Charm! Chapters 1-4
I'm the kind of person who obsessively tracks her packages online when they are the most mundane of things, so when it came time to track the progress of Charm! by Kendall Hart, I was like a madwoman, refreshing the USPS website every five seconds ("The book's made its way to Secaucus! Huzzah!").
Why was I so excited about the arrival of this book? Because it was practically engineered to appeal to me.
A few key facts:
- I love a good train wreck. For example, I believe wholeheartedly that the people in charge of Grammy and MTV VMA nominations should nominate Kanye West in as many categories as possible so that we can watch him lose and have multiple nervous breakdowns over the course of an awards show. Placing bets on how many violent outbursts he'll have is one of the only ways to get through a bloated awards show. Also, I watch America's Next Top Model, whose entire mission statement is about being the biggest train to ever wreck.
- I read chick-lit. Sure, it's kind of lowbrow, but sometimes you just want to read something you're going to forget about in an hour and a half that will kill your brain cells in a fun, fizzy sort of way. I survived my English classes in college by balancing the dense assigned classics with some sort of frothy book, just for my sanity, although it did lead to one fevered finals week when I was so stressed out that the plots of the books kept intertwining. I stopped short of using Becky Bloom's trials and tribulations in a paper on Virginia Woolf's works, but only just. I do have chick-lit standards, though, and will rant early and often about the crimes against humanity that Jane Green has perpetrated (fun fact: Jemima J enraged me so much that I returned it to the library with a post-it note inside the cover imploring the next person to take it out not to use it and do something healthier for their mind, like...huffing).
- I love perfume. I've spent many an hour in Sephora dreamily smelling all of the different fragrances. I love Miss Dior Cherie, always fall in love with the Escada limited editions that get taken off the shelves disturbingly quickly, and Sui Dreams is my favorite.
- I love Kendall Hart. I just adore her, in any form, from Smidge to Alicia Minshew. I know that she can get on peoples nerves (my choosing her for the Best Heroine of 2007 was controversial, to say the least, and led to several people saying I had no credibility) and she's certainly over exposed at times, but still! She rules!
So the fact that there is something in the world that is a chick-lit train wreck about perfume written by Kendall? It's like Charm! was scientifically engineered to appeal to me.
And appeal to me, it does. It's awesomely bad and cheesy and fun. It's like pre-Federline Britney Spears in written form.
It only seems fair, dear readers, that you get to be a part of this journey so, without further adieu, the first in a series of recaps!
On a hot August day, Avery Wilkins goes to meet Finn Adams to get funding for her cosmetics company. She's nervous and insecure; her hair is frizzy, she's wearing a jacket, she didn't go to college, she's from a tiny town and had a messed up family (that is the exact order her insecurities are presented in, by the by). When she finally meets Finn, dressed in khakis and a denim shirt like he works at Smart Tech, there is an instant attraction; a "pow", as Kendall writes.
In ten minutes, Avery convinced Finn to invest in her fledgling company and he wrote her a check for two million dollars, in return for a 51% stake in the company and dinner with him.
On their fifth date, they wind up at the W hotel with "pent up erotic energy" in between them. Before hitting the sheets, Avery opens up to Finn about her traumatic childhood: her father was abusive and her mother went on a slut spiral after her father left them. Because...that's great date conversation. But Avery trusts Finn and feels like she can tell him anything and that he'll protect her. They then totally do it.
Over the next two months, they are blissfully happy, with the only wrench in their romance being the fact that Finn is still married. His second wife is never around because she's a jet-setting photographer. Finn still cares for her, but wants to be with Avery, for forever. He decides that when his wife is on a shoot in the Caribbean, taking pictures of tropical birds, that he'll fly down there and ask her for a divorce. I don't know, that seems a little cold to me. Like, way to ruin tropical birds for the woman. She'll never be able to enjoy the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney World again.
Right before Finn leaves, he and Avery meet at the top of the Empire State Building to declare their love for one another again, because that always works out so well for fictional people. They kiss and hug and hold each other, but...
...it was the last time they would ever see one another.
