Friday, 23 February 2018

Emma's Review: Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other's sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it's casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years... and panic sets in.

They quickly decide to create little surprises for each other, to keep their relationship fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me - anything from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to photo shoots - mishaps arise with disastrous and comical results.

Gradually, the surprises turn to shocking discoveries. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all...

Amazon Affiliate Links: Kindle or Hardcover

Many thanks to Becky Short from Transworld Books for my copy of Surprise Me to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

In recent years Sophie Kinsella's books for me have been a bit hit and miss. I felt the Shopaholic books had run out of steam and the last one didn't really bring much to the series overall but then last year along came My Not So Perfect Life and it completely blew me away. This was such a brilliant return to form and reminded me of the early days of Sophie's writing and why I had loved her books so much. This book remained one of my reading highlights of 2017 and I couldn't tell enough people about it - that they simply had to read it. So when I saw Surprise Me was a new book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and fervently hoped that the magic that had been created in the previous book would still be present here and it would be as an addictive read.

When I read the blurb I was even more eager to get started. The premise sounded different and fresh for the genre as the boy meets girl storyline has been done to death and, unless it is done with a new angle, at this stage I find it quite boring. So did Project Surprise Me work for Sylvie and her husband Dan and more importantly was the book a good read given the high expectations I had going into it? Really this had so much potential and I loved the whole idea behind it but sadly that main idea seemed to get lost and pushed to the side amongst other storylines that took over and dominated when really I felt they shouldn't have. The book became a different book from the one I had read about on the blurb and it lost its way more so in the second half rather than in the first which I felt to be far stronger.

Sylvie and Dan have always been that ideal couple that everyone aspires to or so they would like to think. They read each others thoughts, finish each others sentences and are so in tune and intertwined, they couldn't survive without each other. They are happily married with twins and life is good for the couple. A medical is needed for their health insurance, a routine procedure one would think but when the doctor says they could have 68 more years together it makes them sit up and think. 68 years sounds like a lifetime, an eternity. Yes they love each other but forever appears to be a lot longer than they thought. The news strikes fear in the pair and they feel they have an endless road ahead of them with stability and routine staring them in the face. They set themselves a challenge and so Project Surprise Me is born.

To help pass the decades, to keep the spark alive they need to be kept on their toes, entertained and challenged with lots of unexpected surprises along the way. Said surprises can be large or small but they must catch the other off guard and thought must be put into each task. Initially I though woah you really are getting in a heap over nothing. So much water passes under the bridge in 68 years and who's to say what will happen? Why not live in the moment? Enjoy what each day has to offer. Revel in the fact you have two beautiful children,  who were criminally under utilised throughout the book as so many comedic moments could have taken place regarding the twins, and savour each moment. But then I sat back and thought OK this is the stance they are taking with regard to the news and really the project is a good idea and I was interested to see how it would develop.

The project got off to a faltering start and Tilda, Sylvie's neighbour and friend, tries to help her with disastrous and funny results but the project element of the book seemed to peter out pretty fast. But then a discovery leads Sylvie to question everything she believed to be true about her marriage and instead a different facet to her character emerges in an attempt to get to the root of what she believes Dan is up to. Tilda was a fantastic supporting character and as for her son he was amongst one of the best characters in the book. He seemed to be in a world of his own and was often deadpan in his sayings and actions but he turned up trumps when he needed to. He alongside Tilda provided plenty of laugh out loud moments and they could easily have their own book so good were they. I could see Dan and Sylvie really did love each other but events were conspiring against them and when mistrust and lack of belief in one's self and the stability of their marriage start to creep in things really went awry.

Sylvie works for Willoughby House, a niche museum in London, for which she is always trying to raise funds to keep the place going. The museum is stuck in the past and as the owners nephew Robert steps in to try and sort things out this in turn provides more challenges for Sylvie. When really she wanted to concentrate on her own life project and just muddle along as usual. Again here there was plenty of humour and cringeworthy moments but they just felt overshadowed by other events. Sylvie does really develop as a character over the course of the book. I don't think she was given any other option only to put things into perspective and get her act together but she hasn't been my favourite heroine written by this author.

The character of Sylvie really did become so frustrating, and it felt like I was reading about a different person depending on where she was, I never really warmed to her at all. Be it at work, at home or trying to see what was going on with Dan. Her obsession over her Dad, and the fact she still called him Daddy even though she was an adult and he had passed on, really got on my nerves. It was almost like she reverted back to her childhood and forgot that she was a grown woman married with kids and trying to hold down a job. I was always questioning this aspect of the storyline and wondered as to where it was actually going as it took us away from project Surprise Me. It almost became forgotten about and I suppose in a way that's what happens in life, we do get sidetracked from our main goals and things never run smoothly or the way we had planned them to. Life is all about challenges and how we overcome them and then accept and utilise the outcomes.

But given the book had a solid premise it did prove frustrating when the project became lost amongst other storylines and also the fact that I'm still wondering whether they had they a place, should they have been saved for another book? One aspect became sinister so to speak and when first reading this book I wouldn't have thought it would have been here. The more the story developed the more I thought Sylvie didn't treat Dan with the respect he deserved, instead she jumped to conclusions instead of asking him directly. An awful lot of trouble could have been averted and after all his heart, intentions and long term goals were always in the right place. I would have loved to have read more of Dan and gotten right inside his head but it would have probably have given away too much of what was going on.

Although Surprise Me was a good read it didn't blow me away in the manner I had wished it would have. I have chatted to some other people about this book and they feel the same way so I was relieved in the sense that it wasn't just me seeing this issues with the book. That said I wouldn't not read something from this author again in the future as I know she can write brilliant books it's just unfortunate this one didn't hit the spot for me. Fans of Sophie Kinsella will read me Surprise Me because they love her books like I do but I think they will feel this is not her strongest. The humour and wit she is known for is evident here but not in spades and the storyline just became muddled amongst too many other things. For new fans I wouldn't begin with this book but would choose something from her earlier back catalogue. All that being said I will read whatever Sophie writes in the future because I know how brilliant her books can be when she is on top form.

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