Welcome to Cafe Love, where we serve a wide selection of love designed to appeal to every palate. Like the ancient Greeks, we start with the four main ingredients:
- Where the wifi connects automatically—STORGE: love of those we consider to be family
- Can’t post your bail because they were arrested with you—PHILIA: love for friends
- I just want to make you happy…and maybe naked—EROS: romantic love
- The person who has seen you at your worst, thinks of you at your best, and is perfectly willing to tell you which is which (i.e. your hairdresser and/or Mom): AGAPE: unconditional love through self-sacrifice
These ingredients (or lack thereof) define the basic relationship arcs of every story from the bible to Shakespeare to your annual new year’s resolutions. In his (mercifully short) book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis says:
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
― C.S. Lewis,
As any gourmet knows, a recipe is only a starting place. Even the best ingredients need an artist’s touch to combine them, season, and present them to discerning epicures. How? Let’s take a look at a sample which should probably not be coming to a bestseller list soon.
Along came Lemuel (A Squishy Romance)
by Milly Boone-Harlequin (with a assistance from the plot-generator)
Hepzibah Heartburn is a liberal feminist kickass cupcake decorator at the Upper Eastern Mississippi State Trailer Park Cupcake and Bait Shop. Her life in UEMSTC&BS is going nowhere until she meets Lemuel Slowburn, a chinless asthmatic with a passion for crossword puzzles.
Of course, Hepzibah takes an instant dislike to Lemuel—not so much because he has the intelligence of carpet lint (some of her best friends are stupid) but because word around town is that he’s a closet conservative who has been known to wear designer loafers with tassels, and perhaps even the occasional sweater vest.
However, when an internet troll tries to take down Hepzibah’s cupcake business by filling in thousands of fundamentalist religious websites with her business URL and the comment that she would like to hear more of their good news, Lemuel springs to her rescue. Hepzibah begins to notice that while Lemuel outwardly appears to be too conservative to fart unless it’s a bullet point on the Republican Party platform, he listens to vintage Grateful Dead in his car and once even bought a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. After she follows him into a bodega where he orders in Spanish, Hepzibah realizes she’s falling for him.
But Lemuel’s decision not to expose Hepzibah to the dangers of his job—as a Freelance Toilet Wrangler he’s on-call 24/7 to capture snakes, alligators, and supernatural creatures that come up through bathroom plumbing—means he friend-zones her. Despondent, Hepzibah sits in the dark sucking Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream (Karamel Sutra Core) directly from the carton and watching live-cam streaming of large animals in labor. When she misses that weekend’s Womens March in order to watch April the Giraffe gestating, her two best friends (a fluffy lamb and a quirky gay yoga pants designer) stage an intervention and arrange a blind date with playboy cotton-candy maker Ezekiel Hellburn.
After seeing a bouquet of multi-colored cotton candy being delivered to Hepzibah’s house, Lemuel realizes he has to act fast. Donning his hand-knitted pink pussy hat, Lemuel shows Hepzibah proof that Ezekiel not only takes phone calls during theater performances, but also is the official cotton-candy supplier to the National Rifle Association. But is it too little too late? Will Hepzibah and Lemuel ever find the squishy love they deserve?
FOUR LOVES GENRE NOTES:
- If Lemuel and Hepzibah meet every day at the bodega, and over their cemitas and tortas they talk about the difficulties of getting gluten-free responsibly-harvested organic frosting dye or the best ways to humanely trap a toilet poltergeist, they have PHILIA.
- If Hepzibah’s BFFs (actual baby lamb and a yoga pants designer) are her family-of-choice, the ones who remember her birthday with awkward ‘surprise’ parties and even-more-awkward blind dates, they have STORGE.
- If Hepzibah fantasizes about snogging Lemuel’s chinless er…chin while lying naked atop the New York Times crossword puzzle, that’s just lust (however disturbing). However, if she wants to give up YouTube animal birth videos in favor of gestating mini-Lemuels and growing old together, that’s EROS (but still disturbing actually).
- If Lemuel doesn’t hesitate to stand between the NRA rally and Hepzibah’s Equal Rights March, armed only with his snake-capture loop and a few (humanely trapped) poltergeists, they have AGAPE (and possibly, an issue with PETS—People for Ethical Treatment of Supernaturals).
For a look at how a real author nails these tropes in an actual romance, see my review below for D.E. Haggerty’s Fat Girl Begone.
Fat Girl Begone by D.E. Haggerty
I’m a total mess. My boyfriend dumped me – get this – because I diet too much. Not because I’m fat, mind you. Of course, this spurs me into the diet-fitness-revenge-plan of the century, which leads me to the gym and a scorching hot personal trainer. I even manage to make some cool new friends, including a millionaire if you can believe it. Things are looking up! Naturally, that’s the moment my ex decides he wants me back, the personal trainer asks me out, and my millionaire male buddy decides to throw his hat in the ring. But that’s not enough drama. No, not for me. Because I’ve also lost my job and decided to start my own business. Just call me Ms. Drama.
Warning: Bad language, bumpy roads, and embarrassing moments ahead. But there’s also more than a bit of romance and even, if we’re lucky, love. Fingers crossed.
Not endorsed by or affiliated with any brand of tequila.
