty reading them because they’re about the lives and loves of individuals from a different time period… and it helps that they’re fictional.

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell’s first novel, explores what happens when the letters (or in this case emails) you’re reading weren’t written by a bunch of British people in the 1800s, but rather by living, breathing humans in the same office space in Nebraska.

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attachmentsLincoln is a somewhat lost “internet security specialist” whose main job is to read all the “flagged” emails from the staff of The Courier, an Omaha newspaper kicking and screaming its way into the 21st century. It’s a pretty mindless job, but Lincoln’s nights are brightened by the constantly flagged email conversations between Jennifer and Beth. Lincoln naturally feels pangs of guilt every time he reads Beth and Jennifer’s flagged conversations and doesn’t send them a polite reminder about company policy, but the situation becomes more complicated when he begins to develop feelings for Beth.

The main questions permeating Attachments is how the hell is Lincoln going to:

(a) Meet Beth;

(b) Tell her about the company-approved (and paid) email snooping; and

(c) Convince her he’s a cool dude despite (b).

Of course there’s a lot more going on in Attachments: Lincoln, Beth and Jennifer all have individual lives beyond The Courier (boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, husbands, moms, nagging sisters, movie theater’s being torn down!). But the question of how Lincoln will confess (if he ever does) is the main conflict in the novel. I found the idea of meshing together a epistolary novel with a more traditional storytelling style interesting and having both the reader and Lincoln snoop on Beth and Jennifer’s conversations was a brilliant concept.

Unfortunately for Attachments, this concept is pretty much the only thing going for it.

Beth and Jennifer’s conversations are great and I can only imagine how much fun it was for Rowell to make sure there was always something flag-worthy in their conversations (tiger penises come up at one point). Lincoln’s guilt over his job works and his character growth throughout the novel is incredibly natural. Lincoln starts out slightly broken and small, and ends up with his own apartment and in control of his life.

The one part that didn’t work out (and that unfortunately makes up the bulk of the story) were the romantic elements surrounding Lincoln, both in terms of the flashbacks about his ex-girlfriend Sam and the hemming-and-hawing over whether he would ever meet Beth and tell her about the snooping. There’s something over-the-top about Sam and Lincoln’s relationships that wasn’t present in the main relationship in Rowell’s other novel Eleanor & Park. Eleanor and Park’s relationship is sweet and comfortable, Sam and Lincoln’s is annoyingly melodramatic and unbelievable.

Furthermore, as a snooper with trust-issues I just can’t see how Lincoln might even for a moment believe that he can make things work out with Beth. I can’t imagine beginning a relationship with someone who knows everything about me, while I know nothing about them; it’s simply too unbalanced from an information perspective. It’s already difficult enough holding a conversation with someone you Facebook- or LinkedIn-stalked, trying to make sure you don’t slip up and confess, so it would be exponentially more difficult to have one with a dude whose emails you’ve been reading for months.

Loads of books require some willing suspension of disbelief, but the amount necessary for Beth & Lincoln’s will-they-won’t-they relationship in Attachments was (like the meme) “too damn high!” This resulted in so much eye rolling and Lincoln’s flashbacks about Sam (particularly the cloyingly deep talks between them) didn’t help.

To me Attachments is the sort of book that I would steer people away from if they’ve never read Rainbow Rowell, since it’s not at all representative of her storytelling abilities. For the already established Rowell fan, however, it’s an interesting look at an author’s first novel and it is exciting to see that, in much the same way Lincoln evolved between the beginning and end of Attachments, Rowell’s ability as a writer also developed between Attachments and Eleanor & Park.

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Dating is hard and other things I learned from Moira Weigel

I did it. I managed to read all five of the books I bought before my DAC and I still had time to successfully complete my promise to read more research papers.

Sure, I then proceeded to buy another 10 books at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse sale last Saturday and another three books here and there (Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object; Lindy West’s Shrill and Mary Roach’s Stiff, all of which I’m looking forward to reading). I have no idea when all 13 of these guys will be read, but that could become the goal for the rest of 2016.

