Advertising Executive Lucy Cunningham sells one of her accounts on the idea of doing a makeover of a hapless overweight woman in "real time." Little did she guess that the guinea pig would be her. When she shows up to meet her gorgeous trainer Theo Redmond looks like Malibu Ken and is training a super model. Lucy chokes on her Milk Dud and their first meeting goes down hill from there. With Theo's and her therapist's help Lucy has to deal with her past and why she ate her way to obesity—Lucy is sure she Theo is too perfect for her but gradually discovers Theo to be a lot deeper then Ken as he struggles to balance his work with a return to Med school and caring for his Down Syndrome brother.
Linda: I really enjoyed this month's book. I hadn't read Donovan before and really enjoyed her often subtle sense of humor. I have been reading a lot of Romantic Suspense lately and it was just nice to read an old fashioned romance. Not a lot of action, but just a chance to get to know and like the characters. I loved Lucy and Theo-dorable was just that (although the nickname was a bit too cute).
Blythe: This was also my first Donovan. But my reaction was more mixed than yours. There were many things I really liked about the book. First of all, I liked that the heroine actually started out fat. Not a little plump, not a little curvy - she was a size 22 when the book began. I don't think I've ever read a romance with a heroine who really was significantly overweight. Naturally, she loses it all (fairly easily, I might add). Still, it was an interesting difference. And then I also liked much of the humor. What didn't work as well for me was the pacing and the writing style, which both seemed a little off. I felt like I was starting the book in the middle of the story, and the author didn't really seem to catch her stride until the last third or so.
Linda: Well, having been a 22 myself I will say she lost it easier than I did but then at a size 18 I am still "a work in progress." But, I didn't think it unrealistic as I remember how much weight Oprah lost when she spent months working intensively with a trainer. I think she got to a size 8 too. I really liked Lucy and enjoyed her relationship with her therapist too. And they are definitely not on my (or Lucy's) diet, but I am sitting here eating Doritos as we chat.
Blythe: Maybe it really is a whole lot easier with a trainer. I kept going back and forth about the whole weight thing. At times it seemed realistic, and at times it seemed to be a little out there. At one point Lucy has a serious setback and goes on an eating binge. In one sitting, she eats an entire pizza (twelve inch, I think) and a whole container of ice cream (I hope it was a pint). This seemed like such an impossible feat to me that I actually spent the next day asking everyone I ran into whether they thought it was possible. No one did, although several thought they could do either the whole pizza or all the ice cream. I did like the therapist, though. I couldn't wait for Lucy's visits with her. Lucy's on-going snarky comments about the kimono girls on the therapist's wallpaper had me laughing out loud. I couldn't wait to see what she would call them next.
Linda: LOL, I loved that too and also Theo's reaction to them. I considered eating both the pizza and the pint (she did say it was a pint) of ice cream to be a bit of humorous literary license.
I guess I am an author's dream - if I like a story I am willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. She did mention some things that are accurate, such as Lucy losing shoe sizes too. People don't always realize that as you get heavier your shoes expand and then fall off when you lose weight.
Blythe: I thought that was interesting about the shoes sizes...I had never heard that before. My feet got a half size bigger when I was pregnant, but they never did shrink back, unfortunately. Shoe departments always seem to be out of 8 1/2s. I've never been overweight, so on some levels I couldn't relate to what Lucy was going through. However, I think nearly all women I know struggle with body image, no matter what their weight is, so I kind of connected on that front. I just couldn't believe the pizza and ice cream thing.
It's interesting what a reader can accept and a reader just can't buy. When I asked the AAR staff the pizza/ice cream question (like I said, I asked everybody), Sandy Coleman, who also read the book, mentioned that she was bothered by the way the advertising field was depicted. Sandy's worked in advertising for years, so she'd know what was realistic. I, on the other hand, read it all in blissful ignorance. I wasn't knowledgeable enough about advertising to know what was "wrong."
Linda: I worked in advertising some time ago and didn't notice anything in particular, but then, I'm far more interestred in the story and characters. As long as the author doesn't have her "Medieval Highlander" holding his kilt together with velcro, I am usually okay. That said, if I'm not engrossed in the story or don't care for the characters, then little stuff will bug me too.
We haven't talked to much about Theo, who I thought was just divine. Theo is drop dead gorgeous. He reminds Lucy initially of a sexy Malibu Ken, which had me chuckling because I personally always thought old Ken was gay! It takes Lucy a while to realize that she has been judging Theo by his exterior, just what she hates about people judging her. Theo is a personal trainer forced to leave medical school after his parents were killed, leaving him responsible for Buddy, his Down Syndrome brother. I loved Donovan's depiction of Buddy. He rang quite true to Down Syndrome children I have known. We have a family member who is a "near drowning" victim and while she only reads at the 1st grade level, her insights into people around her can sometimes be amazing.
