Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Settling the Score

Settling the ScoreSettling the Score by Eden Winters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joey Nichols is hoping for a new life, away from his small Georgia town at the side of his love, former smalltown boy and now up-and-coming Hollywood star Riker. How bitterly disillusioned is he when his boyfriend casually annonces the end of their relationship over prime time TV. What's worse, Joey has to learn about Riker's two-timing from the tabloid press; Riker's snide remarks about Joey are all over the internet for everyone to see. In the middle of being shunned by half his hometown and having insults and eggs hurled at him for being gay, Joey finds remarkable support from his family. A stubborn lot, the Nichols's prepare to ride out the wave of rejection, enduring hardships out of their love for Joey, which only adds to Joey's shame and embarrassment.

Troy Steele is a successful writer who had his books made into even more successful movies. But his success came at a high price: in order to fit in with the persona his publicists created for him, Troy allowed himself changed out of recognition. Estranged even from himself and still smarting from his former lover Ian's betrayal, which once broke up a wonderful relationship for him, Troy leads the life of a recluse, turning into a bitter old man at only thirty - eight.

This changes when Troy and his PA Erica watch Joey's day of humiliation on TV. Quick - witted, calculating, firecely loyal Erica immediately recognizes Joey's potential as a means of retaliation. What's more, his fate happens to match the new book Troy is currently writing, and Joey promises first - class research material. They end up offering Joey a chance to "reveal his inner swan" as Erica puts it, and with a little coaxing, Joey accepts.

As the weeks go by, Troy finds himself more and more taken by his new assistant and reseach object. There is so much more to Joey than meets the eye. Alongside Joey, Troy changes, not only on his outward appearance, but also in his view of life and in the order of his priorities. But then Troy's conscience kicks in: in using Joey for his personal revenge, is he any better than Riker or Ian? Before he can tell Joey the truth, though, Joey finds out on his own and leaves. Now Troy has to come up with an equivalent of diamonds and flowers good enough to reconcile him with his down-to-earth auto mechanic.

This book was a real treat to read, a brilliant and originate take on the old Pygmalion theme. The story gripped me from the start and took me on a wonderful ride into the ideal world. Who wouldn't wish for a world where both the bad and the good harvest what they sow in spades? The beauty of this particular tale lay in the fact that it turned its fairytale-ish concept into something that could have actually happened for real. Both Troy and Joey were no fairy-tale princes who had their happiness fall into their laps, they had to figure out what they wanted first and then to work hard for it. They were real human beings, with flaws, weaknesses and quirks, they made consequential mistakes, hurt others out of thoughtlessness and selfishness and still had enough inner goodness and conscience to realize where they had erred and go about righting their wrongs. They were two of the most human, most likeable characters I've met lately in fiction, perfect examples of Eden Winter's incredible skill with characterization. The secondary cast was just as perfect, down to minor characters like bully Chuck and hypocritically friendly neighbor Andrew. I particularly loved Joey's family - not the picture-perfect American family at all, but unwavering in their love and loyalty for Joey and perfect where it counted. The only less than real character was Erica, although also one of the most likeable - she was a bit over the top in her fairy-godmotherhood, but I could easily forgive her since she was exactly what Troy and Joey needed, and boy, did that tiny pixie pack a punch!

The wonderful characterizations, the sparkling dialogue and the great, easily flowing writing easily made up for the occasionally quite far-fetched plot. The entire tale breathed heartfelt honesty, down to the last little pieca of dialect worked in, down to the stark reality of our media-ridden world where everyone's deepest secrets can be dragged to light over the internet, laid bare for anyone to trample on.

A book that went immediately to my keeper shelf, to be pulled out and read again and again. Heartily, thoroughly recommended.

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