I loved Rachel Gibson’s writing when I first discovered her. At one point I binge read 15 of her books in the one short month. I loved her tone and voice so much that, despite her last 3 books feeling flat, I continue to read her novels just to refind that magic reading feeling. This novel was slightly better than the last lot I read, however, I still had certain aspects that I found unlikeable in this story… but first, let’s start with the (problematic) blurb:
Just Kiss Me
by Rachel Gibson
“Hello, Ms. Vivian . . . it’s been a long time.”
And with those words, Vivian Leigh Rochet nearly melted. It’s been years since she last saw Harrison Whitley-Shuler. She was a teenager scrubbing houses for a living. He was the gorgeous son of rich parents, not fit for the likes of her.
Vivian had vowed to get out of Charleston, become a big Hollywood star, and stick it to the snooty girls who made her cry.
She got what she wanted—and more—but why does her glamorous life seem so trivial?
Harrison got out too . . . making it all the way to Wall Street, until a heart attack forced him to trade in his cufflinks for a good set of hand tools.
Making furniture soothes his soul, but escaping the Whitley-Shuler heritage is nearly impossible. And now he’s come face-to-face with the one who got away. He’s not looking for love. He’s not even looking for sex . . . so why is resisting her the hardest thing he’s ever done?
A rose by any other name…
So yeah. I start reading the (print) book and there is no Harrison. Nope. Not even a Harry. The hero in this book is a Henry. Sure. The first letter is an H but at no stage is he called/revealed to be a Harrison. Like, what happened here? That is a pretty big editing booboo (and I totally understand that mistakes happen and are hard/impossible to reverse especially with print). And WHY OH WHY is Goodreads STILL using Harrison in their blurbs? This is the age of the internet! Exosomatic stores of information can be altered, corrected, deleted or even just bloody well use the strikethrough
function to acknowledge that a correction has been made.
SPOILERS SPOILERS WE ARE TALKING LOTS OF DETAILED SPOILERS
So the story goes that Vivian Leigh Rochet is returning home. She has just found out that her mother has died and she is returning home to arrange her funeral. Vivian is no longer the poor girl cleaning the big estate/plantation/whatevsbighouse where the owner Nonnie is a despot woman who dislikes her. Vivian is now a superstar – a thinly disguised one á la Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games trilogy with weird/avid fans who follow/stalk her wherever she goes.
Vivian grew up hating Nonnie’s two rich privileged sons who lived in the big house with their mother, their dad having died when they were young. Vivian’s modus operandi had been to steal, snoop and break their things and overall felt malice toward them and their mum as a bitter young girl. So when Vivian returns the first person she sees is Henry, the oldest son from the property with whom she had a vexed relationship as, due to her snooping, she knew of his deep dark teenage secrets (which he knew that she knew about his secrets).
So after a tedious amount of waffling about Henry, about her grief, about her life, about her mum’s mental health, about her mum and Nonnie’s friendship, about her mum being a single mum, about her love for her mum, about her guilt that she rarely visited her mum, about a pretty house she bought her mum, about Henry, about clothes, about her assistant, about her fans, about…well…waffle that lasts the length of a Mills & Boon Presents novel… So after all that waffle, Vivian buries her mum and at the funeral the younger brother (sorry – I can’t remember his name and I’ve already returned my copy of the book to the library) from the estate gets feely-hows-it-going-up-Vivian’s-leg-there-pretty-lady (as you do at a funeral!). So older bro Henry whisks her away so she can grieve without being superstar stared at or groped only to become the next (thoughtless) man to hit on Vivian. So, Vivian and Henry have a grief fuck and REALLY! Oh dear…it all got a tad too much Will Ferrel from Wedding Crashers for me.
Like, seriously DUDE! Reign it in! It’s the day of Viv’s mum’s funeral!
But oh well – Viv doesn’t seem to mind (I’m sure she doesn’t mind being called Viv by me, either). Viv is more than happy to get down and boogie with Henry.
The two get on, but of course, neither reveals their Twoo Wuv feelings for each other. And then…. and then….(building suspense here)…. Vivian discovers her mother’s deep dark secrets and she discovers that she is the illegitimate daughter of the man from the big house, Nonnie’s husband but thankfully, she also discovers that Henry is also illegitimate and not the biological son of the her daddy and so it isn’t incest (though it skirted a bit close there). But Henry knew about everyone’s parentage from a young age cause he is great at keeping deep dark secrets and that his little brother was also the half brother to Vivian and thus revealing the urgency to keep little handsy brother from feeling up Vivian because they were related BUT it was fine for him because there ain’t not blood between the two of them EXCEPT through a brother in common and DUDE! OFF LIMITS! YOUR BROTHER’S SISTER IS STILL A FREAKING RELATIVE IN MY OPINION! It isn’t like he only just found out as an adult! He knew since we was TEN! and DUDE! FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC WAS A HORROR NOVEL NOT A FRICKING ROMANCE!
So anyway….alll is overcome including a surprise baby and Hollywood stardom and little brother and little sister get to know each other moments and of course, love between Henry and Vivian.
Rachel Gibson in this book tries to give fandom an exploration and though her portrayal of fan cultures, stalking, loyalty to/from fans was okay, it felt to me as just a plot bunny. There is very little substance to Vivian’s observations of her fans and it added very little to the outcome of the book except to make it difficult for Henry to meet up with her once she gives him the cut.
The fan culture discussion I guess does go further in that the main character is named for the famous actress Vivienne Leigh and I guess Henry is portrayed as somewhat Clark Gable-sque but this barely resonated with me. There was the Southern drama part and the big house and I think that curtains were mentioned somewhere in the book (though Vivian never did get a dress made out of curtains) but the barely there intertext didn’t work for me as I’m in the Gone With the Wind is not a romance team.
Perhaps also, it is much more difficult to throw a lens on the impacts of fandom set in a contemporary time. Rainbow Rowell certainly managed this in Fangirl but I think it was handled much better by Tessa Dare in Romancing the Duke against the backdrop of historical romance allowing some unreality distance.
Where have all the friends gone
One of the aspects that I loved about Rachel Gibson when I first found her novels were the female friendships that moved from one book to the next. I think that Rachel Gibson really excelled with these friendship links in her Writers series. She wrote good friends so well and I think this is what has been missing in her last few books. All her novels that I absolutely adore – even the one’s that cross my squicked-out-relationship line such as Tangled Up in You – are the ones with more connections for the heroine than just the hero. Yes, there are secondary characters in this book including a female friend or two but they felt like bit players and not important supports to Vivian. To be fair to Gibson, friendship and trust is an area that Vivian struggles with as she is never sure of the motivations of the people who befriend her – and I guess this is why she connects with Henry so quickly as neither of them really want to like each other.
In the end, this book was only about the hero and his heroine and frankly it felt long drawn out, waffly and there were too many loose straggly ends which took away my enjoyment. I would have much more enjoyed a shorter novel which economised its words.
Does this mean I give up on Rachel Gibson? Not at all. To be fair, this book was far far better than her last one that I read. Maybe she is coming back into form.
IMO: Will Henry and Vivian Leigh celebrate their 50th anniversary?
I didn’t feel sparks between the two main characters. Sadly, I didn’t feel their love. I give them 6 years of giving it a shot before breaking up with little brother then acting as the conduit in the future once they have a parenting custody plan in place.
I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library in NSW.