Carnations are the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis, I recently learnt from Carol Balawyder’s blog. In order to raise awareness, she is offering one of her books, Not By Design, for the bargain price of 0.99$ the entire month of May. While I don’t usually review books on my blog (this is only the second time it happens), I find Carol’s writing worthy of such an exception. Not only is she a talented writer, but she is also very supportive of fellow authors, so if you haven’t come across her blog yet, perhaps it’s time you had. Summer is right around the corner and in case you’re looking for something to read on the beach, her books are a nice alternative – engaging, entertaining, yet also well researched and interesting.
Getting To Mr. Right
Carol Balawyder has managed to create four relatable, strikingly real protagonists and this, together with the highly relevant and complex subject it tackles is what makes her book a real page-turner. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Prince Charming myth – under its various shapes and interpretations – occupies a significant place in a contemporary woman’s love life, regardless of her age, social status or background. No matter if she is desperately seeking this ideal man or she is incessantly trying to debunk the controversial myth, a woman cannot deny the relevance of this concept and the inner struggle it creates.
So much more than a selection of dating stories and disastrous sentimental experiences, the book gives a detailed account of the profound effect an absent father figure might have in determining a woman’s development and the way she will perceive and handle future relationships with men. Getting to Mr. Right is certainly not a “how to” manual. On the contrary, what becomes clear early on is that finding the right partner needs to be a journey to understanding and finding one’s true self.
Campbell, Missi, Suzy and Felicity could be any one of us and most likely, we have been in their shoes more than once. The four very different ladies have one thing in common, they all face some sort of personal, emotional crisis, and this is what brings them together. What might at first sight seem to be a narration focused on the relevance of finding the ideal man and the perfect relationship is actually an ode to female friendship. These four wonderful ladies manage to find their way, realize their potential, understand who they are and what they need not with the help of a man, but with the support of their friends. Once they heal, they make peace with their past and form a realistic view on relationships, they can find balance and love.
We are never too young or too old to discover ourselves or to make a change for the better, we are gracefully and discretely reminded. As for all those huge everyday questions we all have about compromise, independence, career and the way they affect or are influenced by romantic relationships and family connections… it’s a delight to see Campbell, Missi, Felicity and Suzy try to figure them out. At times hilarious, at times heart-breaking, their adventures and feelings are nicely punctuated and enhanced by setting and weather, thus improving the reader’s literary experience. But I’ll let you discover such details on your own…
Not By Design
Sometimes we have control over our destiny… and other times life simply happens, and not by design. That’s what Felicity Starr, the protagonist of Carol Balawyder’s fourth book in the Getting to Mr Right series, finds out when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not By Design is not your typical “boy meets girl, they overcome various obstacles and live happily ever after” romance.
We find Felicity about to reach a fairy-tale ending – a spectacular wedding in Rome – but her life turns upside-down when she discovers her illness and Marco, her wonderful prince, turns into a frog. Struggling to deal with health and financial issues all on her own, left by the man she was about to marry, recovering after her father’s unexpected death, Felicity needs to accept the truth about her own life. In many respects, what she believed to be real turns out to have been an illusion and her choice in men still reflects some of Felicity’s past mistakes. It may have taken her a long time to see her father for who he really was, but that hasn’t obliterated her need for acceptance and approval. Not only does she acknowledge it eventually when she has to sort out all the emotions triggered by his death, but we see it clearly when looking at Marco and noticing how much his character and behaviour towards Felicity resemble her father’s.
The father-daughter relationship becomes secondary in Not By Design. Felicity’s relationship with her mother, Nicole, is emphasized this time, as the two finally get closer and past wounds start healing. Her need for a mother figure also plays a big part in Felicity’s choice to marry Marco, as it becomes obvious from her feelings for his mother. But the relationship that needs the most work is that with herself – her MS helps her grow, become independent and establish a new, more realistic system of values and priorities. First and foremost, she needs to accept herself. As her story progresses, we find Felicity using a cane, but she no longer uses people for crutches.
The setting complements the flow of the story, also enhancing our reading pleasure. Rome and its history infused streets are the romantic, almost surreal scene for the first part of the book, but as the fairy-tale mirage starts dissipating, Felicity moves back to Montreal, the place where reality takes precedence in the best of ways. That is where she finally finds her way and starts seeing her dreams come true, as soon as she understands what is important and what she truly wants.
Felicity is a strong character and the first person narrative brings her closer to the reader in what is a very enjoyable, interesting story. Just like in the first book of this series, Getting to Mr Right, Carol Balawyder has managed to provide us with relevant facts (this time about the physical and emotional struggles of those suffering from MS) without disrupting our reading pleasure. In spite of all these complex matters, Not By Design is a light, relaxing read, perfect for a lazy day on the beach or for a quiet evening at home, when one needs to clear one’s mind and forget about all those troubling daily issues.