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Love may take work, but reading about the changing nature of love doesn’t

Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating is a wonderful conclusion to my personal June-reading-challenge. It’s beautifully written, incredibly informative and the type of book that makes you late to work in the morning and almost miss your bus stop. But, as a mix of non-fiction, memoir and social commentary, it is a hard book to describe.

I bought Labor of Love thinking I was getting a straightforward retelling of the history of the dating through the ages. In reality it is so much more. Labor of Love is, yes, part non-fiction about how we got to our current state of dating, starting with the 1900s and “Charity Girls” – the name given to the first female “daters” – and ending in our current environment of dating apps and multiple op-eds that lament the “end of dating”. But Weigel also weaves in moments of her personal dating history as well as that of her friends and these personal asides add a certain level of flavor and humor to the book that I wasn’t expecting.

In discussing how the risks of “going steady” – an arrangement where men and women date for very long periods, a.k.a., serial monogamy – disproportionally affect women instead of men, Weigel mentions that women are “assumed to have a limited window of time [when compared to men] in which to find a partner before their attractiveness and fertility wane.” That sentence is enough to inform us about one of the worries society heaps on women who practice “serial monogamy” and many authors would conclude there. But Weigel also gives us a concrete, real world example to show how “going steady” frightens individuals who believe that such an arrangement compromises a woman’s “value” as she gets older:

Every day, the mother of a friend who has been living happily with a nice boyfriend for two years sends her a text message: No ring on the finger, you must not linger! (Page 125).

For the most part Weigel follows a linear progression between the 1900s and 2016, but there are so many asides and digressions that the book reads less like a direct route and more like a pleasant amble through these over 100 years of history. When Weigel arrives at the 1980s, for instance, and the specter of AIDS appears, we take a quick detour to briefly explore the beginnings of AIDS activism and the development of specific terminology used by men who have sex with men (MSM) for different sexual acts and whether they were safe or not in terms of HIV transmission. I didn’t expect HIV and AIDS to come up and, yet, this instance as well as many others in the book, serve to make Labor of Love more than just a book on how men and women have dated over the years. It’s really a history of the changing norms around dating and the societal transformations that created those changes.

Labor of Love is also a piece of social commentary. For instance, Weigel mentions how in the very early days of dating, when instead of “calling cards” and chaperons, men and women were meeting (alone) at street corners and parks, authorities were unsure about the nature of these women. Were they family girls or prostitutes? And if they were good girls, why were the men paying for movie tickets and dinners? We no longer see such actions as possible examples of prostitution and yet how we talk about dating and how we feel about who pays at dinner is still shrouded by this market-based mentality. We use terms such as “get back on the market” and people see dating as an “investment” that should “payoff” in marriage and for many women there is a small voice in our heads that wonders what a man thinks he is entitled to when he pays for dinner or drinks.

Much like Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies, I have brought up Labor of Love a number of times already and I’ll continue to do so. Now that I’ve finished the book, I’ve began making a list in my head of friends who would enjoy it – both single and not – and I can’t wait to tell them they simply must read it.

Dating is hard and while Labor of Love doesn’t make one hopeful about the future of dating, it can be either comforting or depressing depending on your current frame-of-mind. I personally take comfort in knowing I’m not alone; there are millions of women as confused about what to do that came before me. Current daters are not brave, new-on-the-scene wanderers facing the chaotic world of dating, but rather the latest iteration of individuals trying to understand the norms in world where dating norms are constantly changing.

A Tale of Two Romance Novels

Superficially, Lisa Kleypas’ Marrying Mr. Winterborne and Lorraine Heath’s Lord of Wicked Intentions are quite similar. They involve sheltered young girls pitted against self-made men, pre-marital shenanigans and conflicts that end very, very quickly. And… that’s about it.

