Rating:

Reviewed by Leigh Adamkiewicz

As jaded lovers and post-romantic thinkers will tell you, Happily Ever After is dead. This is particularly evident when even wicked witches and handsome princes are ending up lonely and lurking in West Coast coffee shops.

Two of these hurtin’ romantic cowpokes are Mellie, Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, and Dave, Cinderella’s handsome prince. Having been dealt the double blow of bad luck and worse publicity, they’ve both escaped to L.A. to try to start again. Mellie has gone the more militant route, protesting at book fairs and trying to ban any book that discriminates against fictional blended families. Dave, though still charming, wonders why his true love abandoned him – and their two daughters – to focus on her Botox treatments.

Mellie and Dave meet by chance at a book fair, and they realize that they both have the same issues… and that neither one of them is hard on the eyes. They decide to meet at a coffee shop and begin to collaborate on a book. A book that will not only help them work through their issues, but also act as an excuse to get to know each other better.

Wickedly Charming is the literary equivalent of a nice little box of chocolates. It’s a marvelously fluffy delight, best enjoyed during a lazy Sunday afternoon. But I’d be lying by omission if I failed to mention that that sense of perfect escapism is periodically ruined by the odd toothpaste cup or crunchy frog lurking in its sweet landscape.

The beginning of the book is one of those toothpaste cups. I know that characters who are this recognizable need to be introduced in their new lives and the dynamics of “Their World VS Our World” need to be established quickly. But the way their first meeting went down at the book fair was a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment of the first water. It’s not a good sign when, as you are reading, you are coming up with other scenarios that would showcase Charming’s hidden scholarly nature and Mellie’s indignation of being typecast. Their first meeting was a tableau only made palatable because of the Twilight bashing. (I’m a sucker for Twilight bashing.)

[amazonify]1402248482[/amazonify]And a crunchy frog bonbon certainly pops up when the romantic payoff arrives. Maybe this is just the opinion of a romance novel novice, but when a girl sees a cover with an amazing set of abs, certain expectations get raised. Yet after pages and pages of finely crafted romantic tension, the payoff actually had me saying out loud, “Wait. That was it?” I can understand these two characters being so utterly destroyed by love that they would be hesitant to try again. But I’m confused when the author herself flees that tender scene like an internet pervert caught by Chris Hansen.

Does my bitching mean this is just another dime-store rag that can only be enjoyed when you’re making fun of it? Of course not. During their second meeting, when our heroes get together at a coffee shop to commiserate, I found myself getting excited to see what would happen next. Their discussion of living in the Real World pulled me in. It really felt like I was listening in on two people who were recovering from a fantastic situation turned sour. And as more and more of their respective damage was brought to light, I couldn’t help but start rooting for these two crazy kids.

And that feeling of wanting to see what happened next continued. Ms Grayson is a seasoned novelist, and her skill in many chapters was evident. The subplots all weave back expertly into the central plot. The reimaginings of other fairy tale characters like Cinderella’s blinded stepsister and Bluebeard were expertly done and their appearances far too short. And the prince’s beloved daughters are so utterly… well… charming, that when I closed the book I had the urge to babysit.

The unevenness of the subplots can be somewhat distracting, but for all the little bumps in the road Wickedly Charming was a delightful read. Sometimes – deep in the greasy, secret corridors of our brains – we find ourselves believing that the reason why we can’t find that special someone is because we’re not a fairy tale ideal. Seeing a story where even the archetypes can’t keep it together while flirting with each other is enjoyably cathartic.

Rating: 3/5

Leigh is a fearless writer who never met a genre, subject, or format she didn’t like. She has written professionally for the past six years and enjoys biking, exploring odd corners of Northeast Ohio, and discovering those good books she hasn’t read yet.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Casablanca. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.