Magic Treadmills and Raspberry Scones: A Review of Craving Perfect by Liz Fichera

Photo from Carina Press

From the publisher: A Life Less…Hers

Grace Mills craves being perfect almost as much as she craves raspberry scones. In fact, her life would be perfect if only she could lose ten more pounds, if only the pastry café she co-owns with her sister would turn a profit, if only the hottest guy at the gym would look her way…

And then “if only” comes true. Grace is suddenly straddling two lives: an alternate reality where she’s a size two, weathergirl celebrity and being chased by the hot guy.

I’ll rate this book the way the girls in my book club (and the ladies of my favorite review site, SmartBitchesTrashyBooks) do it: with an A-F grading system. This system also appeals to my former English teacher soul.

I have to give Craving Perfect a C. The three main reasons for this include:

  • The fact that it never became a must-finish for me. There was never a moment in the book where I had to read more, needed to learn what happened next – the book just never rose to that level, even at its climax. One of the main reasons for this was heavy handed foreshadowing – by page fifteen I knew what the ending would be – and I was right.
  • The disappointing performance of the heroine. I am fond of a self-deprecating heroine; but this girl’s attitude was extreme to the point of pathetic. Before the end of the first chapter I was grinding my teeth in irritation. It’s one thing to long for a better bod, or to lust after a cute guy at the gym. However, the heroine fantasizes about the cute guy to such an extreme that it is off-putting. Not to mention his behavior makes it clear that he’s an a-hole. Her poor judgement makes it very hard for me to trust any choices she makes, or put credence in who she is as a person.
  • The “vehicle” in which the plot of the story gets delivered. I do not want to include spoilers without warning, so I’ll go into detail below, but let me say that I did not appreciate the method Grace achieves her “dream reality” nor the way it gets played out. I felt it caused awkward plot jumps and led to insufficient character building. I also think the author jumped ship on her own plot device, leaving it clunky and disjointed.

Ok – so by starting out as such a negative Nancy you may be wondering why a C? Why not a D or worse? Well, the book had enjoyable moments as well. Let me be fair and present three positive counter points:

  • The author has a nice handle on dialogue. Overall I felt the characters spoke to each other in a natural cadence, and their internal dialogues expressed conflict without sounding trite.
  • The concept of the book itself: suddenly getting everything you always thought you wanted and realizing it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, is a trope I have enjoyed ever since reading Wishes by Jude Deveraux when I was a junior high girl who would love for some guardian angel to make my dreams come true. Having those dreams fulfilled and then discovering you were better off as the person you already are is heartening.
  • The romance between the hero and the heroine works. I have some issues with how the romance develops (mainly the pacing of it) – but Fichera builds a relationship between the h/h I believed, and had me cheering for them. Sometimes it can be hard to build romance in a contemporary setting, but I think the author wrote some lovely moments that were enjoyable to read. The author does a nice job setting up their attraction…plus, what’s not to love about a hero who finds an average “real” woman sexy?

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Craving Perfect with intent to review. Thanks to the author for allowing me the chance to read it and honestly express my views. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own (that’s what the “IMO” stands for). I am a nit-picky reader with plenty of hang-ups, and many people adored this book; so don’t just take my word for it, go read it!

Check out more reviews of Craving Perfect on GoodReads

Craving Perfect is available from Carina Press, and from now until July 31st you can save 20%.

For more (including spoilers) keep reading:

At first glance I was excited to read Grace’s story. I mean, from the get-go there is so much about this girl to empathize with: the need to lose some weight, the struggle to keep a business she loves afloat, the longing for that perfect life that you just never think you’ll have. But as I mentioned earlier, my empathy quickly turned to frustration. Grace feels bad about her body, something I, and many other women, can relate to.  She is attracted to a muscled hottie, which again, we can relate to. The problem is the degree to which Grace invests herself in said hottie: her actions are juvenile and pathetic. For example,  at one point he elbows her in the ear and she “couldn’t stop thinking about it, analyzing it, replaying it in my mind.” Such behavior might be expected from a 12 year old with her first crush…not a woman in her twenties. The author also clearly paints Grace’s object of desire (Max) as a total jerk. From snatching the last clean towel away from her (after giving her that elbow in the ear) to calling her a chubby chick he’d never touch, Max is Grade A Beefcake. And the “A” is for asshole. I understand that the heroine should not be perfect – she needs room to grow, lessons to learn…realities to face. I just felt that Grace was so far out of touch with reality and her radar on men so off base that there just wasn’t enough time in the novel for her emotional compass to adjust. Especially considering the fact that even by the middle of the book Grace still hasn’t shown evidence of “figuring things out” as demonstrated by the following:

