MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Harper’s MAKE MY WISH COME TRUE, Or THE HOLIDAY Meets SHIRLEY VALENTINE

Make_My-Wish_Come_TrueMiss Bates isn’t sure what’s happened to her ARC-TBR lately, but there’s a strange conglomeration of slightly-off-romance narratives, like Reay’s Lizzy and Jane, or a recent cozy mystery that failed and will appear in an “exorcising dnfs” post soon. Fiona Harper’s Make My Wish Come True follows in the same vein and is more women’s fiction (one cut above chick-lit in Miss Bates’ no-no universe) than romance. The primary relationship account in Harper’s novel is the working out of a sibling relationship and the romances, one per sister, are secondary. Nevertheless, having enjoyed Harper’s 2012 Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle, with its aristocrat hero and stained-glass restorer heroine, Miss Bates was willing to tolerate yet another sisters-working-out-an-acrimonious-relationship narrative (and so soon after Reay’s similar themed). Make My Wish Come True added delight with some greatly humorous moments, third-person narration, and significantly less ponderous content. It also helped make the women’s-fiction medicine go down when Harper’s novel echoed two of Miss Bates’ sentimental film favourites, The Holiday (as a matter of fact, younger sister, Gemma, watches this in one scene) and more brilliant fare, Shirley Valentine. (Miss Bates wishes she’d noted this Christmas-set novel; she’d have made it one of her November-to-December Christmas-themed review-posts.)

Harper’s prologue hints at a problematic family and subsequent difficult sibling relationship between Juliet and Gemma. Older sister, Juliet, takes on the motherly role and Gemma plays devil-may-care baby sister. Now, years later, Juliet at 40 and Gemma 35, one Christmas holiday swap brings everything wrong with their relationship from simmering to boiling over. Juliet, divorced mother of four, resident of Tunbridge Wells, England, has always given her family the perfect Christmas, complete with perfectly placed lights, home-made, organic meals, and overflowing, hand-crafted stockings. But there is trouble in Juliet’s paradise: her divorce left her smarting, stressed, and disheartened. Her teen-age daughter is acting out; her to-do list is out of control, her great-aunt’s dementia-ridden behaviour sees frequent calls from the local constabulary, and her staid universe enters post-divorce dangerous waters. Her helpful, steady, possibly romantically interested next-door-neighbour, Will Turner, is the only friend who helps rather than hinders her. Enter her flighty sister, Gemma, whose “exotic” career as an assistant film director has her flying around the world with handsome movie stars. What Juliet doesn’t recognize are Gemma’s long hours, temperamental stars, and harried schedule.

What Harper created in the two sisters is a Martha-Mary dichotomy and a conflict wherein never the twain can meet in understanding and sympathy. Juliet and Gemma love each other, but put them in the same room and past and present resentments and misunderstandings surface. Their Martha-and-Mary personalities are at play when Gemma breezes into Tunbridge Wells with bags of presents for her nieces and nephews and ready apology for leaving Juliet on her own for Christmas while she lies on a Caribbean beach. Juliet is furious and overwhelmed; Gemma is petulant and guilt-ridden. Gemma offers to give Juliet her plane ticket and vacation while she cares for the children and gives the strays Juliet picks up and succors for Christmas a decent holiday dinner. The set-up is obvious: Juliet and Gemma will spend their holiday in each others’ shoes and arrive at sympathy for the other. Juliet and Gemma’s respective hilarious mis- and adventures make this warm, witty novel quite palatable. In their homemaker-versus-career-women friction are sown the seeds of empathy when they swap lives over the holiday. Deprived of ferrying the children, rescuing Great-Aunt Sylvia, and her ever-present to-do list, Juliet is forced to reevaluate her life in the sun and surf of St. Lucia … enter one gorgeous Italian in Marco Capello and she has to find her womanhood beyond children, PTA, and church bazaar. Enter Gemma into Juliet’s life and she in turn must realize what it means to be responsible for anyone beyond herself, how to ask for and accept help in the form of one Stick-Up-His-Butt handsome neighbour, and re-evaluate her, if not contempt, ignorance of what Juliet gives up to be everything to everyone, a help-meet and friend. The lessons are hard-won and yet told with a light touch; the emotion is believable, even while the plot is derivative.

Harper is an adept writer. Miss Bates appreciated, in particular, her accomplished hand at a light, but not frivolous, control of narrative tone. She enjoyed her skillful alternating of the inner and outer worlds of two distinct yet equally congenial characters in the two sisters. Harper writes with ease and humour, without losing sight of how her sister-characters must compromise for each other without condemning each other. It is particularly poignant when Juliet and Gemma find the roots of their animosity in their differing perspectives about their childhoods in a family where the father carried the burden of care for two girls and a depressed mother. The romances are interesting and present their own set of challenges for the two sisters: Marco Capello turns out to be a hard-won lesson for Juliet and Will Turner may potentially drive another wedge between the sisters. But Harper’s romance apprenticeship doesn’t disappoint: there be HEAs for Juliet and Gemma.

Miss Bates can’t say that she’ll follow Fiona Harper into her new-found narrative venture. However, if you’re looking for heart-felt, poignant, and humorous women’s fiction with romance-lite, then in Make My Wish Come True, Miss Bates found evidence of “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.

