Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: Surprise Me!

By Kathryn Hamilton

What do you get when you combine fabulously funny characters, a whirlwind romance, heartbreak, and emotional eating? You get the recipe for a wonderful and enlightening novel, "Surprise Me!" by Nancy Goodman.

Genie Burns is the founder of Surprise Enterprise, an event planning company she runs with business partner Stephen, which provides surprise parties in unique settings. Genie is convinced that she is destined to end up with her best guy friend Danny (if only she could feel romantically towards him), until the fateful day she meets Jeff at a coffee shop. Thus begins a romance that sweeps Genie off her feet, but soon becomes anything but simple. Finding herself unable to understand or control her over-indulgence in food, Genie is faced with a difficult path as she confronts past hurts and must make the ultimate decision about her relationship.

Nancy Goodman first had literary success with the self-help guide “It Was Food vs. Me...and I Won.” She cleverly uses the fiction novel as a means to reach out to a wider audience with her insightful message about conquering emotional eating. Ms. Goodman does a fantastic job at bringing the characters to life. Genie is so completely flawed, but it is understandable considering her past. She is written in such a way that the reader is able to empathize without being overwhelmed with pity. I found myself analyzing her and why she has her particular fears and need for control (the amateur Dr. Phil in me, for example, sees that a surprise party planner who doesn’t like surprises for herself and appears to have traits of OCD makes sense when considering that she likely wants to control her surroundings after experiencing a situation at such a young age where she had absolutely no control).

As supporting characters, I loved Stephen and Lori, who are welcome comic relief; I found myself laughing at so many of the things they say. I also loved Stephen’s blunt manner when calling Genie out on her “stuff.” I think we all could benefit from having someone like him in our lives. I enjoyed Genie and Jeff’s relationship at the beginning, but found it heartbreaking as it played out. I give my kudos to Ms. Goodman for her ability to take the reader along on the roller coaster ride. I was able to relate to Genie’s struggle in not wanting to end her relationship but also knowing that it was not necessarily healthy. I believe that most readers will be able to identify with this dilemma and therefore connect with Genie. The best characters, after all, tend to be the ones that you can see in yourself. As a final note, I knew who the surprise was for at the big reveal (I’m one of those people who revels in figuring these things out) but wasn’t sure who was planning it. I liked that I was surprised and felt satisfied by the way things turned out.

Overall, Ms. Goodman is an outstanding storyteller. My only issue is that I sometimes felt like I was being hit over the head with the message about learning to control emotional eating. I understand that this is an important issue that is close to Ms. Goodman’s heart, so I don’t want to sound disparaging. Sometimes, though, subtlety works best. I do hope that on her next fiction endeavour, Ms. Goodman does not put such an emphasis on this topic.

If you’re looking for a novel with realistic characters, an engaging story, and one that also sheds light on an issue so many women struggle with, this is the one for you. Happy reading!

"Surprise Me!" is currently available for $2.99 for Kindle.

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