The Boy Next Door, by Meg Cabot

The Boy Next DoorStop number two on my quest to find an adorable Attachments-like romance novel! This one was recommended by a friend based on the fact that it is told entirely in emails, which make up a large portion of Attachments as well, and probably also based on the fact that it’s super sarcastic. I gave it a shot on a lazy mid-week day off, and ended up devouring it in one sitting.

This is one of those perfect, brain-candy, let’s-not-think-too-hard-today books, which I highly recommend for a lazy mid-week day off. It is highly implausible and ridiculous, but in a delightful way.

Here’s the story: our protagonist, Mel, is a gossip columnist for a New York City newspaper (think Post rather than Times) who is late to work one day because she finds her next-door neighbor nearly dead in her apartment. Mel is primarily concerned with making sure her neighbor’s pets are taken care of, so she shoots off an email to her neighbor’s only known relative, a nephew called Max Friedlander who is a quasi-famous photographer. Said photographer, however, is in the midst of an eyebrow-waggling vacation with a super-hot model, so he enlists his favor-owing friend John to go watch the pets, and more importantly pretend to be Max so that when Aunt Helen wakes up she won’t disinherit her nephew for being the ass that he actually is.

But I said this is a romance novel, right, so of course as soon as John arrives on the scene he knows that Mel is the girl for him and can’t hold off until the charade is over to begin wooing her. He’s not sure how long he can keep up the deception, since not only is he, you know, not Max Friedlander, he’s also a journalist for Mel’s paper’s biggest competitor and also also a member of the Trent family, who are big enough in society that a gossip columnist just might run into them…

Crazy, right? And super snark-tastic, since it is told in emails largely sent between friends and relatives who all have a similar dry sense of humor. But it’s also super adorable, as John and Mel are in fact perfect for each other (they love blues music and natural disasters alike) and they are sooooo cute and you know the whole thing’s going to come crashing down but you’re pretty sure it’s going to be okay but you don’t know how. Ahem.

I only had one problem with this book, and I know I said it’s a don’t-think-too-hard book and I know I was totally willing to go with the identity-switching and I understand that the book was written in 2002, but seriously, these people are terrible at email! They are constantly signing off emails abruptly as though they were telephone calls, as though they couldn’t leave their AOL open for just a few extra minutes to go answer the door or whatever when other emails to them indicate that they are happy to tie up the phone line for ages otherwise. And, worse, they are sending all of their ridiculousness through their work emails (well, John partially excepted) like people who want to get fired. At one point a police officer sends John totally confidential files and warns John not to tell anyone he sent them. SO WHY DID YOU SEND A WRITTEN RECORD OMGWTF. I don’t know, maybe all this made sense in 2002 when I was mostly using my email to send out surveys to my high-school friends, but now that my own work emails are public record I am hyperventilating over here.

Right, so, anyway, other than that longer-than-expected rant, I super duper enjoyed this book. And it’s the start of a series full of snarky email exchanges! Huzzah!

Recommendation: For fans of epistolary novels, wacky misunderstandings, and relationships based entirely on lies.

Rating: 9/10

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Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineI maaay have already mentioned in this space how super in love with Rowell’s novels I am. I haven’t gotten around to Fangirl yet, but you can bet I will very very soon, and then I will be able to say that I absolutely adore everything Rowell has ever published. (Right? Wait, has she written stuff other than novels? Note to self: look into this.)

Because Landline? Is adorable.

Landline is about a TV-industry workaholic (is that redundant? Probably…) called Georgie McCool who finds herself stuck working in LA over Christmas when she’s supposed to be spending the week with her husband and children and in-laws in Nebraska. Her husband, Neal, who has put up with Georgie’s shenanigans long enough, decides to take the kids with him to Nebraska while Georgie stays behind. Between Georgie’s phone’s inability to hold a charge and Neal’s propensity for leaving his phone behind when he wanders off somewhere, she finds it impossible to get a hold of her husband until she drags an old landline phone out of her childhood bedroom closet and calls Neal on his mom’s landline — fifteen years ago.

So yeah, there’s this weird magical conceit where present Georgie is talking to past Neal, who’s living in the week between the last time they had a huge fight and the time that Neal drove all night from Nebraska to propose. Georgie’s not sure if she’s, you know, certifiably insane, or if she’s actually talking to actual Neal and influencing the actual course of events that led to her talking on this phone now. And with all the horribleness happening in Georgie’s present, she’s not sure if she wants that course of events to stay the same.

The story jumps back and forth between Georgie’s present, where her mom is convinced that Georgie’s about to get divorced and she’s convinced she’s losing her mind, and Georgie’s way past, where she meets Neal, becomes infatuated with him, and overcomes more than a few obstacles to snag him as a husband. Fascinatingly, you can see from those flashbacks that Georgie and Neal are kind of a terrible pairing from the beginning, but it’s also obvious that they’re the kind of people who decide what they want and then stick with it and that they want to be together. Which is not something I would like, but whatever floats your boat, I guess?

I love a lot of things about this story, starting with the characters, who are fun and delightful and maybe not always the most realistic of people (unless your mom is like Georgie’s mom, in which case I want to meet her) but nonetheless realistic emotionally. I love the sort-of time-travelling conceit, which gets me absolutely every time. I love that nothing is cut and dried, from the fight at the beginning to the resolution at the end.

It’s not perfect, of course — it is especially full of clichés of grand sweeping gestures and also the beauty and optimism of snow and also the miracle of puppy birth — but it’s pretty darn awesome. My biggest lingering concern after reading this book is that I should probably get my phone fixed or replaced before its battery becomes as unreliable as Georgie’s. I don’t particularly want to find myself talking to people from my past any time soon…

Recommendation: For those looking for a fun read and some reassurance as to the normalcy of their own relationships.

Rating: 9/10