Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Review: It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning
Title: It Felt Like a Kiss
Author: Sarra Manning
Rating: 4 Stars
I'm not sure why I'm surprised to have enjoyed this one so much. It Felt Like a Kiss is set in the same universe as Manning's Unsticky, one of my all-time favorite novels. Yet, despite having held tightly to a copy of this on my Kindle since its release, the mixed reviews have prevented me from diving in. I've enjoyed Manning's work in the past but with the exception of Unsticky, I haven't loved them. And, as a companion novel--of sorts--to Unsticky, I wanted to love It Felt Like a Kiss. Desperately.
Admittedly, I don't love It Felt Like a Kiss. But, by the end of it, I did really, really like it.
The weakest aspect of It Felt Like a Kiss is, unfortunately, the beginning. Unlike Unsticky, its plot doesn't take off running and, what's more, the narrative voice takes awhile to develop. Ellie Cohen, a young British girl working in Vaughn's office, finds the truth of her parentage leaked after a nasty breakup. Ellie's father, the famous rock star Billy Kay, has never acknowledged Ellie or her mother, Ari, all their life and now that Ellie has been outed as his illegitimate daughter, her entire life is upended. Unable to avoid the paparazzi, Ellie finds herself face-to-face with Billy's lawyer, David Gold. And although David and Ellie have a great deal of chemistry between them, there is the tiny little problem of David representing the interests of a man who has done his best to avoid Ellie for all of her life.
It Felt Like a Kiss truly begins only around a third into the story. While the beginning of the novel sets up the story, complete with the cast and Ellie's life prior to the truth of her parentage breaking loose, it doesn't get interesting until David truly enters the tale. Manning excels at writing romantic relationships. Her characters are complex and gritty and real to a fault which usually means that I wind up so wrapped up in their love story that I often don't sleep until the wee hours of the morning, utterly satisfied despite the fact that my heart has gone through the wringer. But, for Sarah Manning's romances, I'd do it all over again.
David is driven, focused, and ambitious. Willing to do anything that his job demands, he manages to be charming and aloof, considerate and cynical. With him, Ellie doesn't quite know where she stands and, as a girl whose entire life has been leaked to the media and who wears her heart on a sleeve, David is uncharted waters. In the past, Ellie has dated the "lame duck" guys; the ones who desperately need fixing. When Ellie finally realizes she's dating a loser and breaks up with them, however, they move on to become the best version of themselves, all thanks to Ellie's intervention. Thus, all the more reason David poses a terrifying choice for Ellie as he's a man she's attracted to but one who doesn't need fixing of any kind.
Watching David and Ellie dance around their attraction, the legal documentation between them, and, of course, their pasts, was more than just a little entertaining. David is enigmatic and inscrutable but as the novel progresses he becomes increasingly human. Their relationship isn't perfect and they're both than just a little bit flawed, but Manning makes us fall for them--and fall hard. She has a knack for painting men and relationships in the worst possible light yet, by the end, you're more than half in love with both.
Nevertheless, the strength of this novel lies within Ellie and her struggle to reconcile who she is in a world she has vastly underestimated. With the people around her acting in the worst possible way towards her, Ellie's position is difficult and empathetic. It's impossible not to fall in love with her and decide--firmly--to be on her side, no matter what. She's just one of those heroines. Moreover, her predicament brings up a fascinating array of questions about the media, publicity, and, what's more, the portrayal of women in the news. Ellie's outing isn't just a news headline; it's also an inspection of her body, of her sexual life, and of her character as a result. Because the paparazzi are stalking her, images of her in a bikini are leaked and, as a result, the headlines rate every body part Ellie has from her lips to her waist to her legs. Because her terrible ex-boyfriend lied about her to the press, Ellie's sexual escapades are released to the world and society judges her to be a "slut" and a "whore." Though Manning doesn't directly bring these issues under scrutiny, by bringing them up in her novel she draws attention to them nevertheless.
It Felt Like a Kiss isn't the best Manning has written, but it's gosh darn close. Just like I've come to expect from her, it's witty and charming, compulsively readable and wickedly swoony, all with unforgettable characters to boot. If you like the corporate slave turned passionate lover trope even half as much as I do, this is simply a must-read.