Sideways (verb): dating your best friend’s sister even though it’s wrong.
Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
First Published: 26th November 2013
Date Reviewed: 28th March 2014
Liz is moving back to Whitford after (finally) splitting up with her boyfriend and realising she was missing out on all the fun being so far from her family. However as she nears the town her car skids and hits a tree, and although she’s not injured those nearby are convinced it’s an emergency. So they call they police, and to the scene arrives Chief Drew Miller – the man Liz spent time with at the last Kowalski wedding…
Love A Little Sideways is the seventh book in Stacey’s Kowalski series and the last to focus on a member of the family itself. Focusing on a female Kowalski rather than a male, the book has a different feel to it from the first page. This could easily have made for a strong and more interesting book, given that no matter how fun the other books are there is inevitably repetition – however the final bow from the Kowalski clan isn’t as fluid as it could have been.
The major issue with the book is one of the two conflicts, which this reviewer hates to call ‘the first’ due to how debatable the ‘second’ issue is. This conflict is that of the the best-friend’s sister. Drew is the best friend of Liz’s brother, and a vast amount of time is spent, not just by Drew and Liz but by practically every one of Liz’s family members, worrying about this ‘problem’. It is understandable that the reality of a romantic relationship, a relationship that is far easier to break than that of blood (in most cases), would be cause for thought, yet this understandable reason isn’t the book’s focus. The ‘problem’ with Drew and Liz is simply that Liz is Mitch’s sister. And apparently there is a ‘code’, one of those school-age agreement ideas.
Liz and Drew are adults, in fact Liz is 30 and Drew is a little older – yet this best friend’s sister issue keeps getting in the way as if someone is threatening to tell Mum and get everyone grounded. Later on, when Mitch inevitably finds out, he deals with the issue as a little child – and Drew responds in a complimentary fashion. Of course this ‘conflict’ gets solved in the end, but it is totally unbelievable and likely to simply evoke a ‘so?…’ on the part of the reader.
Next is an issue far more mature and completely believable – the difference in life choices. Drew is single because he wants children whilst his ex-wife didn’t. He’s now on the lookout for a woman who feels the same as he does about padding feet. Liz is at the start of a new life, and is at the beginning stages of working out whether she’s happy in Whitford working at the diner, whether she wants children, or whether she wants to go and get a degree. Drew definitely wants to stay in Whitford and procreate; Liz may want to move to the city and start a business like her brothers. Of course a conflict of interests can work, and people make compromises and allowances so that they can live with the person they love whilst also living the life they want as an individual, so that isn’t an issue. What is is the relative, and, by the end of the book, complete, marginalisation of Liz’s wants and dreams. Part of the problem is that the characters have little chemistry. When measured against the other couples in the series, the romance is even more suspect. But the biggest problem is that whilst Liz gets a few cries of “what about what I want?” the book leans firmly on the side of Drew, and because the books are founded in family, this is inevitably cemented.
That’s not to say that the basis in family is bad, it isn’t, and it’s been a reasonable feature of the books – indeed you need to be open to the idea of ‘living in each other’s pockets’ and traditional gender roles to enjoy these books – but there is using the idea of family to make a book ‘warm and fuzzy’ and using it to override the thoughts of someone who may prefer a child-free life. Liz’s opinions of her own destiny are simply not valued enough by anyone and so Liz’s future is affectively decided upon by her lover and family. It is also resolved far too quickly.
Speaking of the chemistry it’s a pity that Liz’s suggestion that Drew simply wants a woman to breed for him comes across as true. That Drew loves Liz seems a nice convenience. Likely if Drew’s single-mindedness on the issue wasn’t such a big element of their relationship the relationship would read better, but as it’s the case that it is, it’s all too easy to believe that a few months down the line when the couple are married and Liz has finally had time to work out what she wants in life, a swift divorce will follow.
Aside from this the book could do with another copy edit. There are awkward phrases, plot development issues, and scenes such as Liz and Drew having a shower, Liz’s long hair not being combed afterwards, sex and sleep ensuing, and no mention of time-consuming tangles and impossible bed-hair in the morning. (These things are noticeable when you have long hair.) Despite the entirety of the family being at the camp and despite the fact that Liz is renting her house from her sister-in-law, Lauren gets one small mention and no admission into any other scenes or any lines of dialogue whatsoever. It is as though the heroine from two books ago doesn’t exist. Terry and Evan only get a small look in, but as they don’t have a book to themselves this feels ‘right’. And, whilst it’s not an editing issue, Mitch saying he often doesn’t listen to his wife puts a damper on the fabulous chemistry in his own book.
Where Love A Little Sideways does work is in the family factor, as is to be expected. The family may be around a bit too much and you may get to hear the same old information about everyone as the book seeks to welcome readers who haven’t read about the Kowalskis before, but overall it works. Liz is distant enough in her role of the half-stranger and Drew in his role of friend to make the book interesting in a unique way compared to the past six, and the book is a fine comfort read.
But the conflicts do unfortunately place it firmly in the middle of the scale.
Returning to a great family and location, but making one reconsider the values, Love A Little Sideways may be worth reading if you’ve read the other books in the series but as an introduction it’s unlikely to foster interest.
April 14, 2014, 8:22 pm
It doesn’t sound like this is one of the stronger books in the series. You raise several good points I’ve seen come up in other novels–about plot points and issues raised–and how they are dealt with by the characters.
It seems like this book could have been better over all.