It is amazing how many romance novels end up in the bargain sections in book stores. The romance novels are mainly ones that have no plot and can be incredibly sensual as the story progresses. Basically, these are the stories readers, mainly women, go to for a cheap, steamy read for a quiet afternoon. However, there can be a rare romantic find in this same bargain section where the book has, dare we say, a plot. One such rare find is Elizabeth Maxwell’s Happily Ever After.
Divorced, a single mom, and nearing fifty years of age, Sadie Fuller is a romance writer who is known for incredibly sensual romance novels. Though her characters can have sex just about anywhere in her novels, Sadie’s sex life is not one she uses in her own stories. While writing her most recent manuscript, Stolen Secrets, a chapter magically appears written by an invisible hand and featuring a character she can’t remember having created. Shortly after this discovery, she runs into a man at Target who strangely resembles her main male character. Is she having a mid-life crisis or are the characters of her story finding their way to her world?
What starts out as a sensual romance book turns into a somewhat cliché, but surprisingly fun story. It is not the best romance novel ever written nor is it the worst: it is a pleasant one-time read if one is bored or looking for mild entertainment. As its title entails, Happily Ever After reads kind of like a fairy tale, focusing less on the fantasy aspect of these tales and more on the “true love is the most powerful magic of all” aspect. The “true love” aspect does make the story cliché, but cute and this mixed with the less fantasy-like characters makes the story read like Enchanted mixed with Stranger Than Fiction.
What gives this romance novel major brownie points is the fact that is actually has… wait for it… a plot. What gives it even more brownie points is that Maxwell’s character also mentions that, while writing her romance novels, even with all of the steamy sex scenes, there needs to be a plot. Stories, no matter the genre, need to have a plot and to read that is like a breath of fresh air for hardcore readers. Maxwell does something unusual for a romance: she puts the few sensual scenes she has in the first few chapters of the book and, surprisingly enough, these scenes take place in Maxwell’s main character’s novel. After those first few chapters, those scenes are over, opening the story up for more plot and development.
Sadie Fuller is, perhaps, the best character in the book. She is a normal woman: curvy and fairly confident in herself; though attracted to her male character, she does not fall in love with him; has panic attacks from stress; is not a damsel and is more take charge; divorced because her husband is gay; and has an eleven year old daughter who is not a rebellious, snot-nose preteen. She is the complete opposite of any other female lead in romance novels and that is refreshing to read. Sadie is also a true writer and any writer reading Happily Ever After would be able to tell: she has notes written for story ideas on pieces of paper ranging from restaurant napkins to flyers she finds on the street; she speaks truthfully that writers have the talent to write certain genres, but no writer can write something for every type of genre; and she refers to various forms of great literature such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby, and Wuthering Heights.
If anything, aside from the cliché and, at times, cheesy bits of storytelling, the main things that needed more development were, ironically enough, Sadie’s characters, Aidan and Lily. Maxwell had Sadie only get three chapters into Stolen Secrets and it would have been more fascinating for readers to learn more about Aidan and Lily with more chapters of Stolen Secrets before they came to the real world to really learn what their characters were like. Of course, readers learn more about these characters when they tell their backstories to Sadie, but it takes a while for these stories to be revealed. What was unusual is, when Sadie first meets Aidan and Lily, the two characters are the complete opposite of what one would expect: Aidan is not the romantic hero and Lily is a true independent 21st century working woman.
With a cliché, yet fun plot, a couple of pleasantly surprising twists, and realistic characters, Happily Ever After is an entertaining one-time read. For a romance novel, it is definitely more enjoyable than other novels of the genre, but there is still the cheese of stereotypical romances lurking within its pages. Most of the story is predictable and one will find similarities to, as aforementioned, Enchanted and Stranger Than Fiction; however, it is still entertaining. If one is looking for a cheap, more realistic romance novel with not so many sensual scenes in the bargain section, Happily Ever After would make a nice companion for a quiet afternoon.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on November 4, 2015.