I don't read many novels where the main character starts off by saying she'd like to kill someone. However, in the case of "Lessons in Laughing Out Loud," it opens exactly that way and it really gives an interesting insight to Rowan Coleman's latest main character, Willow Briars.
Willow leads a relatively lonely existence, except when she's escorting celebrities to hideouts for her job and spending time with her best friend, Daniel or her twin sister, Holly, who has a perfect life in contrast to her own. All that changes when she stumbles upon a store of odds and ends, where she falls in love with a pair of shoes and ends up with an old coat and so much more, as a result of her shoe purchase. The shoes seem to have a magic effect on her physical appearance, transforming her from overweight to curvy within seconds of putting them on. Soon, people are coming back into her life after she was expecting to never see them again and then there are other surprises in store for her. However, she's haunted by a trauma from her past and will never be truly happy until she confronts her ghosts. Will the shoes give her the confidence she needs or will she find it from within herself?
I'll be honest here. I love Rowan Coleman as a writer and as a person. However, "Lessons in Laughing Out Loud" didn't really grab me in the beginning. It felt kind of slow at first and I had no idea where Ms. Coleman was planning to go with it. Then it suddenly picked up and kept me intrigued the rest of the way through. The characters were really interesting and distinct. They all felt so real. I could actually picture most of them in their interactions with Willow and the others in her life. There was also an air of mystery throughout. Ms. Coleman kept alluding to something happening in Willow's past, but left it up to the reader to put the pieces together before she would give them the full story. Once I got into the story, I really liked it and got emotionally involved with Willow and the people in her life. I sincerely wanted good things to happen for her and I could also feel what she was feeling, even though I've never been in her shoes (both literally and figuratively). The ending left me with a giddy grin on my face.
I think I wasn't instantly grabbed as easily by the story because of the wordiness. The sentences tended to be wordy a lot of the time and I would have to read some several times before I understood what was being said. Also, the concept of magic shoes or clothing from a mysterious store has been used in other novels, so the originality factor was not really there this time. However, Ms. Coleman found a way to add interesting twists to this story, giving it a unique flair overall.
While I miss the stories Ms. Coleman writes about mothers (i.e. "The Accidental Mother"), she still managed to incorporate her thoughts about motherhood in this story, giving it a sweet and heartwarming feel. The story had a Marian Keyes feel to it, which made me check the cover often to make sure I really was reading a Rowan Coleman novel. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I also would like to see more of Ms. Coleman's "voice" shine through than have her sound like she's trying to write as someone else. I definitely noticed a different feel in both this novel and in "The Home for Broken Hearts," as compared to her previous novels. However, I did enjoy "Lessons in Laughing Out Loud" overall, and look forward to reading whatever Ms. Coleman puts out next. She always manages to surprise me.
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