It is with a heavy heart that I must announce I have underestimated Paige Toon.
Before I went to an event at Waterstones Piccadilly a few weeks ago with her, Holly Bourne, Rachael Lucas and Tamsyn Murray, I’d – obviously! – heard of her books, but I hadn’t bought or read any of them. I got copies of books by all of those authors that day and this was the first out of the four that I picked up. And God, I loved it. I was expecting to like it but somehow I didn’t know that I would love it. I thought it would be a relatively generic romance (although I don’t know why I thought that!! Stupidity, I guess?), but it was a lot more than that. It was a sunshine-ray of a book, and completely charming.
There is something to be said about a book that is intensely enjoyable the whole way through. I thought it was an incredibly successful novel. Some of the time I barely noticed I was reading – the writing was simple and lovely, and it was paced absolutely perfectly. If anyone ever needs to pick apart a novel to somehow calculate an algorithm for how to pace a book exactly correctly, this would be a great choice. I was never bored, I always looked forward to picking up this book again when I wasn’t reading it, and there were points when I was reading it in public that I almost had to shove my fist in my mouth to stop myself shrieking loudly about the romantic tension between Charlie and Bridget (page 198 was the point at which I had to shove it back in my bag because it made my heart Actually Lurch and my face started to do strange things). It was just so delicious to read. The last few weeks have been a strange combination of really great and staggeringly shit for me and my mind has been totally full of crap most of the time, so this book was exactly what I needed to read.
Anyway! The plot. Everyone has a few plotlines that twang on their specific heartstrings, and I think this was the sort of plot that’s pretty much tailor made for me. (You know, we all have the tropes we love. For me: pretending to be dating and then actually falling in love! Suddenly having to take care of a kid! That sort of thing.) Anyway, dishy widower, travel writer, cute kid, falling into a family and finding your place in it (does that count as found family?) – God. Paige Toon knew what I, me, I specifically, wanted to read, and bless her, she wrote it. There was warmth and love and people treating each other well because they were decent kind human beings, and genuine pain at times that people worked their way through in a relatively healthy way, and no drama for the sake of drama. Bridget was recognisable as someone you would want to be friends with, or at least someone who all of us has met once upon a time. Nicole felt like a real person and the glimpses we got of her were great – she wasn’t the perfect angel dead wife, she was just human, and loved and missed. And I liked the way that April was written. Some children in fiction are obnoxious, but April was adorable. All the side characters were fab and well drawn too.
Was it formulaic? I mean, maybe. Kind of. It followed that incredibly reassuring plot structure that a lot of romance novels have – the slight frostiness to start with, the slow burn, the frisson, the crush, the sex, the spanner in the works, the happy ending. But no one reads a book like this for a plot twist – you read it because you want to feel happy. The key to a successful romance is falling in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other, and I absolutely did that here. Bridget was so bright and lively and engaging, and Charlie was such a great hero. A little broken but not completely, and vulnerable but strong, and also kind of sulky? Which I liked, because it made him more imperfect, yet it wasn’t the sort of personality trait that seems very red flag-ish, which has been the case with some heroes I’ve read about. Instead he disappeared into his head sometimes and Bridget was fine with it. These two characters treated each other well, and when they didn’t, they apologised for it. There’s something joyful about reading about two well-drawn characters with missing pieces who find what they needed in each other. It was sweet and lovely to read about how happy they made each other. I’m looking forward to buying and reading the rest of Paige Toon’s books.