I’ve enjoyed Emma Barry’s romances since reading her histrom, Brave In Heart. I have sentimental affection for it because it was one of the first romances I reviewed on this very blog (turning TEN in May). So I was awfully glad to see another Barry romance on the horizon, except I admit approaching it with a gimlet eye: while I love Barry’s romances, I really really hate chickens. When I used to spend summers in my parents’ Greek village, stray, mangy dogs and squawking, fluttering, pea-brained, eat-anything, gag-inducing-smelly chickens were what I hated most about it (also roosters crowing at sun-rise when you’d been pickled in ouzo the night before). Like Chick Magnet‘s hero, Will Lund, I never warmed to heroine Nicole Jones’ chickens, but like Will, I liked Nicole and I liked what Barry wrought. I don’t think Chick Magnet has the wit and fun of Barry’s Political Persuasions series (once in a while, it peeked through), but I still read this in one sitting during a work-week from hell (five-hour Zoom, anyone?); and, except for an uncertain beginning, it got better and better with each page-turn. To give you a more-details picture, the publisher’s blurb:
Nicole Jones needs a fresh start. “Chick Nic” to millions of internet fans, the social media star and her flock of chickens bask in the spotlight—until she’s publicly dumped by a YouTuber for clout. She has no choice but to round up her birds and move on.
But when one of her hens has an emergency, Nic gets her first taste of her new stomping grounds—and it isn’t good. Veterinarian Will Lund is wildly attractive, yes, but he’s also surly. In fact, he comes right out and calls her a menace for parading her chickens on social media.
As neighbors, Nic and Will can’t exactly avoid each other. Then again, maybe they don’t want to. The two can’t deny their smoldering attraction, and it isn’t long before late-night confessions lead to backyard shenanigans.
Is this the start of a neighborly relationship—or could something more be hatching?
Barry’s Chick Magnet offers much, especially how she worked in what the pandemic lockdowns did to small-town, small-scale, small-animal vet practices, but, hey, this is a romance, so the best part was the growing love between Nicole “Nic” and Will. Unlike my previous “listen”, Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun, this is NOT plot-driven. It’s a beautifully developed romance, about two mature, flawed people falling in love. And to build her romance, Barry made choices that I think bring out the best in the genre and also happen to be personal favourites. She has a giant of a hero and a short-scale heroine (personal fave); she has sunshine to grump (Nicole to Will, another fave); she has a dilapidated, loving, supportive small-town setting; she has a hero and heroine who need other people almost as much as they want, need, and love each other (nothing worse than an insular couple-dom for your HEA). I loved that she delays their love scenes till after they have feelings and friendship, affection, flirting, healthy lusting, and care, and those love scenes? They are terrific: not closed-door, not coyly euphemistic, but tender and real.
And Barry can write: there was a flattening of her previous witty style in the romance’s first third, but there was also some recovery. And the recovery was good. Witness Nic’s first glimpse of Will: “An enormous, wide-shouldered, sandy-blond-haired, broad-faced man — good-looking in a pillaging-Viking sort of way — stood on her steps”. Barry knows her lit and her genre and she hits many a delightful note with allusions. For a reader like me, I practically sat up and cheered every time I read something along those lines; my heart sang with: “…he’d declared that he was going to be a vet because his mother had been reading the James Herriot books aloud,” or “It made him want to…move to Casablanca, open a bar, and say cynical, cutting things to Nazis”. Sometimes, it was the sheer fun of a particular metaphor that made me smile: “Nic had a way of shaking him up like a snow globe, stirring up a blizzard of change inside him.” I also loved the wonderful interplay between allusions to Greek myths and what love still can mean in this post-pandemic, apocalyptic-rumblings “brave new world” we’re living: ” ‘I was Psyche, alone in the dark. And if you can let me care for you, if you can feel worthy of that, you could be my Eros.’ “
It’s good to read Barry again. But like the way the genre has gone these past ten years, so have her themes: Barry has left ideas behind for issues and I was intellectually disappointed with that. But the romance is absolutely lovely and Miss Austen would agree, Chick Magnet is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Emma Barry’s Chick Magnet is published by Montlake and has been available since January 24th. I received an e-ARC from Montlake, via Netgalley, and this does not affect my opinion.
4 thoughts on “Review: Emma Barry’s CHICK MAGNET”
Interesting about your ideas/issues comment. I haven’t read this book, probably because I can’t get my head around chicken influencer. Do you mean the author is substituting a checklist of issues for shorthand, instead of dealing with hard ideas? I’m really curious. Thanks.
Thank you for asking the question, it’s a good one and I think I wasn’t forthcoming, just threw out that comment without explaining. I guess I would say that Barry’s romances, in particular, were always concerned with existential, political, and even historical in her first romance, ideas. I thought they were about ideas; she’s replaced that here with romance-as-consciousness-raising? I don’t think that’s the right term, BTW. She has Will suffer from depression and Nicole from a gas-lighting ex-bf. I don’t want to return to the alpha-hero, or ingenue heroine of the bodice-ripper, but I liked what romances were doing in the 90s, Patricia Gaffney, for example, they were fearless about exploring ideas, not issues. And I thought Barry’s earlier romances did that too and, frankly, were also a lot more fun. I’ll continue to read her, but allow myself the luxury of missing what she used to do.
I wouldn’t let the chickens deter me from reading, goodness knows I can’t stand the critters, but they’re there, a bit of a distraction, and here’s the important bit I didn’t mention. Will gets a kitten and she makes up for the chickens. She’s hilarious and her naming is spot-on.
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Intriguing review. I feel like I have a sense of what you mean. I’ll be interested to see if I feel the same when I read it.
And I would LOVE to hear what you think of it!!