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Two shy heroines, two very different books

But first, before I start comparing these two books, here are two quick summaries mostly spoiler-free:

Marrying Mr. Winterborne is the second novel in Kleypas’ Ravenel series (the first being Cold-Hearted Rake) and it follows the story of the sheltered, shy and noble Lady Helen Ravenel (the sister-in-law of Kathleen from the first novel) and Rhys Winterborne, a self-made Welsh man who now owns a very large department store (picture Harrods and Selfridges). They were briefly engaged in Cold-Hearted Rake, the engagement was broken by Kathleen, and the book opens up with Helen going to Winterborne’s office alone (scandalous!) and telling him she wants to get the engagement back on. Rhys mentions he’ll need to “take her virtue” so that her family accepts the engagement and Helen agrees because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. A few chapters later they’re re-engaged (with a nicer, less flashy ring). The back of the book promises that a bunch of Rhy’s enemies conspiring against them and that Helen has this deep dark secret she doesn’t want to tell Rhys. In truth, it’s a lot less serious than that: not a whole lot of enemies (one and he doesn’t conspire against the marriage, but rather for it) and Helen’s secret is not as “dark” than we’re promised.

Lord of Wicked Intentions is the third novel of the Lost Lords of Pembrook series and focuses on Lord Rafe Easton who despite being a lord, was dropped off at a workhouse at the age of 10 and clawed his way up in seamy underworld of London to where he is now: the very rich, very cold owner of a gaming hall. The heroine is Miss Evelyn Chambers the illegitimate daughter of a recently passed-away lord who is sold to the highest bidder by her heavily in-debt half-brother. Evelyn first believes she’s getting married, then she thinks she’ll manage Rafe’s house, till it finally dawns on her that she’s actually a mistress. There are three points of conflict here: Evelyn (or Eve) has to accept her new position as a mistress and not a wife and get used to the idea of sleeping with Rafe; Rafe doesn’t like to be touched because of things that happened in his past life at the workhouse; and there’s a third piece of conflict involving an old boss of Rafe’s that is mentioned once or twice before becoming a major issue in the last ~50 pages.

As I mentioned above, both books share a number of superficial similarities, but their approaches are very, very different. Where Marrying Mr. Winterborne is sweet and light, Lord of Wicked Intentions is gloomy and dark. It felt very strange finishing Marrying Mr. Winterborne in a sort of happy-go-lucky mood, begin reading Lord of Wicked Intentions and immediately feeling like all my happiness was being smacked out of me. Reading Marrying Mr. Winterborne was like a eating some airy fruit-based confection – not super filling, but still delightful – while Lord of Wicked Intentions felt like being dragged out of my bubble of contentment and coerced into feeling bad for Rafe and Evelyn.  

My mom once said, while trying to decide whether to take our family of four to watch Next to Normal on Broadway, “why pay hundreds of dollars to ugly cry while on vacation in New York?”

I’ll rephrase it as: “why spend $7 USD to be told a million times how Rafe Easton doesn’t like to be held and how you should feel bad for him while trying to decompress after work?”

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As readers we often wonder what we want from the books we read. Escapism? A greater sense of self? Knowledge? Something to do during our commute? Because Marrying Mr. Winterborne and Lord of Wicked Intentions both have similar archetypal characters – the shy noble heroine; the less-than-noble self-made man – yet completely different styles of writing and tone, reading them back-to-back made it very easy for me to see what it is I’m looking for when I read.

When it comes to romance novels, what I want is a few hours of frothy escapism with one or two little “fun facts”. Marrying Mr. Winterborne gave me both (did you know Monopoly was based on a game called The Landlord’s Game that was created by a woman?), while Lord of Wicked Intentions simply didn’t. This isn’t to say Lord of Wicked Intentions is a bad book, it’s just a very heavy book and it seems like you’re waiting forever for something to happen – I called my sister half-way through the book to complain that the character’s had yet to sleep together. But when we get to the last about 100 pages everything happens in a blink of an eye: conflicts build up, bubble over and are resolved. And I didn’t even get an interesting “fun fact”!

