When I heard about our blogpal Alison Kent writing one of the first reality-based romances in HCI's new True Vows imprint, I admit, I imagined someone writing a book based on me and my guy. And laughed, because of all the love stories I've read, not one has ever come close to matching my very strange romance (although the title would have to be Surfer Boy, Story Girl.) I was curious as to how a writer as imaginative as Alison would handle writing a romance based in reality, though, so as soon as The Icing on the Cake hit the shelves I picked up a copy.
Here's a bit about the story: Marketing director Michelle Snow and tech consultant Todd Bracken meet through an online dating service (which was not the way we did it back in my day, so that was very interesting as well as exotic to me.) Lonely but wary Michelle is pressured into trying online dating by her girlfriends, and lonely but well-adjusted Todd is looking for someone to fill the gaps in his life, so they're already a good match before they exchange the first text message. When they meet, that lovely thing called chemistry kicks in, and the whirlwind begins. Not everything is instant Nirvana, however. Michelle dreams of opening her own cupcake bakery, which she puts off because of her dread of failure, while Todd is dealing with his Dad's battle with cancer and Michelle's wariness, which prevents him from sharing her dream.
Thanks to the scrumptious descriptions in the story I'm probably going to be baking a lot more experimental cupcakes in the future, but it's the emotional journey of this couple that really makes the novel a wonderful, deeply satisfying read. I never had to imagine this love affair really happening because it always felt real. It didn't need any artificial drama (aka car crashes, homicidal ex-boyfriends or heart-of-gold bounty hunters) to up the wattage; Alison's skillful retelling brought a terrific intensity to even the most ordinary of circumstances in the story.
I appreciate how much respect was shown the couple in the story, too. This book is about two real people and how they fell in love, and that is not something you want to trifle with or rewrite so it sounds more marketable. This book is going to be a legacy in their lives forever. Alison handled their characters with a balance of remarkable clarity and keen sensitivity; I never found anything in the book I'd consider cringe-worthy or embarrassing for the real Michelle and Todd. Even the cover art is gorgeous and evocative without going over the top (and if you're curious as to how the real Michelle and Todd feel about the book, you can read a neat interview with them about it here.)
The Icing on the Cake is also unique in that it creates a new niche among contemporary romance. As writers we try to invent people and worlds capable of whisking away our readers from their troubles for a few hours; with this novel Alison Kent proves that true love can be just as fascinating and uplifting as any invented fantasy.
But as always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, tell us what you would title a book based on your real-life romance (or if you're still looking for love, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Monday, October 4, 2010. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned copy of The Icing on the Cake by Alison Kent. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something from PBW in the past.