Blythe: It took me awhile to warm to Theo for some reason. I just wasn't feeling the love, so to speak. But I think that might have been related to my problem with the writing style and pacing of the book. Initially, his characterization just seemed a bit thin; there didn't seem to be much to him. But he got more intriguing as the book marched on. And I too liked his relationship with Buddy. The scenes at the Special Olympics were some of my favorites. Also, oddly enough, I really liked the villains of the story. there are basically two of them, and they are completely over-the-top campy. But I found them hilarious, and well suited to the humorous writing style. It didn't seem to matter that they were a little overdrawn.
And I'm sure Ken is gay. That relationship with Barbie is a total front. When he wore a lavender tux to the wedding, the cat was so out of the bag.
Linda: Yes, the villains were well suited to the book. An otherwise funny book was ruined for me recently by an over-the-top evil villain whose deeds were just too melodramatic for the story. The two villains here were funny, and I loved that one, her boss, gained weight as fast as Lucy lost it.
I thought the blossoming sexuality of Buddy and his aspirations for his life were dealt with well. Theo's devotion to Buddy was well stated - particularly poignant was his facing the fact that Buddy had to pursue his own dreams and that Theo wouldn't be able to protect him from the world. As a parent of grown children, I know well that releasing them to live their own lives and make their own mistakes is not an easy thing to do. Theo's mixed feelings were natural and well depicted. As far as Theo's seeming shallow at the beginning of the book...I felt that Donovan was revealing Theo's nature to the reader gradually, just as Lucy was learning it. This allowed the reader to also realize that perhaps we were expecting a shallow, vain womanizer just as Lucy did.
I also liked Gia the supermodel, and that Donovan didn't go with the obvious choice of making her a villainous b itch. Her screechy voice and her friendship with Lucy, well, I thought their relationship was just a breath of fresh air in the story. And the whole "Slump Buster" story line was great! Donovan managed to make this story both funny and poignant. What did you think about the "kick boxing" therapy? Doesn't every woman have a guy she would like for a kick boxing buddy (my longtime ex-husband must be cringing in terror at the very thought <g>)?
Blythe: I liked the slump-buster storyline as well, and there is a nice surprise with that at the end. What was interesting to me about Gia was that she dated Lucy's brother for a time, and then it just petered out. That seemed realistic to me (more realistic than, say, a double wedding at the end of the book). And funny you should mention the kick-boxing thing. I do that periodically in aerobics, and I recently asked a friend if I could "borrow" her jerk ex as my imaginary kicking dummy. Would you be shocked that she was totally okay with it? <g>
Oh, and I loved the fat boss too. I thought it was amusing that he would send Lucy all that junk food - and end up eating it himself.
Linda: LOL, I thought a lot of women would like that therapy a lot. I think what made this story work for me were the supporting characters. Both families were well done and I loved the storyline with Lucy's sister and her estranged husband. I know someone who's marriage was saved in a similar manner with the recognition that neither men or women can "have it all" and that we have to decide what is important to us and make choices. Theo's worries about being able to cope with all of the stresses in his life were realistic and I was impressed that Donovan could deal with very serious matters and yet do it with just the right touch of humor. I laughed at her "food journal" and affirmations—especially the one about the phallic fruits and veggies.
Humor like this takes just the right light touch and isn't easy to pull off. We've all read far too many books where the humor is either too heavy (thus not funny) or descends to the slapstick level. Donovan never loses control of her characters or humor.
Blythe: I can't quite agree with that assessment, unfortunately. As you know, the humor was one of the things that did work for me. But I did find Lucy consistently funny, and that was one of the main reasons that I liked her. I think if the book had been a little smoother in the beginning, I would have liked it much more. I guess I'd have to disagree about Donovan never losing control of her characters, because I think she only gains control of them in the middle of the book; at first the whole thing just seemed to be all over the map.
Linda: Oh well, I enjoyed the book from page one and really loved the opening when Lucy choked on a Milk Dud. Haven't we all done something dumb to get us off on the wrong foot with someone we really wanted to impress? Her fantasy of making out with Theo when he was giving her CPR made me laugh and Theo's caring nature was naturally shown when he didn't stoop to the obvious clever comments about her accident. In fact, I was glad when Theo screwed up the relationship for a time as it kept him from being "too perfect." I liked this book so well that I began looking through my tbr pile and lo and behold there were two more of Donovan's books there. Oh, the joys of a large tbr pile!
Blythe: I think I may have some Donovans in my tbr pile too, but at this point it is so out of control that I have no idea what's in there. It used to be organized, but now I have unread books in my basement, under my bed, in my nightstand, and on top of my nightstand. I try to segregate them from the books I've already read, but they are all in the same places. Oh, and then there are the read and unread hardcovers that sit side by side in my study. But anyway, I know several of our reviewers have enjoyed Donovan's books in the past. I wouldn't mind giving her a shot again, even though this one was a mixed bag for me.
Next month, however, we are reading a book by an author we've both read before (though never for Pandora): Amanda Scott's Lord of the Isles.
Linda: I'm looking forward to it. Happy reading.
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for
-- Pandora's Box
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