A short dive into the contemporary art world with Richard Polsky

Richard Polsky, the author and narrator of i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) is a bit of an ass. Polsky, a former gallery owner, former art dealer, now an art consultant and writer, opens his story in 2005 where we find him considering selling his green Fright Wig, an Andy Warhol self-portrait from Warhol’s 1986 Fright Wig series.

13499493_10157077099105068_1393317038_oIn a style that will permeate the rest of the book, Polsky first tells us that he doesn’t want to give too many details about why he eventually decided to sell the green Fright Wig and then he quickly proceeds to give us all the gritty details. He informs us that it’s because he’s recently married and his second wife “was a woman who never met a shop she didn’t like.” As we’ll discover throughout the book Polsky has a fraught relationship with women: he’s convinced that the majority of them are just out to squeeze every last dollar from him. It never occurs to Polsky that maybe the problem is not with the women he’s married but maybe with him.

But despite Polsky’s sexism and shallowness, they don’t detract from his story about the crazy, erratic world of contemporary art dealing. On the contrary, they add to it. Polsky paints a picture of an art world that is snobby and disconnected from the real world. There’s no one better to tell the story about the outlandish prices art works commanded between 2005 and 2008 than someone who revels in being a snob.

You have to work the room quickly, and there is little time to waste on those unworthy of your attention. (Page 70)

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston has a great selection of books at their store in the Druker Family Pavilion. They have everything from fiction classics to coffee table books to memoirs and nonfiction books on art that you’ll neither find at general bookstores nor actively search for online: finding them requires bumping into them at places like the MFA. I always end up leaving with a book that’s way outside my usual fare. Such is the case with i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) – which I’m going to start referring as isAW because my computer keeps annoyingly correcting the “i” for “I”.

Despite flirting with majoring in art history for a hot second back in 11th grade, I really know close to nothing about contemporary art. Sure, I’ve read the articles everyone has read – about Damien Hirst’s 8 million dollar shark in a tank filled with formaldehyde or the 58.4 million dollar balloon dog sculpture created by Jeff Koons – and I’ve participated in the collective wondering of why certain works of art cost so much. But other than that I don’t really know much about the forces that control contemporary art prices. After reading isAW I’m still not entirely sure I do.

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Andy Warhol: Self Portrait (Fright Wig) from the Sotheby’s website. Despite falling below 1 million USD in 2008, a green Fright Wig sold for over 7 million at a recent auction held by Sotheby’s.

What I am sure of is that the art world is equal parts fascinating and off-putting. It’s fascinating because of the people that populate it, the amount of money that constantly changes hands, and because of the ability for the same painting to be worth 300 thousand dollars in 2005, over a million in 2007 and then down to 600 to 800 thousand after the financial crisis. And the art world is off-putting for basically all the same reasons.

These days, the dealer is as much a star as his artists. […] Though I would be hard pressed to name more than one artist he [Zach Feuer] represents, I certainly know who he is. (Page 147).

Polsky may be an asshole that peppers his book with witty, acerbic one-liners and asides – such as this comment on photography becoming mainstream art: “there was nothing like high prices to validate an art form” (page 83) – but it’s also clear that he really loves the art produced by certain artists. He constantly returns to wax poetic about Bill Anton, a painter of American art (particularly cowboys) who Polsky discovers in Tucson. Anton comes up every few chapters and in the end Polsky ends up purchasing one of his paintings.

One of the aspects I did understand about the art market is that individuals who own large collections of an artists’ work want to see their value go as high as possible. So, for instance, if you own a huge stockpile of Andy Warhol paintings, you’ll work hard to make sure Andy Warhol is “salable” by creating bidding wars at auction houses when a Warhol is up for auction, even if you don’t end up buying the painting. As I remembered this, I wondered whether Polsky’s love for Bill Anton was due to his admiration for Anton’s technique or because he has bought a few Anton paintings and wanted to increase Anton’s price in order to one day re-sell them at a profit. Has isAW had made a art market cynic out of me? I hope not.

