LITERARY S By Ryan G. Van Cleave
Amber Hart’s Before You
(Kensington Publishing, softcover, 302 pages, $9.95)
St. Petersburg, Fla., author Amber Hart’s debut novel seems like the start of a noteworthy publishing career (and that’s not just because she has three more novels coming out in short order). Before You has a slightly familiar theme in play — a Romeo & Juliet type of star-crossed romance. But the story moves well and has enough unexpected turns to keep readers going. Faith Watters is white. She’s also popular, a preacher’s daughter, and the school’s dance team captain. Diego Alvarez is a Cuban refugee with tattoos and scars. Only he’s not that scary — sure he’s cocky, yet he’s actually a decent guy willing to do anything to protect family. The two of them have serious chemistry once they get past the secrets currently defining their lives. Ultimately, the story is less about the “What if?” combo of these two unlikely lovebirds and more about how it’s often hard to be true to yourself. Faith struggles with that maturation process, though Diego’s presence in her life made the difference. The book also communicates the message that being honest with yourself is the right way to go. If you like Simone Elkes’ Perfect Chemistry, Shakespeare’s own Romeo & Juliet, or West Side Story, you’ll surely find much to admire in Hart’s debut book. For more information on Amber Hart and Before You, please visit www.AmberHartBooks.com or www.facebook.com/AuthorAmberHart.
Phoebe Fox’s The Breakup Doctor (Henery Press, softcover, 298 pages, $15.95)
If you’ve ever checked out the reviews on Amazon for any book, there’s always a stinker or two who throws mud for ridiculous or unjustified reasons. “I don’t like this novel because there are too few cats in it.” That kind of thing. Not so with Phoebe Fox’s debut novel The Breakup Doctor. Everyone is raving about it, and it’s easy to see why once you turn a few pages. Fox doesn’t just know how to write clearly and powerfully (she’s a movie, theater, and book reviewer, plus she guest blogs about relationships for Huffington Post), she has real insight into relationships and that hard-won wisdom comes through on every page. Ask her about it, and she claims it’s all due to a long, colorful, and pitfall-filled dating life that really changed for the better once she read Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo’s He’s Just Not That Into You in 2005. Fox’s dating life changed overnight. Now that she’s found an “excellent husband” who’s “so worth waiting — and wading — through every other relationship to find,” she’s sharing her own brand of women wisdom in the charming story of The Breakup Doctor. Brook Ogden is a licensed mental health counselor who helps people out when relationships fall to pieces. When her practice goes under, she falls on her feet with a love advice column for the Tropic Times that leads to a successful stint as the Breakup Doctor, the go-to person for healing when a relationship turns sour. Then her own relationship collapses and all of her own good advice seems un-followable. Ogden engages in all the bad-breakup behaviors that she’s railed against for years. Worse, she finds herself in a rebound relationship with a former client, a sexy bartender with anger management issues. Rock bottom isn’t far away! Seeing the irony of how a skilled therapist can’t heal herself is charming, fun, and also a bit heart-wrenching. It’s a laugh-out-loud read and likely will seem to speak directly to women of all ages — the love troubles mentioned here run from A to Z. Fox has a real winner here. If The Breakup Doctor seems up your alley, then watch for Fox’s Bedside Manners, which comes out next year. For more information on The Breakup Doctor, please visit www.PhoebeFoxAuthor.com or www.facebook. com/PhoebeFoxAuthor.