ARC provided by Harlequin via NetGalley.
How do you learn to love again?
In one tragic moment, Holly Jefferson’s life as she knows it changes for ever. Now to the external world, at least she s finally getting back on her feet, running her business, Cake. Then she meets Ciaran Argyll.
His rich and charmed life feels a million miles from her own. However, there s more to Ciaran than the superficial world that surrounds him, and he too is wrestling with his own ghosts. Will Holly find the missing ingredient that allows her to live again and embrace an unknown and unexpected tomorrow? — Goodreads Description
I’ll kick right off with the one thing that made me request this book on Netgalley: The gorgeous cover. It immediately caught my eye and I adore it so so much. The blue background, the cakes, the title font and position… it just makes for such a gorgeous composition! (Though I have to say that the original UK cover from 2013 is lovely too. That one would fit right in with my Lucy-Anne Holmes books!)
There’s a lot of talk about various cakes in the beginning, and though I would’ve enjoyed more details about the cakes, I really liked that! Cake! The world needs more cake. Holly, the main character, bakes cakes on commission and that’s how she meets Ciaran after all. No epic love story between those two without the cake, yo. Or story of facepalm-inducing awkwardness, because that’s what happens. Really, Holly is so socially inept, it’s a miracle that they even have customers? But it’s awfully funny, too, because as a reader you just know that occasionally the love interest will overhear the stupid things that come out of the MC’s mouth and it made me giggle like a fool.
I also giggled like a fool every time Ciaran did something awfully sweet. Boy, that man would do anything for Holly, and it makes me swoon a little, no lie. And giggle. Lots of giggling. I’m silly like that.
Of course there are also things I wasn’t too fond of. There’s minor writing things like grammar issues and strange formatting (only an issue with my digital ARC file, I am sure), especially where there could be ligatures on actual paper (i.e. every time there was an “fl” in a word, there’d be a space between the f and the l in my ARC), but I got used to that quickly and just ignored it. No need to nitpick about that, considering that it’s not the finished copy.
Another thing that might make other readers skip this book is the predictability. It’s extremely predictable. I didn’t mind so much because, quite frankly, if I request chicklit I expect to be served just that. I actually quite enjoy formulaic prose like this. There’s all kinds of ~deep~ fiction out there, loads of action-y and political stuff in dystopian novels, your typical love triangles in YA, etc., but sometimes I just want to read something cute that will make me happy in the end and make me giggle and that’s when I turn to chicklit. No shame in the predictability of that.
What bothered me more in regards to the writing was that the author kept beating around the bush on some issues where it was really unnecessary. Like, really, if you’re going to have one of your characters let out some swearwords, don’t mince them down? Using “mutha-funkin'” only makes it look ridiculous because everyone knows what that character is actually saying, so why not just write it down like that. Nobody says mutha-funkin’. Nobody. Similarly, if you’re going to give your readers some sexy bits (yay, sexy bits! I was pleasantly surprised!) don’t turn it into an innocent mystery that makes one question what exactly it is that is ~down there~.
Though maybe that’s just how Holly’s POV works. Which is a shame. Truly, if the book had been written from Ciaran’s POV or even from a 3rd person perspective, I might have enjoyed it more than I did, because Holly is incredibly infuriating as a character. I adored a lot of the secondary characters, especially the ones that have a connection to Ciaran or build one to him; there’s Mary, Mrs Hedley, Fergal, Toby… I adored them! They were a great secondary cast and gave the book an extra kick. Not so much on Holly’s side. You see, Holly doesn’t seem to have any friends at all aside from her colleague and her sister? And as far as those went… I couldn’t get a handle on Jesse at all, he was all over the place, and Martha was possibly even more infuriating than Holly.
My biggest issue with Holly, however, is that she has no agency. At all. And everything she does is just a reaction to what others do. For instance, Charlie and Holly’s past with him and Charlie’s own individual past? I understand why the bigger bits of that can’t be changed, but I really did not care at all about his oh so tragic childhood or his oh so noble plans to do whatever it is he wanted to do because it was really irrelevant to the story. Charlie was just a plot device for Holly’s character, to give her a past and some issues, but it wasn’t much more than that. Sure, without Charlie the book couldn’t exist the way it does since he’s crucial to the premise, but it was often overdone and unnecessary. But it’s not just Charlie, it’s also with the other characters. Jesse suggests a thing to her, she reacts; Martha suggests a thing to her, she reacts; her neighbour tells her a thing, she reacts; Ciaran does something for her, she reacts. She never seems to make the first step in any of her decisions.
Then there’s Holly’s continued issues with herself. They’re understandable and even expected, but you’d think that at 95% on my Kindle she’d eventually stop running away from Ciaran. It goes like this: Ciaran tries to impress Holly, Holly squeaks and runs away. Ciaran tries to apologise for his privileged lifestyle, Holly judges him and runs away. Ciaran continues to woo her and somehow magically succeeds (congrats, buddy, Holly had a sane moment!), but afterwards when he’s gone — because, you know, poor guy has a life too — Holly wallows in self-doubt and moreover keeps ascribing traits and flaws to him that are out of this world. The guy clearly adores you, Holly, why do you keep insisting that you’re just a one-off for him? Especially when he keeps coming back?! He doesn’t deserve to be treated that way, really.
Enough with the ranting, though, because, yeah, there were a lot of things that bugged me, but I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t liked it. Honestly, Since You’ve Been Gone has a lot of ups and downs but I enjoyed it all the same. It’ll be out in the US on July 29th and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some light women’s fiction who won’t mind the predictable bits.