An abundance of yellow: choosing a book cover’s color

As a fan of physical books and all they entail – the smell, the sound of pages flipping, the collection of food splotches that inevitably collect on the pages – I only think about ebooks on two occasions:

  1. With annoyance when it dawns on me yet again that it’s near impossible to snoop on a fellow commuter’s reading material of choice when they’re using a Kindle/Ipad.
  2. With wishful thinking when I find myself lugging three (or more) books from home to work and back when reading multiple books at a time.

To me ebooks are simply another format a book can take, one some people enjoy and others really, really hate, but at the end of the day ebooks really don’t influence the actual physical book.

Turns out I was wrong. Ebooks aren’t just a billion dollar market parallel to paperbacks and hardcovers, they’re also influencing the cover art of books currently being published. What this means is that when designing the cover for a new book, artists have to take into account not just those readers browsing the stacks at their neighborhood bookstore, but also the folks browsing Amazon. The result? A whole lot of yellow.

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According to some of the art directors interviewed for the Wall Street Journal article on this phenomenon, for covers to “pop” they need a high-degree of contrast. A combination of white and black delivers that contrast but many publishers dislike using white because it’s not colorful and therefore not “pop-y” enough. The choice then is to go with yellow, which has no gender associations and can be used for most genres, since yellow can symbolize a wide range of emotions, from brightness to alertness to danger.

While reading the WSJ article I remembered the last book I had bought, Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object, and its bright yellow, “look-at-me” cover. In my head I ran through all the other books I own or have read in the past with equally bright yellow covers – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the entire Curious George series – trying to quickly gauge just how common yellow covers actually are. I visited the Harvard Bookstore a day after reading the article, wondering how many bright yellow covers I would spot.

They were everywhere.

There was Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio by Misha Glenny in True Crime. At the recent releases table there was Hogs Wild, a selection of essays by Ian Fraizer. In the self-help and advice section was Jen Sicero’s You Are a Badass, which is the type of positive, reassuring message you want to have jumping out at you on a Thursday after a failed experiment. It seemed like every category had at least one book with an eye-catching yellow cover.

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Oh how quickly the color of one’s browsing history changes!

My own significantly smaller collection of books has a lot of red and Sex Object’s yellow cover does stand out when placed alongside them. It seemed like the best way to make a cover stand out is less about choosing a specific color and more about picking a singular color. The yellow stood out not because it was yellow, but because it was the only yellow cover in a group of red and black books. Maybe in a few years (or months, who knows how quickly things change in the book industry), yellow covers will become more and more common and their ability to standout from the crowd will continue to decrease till finally a new book trend piece is written about orange covers or blue covers. We’ll have to wait and see (personally, I’m betting on purple… there simply aren’t enough purple books in the world).

Dear Emma – maybe don’t buy a book because of its cover

Well, it was bound to happen eventually… I just didn’t expect it to come so soon.

I recently wrote a blog post about how sometimes it pays off to judge a book by its cover, focusing on three instances where beautiful cover art was the gateway to discovering a new favorite author or a wonderful story. I was buoyed to write that post because only a few weeks earlier I had discovered Lucy Knisley (and by association the world of graphic novels) due to the incredibly charming cover art of Something New.

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I mean… cross-legged-messy-bun-wearing heroine, typing away on her laptop while surrounded by what appears to be a garland of vines and computer cords? How could I possibly leave it at Target?

Maybe it was a misplaced belief in my ability to discern great books by their cover alone or that I was impulse buying while in a pre-DAC-meeting-nervous-wreck-moment, but when I bought Katie Heaney’s first novel Dear Emma I didn’t expect to end up hate-reading it to the bitter end. After all, more than just a great cover it includes a main character (Harriet) who is the author of her college newspaper’s anonymous advice column, which is my kind of catnip.

