Review: From Notting Hill with Love…Actually by Ali McNamara
Author: Ali McNamara
Series: Actually #1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, originally published in the UK by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group
Publication Date: October 1, 2012, originally published November 1, 2010
Format/Source: Paperback/Borrowed from Library
She was a girl, standing in front of a boy…
Movie fanatic Scarlett O’Brien dreams of a life as glamorous and romantic as all the big screen flicks she worships. When a chance house-sitting job in iconic Notting Hill comes along, she knows living in one of her favorite movie settings is an opportunity too good to pass up.
Leaving behind her skeptical friends, family, and fiance, Scarlett heads to London and finds herself thrust into the lead role of her very own romantic comedy. But can real life ever be just like the movies? Larger-than-life new friends, a handsome but irksome new neighbor, and a mystery from her past may prove to Scarlett that living her life like a RomCom is more complicated than she thought! (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads)
A Light and Fluffy Change…
From Notting Hill with Love…Actually was my book club’s pick for March and we were all pretty excited about it. I mean, look at that title! It sounds super cute and just makes me want to watch British RomComs all day. Most of what I read is YA Science Fiction/Dystopian/Fantasy, etc., so I was welcoming the light and fluffy departure from my routine. Unfortunately, this one fell pretty flat for me. It did end up getting a bit better by the end, but I still had lots of issues with it, especially in the beginning.
Show, Not Tell…
That’s the first thing writers are told in any writing class: “Show, don’t tell.” And when you’re a new writer sometimes that can be extremely confusing. I know I still have a hard time with the concept myself. But basically it means you need to show your readers what’s happening and the emotions of your characters by explaining how they move or the look on their faces, rather than saying, “Bob was sad.”
Now, this book didn’t fall exactly into that trap, but it did fall into a similar trap. The main character, Scarlett, LOVES movies. I mean, she’s really obsessed with them. So much so that she daydreams about being in one almost all day long. And she has a lot of favorite movies and actors and actresses. That she mentioned. A LOT. I understand that that is how the character is–she sees similarities to movies all the time in her daily life. And that’s fine. And I actually love references to movies and other books when I’m reading. But I’d rather them be subtle references than what happened in this book too often, which was either Scarlett directly naming a movie or character in her dialogue or thoughts, or she’d see something happen and then say “Hey, that’s like in Pretty Woman!” and then she’d go on to explain to her friends the exact scene that it was similar to.
There were so many direct references that I started marking them down in my notes after the first 25 pages of the book. At the end, there were 55 different actors and actresses mentioned by name, 47 different movies mentioned by name, and 11 TV show/TV star references. I think that’s a bit ridiculous, considering that those are 55 different actors and actresses mentioned. I didn’t count when an actor was mentioned a second or third time. Some actors, like Hugh Grant, Johnny Depp, and Julia Roberts, were mentioned several times over the course of the book. I just feel like this is hitting me over the head a bit too much.
I do feel like this book had lots of great potential, though. In the story, Scarlett’s father, fiance, and best friend all think that she’s too obsessed with movies. So when she gets a chance to housesit in Notting Hill, she takes it, mostly so that she can make her life as much like a romantic comedy as possible, just to prove her family and friends wrong. And what happened was there were plenty of RomCom moments in her life that she didn’t plan but she didn’t recognize all of them (which I found unrealistic, seeing that she was SO movie obsessed), or she tried to make these certain scenes from movies happen, and sometimes it would work and other times it wouldn’t. I wish it had gone one way instead of all of those. For instance, it would have been cute, I think, if she tried all the time to make those iconic scenes happen, but they always blew up in her face, and then maybe the guy that was always there to help her was a perfect RomCom leading man. Or maybe instead of trying for all those things to happen, they could have just randomly happened to her while she was housesitting. I just think one or the other would have made the story even better.
And the beginning really bothered me–there was a whole flashback scene in the first few chapters and it really wasn’t needed at all. It was just awkward and made the story so much longer than it needed to be. I normally don’t mind flashbacks but this one was really weird and unnecessary.
I did end up liking it better than I thought I would, and I really liked the love story that develops between Scarlett and her neighbor in Notting Hill. And I loved the Star Wars-themed wedding that they go to, and also the other wedding at Disneyland Paris. But ultimately, this was just a story that had a lot of potential and didn’t live up to it at all. I was expecting something light and fluffy, something that didn’t make me overthink anything, and instead I got something that made me write 10 pages of (mostly ranting) notes.
My rating for From Notting Hill with Love…Actually by Ali McNamara:
Maybe more like 2.5. I wanted to love this one, but unfortunately didn’t end up liking it very much.
Disclaimer: I borrowed a copy of this book from my library. I was in no way compensated for this review.