Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Those Nice Words are Coming Out of The Mouth That Trashed Me? "Playing Dirty" by Susan Anderson

When old enemies are thrown together, all bets are off…

Way back in high school, golden boy Cade Gallari publicly revealed he'd slept with "fat girl" Ava Spencer to win a bet. Now a decade older and a head turner with her own concierge business, Ava isn't the gullible dreamer she once was— and she plans to prove it when Cade, hotter than ever, breezes back into town with an offer she can't refuse.

A documentary film producer, Cade is shooting a movie about the mysterious mansion Ava inherited. And he wants her as his personal concierge. She's certainly professional enough to be at his beck and call without giving him everything he wants. Like another shot at having her in his bed. But Ava doesn't count on Cade's determination. Because he's never gotten over her— and he's not above playing dirty to score a second chance at a red–hot future…

I can't even begin to innumerate the people to whom I have spoken over the years who have been deeply hurt or profoundly influenced by unkind words, pranks, hurtful actions that were directed at them during their high school years. We were so vulnerable and trying so hard to be "cool." We all wanted to be thought of as fashionable, acceptable as a person people wanted to like, popular, or at least have a few friends who would gather with us around our lockers or meet us in the lunch room. But the saddest of all, I think, are those individuals whose wounds have continued to fester and whose present-day lives are judged by those feelings and impressions from years ago.

Such was the case with Ava Spencer, Seattle's premier concierge, who made life easier for many people, who could have your new house primed, cleaned, and waiting for you when you moved, who could plan and execute a party in less time than it takes to tell about it, who knew all the right people and who could make things happen in a millisecond. Yet Ava's present life, as successful as it may seem, was still colored by the actions of an insensitive and unthinking young man who had been her "crush" in high school and who, for a few short weeks, had seemed to really like her--I mean, REALLY like her. He was her first--not a very memorable first, in truth, but she was happy to give him her virginity. Yet the next day, in the school cafeteria, Cade accepted payment of a winning bet that he would sleep with "the fat girl." Not to be outdone, Ava scored a verbal comeback that haunted Cade for years, but his betrayal and the deep disappointment that went with it never went away completely.

One of the joys of high school, however, was Ava's friendship with two other girls who became her sisters on so many levels. And it was out of that friendship, along with being taken under the wing of one of Seattle's legendary citizens, that Ava and her two friends inherited a historic mansion that was one of Seattle's showplaces. Now a film company wants to use the mansion to tell the story of that legendary lady, and guess what? Cade, Ava's old nemesis, is the director. He wants her as his concierge for the documentary along with some interviews with her and her two friends for the film. To put it mildly, this is perhaps the most difficult challenge of Ava's adult life so far.

Susan Anderson has brought us a novel that peels away the layers of these two people--who they were, who they have become, and how they are challenged to see one another within the stressful context of filming a documentary. Cade is shocked to find out that "the fat girl" has now become a strikingly beautiful woman, one who certainly has his attention and who reminds him that those few weeks he and Ava spent together as lab partners and as close friends in high school were, in reality, some of the best weeks in his school experience. Ava is interested to learn that Cade is a highly successful film director, that all his documentaries have won serious acclaim for him, that he is a man of purpose and organization, and one who has never stopped trying to apologize for his foolishness. Both are challenged to see each other with new eyes, but that isn't easy when the old impressions and opinions hold such sway. Add in Ava's mother with her constant criticism and Cade's belief that Ava will never forgive him, and you have a messy, witty, sparkling, constantly-on-the-move kind of novel that is next to impossible to put down.

I really liked the comraderie between the three friends, their involvement in each other's lives, just like sisters, their willingness to listen to one another, and their open and honest sharing about feelings, friendships, and their relationships with their significant others. Add in that sense that the friendship of this legendary lady was a factor in helping all these young girls grow into kind, generous, caring, strong young women and people worthy of being loved and giving love in return. Ava ultimately learns that Cade had some very distressing happenings in his life right about the time that he was so unkind to her. She also realizes that he has lots of holes in his life just as she has. I really also liked that not only were these two challenged to let bygones be bygones and move toward friendship, but they had to deal honestly with the attraction that had never gone away, that had persisted all the way back to high school days. Ava is sexy and gorgeous; Cade is sexy and gorgeous. How can these two ever get past the past? It is, in every sense, the core issue in the book.

This is a novel that can be classified as a "feel good" kind of book. It deals honestly with the messiness of human relationships, brings in the factor of parents and home and how that affects all of us, happily or otherwise, and how the strength and loyalty of friendships can endure and often be the single factor that keeps a person balanced. Of course, Ms Anderson is a writer whose books have captured the interest of readers for some time now, and with her wit and writing expertise, she crafts plot and story and characters that mesh flawlessly. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

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