How many times do you plan a vacation where you have no idea of your destination? Not that often, I’d bet. We may SAY it’s the journey that matters…but a mountain climber doesn’t want their journey to end up in an art museum any more than an opera buff wants to end up on a surfer beach. It’s the same with the romance genre. Sure, we expect that the two main characters will end up together. But the paths taken to reach that point are literally infinite in number. Just ask Elizabeth Bennett (Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen), Claire Randall (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), Kate Daniels (Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews) or any of the literally millions of romance heroines how they arrived at their HEAs. Some of those paths are so well-travelled that the scenery is boring and the tour has become a cliche. Others, though familiar, still offer plenty of exciting, gorgeous, and just plain romantic views along the way. Take Fat Girl Begone as an excellent example where the destination might be a given, but the fun is all in how author D.E. Haggerty gets us there.
It might seem like Everly Rawlins has it all—handsome and successful boyfriend, partnership-track at her accounting firm, secret savings account to fund her dream wedding. But her self-image tells her she’s fat, her boyfriend tells her he’s leaving because he can’t take any more of her obsession with diet instead of him, her best friend tells her that tequila-fuelled decision to pre-pay for a private trainer is non-negotiable, and her employer tells her security will be escorting her from their premises. And that’s just the beginning, as author D. E. Haggerty keeps the romance tropes flying so fast we barely register the meet-cute with Mr. Yummy, the obligatory ensuing love triangle, and all four types of what the Greeks called the four loves:
- STORGE (Affection/family love): Everly builds a new family-of-choice in her supportive, profane, but well-dressed new friends from the gym.
- PHILIA (Friendship love): Her best friends steadfastly refuse to accept Everly’s body image issues, seeing her as both intelligent and beautiful.
- EROS (Romantic love): Rejected by her long-time boyfriend, Everly tries to keep new suitors firmly in the friend-zone, telling herself that she is not up to their league.
- AGAPE (Unconditional love): With her former boyfriend as the poster boy for how to undermine self-image, Everly is suspicious of unconditional love when it’s offered.
There are so many things I liked about Everly. The snarky banter with her friends, the humor that shines through even when she’s at her lowest points, the secret core of strength she has no idea is there, and way we start to see her intelligence and beauty as reflected in her friends’ love and admiration—these all combine in beautifully orchestrated character development.
There were a few things I found a little harder to swallow. There’s the billionaire who seems to work about an hour a week, the new business that springs into life and instant success, the will-they/won’t-they (they will) suspense, the expanding triangle as every guy she meets falls in lust with Everly, and especially the mind-boggling perfection of a suitor whose like hasn’t been seen outside the pages of Porn for Women. (Sexy Shirtless Guy: “As soon as I finish the laundry, I’ll do the grocery shopping. And I’ll take the kids with me.”)
Does any of that matter? Not if what you’re looking for is a funny, entertaining, and ultimately charming journey to a destination you knew about right from the start. If that’s what you’re hoping for, then Fat Girl Begone is exactly the right ticket.
*I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
- Book Title & Preview: Fat Girl Begone
- Author: D.E. Haggerty
- Genre: Romantic comedy/contemporary romance
- Publisher: Amazon
- Length: 235 pages
- Release Date: 1 May, 2017
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excerpt: Fat Girl Begone by D. E. Haggerty
After twenty minutes on the bike, I’m ready to go home. I know I’m supposed to do that circuit thingy with the machines, but I can skip it for this once. No one needs to know. I slowly sneak my way to the women’s locker room.
Crap. Gabe’s standing right in front of the door to my freedom. I wave. Yep, I’m a total dork. “Hi.”
“I saw you out there on the bike. Looking good.” He winks. Damn, he looks absolutely scrumptious standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. Trust me, it’s an impressive show of muscles. Not huge like a body builder but big enough to grab onto. “Looking for your clipboard?”
And there goes any chance I have of sneaking out of the gym. “Just refilling my water bottle before moving onto the weights.” I hold up my obviously full water bottle and try not to cringe.
“Sure, babe, but make sure you get your weight training done as well. A woman with muscles is hot.” With another wink, he takes off.
Did he seriously wink at me? Is this part of the personal trainer service? Flirt with the customers to ensure they want to do your bidding? Even in my head that sounded crazy. That hot man of muscles would never want me and my jiggly bits. I shake my head and force my legs to the personal trainers’ section to grab my clipboard.
If I thought the bike was boring, I was wrong. Doing a circuit of weight machines is what’s boring. I should download some podcasts or something. Or maybe some books on tape? Do they hire men with scorching hot voices to read the male parts in romance novels? Definitely need to do some research.
I quickly towel off the last machine and grab my water bottle. I stand from picking up my clipboard and nearly run straight into someone. “Shit! I didn’t realize anyone was standing there. Did you want this machine?”
“Nah.” He shakes his head. “How are you doing, Everly?”
It’s the guy I ran into on Wednesday. Shoot – what was his name again? “Um, hi.” If that’s not embarrassing enough, I do a little wave but the clipboard is still in my hand and I end up smacking him in the stomach. Thank goodness, I missed any important bits. “Shit. Sorry.”
He laughs and grabs the clipboard from my hand, presumably before I can do any more damage. “It’s Carter. Do you want to grab a smoothie?” My face scrunches up at the thought of a smoothie. He chuckles. “Or a coffee or something?”
“Um. I was going to head home like this.” With my now free hand, I indicate my ratty gym clothes.
Carter shrugs. “That’s okay. We can get a quick drink at the bar here.”
I can’t exactly say no after I ran into the guy and then hit him. “Okay, let me grab my stuff.”
He smiles and nods. I rush off with my thoughts whirling. Is he just being nice? Friendly? Or is this like a date thing? I’m not ready to date. Do I tell him that? Crap. It’s only a coffee. It doesn’t have to mean anything. But what if it does mean something? Can I give myself a concussion from thinking in circles?