I listen to a lot of podcasts while in lab, because the majority of my experiments have to be done alone and without talking in order to keep saliva from contaminating my samples (disgusting, but true). One of my favorite podcasts is Dear Sugar Radio, where Cheryl Strayed (who wrote Wild) and Steve Almond read letters/emails they’ve received from readers and give advice.They tend to group letters by topics and will feature advice-seekers facing different issues within that topic. For instance, currently they’re doing a series of episodes on weddings and their first episode touched on how to deal with difficult in-laws who have different expectations for the wedding as well as whether or not to invite a homophobic parent to one’s gay wedding.

What I love about Dear Sugar Radio is Cheryl and Steve (there’s something weirdly intimate about having someone’s voice in your ear for ~ 40 minutes every week, so I feel it’s okay to just call them by their first name) are wonderful conversationalists and they don’t always agree on the advice they give. They also always explain the thought process behind why their giving that specific advice and in doing so really delve into their own personal lives to a level I could never emulate. In picking up Dear Emma I expected to experience a fictional, written version of Dear Sugar Radio, but boy was I wrong. 

I don’t know why but for some reason I expected each chapter of Dear Emma to begin with an advice column Harriet had written. Instead there are only 8 different columns, three which are integral to the plot and the other five are just sort of random. I guess it would be tiring to write a new advice-seeking letter and advice-heavy response for each of the 20 chapters in the book, but I still think it would have been an interesting option (potentially a little gimmicky) and would also have satisfied the cravings of anyone who decided to read this book primarily for the advice column (and can’t possibly be the only one?).

Dear Emma doesn’t just suffer from a lack of advice columns, it also suffers from too much of Harriet. This is a first person narrative so we’re with Harriet all the time: we’re in her head getting updates on her every thought, listening to her constant self-pitying as well as being told how often she takes Advil (Why was this included again?). At one point Harriet mentions how she’s never had any true friends till she went to college and frankly I’m not surprised. Obsessing over a boy is fine, whatever, we’ve all been there, but Harriet is that friend that won’t stop mentioning him (as well as dissecting every text he’s sent her and expecting everyone to dissect along with her) till no one can stand hearing his name. I’ve had that friend, I’ve been that friend, and I’ll do it again for any friend who needs a bored yet present ear to vent, but I don’t want to read about it, especially from a narrator who is neither sympathetic nor convincing. And, lastly, half-way through the book Harriet gets in a fight with one of her friends/roommates and I’m still not entirely sure what that fight was about except that Harriet expects the reader to side with her.

There’s a point you arrive at for every terrible book where you have to decide whether or not to continue reading. I decided to finish Dear Emma because I was hopeful that (a) Harriet would snap out of the weird funk being ghosted by a boy in the first chapter had put her in, and (b) she would write more advice columns. The verdict? She didn’t and those last 150 pages weren’t worth it.

Sleepless in Manhattan: The right (yet imperfect) book for the right moment

For the last few weeks I’ve been stuck in lab finishing off experiments and analyzing data to present to my dissertation advisory committee (or DAC). Grad students in my program meet with our DACs once a year, where they check in on our progress (as well as our general well being, which is always an awkward question to get from three tenured professors) and give feedback and suggestions for future experiments. The days before it are stressful, tiring and I end up leaving the DAC feeling like I’ve been hit by a train.

But that was yesterday and I took the rest of the day off to slowly transition from nervous-wreck to somewhat-manageable-wreck and start reading some of the books I impulse bought while in my nervous-wreck phase.

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Five books in nine days – my bank account cannot support this kind of spending, no matter how enjoyable

There’s something soothing about browsing books, whether at Target or an indie bookstore, and normally just browsing is enough. But I need to actually buy books when dealing with the sort of dread that only a DAC can induce. My goal for this month is to read all five of the books I bought over the nine days leading up to June 10th. Of course, the other goal is to read more scientific papers, so we’ll see how many of these five books are done by June 30th.

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One of the books I bought is Sarah Morgan’s Sleepless in Manhattan, which is the first installment of her From Manhattan with Love series. I’ve never read Sarah Morgan before but she sounded so incredibly charming on two different episodes of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast that when I bumped into her book at Target I figured I should give it a try.