Telling Quote: Avery's mantra, that I assume will come up again, is "Be strong, dig deep, don't look back" (p. 1)
Just...No: "They saw it in each other's face, that spark in the corner of their eyes, a recognition that they were kindred spirits, ravenous at the banquet of life" (p. 1)
Sex Has Never Seemed Less Sexy: "And slowly they made love, with Finn touching her so gently, so tenderly, until she was ready to touch him back...more than ready...hungry..." (p. 2)
Avery has a case of the Mondays and the appearance of co-worker Parker makes her even pissier. Oh, this is four years after the preface. Flair is Avery's company and it had grown into quite a successful undertaking, with prime office space in Manhattan and a staff of 50. At the moment, Avery is trying to create the perfect perfume that will be her No. 5.
Parker, it turns out, is Finn's daughter, who inherited his stake in Flair after he died in a plane crash (in true soap fashion, no body was ever recovered). She has no idea that her father and Avery were in love; Avery is still keeping up her end of the pact to keep their affair a secret.
Parker is kind of an entitled brat (um, does that sound familiar to anybody else? Why am I envisioning her as knee high to a garden gnome?) who is bitchy and completely out of her depth as far as the business world is concerned. Perfect skin, perky breasts, toned body and gleaming white teeth, Parker wants their new perfume to have a sexy image, but Avery counters that romance sells and that more woman want to be loved than sexy. She asks after Avery's boyfriend, Marcus, and Avery damn near rips her head off, I guess because Parker always wanted to get with Marcus and is now insanely jealous of Avery for it? The two of them spar for a little while and then Parker departs to shop at Barneys.
Next, we meet Justin Fowler, who is A's go-to person. He oversees the day-to-day operations at Flair. They met while she was working PR for Clinique (my most hated cosmetics brand, incidentally...notKendall, you can do better than that!) and once she got the start up capital for Flair, she enticed him to work for her by promising him 20% of the profits. Justin is late 40s, gay, with big round glasses...so he's pretty much Nigel from The Devil Wears Prada. He asks how things are and Avery fills him in on Parker's brattiness. He exposits that she has a drug habit that has led to very bad times, so they need to treat her well, lest she do something that ruins Flair. Avery is basically like, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again".
Fun Fact: Kendall's a big fan of alliteration, describing "pretty, petulant Parker" (p. 5) as the "pampered product of privilege" (p. 7)
Marcus and Avery walk by the rink in Rockefeller Center and we get a quick rundown on Marcus: he works for a news show called Timeline, he's gorgeous, 30, auburn haired, green eyed, athletic and smells of "bracing mint soap". They're both incredibly busy all the time and Avery apologizes for not being able to see much of him.
Marcus is one of those carefree, wild types. He got her into the Brooklyn Cyclones, took her on hot air balloon rides and likes abstract art. Um, one of those things is not like the others. Marcus is from a ritzy Chicago suburb and was a frat boy. It's crystal clear that he's going to wind up being completely shady. "Rich frat guy" is pretty much shorthand for "evil and/or date rapist".
They make out for a bit and Avery reluctantly breaks it up to go back to the office.
Avery has coffee and a banana as she runs down her 3-page to-do list. Justin checks to make sure she's ready for the evening's cocktail party before leaving so that we can get a heavy dose of background information on Avery.
She's 5'9", slim, with an angular face and enormous eyes. She's pretty much gorgeous.
But beauty means nothing, a we get some more detail about her youth. Avery grew up in a tiny, dank house in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania where "filth, misery and intoxicants were abundant". I'm hoping she is talking about her house specifically, or else the good people of Wilkes-Barre will see an extreme drop in tourism based upon this book (that is, if more than three people read it). She felt that she didn't fit in with her family and daydreamed of a kindly woman taking her away, but that didn't happen. While her parents ruined their, and her, lives, she read fashion magazines and watched movies, hoping to one day be a part of the upper class. And now she's almost there! Despite all of her success, she dreams of even more, so that she can stop the self doubt that plagues her and taunts her about her less than illustrious background.
Parker walks in for another bitchfight with Avery. She smokes, after Avery expressly tells her not to, and suggests the name Hot! (exclamation point included) for the fragrance. Avery shuts her down and Parker barely seems phased, asking after Marcus, which sets Avery off again. Parker mentions that she saw Marcus at a club, a club which "had a reputation as party-and-pick-up central". Scandal!
