Pros: Genie plot is fun; bad guys are interesting
Cons: Male lead is almost entirely unlikeable; one-dimensional foil; details that don’t add up
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Review copy (uncorrected proof) courtesy of Penguin Group.
Expected publication date: 7/1/2008.
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I have a soft spot for genie tales, so I was looking forward to Lucy Finn’s If Wishing Made It So. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my hopes.
Hildy was a pretty cheerleader in high school, voted most likely to succeed. She even dated the handsome high school quarterback, Mike, whom she’s never quite gotten over. Unfortunately, her life is in a rut. She teaches English in the town she grew up in. She lives with her two cats and has never even slept with a man. She’s just received the announcement of her 10-year class reunion, and it’s tossed her into a total funk. In an attempt to figure out where she wants to go with her life, she splurges on a summer rental cottage on the beach not far from Atlantic City—where she picks up an apparently abandoned bottle that just so happens to come with a genie inside.
As it turns out, in addition to the three ‘big wishes,’ the genie can do a number of smaller things for Hildy too. Even before she figures out who and what he is, he helps her win a small jackpot at the slots. Then he arranges for her to meet up with Mike again, and it takes only a moment for her to realize she’s still head over heels for him. Unfortunately, he’s engaged to a beautiful harridan of a photographer, and just to complicate things, a mafia boss is after the genie. Somehow Hildy has to keep the genie out of the hands of the mafia, send Mike’s fiancee packing, and win back her man.
First the highlights: Hildy and her older sister Corinne were a ton of fun. They started the book off strong with a lot of personality. The genie—a Roman centurion who prefers to go by Tony G.—is also a hilarious and entertaining character. One of my favorite moments in the entire book comes when Hildy reflects on the reasons why she’s never managed to lose her virginity, including an almost-moment with a man who recited poetry to her; her reaction—well, I’ll just say that it’s delightfully perfect for an English teacher.
The other high note was, to a lesser extent, the bad guy. Although he shared some of the characteristics of a stereotypical mob boss, he had other traits that definitely defied expectation. For instance, he tended to be pretty clever in trying to get Hildy to use up her wishes and in how he planned to use his.
Unfortunately, however, If Wishing Made It So is primarily a romance. And when you’re reading a romance, it really wrecks things when half of the romantic couple is almost entirely unlikeable, and you keep rooting for the main character to dump her beloved and find someone better. I’ll try to explain.
As mentioned above, Mike is engaged already. He has been for several years, in fact. His fiancee is a professional photographer who moves in famous circles and looks like a supermodel. However, she’s a complete and utter harpy who’s using Mike for his money. She’s rude and obnoxious, sleeps around, manipulates him, and literally shrieks at him. This is used as justification for why it’s okay for him to sleep with Hildy while still engaged to Kiki, and for why it’s okay for Hildy to use all her wiles to get him away from Kiki. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy this being acceptable, for a handful of reasons.
I couldn’t accept Kiki as this one-dimensional witch. It was extremely clear that the only reason she was so one-sidedly vicious was to make it acceptable for Mike and Hildy to screw her over. Instead, it just reads as lazy writing. I do believe that a good author could make this three-person situation into an interesting and viable plot, but you don’t get to make it okay just by turning one of the three people into an unrealistic harridan. This is further the case because it meant that the only obvious reason for Mike to be with her was because of her looks, which really doesn’t speak well of him.
Mike is an ass. He doesn’t think about the consequences for either Kiki or Hildy when casually taking Hildy out and sleeping with her. He all too easily decides it was just a fling when Kiki turns on the waterworks afterward. And what jogs him into realizing that no, he really does want to fight for Hildy after all? It’s the genie’s makeover, the one that makes Mike realize that Hildy isn’t just cute, she’s gorgeous. In other words, we’re supposed to believe that he’s willing to marry the witch from Hell right up until he realizes that his ex-girlfriend is just as pretty—no other reason is apparently convincing enough.
All of this, of course, is waved away and justified by the genie as being just how men are, and apparently this is supposed to make Mike’s behavior reasonable, acceptable, and perhaps even adorable or something. This is the point at which my husband would like to register his irritation at male stereotyping on behalf of his gender. And I have to agree with him—I kept hoping Hildy would dump Mike and fall for someone else. Heck, the genie was a fun guy, and at least thought about Hildy’s feelings more than Mike did.
I also found some of the details of the book stretched belief. Hildy’s teaching in the town where she grew up, yet she’s worried about running into old classmates at the class reunion? She should be running into them around town already, not to mention when some of them come in for parent-teacher conferences. Not all of them will have moved away. I also couldn’t buy the fact that the police kept conveniently not pushing Hildy on the odd attacks going on around her; it made them look incompetent.
Hildy, Corinne, and the genie are really fun characters, and there are some delightful scenes involving the members of the church Corinne goes to who come to Atlantic City hoping to win money enough to restore their church. If the book had primarily been about them, and the mafia plot, I would have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, a romance in which the romance doesn’t even spark (much less sizzle) can be irritating on a fundamental level.
(Standard notes: some explicit sex, but not much.)
Oh…a 2.5 out of 5. I now see what you meant by a “meh review.” Well, they all can’t be 5 out of 5s no matter how much I wish it so. I’m in the process of another not-so-good one, but this book is written by a friend. What in the heck do you do then? I think this will be the last book I accept from people I know personally. I am at a loss on how to tell her.
J. Kaye: I wish I knew what to tell you. Honestly, this is why I don’t think I could review a book by a friend. I’d have no problem blatantly pimping a friend’s book (and making it clear that’s what I was doing), but I don’t think I could review a friend’s book, and I doubt I would ever agree to. If I loved it unreservedly I’d worry I was being biased, and if I didn’t, well, I’d worry about hurting them. It’s a lose-lose situation.