Never on a Sundae

Wendy Markham, Lynn Messina and Daniella Brodsky
2008 reissue of 2004 release, Fiction
Berkley, $7.99, 259 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425218678

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Varies

Never on a Sundae is an odd book that's more than a little difficult to categorize. The spine proclaims it to be a contemporary romance anthology, though I'd say it's more Chick Lit than anything else. The stories are all loosely connected by a retro diner in Manhattan called Sundaes, where the characters are either patrons or (in one case) employees. I was ready to rally behind the idea of stories based on the love of ice cream, but it turned out to be a pretty fragile framework on which to base a book. The stories themselves range from pretty good to okay, but none are spectacular.

Contemporary Romance
What You Wish For
Sensuality: Kisses
Delaney Maguire is on the verge of marriage to Bob, a sweet, dependable guy who is perfect husband material. Even so, she has cold feet. While cleaning out her apartment, she finds a mysterious key that she can't quite bring herself to throw out. Instead, she puts it in her pocket and uses it as an excuse to visit her past three boyfriends to see if it might belong to one of them. Unlike Bob, none of her past loves could be characterized as "steady." One was a musician, one was a film student, and one was a bartender. As she meets with each of them in turn, her quest to find the key's owner takes on an irrational importance, and she wonders whether she is really ready to get married at all.

I enjoyed this story much more than I initially thought I would. I'm pretty decisive by nature, so I don't have much patience for shilly-shallying. Somehow, though, Delaney remains sympathetic. In the process of revisiting her past, she's really growing up, and her reservations are resolved in a happy way. I also have to give a thumbs up to Bob, who is the type of nice guy that many women really marry. My one problem with the story was the author's extremely distracting writing style. The last book I read by Wendy Markham (Love, Suburban Style) was written in the first person present tense, which was irritating. This one was written in the second person, as if the reader is the heroine: "If someone had told you a year ago that you would fall madly in love with a banker named Bob, you would have said they must have you mixed up with somebody else." It comes across as gimmicky and distracting. You are not a fan. Or I was not a fan. Or something. Grade: B

Chick Lit
Lola Was Here
Sensuality: Kisses
Lynn Messina's short story featured a successful photographer who is deeply terrified of failure. Lola grew up in a privileged environment, and her first photography show (which started out as something of a joke to cheer up a friend) was wildly popular. Lola had sent her friend photographs of famous landmarks, all featuring close-ups of a small placard stating "Lola was here." Now everyone, including Lola, wonders what she'll do for her next act. Though she's afraid to admit it, she hasn't taken an actual photo in months. Back in Manhattan after more than a year abroad, Lola tries to come to grips with her feelings. Meanwhile, she gets invited to a party hosted by James Creighton, her college ex (and fellow artist). Can Lola find her inspiration with an old flame?

She can, and it's kind of cute, but it doesn't come across as a romance at all. Part of the problem is that the jet-setting crowd Lola runs with is not all that interesting. The other part of the problem is that we get only the tiniest peek into Creighton's character and personality. The result is that the story isn't all that convincing. That said, the writing itself is above average (and a welcome relief from the second person hodgepodge of the previous story). At the end I felt that I basically liked Lola and Creighton, but didn't know a whole lot about them. Grade: C+

Chick Lit
The Waitress
Sensuality: Subtle
Daniella Brodsky's novella is the weakest of the bunch. It may have a happy ending, but the journey to reach that point can only be described as dreary. Kate Lieve is a waitress at Sundae's, a job that she more or less does for the sheer fun of it, even though she never appears to have any fun. Kate's real income comes from her books. She's a successful author whose first effort (a book about her dead baby daughter) is widely known. But Kate isn't very happy. Throughout her story she looks for love in a string of joyless dates and one night stands, but the man who most intrigues her is one of her regulars - who wears a wedding ring. She's not sure if he's really off-limits, and she pines for him while she sleeps with men she doesn't even like.

There were two main problems with the author's story, and I'm not really sure which is worse. Certainly, the fact that it's relentlessly depressing is not a point in its favor. As Kate went about her aimless existence, I tried to read as fast as I could so I wouldn't have to hear about it anymore. The sexual encounters with men she didn't like really turned me off. Then there was her inner conflict, wondering whether she should have feeling for her potentially married love. Here's an idea: Ask him if he's married, instead of spending months wondering about it. Actually, there are really three main problems with the book. I could not bring myself to believe that an independently wealthy author (so wealthy that she can buy an expensive apartment in Manahattan without batting an eye) would work as a waitress just for fun. Especially when she appeared to have no fun at all. Grade: C-

The grades average to a C+, a grade that fits my feelings about this book perfectly. there are some interesting aspects to it, but it's not anything I'd go out of my way to read.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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