Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Drop Dead Gorgeous by Anna Cheska – a necessary chaser between grim books

Imogen’s marriage has hardly been an exciting affair but when her husband dies, she’s alarmed to discover that Edward hadn’t been nearly as predictable as she’d always thought … She’s desperate to learn the truth but her best friend, Jude, thinks she should put the past behind her. Should she throw off her widow’s weeds, don some war-paint and join the battle to find a single man who isn’t bitter and twisted or still living with his mother? Imogen isn’t sure she’s ready for trial by dating agency and lonely hearts columns. But though everyone keeps telling her that all she needs is time, could it be that what she really needs is a date?

The blurb seems rather muddled to me and says things at least twice, but don’t let that put you off. This is an on-the-whole jolly read and was an essential “chaser” between the grim books I seem to have been reading lately. Sometimes, my dears, nothing but chick-lit will do.

Or, in this case, hen-lit. As thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with young gals rushing around quaffing white wine and stressing about their boyfriends. Both Imogen and Jude are older women (or women in their prime, as I prefer to call them) and facing the challenges of (a) widowhood and (b) single parenthood with some style. Imogen runs a floristry shop, and Jude is the sole owner of beauty salon, The Goddess Without, which she runs from home and where much of the interaction between the two women takes place.

I enjoyed the beginning of the story very much where Imogen is faced with the fallout from her recent widowhood. Cheska maintains the tension of the deceased Edward’s secrets for quite some time, which is a real incentive to read on.

However, much of this tension is lost when Imogen discovers (Spoiler alert!) illegitimate daughter Marisa and the former mistress Naomi. I really liked the character of the mistress who’s pleasingly shy and dowdy, though she does have a believable core of determination, but I absolutely hated Marisa with a deadly loathing and have no idea what on earth she’s doing in this novel. As far as I can tell, she has no redeeming features, being a cold-hearted, calculating cow and a man-eater, to boot. I didn’t even love to hate her – she was simply out-of-place. Her only purpose is to provide the tension lost when we find out about her existence by being the girlfriend of the man Imogen falls in love with. Heck, even her own mother doesn’t much like her.

Are you with me so far?…

Anyway I thought Marisa’s boyfriend Alex was great, though sadly torn between the deadly Marisa and the innocuous Imogen. The older women/younger man dynamic was nice too, but I did feel that he and Imogen fall in love very quickly indeed and are making overwrought and starry-eyed declarations before the introductions have properly been completed. This part of the novel was rather unbelievable, especially as Imogen only lost her husband about five (literary) minutes before meeting Alex. Yes, I appreciate she and Edward weren’t close and she was toying with the idea of leaving him, but when somebody dies it changes everything, and you really don’t recover that quickly, no matter the circumstances.

Not that all that really mattered much as this is the kind of book you read for light relief and not for cultural or emotional accuracy. There are, to balance things out, some really nice situations, such as with Jude and her prickly relationship with the nephew of the elderly tenant upstairs. I could have done with more of those two together as the book came far more to life when they were both on the page.

The work lives of Imogen and Jude were also quite well portrayed – the flower shop and Imogen’s staffing trials felt realistic, and the relationships between Jude and her beauty clients were enjoyable also. Jude’s obsession with beauty products was far beyond my understanding but not overdone at all. I was entirely with Imogen who often felt overwhelmed in her role as Jude’s beauty tester …

Not only that, but the mothers of the two women also play a large part in the book and, indeed, often steal the scene entirely. I really loved Hazel whose penchant for amateur dramatics and Italian men was absolutely crying out for its own novel. And Vanessa is a great foil to all that, being a keen and independent traveller coming home to roost – in rather unusual fashion.

Towards the end of the novel, as things slowly begin to come together at last, Marisa unaccountably disappears – a fact which left me both relieved and confused. I would have preferred to have had some kind of inkling as to where she went, but both Imogen and Jude end up more or less where I assumed they’d be after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, so that left me with a wry smile on my face.

Overall, it’s a cute and occasionally muddled read. Which doesn’t take away from the truth that it gave me a much-needed chance to recover from the grim, heavy novels in my reading pile. And I’m forever grateful for that.

Drop Dead Gorgeous, Piatkus 2001, ISBN: 9 780749 932589

[Anne is about to launch into November's National Novel Writing Month for the first time ever with a brave smile and a merry wave. Her wordcount so far is ... um ... zero]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

5 comments on “Drop Dead Gorgeous by Anna Cheska – a necessary chaser between grim books

  1. Hilary
    November 1, 2012

    I really enjoyed this review, Anne, and I think this novel sounds like just what I could do with too. Let’s hear it for hen-lit! It sounds as though there are some nicely original situations in it – something slightly different.

  2. Kate
    November 1, 2012

    Gosh, this sounds marvellous, the perfect thing for picking up at the station for an idle two hour read on a journey, which i may yet do, next week …

  3. annebrooke
    November 1, 2012

    Many thanks, both! It’ll be a fun light read, that’s for sure :)

  4. Jackie
    November 1, 2012

    This sounds like a really likable book, except of course, for Marisa.The term “hen lit” is a nice improvement over chick-lit and sounds less fluffy, which is always a good thing. I’ve been reading a lot of serious books lately too, so I really need to find this one at the library. Thanks as always, for the amusing review.

  5. annebrooke
    November 2, 2012

    Hope you enjoy it, Jackie, and thank you! :)

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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