First to understand why I’m upset, here is the premise: The mother of the heroine from book three gets her own book. I really liked Vivian last book. The idea of a middle-aged romance is intriguing and refreshing. On top of that it is set in England, where the overworked mom is taking her first vacation in years, a mother/daughter trip spurred on by Maddie’s job (she has the opportunity to style the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are never named, so it’s obviously Meghan and Harry). They are spending Christmas in Sandringham House. Much potential for character development and fantasy wish-fulfillment.
Instead, it was dull as hell. Vivian herself is lovely, but she is paired with the human equivalent of a warm sponge. They have pages and pages of the most uninteresting dialogue where neither of them really say anything, but both of them seem tickled pink by it for no discernible reason. The narration is constantly telling us they are having the best time, but I saw no evidence of it. Their conversations were stultifying. I could feel myself aging as I read them. Other than that he is very handsome and works for the Queen and likes scones, I know almost nothing about Malcolm’s personality by the end of the book.
Oh, except for the portions of the novel where he magically transforms from warm sponge to a sulking rude jerk. It’s an *interesting* character choice for sure to have your hero behave like an asshole to your lovely main character, and make her have to put up with it and pull him out of it, but it’s not a *pleasant* choice. I really did not like him by the end.
Mainly, I felt this book wasted a bunch of potential: the premise, Vivian (who by sheer force of will saved the book from being one star, and Malcolm doesn’t deserve her), the setting. THE SETTING. Oh, this really did not work. It felt like a bad fanfic where the author was just making stuff up off the most basic research. It felt like a Hallmark movie.
And the writing! I have never found Guillory’s writing to be so lazy before. But this felt lazy. Like she was trying too hard to make the book work, or like she just didn’t care. I have no evidence if that is the actual case, but that’s how it felt to read. Both characters were given cursory “problems” to solve by the end of the book, both of which had endings telegraphed a mile away. And the prose itself was mostly dull telling with very few moments of showing. I have never read a romance novel with the following sentence construction in it that has turned out well; it is always a sign that the author has lost control of the story, or doesn’t know how to convey what she wants to, and it occurred multiple times:
“How did she have this innate sense of trust for someone she’d known for such a short time?”
“So why did this not-even a-kiss-but-almost-a-kiss have such lasting effects on her?”
“How was it even possible for her to be this relaxed when she was this close to him? She had no idea, but she was.”
These rhetorical questions exist because the author doesn’t know how to answer them, or show the answers to them, and instead puts the question there, like hanging a lampshade on it will make the problem of your characters’ relationship feel magically fleshed out. Look, I see the problem! Therefore it is not a problem! This is a pet peeve of mine, and she leans on it a lot here.
But the whole book takes lazy shortcuts. There was one part where Malcolm “laughed as he remembered Vivian’s hilarious guesses” about what his nephew’s good news could be. And we are not given any of these guesses. Presumably they live in the same imaginary space as all of the other hilarity we are told exists between them but somehow never see.
And on top of that, where has all the banter gone? Where are the jokes and the friendships? All three of her previous books were great at all of those things. Maybe it was the discomfort of the setting (her previous books were all set in California) or the age of the characters (can’t older people be funny, too?). Vivian was also very isolated. Where are her friends? All she seems to have is her work, her sister Jo (whom we never actually meet), and Maddie (who is most of the time off dressing the Duchess, and we don’t get any of their mother/daughter bonding time in London).
There were spots of brightness. Vivian being awesome, mostly. And a memorable scene with the Queen (and Vivian being so excited about it), and another involving very spicy food in a Nigerian restaurant. But those spots were few and far between for me.
Hopefully her next book is back up to snuff, because this was a real bummer.