Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of No Strings Attached by Lily Bishop, a classic character-driven romance which I finished reading earlier this week.
Characters: Lovely blonde admin assistant Laura Todd has aspirations of moving up to marketing consultant with the help of a newly minted masters degree.
Wealthy, handsome businessman Fox Thornton is on the rebound from a failed relationship that ended just short of marriage.
Though standard chick lit characters — handsome, powerful man; beautiful, but down-to-earth woman taking care of her younger sister — Fox and Laura generate real chemistry together, in part because of author Lily’s snappy, but authentic dialogue.
Here they are at a first romantic dinner together:
All that mattered was the here and now and the way her nerves stood at attention. She twirled one curl around a finger, feeling Fox’s hot gaze on the cleavage created by her suit jacket.
“So you were going to tell me about the name Fox.” Laura sat back and slid her shoe back on, hoping to move the conversation back to something neutral.
“I hated my name as a child, so I gave myself a new one.”
“And your mother didn’t object?”
“Of course she objected, but she could see my point.”
“Why? What was your name?”
He looked around, as if to verify that no one could hear him. “Marion.”
“Marion?” Laura asked, dumbfounded. “But that’s a girl’s name.”
“Or an old family surname from way back. Marion Scott Thornton.”
Laura tried to contain her humor, but the giggles burst forth. “Get beat up much in elementary school?”
In keeping with steamy romance tradition, Fox and Laura are attractive. Lily does a nice job showing each from the other’s point-of-view. Here’s Fox, falling for Laura at first sight during a blackjack session at the casino where they first meet.
He blamed his losses on the gorgeous blonde at the end of the table and her sexy silver dress. How could he leave with her if she made no effort to leave?
Her hair reminded him of wheat in summer and it curled around her shoulders with a devil-may-care attitude. Her eyes shone like dark amber whiskey and glowed with an inner fire when she smiled— which was often— and frequently in his direction. She leaned forward and he caught a glimpse of a little dark hollow between her breasts. He stifled a groan.
No Strings Attached features other characters you’ll recognize from the hallowed halls of romantic literature, such as the insightful and influential parent and the reckless sibling who creates plot complications. Lily draws them each well enough that they seem more like old friends than standard “types.”
Plot: Shortly after their chance meeting in Vegas ignites into a night of passion, by strange coincidence, Fox and Laura find themselves drawn into an embezzlement investigation — with Fox as the investigator and Laura as a possible suspect.
Setting: No Strings Attached features settings in a luxury Vegas hotel, a yacht, a company office, and a resort island, among other locations. Lily gives each its descriptive due.
I’m retired Navy, so I loved the yacht:
“Nice ship. I like it,” she said offhand, still thinking he walked behind her.
“It is, but that’s not it. She’s over here,” he said. Laura looked up and her jaw dropped at the size of the yacht behind him. Rising three stories from the pier, it dwarfed all of the other ships.
“You said it was a yacht, not a cruise ship,” she mumbled.
He took her hand and helped her across the gangplank to the main deck, a vision of crisp white paint and burnished brass, sleek lines and smoke-tinted glass. They followed the spiral stairs up to the sundeck, and Laura stopped, stunned by the view of the marina and beyond to the high-rise hotels on Miami Beach.
“How many staterooms?” she asked when he stood beside her.
“Six, plus the crew quarters. Would you like a tour?”
“I’d love one.” When would she get the chance to be on a ship like this again? He led her to the state-of-the-art bridge, with its deep leather seats and computerized displays.
While Lily doesn’t overdo the settings, she gives enough description to let readers see the scene.
What I thought could be done better: Normally in this section I like to stick with objective points such as grammar or clarity issues — things that I can actually pull from the text as an example.
Lily’s writing is clear and the grammar is good. All I really have is subjective — just one guy’s opinion. Here it is. And I hope this isn’t a spoiler.
