Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: On The Plus Side by Tabatha Vargo

I'm usually not conflicted when I write a review. Either I liked a book, I didn't, or I liked it but felt there are ways it could have been better. In the interests of being totally honest, I'm gonna spell this out for all of you up front: I can't decide how I feel about On The Plus Side as far as "Liked" or "Didn't Like". Instead, I want to say that this is a story that had some serious potential and that I wish I was critiquing and not reviewing, because a lot of my problems here--not ALL, but *many*--are things that could have, with time and effort, been vastly improved.

I'm always concerned whether my musings on books come across more as reviews or (pointless, since the thing is out in the wild) critiques, and I am more genuinely concerned *here* then ever. But I suppose I cannot have that stop me from telling you all what I thought about On The Plus Side, because as a reader, write *and* plus sized woman, I have a lot to say.

(Summary from GoodReads)
Big girls need love, too, but at what cost?

Lilly is loaded, not only with money, but with weight. Both things she could do without. But even with her undesired millionaire status, she doesn’t hold on to false hopes of finding true love. So when a sexy stranger comes into her life dripping with seduction, she finds it hard to resist. The bigger they are the harder they fall and Lilly falls straight through the floor in love with Mr. Sexy. Too bad he’s there for all the wrong reasons.

The chance of losing it all will make you do some crazy things and Devin’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his life together. All seems lost when out of nowhere he’s approached by a Millionaire Momma with an offer he can’t refuse. But even a womanizer like Devin has a heart and when the short, chunky girl with the carefree attitude breaks through his icy façade, he finds that losing everything takes on a whole new meaning.

Okay, first the good. I thought that this book had a fantastic premise, and that on a large scale front that Tabatha did a good job of carrying that premise. It's not often that we get a story about a plus sized character (always welcome, in my opinion). Unfortunately, it's even less often that we get a story about such a character where their fatness does not end up becoming a character within itself (or replaces entirely the character the author was trying to create.) It's one of those things where it's great if you nail it but it can be bad when you don't and unfortunately, for me, the execution and the premise did not line up. 

Yet in regard to the plot (I'll get to characters in the next section) the problems that held me back from truly enjoying this story were bad editing and writing technique that could have easily been improved:

1. Do not mix past and present tense within a POV (without at least some type of indication), let alone within a paragraph, please.

2. Exclamation marks are like pepper--use them with caution. 

3. When people say "tell me a story" they usually don't mean it in quite as literal a sense as is presented here. 

The first two are mildly annoying and could perhaps be overlooked. It's the third that drove the nails into the coffin. So many important things were told to me during this book rather then shown to me. We often get the same situation from both Devin and Lilly's POVs (one per chapter) with them thinking us through what's going on rather then truly living it. I've noticed this in small chunks in books before. And I know that sometimes doing this can be completely legitimate. But when I'm sitting here and telling you that at least 40% of the novel (and I'm being cautious with that number) is presented in this way, I think the majority of you will understand why I'm labeling this as a serious problem. I do not normally review the presentation and writing *style* of the books I read--I feel that as a fellow writer that's a little nosy and perhaps even spiteful?--but in this case it was such a large part of what hindered my enjoyment of the novel that this review would not make sense without talking about it. 

Okay, look: I read the sample for this before I bought it. So I had to have been something I liked. I still don't totally know what happened, but I'll try my best to explain since as a reader this is where my trouble really came in. You see, I don't overly believe that characters can or should be different then how an author portrays them--if I feel anything, be it good or bad, something was done right. 

Lilly... I truly want to believe there was an interesting, decent and memorable heroine somewhere within that I was suppose to be rooting for. You broke my heart, but it was for all the wrong reasons. You compared yourself to: a car and a beached whale. You used your weight as a crutch to lean on and hide behind, and yet (in what I think was suppose to show strength, oddly) never wanted to change what you were.

Here's the thing, honey: if you had been happy with yourself to any degree, *believably happy*, that would be a true revelation. Because it is fully possible to be happy with your appearance, even as a size 20. But your self abuse, often meant to come off as humor, came off as someone who needed some serious help to me. I'm not sure if I want to go so far as to say you need help, or whether I just want to say the lengths you went to made you unbelievable to me. What I will say is this: your mother 'won' the real battle-that for your worth-long before a reader ever showed up. And I just didn't see enough improvement in you *inside*, where it truly matters, to change my opinion on this. 

As for Devin, his continued inability to make a decision, combined with the fact that so much of the story was both summarized and repeated, kept him from being overly memorable or likable as the book went on. I was intrigued at the premise initially and I *got* that he was conflicted. But the continued back and forth confliction throughout the novel, and the fact that most of the time I wasn't any more certain where he was coming from than Lilly was, didn't do him any favors. 

I did genuinely like Devin's little sister, Jenny. It could not have been easy to grow up without a mom, and even coming from the family I did (which is a pretty standard one) I enjoyed getting to know her and empathized with her tomboy-ish ways. I think a lot of that may have to do with having brothers rather than sisters, personally, but the point remains that her character was great. 

Here's the thing: If I don't like the leads alone, I'm probably not gonna like them together. That was definitely the case here.

When this gets added to the problems I described within "plot", which admittedly were largely structural, this only became more amplified. Because I was told about the characters, rather than truly meeting them, connecting their attraction toward each other, and its growth from the beginning of the novel to the end, felt distanced in a way that it really shouldn't have. 

I really wanted to like On The Plus Side, and from reading the sample I was confident that I would. But as sometimes happens, this novel had problems that blocked it from living up to my expectations. I don't want to say "OMG, don't read this!", because there is something genuinely worth reading within these pages. I do want to say, however, that whatever message Tabatha Vargo was trying to get across likely would have been successful had a bit more feedback been received and editing time been given. 


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