I don’t read a lot of romance novels or chick lit (a term I still find moderately useful to describe contemporary comic romances), but sometimes I do get a craving, and it’s nice to know which authors are reliable. So when I read this terrific post at Vulpes Libris about what too often goes wrong in chick lit, I made notes of the authors recommended so that I might have some ideas of who besides Jennifer Weiner I might want to read when I have a yen for romance.
One of the authors mentioned was Kate Lace, a UK author whose books aren’t widely available in the US. I managed to mooch a copy of her first book, The Chalet Girl, a while back, just so I’d have something at hand should the romance bug hit. Of course, I don’t often get romance cravings, and you all may know by know that my acquiring a book is no guarantee that I’ll read it anytime soon, so The Chalet Girl languished on my shelves for ages.
So what led me to finally take it off the shelf? Pure random chance, at least from my point of view. A few of weeks ago, I discovered a game on LibraryThing called “Go Review That Book!” It’s basically a running forum thread in which people suggest a book to review for the most recent poster and solicit a suggestion from the next person to post. (You can set limits on what people can suggest, such as only books in your TBR list in LibraryThing.) When I was finishing up The Cause earlier this week, I couldn’t decide what I’d want to read next, so I decided to join the game and see what the group came up with. The Chalet Girl was the next player’s suggestion. It turned out to be very good timing, as I’ve been dealing with a nasty cold and needed something light to read. (I had been pondering a library run for some Georgette Heyer.)
The main character of The Chalet Girl, 19-year-old Millie Braythorpe, is a chalet hostess at an Alpine ski resort. Her job basically requires her to cook and clean and handle basic needs of guests at her assigned chalet. It’s a pretty good gig for Millie, and much-needed since her father, a bishop notorious for his strict and severe outlook, kicked her out of the house for getting pregnant. Millie’s best friend, the wealthy Freya, supported her through her abortion and has helped her get on her feet. But she’s now determined to pay back Freya and eke out a living on her own.
Of course, this being a romance, there has to be a man involved, and in this case it’s a devastatingly handsome gossip columnist named Luke, a guest at the chalet during the last week of the season. He and Millie are immediately taken with each other, although, in true romance fashion, it takes them a while to figure it out. They woo each other over music, snowboarding, and hot cocoa and all seems to be going well until, of course, there’s a misunderstanding that pushes the two apart.
Overall, I found this to be a pleasant, but flawed book. I thought Millie, particularly in the first half of the book, was a little too perfect. Most of her flaws are “faux flaws,” such as an inability to believe in herself and a stubbornly independent streak, the kinds of flaws that make her more, not less, unbelievably perfect. It’s not until later in the book that Millie’s insecurity—which has a legitimate cause—starts to manifest itself in a more serious tendency to overreact and mistrust everyone who tries to help her. It’s at these moments that Millie seemed like a real person, and more of that raw honesty early on would have been helpful.
The love story itself is nice enough. It’s incredibly predictable, not just in the sense that I knew from the get-go that these two would get together (it’s that kind of a book) but because I could see most of the complications and resolutions to those complications coming before they arrived. But the characters are likable and seem suited for each other, so I was happy to join them on the journey. What I particularly liked about the romance is that it’s not really the most important part of the book. Yes, it’s central to the plot, but by the end of the book, it’s clear that Millie’s relationship with her mother is the real love story here. Luke is just a bonus. Millie would have gotten along fine without him. I love that.
Mostly, this book gave me the kinds of things I like in a romance. It’s not perfect by any means. It’s not especially deep—religious faith in particular is treated superficially—but it does have some emotional resonance. The characters are generally likable, although a few of the less likable characters are depicted as nothing more than caricatures. There’s a tendency to overexplain some characters’ feelings and motivations. But I still liked it for the pleasant diversion that it was: a nice book about nice people finding love.
Other Bloggers’ Views
Vulpes Libris: “The Chalet Girl is a thoroughly enjoyable read … even if you don’t know one end of a pair of skis from the other.”