  • After Grace and Carlos (our hero) spend a lovely evening together and have a wonderful date that is starting to lead to something more, he even tells her he is falling in love with her, at the mere mention of Meatball Max Grace’s thoughts turn completely to him,  despite the fact she and Carlos were in the middle of some heated foreplay. Clearly she hasn’t moved past her infatuation yet and is nowhere near to feeling the emotional connection that Carlos is – which is one of the reasons I find her revelations of love later in the book to ring hollow, even more so when you consider that  – stuff that happens only in Grace’s mind aside – the two moments are consecutive.
  • After her first bout as “Callie” Grace’s alternate perfect ego, Grace leaves Callie a note saying that she thinks Max really loves her.  How Grace inferred that from his selfish controlling attitude, barely contained impatience, and outright pre-occupation with Callie’s body…I don’t know. Again, clearly she hasn’t figured out what true love is made of or what it looks like. Yet somehow, a knock on the head and a few coma induced dreams later, she gets it.
  • The fact that it takes a knock on the head, figuratively as well as literally, for Grace to realize just what a jerk Max is really bothered me. Aside from general a-hole behavior, Max has to nearly rape Grace-turned-Callie, snort cocaine, and screw Callie’s best friend…in Callie’s bed. After all that she finally gets the hint that all that glitters isn’t gold.  I could have maintained a lot more respect for Grace if she figured this out with a few less, um, hints.

The second thing I took issue with was Grace’s overall performance. Aside from the misguided attraction, the way she handles the situation with her sister and their business is far from admirable. Again, room for the heroine to grow and change and all that – and in fact, I feel this situation is handled better than the romance.  Grace acknowledges she is being selfish and we have more time in Grace’s head as she struggles to decide how to deal with her sister than almost anything else in the book. I feel Grace’s connection to the diner/cafe and her difficulty separating from her sister is the more centralized conflict.  A conflict I found hard to stress over – for as I said, from page 15 – when Carlos muses about his sister and how her big dream is to own her own restaurant – I thought, “How convenient! Carlos and Grace will fall in love and the sister and Grace can run the cafe together and everyone will live happily ever after. She can even make those sopapillas and Grace can make scones (I am so not kidding, that is exactly what I thought when the sister made Grace a batch of ’em).  I didn’t see the new name of the cafe coming, but still.

I’m having a hard time clearly articulating the problems I had with the plot device of the “magic treadmill.” On one hand, I love it – what a clever idea! Get me on one of those things  😉 But the author can’t seem to settle on what she wants this device to be exactly. It turns out the treadmill isn’t “magic,” Grace just keeps falling off of it and knocking herself out (side note – just how out of shape was this girl that running a 6 on the treadmill had her nearly blacking out?) So a great deal of the book is actually not really happening. The hallucination trope is one I am not fond of. I think it’s an easy way out for a writer, an escape hatch. Go ahead and make the treadmill magic – why not? Sure that would be un-realistic, but this is fiction after all. Making it all a “dream” takes away from the validity of Grace(Callie)’s experiences – a critical issue since much of her “growth” comes during those dreams. The books ends with a rather extended epilogue, something I think the author felt was necessary because there really wasn’t enough “screen time” between the h/h  – so she had to throw a bit more in at the end. Also, if all this really did just happen in Grace’s mind – then why the bit with the real “Callie” arriving on the scene? Again, I feel like the author couldn’t decide which direction she wanted to go with the whole “real vs. imaginary” thing, so she tried to present both…leaving it weaker and muddied. The timeline during Grace’s life as Callie is confusing – at moments she talks as if she has been Callie for months on end, yet looking closely it is really only a few days. Sure, one can chalk it up to being all a dream and avoid having to straighten it out or have it make sense, as I said – escape hatch. And on the subject of alternate realities – I get that if there is no Grace, then her parents can still be alive, etc – but why has Carlos changed so much? What does having him be less than who he is in the real world do to forward the story?I also would have liked to see Grace struggle with her decision to “go back”  – exchanging Callie for Grace means going back to a world in which her parents are gone. Of course she needs to make that choice, but I felt she should  have felt a little more angst about it. Maybe I’m just an angsty person.

I guess in the end, I would have preferred a bit more fantasy and had the treadmill truly be magic – if only so Grace’s experiences could be grounded in reality. Does that make sense?

 

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