Such A Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

Title:  Such A Pretty Face
Author:  Cathy Lamb
(c) 2010
Author/Book website here.

Why this book?
I was looking for something to read while away from home and away from my Kindle. Thus, paper book browsing occurred. When I saw this cover, I remembered it being on a "books I’m looking forward to" list on one of the reader/reviewer blogs I subscribe to, although I can’t remember which one. Book Binge, maybe? Or the Bookpushers?

What about the cover art? It did its job, captured my attention. Probably on its own, the cover art would not have been enough for me to buy the book, but between the cover art and the vaguely-remembered sort of recommendation-slash-heads-up, it was enough.

Two years and 170 pounds ago, Stevie Barrett was wheeled into an operating room for surgery that most likely saved her life.  Since that day, a new Stevie has emerged, one who walks without wheezing, plants a garden for self-therapy, and builds and paints fantastical wooden chairs.  At thirty-five, Stevie is the one thing she never thought she’d be: thin.

But for everything that’s changed, some things remain the same.  Stevie’s shyness refuses to melt away.  She still can’t look her gorgeous neighbor in the eye.  The Portland law office where she works remains utterly dysfunctional, as does her family — the aunt, uncle and cousins who took her in when she was a child.  To to it off, her once supportive best friend clearly resents her weight loss.

By far the biggest challenge in Stevie’s new life lies in figuring out how to define her new self.  Collaborating with her cousins to plan her aunt and uncle’s problematic fortieth anniversary party, Stevie starts to find some surprising answers — about who she is, who she wants to be, and how the old Stevie evolved in the first place.  And with each revelation, she realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she’s lost but the courage and confidence she’s gathering, day by day.

How is the story told?  First person POV from Stevie; no other POV included.  The narrative structure is divided into alternating chapters of present-day Stevie and child-Stevie, with present-day Stevie also relating large chunks of her adult history.  

What did I think?  Very early on, readers are presented with the family trauma that is the core of Stevie’s neuroses and food pathology.  To be honest, if I had read the first few pages of the book while in the store, this book would not have come home with me, because the drama and heartbreak introduced early on are not my favorite subjects for reading.  They make for great women’s fiction, though, which is what Such A Pretty Face is.  

Even reading with the WF filter, I feel rather ambivalent about SAPF, really.  Stevie’s ultimate control over her life and her history and her future make for an uplifting ending.  But the constant ladling on of problems, some dictated by Stevie’s life choices and some not, was often Too Much.

One of the hallmarks of women’s fiction (I thought) was that there is no perfect HEA, that problems still exist but the main character is better able to cope and make her way at the end of the novel.  Stevie is better able to cope at the end of SAPF, but mostly because all the hard or bad things have suddenly been erased with a wave of her fairy godmother’s wand:  Evil Uncle’s villainy has been revealed; toxic best friend has been vanquished (without ever really acknowledging that Stevie *chose* to be her friend for years); Stevie has been absorbed into the extended family that disappeared 25 years ago and been given her rightful inheritance; her cousins are both on their way out of dysfunction; etc.  Essentially, thirty five years of familial dysfunction have been wiped away, which seems…not as realistic as women’s fiction usually is.  Is this a women’s fiction fairy tale?  

Would I read this author again?  No, probably not, because I tend to avoid women’s fiction unless it comes very highly recommended by another reader I trust.

Keep or pass on?  Pass on.  Anyone want it?  Otherwise it’s going to the UBS or PBS.


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2 responses to “Such A Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

  1. The plot sounds intriguing but like you, I don’t care for women’s fiction so I’ll take a pass. And hell, my family is practically normal and we still have dysfunction. I’m not good with fairy tale endings when it comes to real life problems – even in my romances. If the hero/heroine have a drug problem and overcome it during the course of the book or even years before the story I need the characters to acknowledge that there will always be a chance of re-using.

    • Recovering addicts are a hard sell for me in romance, unless there is a mention of the potential relapse, like you said. For example, although I do think Brockmann needs to pick another dependency issue rather than sticking on alcoholism, I do appreciate that her rehabbed alcohol heroes do struggle. Robin has AA meetings mapped out, and recognizes that holidays and certain other things magnify the desire to have a drink.
      I guess I felt like the ending here was very romance-ish, while the rest of the book was not, and the two didn’t quite mesh.

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