At one point in the narrative, Fox kidnaps Laura, hoping to isolate her and get the truth out of her. This section is as well-written as the rest of the story, and enjoyable to read, but seemed over the top, based on the persona Lily has created for her male protagonist.
However, this is Lily’s story, and if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens. I could just as easily argue that Fox acts irrationally in kidnapping Laura because his normally shrewd judgement has been shredded between love, desire and suspicion based on having been betrayed previously by a fiancee.
If that’s the case, it might’ve been set up a little better, so that when it happens, the response is “Oh yeah, I should’ve seen that coming,” rather than “Wait a minute, where’d I put that jar of Suspension of Disbelief, because I need a dollop now.”
Of course, anyone can say “the plot should’ve gone this way or that,” so I’m not really sure it even is a valid criticism, but it’s about the only thing that made me pause for a moment in this otherwise fast-paced and seamless story.
What I thought was good: As I’ve already mentioned, No Strings Attached is a fast-paced seamless, classic piece of chick lit storytelling. Not my first choice in reading, but I believe that reading outside my favorite genres from time to time makes me a better writer.
Characters are well-defined and mostly (see previous section) believable. Lily describes her settings well, giving reader imaginations plenty to work with. Love scenes are steamy without being vulgar.
One of my favorite moments in the story is when Laura reports to work after returning from Vegas — only to find her lover sitting with the boss.
“Nice of you to join us, Laura,” Lloyd said. She barely suppressed a shudder at his sarcastic tone.
“I’m not going to repeat everything, but in case you haven’t heard, Vaughn Bruce is no longer with us. You’ll be working for our interim director, Fox Thornton. I’m sure he will fill you in after we finish here.”
Time stopped. Laura’s head shot up like a cat who had just heard a dog. How could she have missed him there beside Lloyd, larger than life? When she first glanced in that direction he had blended in with all of the other men in white dress shirts. He stopped flipping through his report and watched for her reaction. Everyone else faded away as the memory flashed between them.
She blinked, trying to get her bearings. Why was he here? Seeing him in Miami felt wrong on so many levels, as if she had joined a meeting in progress with a space alien. She broke eye contact and looked down at the pad in her lap. The blood rushed out of her hands until they felt like ice.
That is a true “Yikes!” moment. Did you catch the line “Laura’s head shot up like cat who had just heard a dog.”? Lily’s writing is filled with strong similies like that. “The evening flew by like a missile with a hard lock on its target.” is another.
Add plenty of active voice and vivid verbs, and the story transcends “romance” and just becomes a good story. Plenty of romance in James Bond novels too, by the way.
Speaking of the Bond books, No Strings Attached also has some nice passages about cuisine, here, a Caesar salad:
“What are those?” she asked, unsure about the dark brown strips that looked like mushrooms that had turned.
Laura gulped. “I’ve never seen anyone add real anchovies,” she said after a minute, skeptical.
“Then you haven’t had a real Caesar,” Fox teased as Kirby plated the salads, topping each with thick, crusty croutons. He grated fresh Parmesan cheese for each of them.
The salad was a work of art, but would she like it? She pushed the lettuce around with her fork, looking for wayward anchovies, still hesitant to take a bite. The anchovies apparently disappeared into the dressing, which covered everything. If she didn’t like it, she would be stuck. Maybe she should have asked for it on the side. She took a bite and her eyes widened.
I particularly liked the story’s themes of trust, communication and loyalty. If Fox and Laura had only trusted and communicated with one another a little more, they’d have avoided a lot of heartache. Of course, then there wouldn’t be any story.
Overall: Despite Fox’s wealth, and Laura’s beauty, Lily has created characters I could relate to. I’m not sure I would’ve ever kidnapped the lovely Anita, from back in my old school days, but she did make me crazy, and that’s a fact.
Sexy, emotional and with well-described locales from boardroom to bedroom; from luxury yacht to corporate jet, No Strings Attached is a deeply satisfying classic romance. Though entertaining, it explores some important themes — the most important, of course, being love.
Good job Lily!