Sleepless in Manhattan is the perfect book to read after a DAC, despite being an imperfect book. This is a romance novel so obviously there’s conflict and misunderstandings that keep the two main characters – Paige Walker and Jake Romano – apart for a good part of the story, but none of those problems ever seems insurmountable. It all boggles down to a lack of communication and two people who have very different opinions as to what the other needs. Therefore the book never drags you through an emotional slugfest – it’s light, it’s airy, it’s exactly what I needed after the last few days.

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This cover reminds me of the British books my friends and I used to devour in middle school

And yet… it’s not perfect. Miscommunication abounds in romance novels and Sleepless in Manhattan is simply not the best version of this plot device. Of course there are whole other facets to Sleepless in Manhattan: there’s Paige’s new-found company, an events and concierge start up called Urban Genie; there are Paige’s best friends Eva and Frankie; and, of course, there’s New York.

While the conflict keeping Jake and Paige away from each other is not always super exciting, their business relationship is. When Paige (and friends Frankie and Eva) all lose their jobs at an events planning company, they mope around and half-heartedly begin searching for new jobs. It’s Jake who goads Paige into beginning Urban Genie and that scene may be the best in the book. While Paige’s brother Matt is trying to surround her with comforting words and distractions, Jake gives her the straight-talking and tough-love she actually needed. If the rest of the book had managed to stay at that level Sleepless in Manhattan would easily be a five out of five star book.

From Manhattan with Love is planned as a trilogy, with the next book coming out in August and Frankie and Eva will be the focus of the next two novels. Maybe that’s why both come off as very one-dimensional in this book. Frankie is the tough one, who doesn’t trust love, while Eva is the emotional one that can’t wait for love. They’re both opposite foils to Paige: Frankie is on one extreme while Eva is on the other, and I think for the most part they’re there to show that Paige is somewhere in the middle between emotionally stunted (Frankie) and emotionally exuberant (Eva). It feels a little heavy-handed at times, but I think it’ll be interesting to see whether in the next book, which focuses on Frankie, the roles are changed: Paige will become one-dimensional while Frankie is fully fleshed-out.

But.. we’ll always have New York. I think it’s clear that Sarah Morgan had a lot of fun placing this story in Manhattan and it’s incredibly enjoyable to read her descriptions of New York as well as see which parts of the city she focuses on. In one of her interviews she mentions discovering the many rooftop terraces of NYC and they abound in the book. A rooftop terrace is Paige’s sanctuary at her apartment in Brooklyn and another terrace in Manhattan is the location of her first major event with Urban Genie. Paige’s brother also specializes in landscaping rooftop gardens, so I’m guessing these terraces will continue to play a prominent part in the next book.

It’s terrible to describe a book as serviceable but that’s what Sleepless in Manhattan is. It was the right book for the right time, but it isn’t particularly memorable. The business end of the story is great and I really enjoyed how Urban Genie wasn’t super successful from the very start, which made the whole start-up portion of the story more believable. Both Paige and Jake are fine characters on their own or when discussing business, but their romance isn’t particularly exciting.

At the end of Sleepless, Sarah Morgan includes a short novella called Midnight at Tiffany’s, which focuses on Matilda, another employee fired from the same events planning company that Paige, Eva and Frankie used to work for. Matilda is a shy writer who on getting fired for spilling champagne at an event, leaves and bumps in Chase Adams (who runs a construction company and is loaded… obviously) who is also escaping the venue and they both assume different identities. Chase becomes Alex so that he can’t be identified and get used for his money, and Matilda becomes Lara in order to become imbued with the adventurous personality of one of her characters. Midnight at Tiffany’s is a much more successful and memorable story and it delivered on the romance that was lacking in Sleepless. Given how much I loved Midnight as well as the amount of love Sarah Morgan receives on the Internet (as well as my inability to leave most series unfinished) I’ll definitely read Sunset in Central Park when it comes out in late August. I just hope Frankie Fisher and Matt Walker make a more interesting romantic pair than Paige and Jake.