My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm torn between 3.5 and 4 stars for this book; the premise was very interesting (a mystery novel in which a mystery writer's story is narrated by his own character, who also accompanies him and interacts with him throughout the book) and I *adored* our protagonist, Daniel--he's amazingly sympathetic without being pathetic, interesting, and his ruminations on love are very insightful and moving. His devotion to his douchey (and yet, strangely well-fleshed-out and interesting) ex-boyfriend is really sweet and smacked of such truth that it didn't feel like just another strawman romance (you know--MC is pining for an awful ex just so that the new man/woman who is about to enter their life and win/heal their heart will be all the more awesome)--UP until the end, that is....
***MILD SPOILERS BELOW***
...when Tad (the ex) finally shows his hand and turns into this utterly one-dimensional, almost comedically villainous bad-guy character that is so one-note and soulless, I was nearly thrown out of my suspension of disbelief. If not for a novel's worth of strong writing and characterization, that mustache-twirling cartoon villain that Tad behaves like at the end of the story would have had me... well, no, I was too invested in the story and Daniel by this point to stop reading, but I do have to say that the "one-dimensional villain" character writing of a major character was sloppy and unworthy of this book.
Actually, truth be told, some of the minor characters suffered from this one-dimensionality as well. Granted, there was a good reason for them to be pretty stereotypical, but I won't mention it here because that's a MAJOR spoiler. But while I'll buy those characterizations from the various people who show up to cause mayhem for Daniel later in the book, the characterizations of the main charas (Daniel and Tad) were so strong and nuanced in the beginning of the novel that I couldn't buy Tad's end-of-book character.
Same thing for Van--he's just too perfect in every way. I know we don't get to spend too much time with him in a post-cabin setting, but his perfection, along with how utterly perfectly everything works out at the end feels a little... I dunno, self-indulgent? It wasn't that I didn't want Daniel to succeed and be happy and find that warmth and love he so richly deserved, it just... felt too much like an escapist/almost made-up "happy ending." I feel like, with the way the story began and how much there was really left unresolved between Daniel and Tad, and how very, VERY much Tad had to grow as a human being (and Daniel too--NOT going into "servant mode" around Tad would only do the bugger good), the ending we got which managed to dodge most of these issues, was kind of a cop out.
And yes, I do realize I keep whining about Tad (oddly enough, I DID like him despite his many horrible actions and shortcomings--the author's characterization of him in the first half of the novel made him a deeply flawed but amazingly nuanced, interesting, 3-dimensional character for whom SUCH a rich growth arc would've been possible), because story-wise, I feel like the *real* hard work and emotional climax the novel should have undertaken at the three-quarter mark was some crisis event that would cause both Tad and Daniel to reevaluate and change themselves, and hopefully reconcile as wiser, more mutually appreciative lovers (or even just friends). Instead, the book's climax is just the climax of the slapstick action plotline... which wasn't bad, I guess (the reveal was definitely interesting), but because Daniel was dealing with (intentionally) one-dimensional, forgettable/can't-take-them-seriously minor characters in that conflict, rather than the REAL antagonist (Tad), it didn't have the kind of soaring emotional stakes it could've had.
Speaking of emotional stakes--Van is nice, but c'mon, we JUST met him. And all he even did was be attractive-looking and listen to Daniel's tragic history sympathetically. We don't know him well enough to care that much about his possible betrayal, whatever Daniel says. It's a huge difference between the "tell" of Van and the "show" that the first half of the book did with Tad and his honeysuckle anniversary surprise, and the melting-at-Daniel's-lost-puppy-look thing, and so on--you can see for yourself (rather than just being told by Daniel) how precious he was/is to him, and how high the stakes of losing his love forever were.
So, because I'm just rambling at this point, I'll stop myself and let it suffice to say that I started this novel with such relish and high hopes--there was such strong writing, conflict, and characters, it could have been literary GOLD. What we ended up getting was a fun and clever novel with a fairly satisfying conclusion. But it could have been a *devastatingly powerful* novel with a *supremely* satisfying conclusion, and I guess that's where my grumbling comes from. I still loved Daniel and Ace and Carmen and (first-half-of-the-novel)Tad and will remember them for quite some time. But I guess I really wanted just a little bit more...
That said, this was a fantastically written, fun, humorous romp with a neat twist and all the hot guy-on-guy action and romance a girl could ask for, plus a cast of very lovable characters. I know I didn't really touch on Ace and the others, but the affection between Daniel and his imaginary friends is adorable, and just in general, the feeling and knowledge of love among this cast of characters was heart-warming and lovely to read. Despite my grumbles, I really do highly recommend this very enjoyable and well-written book.
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