Maxfield Sinclair, the author of a popular science fiction series, is revered by fans everywhere as "The Creator." Drew Cooper, a snobbish literature professor, isn’t impressed with Max’s books, or with Max himself, for that matter. As Drew gets to know Max, however, she realizes there’s more to the shy, awkward writer than meets the eye. But can a woman who enjoys escargot and caviar fall in love with a guy who thinks fine cuisine means supreme instead of pepperoni?
Wendy: Depending on who you ask, e-books are either an emerging powerhouse—the first advancement for the written word since Guttenberg—or, they are the death blow of bound material. Given that the sales figures and projections floating around in the wake of BEA point to a bright and solid future for bound books, the latter seems unlikely. The format is, however, continuing to build a case for its long term survival.
Ellen Fisher’s contemporary romance ebook release, All I Ever Wanted, is an opposites-attract love story with murder and mayhem thrown in for good measure.
The hero, sci-fi writer Maxfield Sinclair, is quite unique in the world of romance: he lacks the obligatory romance hero confidence and ego. Ms. Fisher doesn’t pay lip service to this idea but actually paints Max to be socially inept: he is too shy to strike up conversations with strangers, he is lonely, his only meaningful interaction is with his mother, who, for the bulk of the story, lives with him. He’s even sexually passive, allowing the heroine to initiate and dominate their sex play.
The heroine, Dr. Drew Cooper, isn’t quite so unique. She is a beautiful woman who hates men because they find her attractive. When their mother died six years ago, Drew was forced to care for her teenage sister, Tiffani with-an-i. Drew is so intelligent and so advanced that not only is she a college professor, but she entered college at fifteen, loves classical music, French food, and hates anything that panders to the lowest common denominator (like say, a sci-fi novelist) . But, throughout the course of the book, Drew makes assumptions and decisions that belie this intelligence. She assumes that Max is a skirt chaser — despite the lack of evidence — and in an effort to protect her kid sister, she controls and smothers the girl.
Ms. Fisher keeps her characters in conflict and weaves the threat of menace into their storylines, but on the whole the lack of a ticking clock undermines the story’s cohesion. The first half of the work reads like a collection of somewhat related scenes, but fails to gel largely because the sense of the author’s hand moving chess pieces around a board is never lost.
That is not to say that All I Ever Wanted is without charm. There are flashes of humor, as when Drew sticks her foot in her mouth upon meeting Max: Drew hadn’t felt her cheeks grow so hot since she was fourteen and a tampon dropped out of her purse in the middle of algebra. The love scenes, while not overly graphic, are steamy. And, there is a look at the minutia of romance character’s lives we don’t usually see, as when Drew ponders how she smells and tastes after a day without a shower or toothbrush.
Ms. Fisher is a careful writer, though perhaps too careful as the narrative and storytelling suffer from a lack of risk taking. In the end the novel is hamstrung by its pedestrian middle-of-the-roadness. There isn’t the opportunity to glory in the work’s success or revel in its failures because the risk to accomplish either is never taken.
HelenKay: Many folks argue that e-books are inferior to books sold in traditional brick and mortar stores, as if a book needs a building, windows, clerks and cash registers to be legitimate. The quality problems here were less about writing and more about simple editing issues, such as obvious misspellings and an overuse of adverbs at the beginning of the book.
The general premise of All I Ever Wanted can be described as beauty and the nerd. Drew is a literature professor trapped in the body of a playboy centerfold. She spends her day being overprotective of her sister, who is 22 years old, condescending to her students and running from her smarmy ex-boyfriend. She juggles many responsibilities and shuns any relationship with the potential to grow into anything meaningful. Enter Max. Fisher sets up Max as a nerd with a heart of gold and a face of a god. He’s the guy you made fun of in high school who is now the millionaire trumpeted as a genius on the front page of the newspaper. He is the classic beta with the ability to protect the woman he loves.
Fisher writes with an easy charm that makes a reader smile. She does not go for big laughs or slapstick but, instead, enjoys her characters and brings the rest of us along for the ride. Where this book falters is in trying to do too much. All I Ever Wanted is part comedy, part suspense and part fairytale. In trying to put this together in one single title, some of the characters end up lacking depth. Specifically, the secondary characters feel too peripheral. One of the main players, Drew’s sister, suffers from a level of immaturity throughout the first part of the book that borders on unrealistic. Her crush on Max is a storyline that doesn’t feel new. Fisher redeems her near the end but too much of the book has passed for the reader to be invested in her.
Drew is much more interesting but not consistent. Her feelings toward Max change numerous times during the book without any real understanding as to why this is happening. Max is solid and decent. His only sin in Drew’s eyes appears to be his career choice as a science fiction writer. This is not enough to push them apart in a believable way, not when everything about Max is likable, non-judgmental and grounded.
In the bedroom, Fisher builds the sexual tension and steps back and lets Drew take the lead without destroying Max’s hero essence. The by-play is steamy, but not highly graphic as the publisher’s website suggests. The one concern in this area is the limited sexual history Fisher sets up for Max. After a disastrous relationship Max enters into an eight year drought of any form of sexual or dating interaction. While this works to one extent with his nerd persona, it is hard to fathom since Max falls for Drew so hard and so fast. The idea that he hadn’t felt this pulling and tugging or even an urge to date in eight years is difficult to imagine.
In the end, the negative of All I Ever Wanted is in its attempt offer something for every interest. The series of subplots keep the pages turning at a good pace but don’t always feel fresh. Fisher’s delightful style, sweet yet scarred hero and gift for storytelling shine through. This is an engaging read but one is left with the impression that Fisher’s writing and enjoyable style would be stronger with a different story.
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: Max is a different kind of hero. He is subtle and charming with little sexual history. Although I usually prefer an alpha hero with more of a take-charge attitude, Max worked for me. Did you find the beta hero compelling and sexy enough to carry his part of the story?
Wendy’s response to HelenKay: My initial reaction to Max was mixed. When we first see him at the convention, he gets up in Drew’s face and tells her what he thinks, then he saves her and her niece from the bullets whizzing by. From that, I expected him to toe the Alpha line. But, a bit later, when we see him at Drew and Tiffani’s party, he’s, well, a misfit. Part shy boy, part inexperienced teenager asking out a girl for the first time. I admire that Ellen didn’t take the well traveled path with Max; he is neither playboy, nor is he The Great Oz with a booming voice to hide his shortcomings. Ellen repeatedly zigged with Max when I thought she would zag. For example: his sexual history. Even after showing us time and again Max isn’t a cookie cutter hero, I expected—despite his long abstinence, which, by the way, didn’t ring true for me either—that Max would be the sexual god that all heroes are. But, he wasn’t. He was Quick Draw McGraw when he and Drew finally have sex. Max takes on the traditionally female role in his sexual encounters with Drew: he’s shy to undress, he’s stunned by oral sex, he’s sure he’s a bad lover. I enjoyed Max as a change of pace; I always love to read something in romance that I haven’t read before, or have seen very little of.
Grade from Wendy: B- I’d love to read more of Ellen Fisher’s work. All I Ever Wanted left me with the impression that the extent of her potential hasn’t yet come to fruition.
Grade from HelenKay: The hero and the story have potential but don’t quite achieve the promise of Fisher’s strong writing. I give it a B-. As for Aunt Gertie, she’ll like Max’s old-fashioned charm and can always close her eyes through the sex scenes.