Avery tries to make it seem like she's fine with Marcus having fun, but Parker, in a deliciously bitchy way, says that she's sure, then, that Avery will like the picture she took last night, before showing Avery a ton of cell phone pictures of Marcus wasted and touchy feely with a group of women, tearing his shirt off and making out with one of the women.
Avery attempts to say this is just a ploy to make her jealous and that Parker and Marcus's one night together is ancient history and that Parker needs to realize that Avery makes him happy and that the pictures could have been old. Parker is like "Um, whatever, denial" and, for this instance of sensibility, gets kicked out of Avery's office.
Avery, who, as you remember, has trust issues, wants to give Marcus the benefit of the doubt and decides to call him and see what is the dealio. A woman picks up on the third ring and Marcus, in the background, crabs that she wasn't supposed to answer the phone.
Avery gets the vapors and collapses, in tears, on her chair.
People don't talk like this...ever:
"Hi Parker, how are you?"
"I'm chillin', but how are you?" (p. 16)
Only in romance novels: "Tearing off his shirt to reveal that soccer-taut torso. Making out with the redhead, both of their bodies glistening with sweat" (p. 17)
Avery came to New York ten years earlier, armed with ninety dollars and a dream. She worked entry-level jobs and went to the Central Park Boathouse to recharge and think whenever she needed to. Her class issues are a really big recurring theme, as it's once again mentioned that the diners at the Boathouse looked glam and uppercrust.
Tonight, Avery is a guest at the Boathouse and she and Justin arrive, surrounded by limos and paparazzi. Big industry people and supermodels mill about. Justin goes to get them drinks (white wine for A, a mojito for J) and while she waits for him to come back, Avery has a shame spiral, filled with self doubt about the future of Flair; angst over Marcus; pain over her father's abuse. She stares at the Angel of the Waters in an attempt to regroup. Her reverie is soon interrupted by someone telling her she's beautiful.
This interloper is not tall, dark or handsome (ouch!) but Kendall is quick to write that it works for him. He's about 40, muscular and looks interesting. They flirt for a while and he introduces himself as Brad Henry. He's a businessman.
Justin returns and tells Avery that Suzee Jones, the editor in chief of Stylish, wants to meet her. Being featured in Stylish is "like winning the loterry the same day you slept with George Clooney." She and Justin excuse themselves and go walk over to the tall, thin, raven haired Suzee, where Justin introduces the two ladies. Avery charms the pants off Suzee with her spunk and Suzee says she'd like to hear more about it when Avery's perfume when it's ready. Avery kvells.
After mingling, Brad makes his way back to Avery and they flirt some more. He asks her to dinner, but she demurs, as she's exhausted. While they chat, her phone rings and it's Marcus on the other line, who doesn't get why she's being cold to him. She asks what the other woman's name was and he doesn't remember, but says that they really need to talk. This is Avery's cue to leave, and she makes her exit, with Brad walking her out and offering to get her a cab. They see all sorts of New Yorky things, like a horse-drawn carriage and the statue of Hans Christian Anderson.
Brad tells her that he grew up on Fifth Avenue, which she offers not to hold against him. He asks if he can call her, and she says yes. He tells her that he'd like to kiss her, and they both admit to being involved with other people at the moment before kissing anyway. After the very long, very good kiss, she finally gets a cab and calls into her office voice mail. There's one message, from a classy sounding woman saying that she's Avery's mother and would like to get in touch with her when she's in New York this week.
...all of which would be normal if her mother weren't in a group home in Pennsylvania, suffering from debilitating Alzheimers and unable to use the phone. Cue dramatic music!
This is not sexy: "His lips were rough, his body was strong and grew stronger. Avery felt warmth spread through her body"
Ultra dramatic! Tune in later this week for more. Will Marcus clean up his act? Will Avery fully fall for Brad? Who is this woman claiming to be Avery's mother? Will Parker go on a drug binge that would make Amy Winehouse blush? Will there be a woman in this book who isn't tall and toned?