Fiona Harper’s Make My Wish Come True was published by HQN/Harlequin and available since November 3rd, 2014, in the usual formats at your favourite vendors. Miss Bates gratefully received an e-ARC from HQN/Harlequin, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Harper’s MAKE MY WISH COME TRUE, Or THE HOLIDAY Meets SHIRLEY VALENTINE

  1. This sounds pretty good. I’m more partial to women’s fiction–type narratives than I am to most romance anyway, although I hate the term “women’s fiction.” Why not call it general fiction? Chick-lit, on the other hand, is stuffed full of women with low self-esteem. I realize it’s “relateable,” but we don’t need the “woe is me, I don’t measure up” outlook on life normalized any more than it already is.

    Speaking of which, have you ever read anything by Susan Mallery? I recently read The Three Sisters from her Blackberry Island (or is it Blueberry Island? I forget) series. (The three sisters are three similar houses in a row as well as the women who inhabit them and become friends.) It occupies a foothold somewhere between romance and women’s fiction; it’s more women’s fic in tone and in the breadth of its content, but it does have love stories at the center: two marriages in trouble and one about falling for a new and very different guy after moving away and starting over again because her fiance left her at the altar.

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    • Yup, I agree about “women’s fiction”: there’s a little sneer that goes along with it. It should be general fiction; why does it have to be women’s because it’s peopled by women? Unless we can start calling Hemingway “men’s fiction” since he was partial to peopling his stories by men?

      I do think you’d like this one better than Reay’s sisters-narrative. It’s funny and really really nicely written. There are twists at the end that I couldn’t discuss without spoiling it and I’d love to hear what you think of them. For me, they’re a bit cop-out-y. As if the narrative couldn’t sustain their original implications and they had to be tied up and altered so the narrative would end neatly.

      I haven’t read Mallery though she’s a several-titles a year romance author that I see around a lot. I think I may have tried one of her Fool’s Gold series? and abandoned it because it was a mid-series title and I felt lost. The Three Sisters sounds quite nice, however!

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      • It seems as though having content that’s particularly relevant to women is as much part of being classified as women’s fiction as being peopled with women. But maybe that’s a distinction without a difference, a la the perception that a show or a book is overpopulated with women when they’re not a majority of the characters or of the main characters. Which leads me to wonder: What genre of fiction other than porn is designed to appeal specifically to men? “Westerns” used to be an answer, but they’re passe now. The only other fiction genre that springs to mind is action/adventure. Thrillers are more evenly divided in terms of audience and authorship, although female authors seem more apt to write psychological thrillers, with men writing the majority of the action/adventure type.

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        • This is very interesting, especially the question you raise about fiction for men. Just on the level of readership, fiction readers are more often than not women, so it makes sense that there’s a genre, outside of romance, peopled by women and imbued with women’s concerns, at least the perception of such. Women’s fiction never spoke for me and when I read it, I feel that it is a mouthpiece. Maybe that’s what turns me off. Romance, I think, is more elemental and archetypal and has a longer history/tradition in Austen and the Brontës, books so beloved to me that I can recall passages from them as needed.

          I think another “genre” that is geared, for want of a better word, to men is non–fiction. Men do read, when they read, a lot more non-fiction than fiction, with the exception of biography. I also think that the mystery novel has such a wide range, like romance, from cozies (which more women read) to the lone-wolf cop/PI, etc. singularly fighting corruption/crime, etc., with its depiction of violence (sex too, but secondary) might appeal more to men. But we’re also assuming gendered reader identities here. I’m just glad that there’s something for everyone out there and that we have the freedom to read whatever we want to.

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  2. I read this and was expecting romance, so I was a bit disappointed, especially with the Caribbean holiday storyline. I think if I’d known it was chick lit or women’s fiction, I’d have enjoyed it more. Her other single titles have been romance-proper, I think.

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    • The Caribbean storyline resolution was quite the let-down, I agree. Maybe it’s more realistic, but it felt hurried … as if Harper’s handling of two HEAs would’ve been too much. And certainly Marco and Juliet’s story would have been more difficult to work out. It was a pleasant enough read and had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, but I’m not keen to read more Harper in this vein. I think I too will stay with her Harlequin romances proper.

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  3. Great review, MissB! As you know, I liked it a lot, and I feel a bit badly because I think my review wasn’t clear enough on how much romance there was (sorry, Ros, if I misled you). It’s not quite women’s fiction but not quite romance; something in the middle, which I think you capture really well in your review.

    I was getting a bit burned out on Harper’s later categories, so I was interested to see the direction she took here and with the subsequent single titles. I agree that they show off her writing skills very well.

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    • Thank you!! (My heart’s warm and fuzzy you’re here!!) Welcome!

      Harper’s book was good and, I think, if I hadn’t read one too many of these, I’d have been quite delighted in it. No matter, it is most true that Harper has a lovely touch in her prose, really controlled and elegant. With some distance, I’d like to reverse my declaration not to follow her into new ventures. There is a lot of poor writing in romance, sadly, (and I know, it’s because of the sheer volume of publication), but I’m less and less tolerant of clunky prose.

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