Mad Love, by Suzanne Selfors

Suzanne Selfors has written fantasy for both kids (the very quirky Fortune's Magic Farm and even more quirky Smells Like Dog) and teens (Saving Juliet and Coffee House Angel). "Humor and charm" are pretty good adjectives to describe her writing. They certainly apply to her newest book for teens, Mad Love (Bloomsbury, 2011, YA, 320pp) but here the subject matter is more serious than in her past books.

Alice's mother is the best-selling Queen of Romance. At least, her mom was the Queen of Romance until she stopped writing and fell into a chronic depression, and had to be hospitalized. Now sixteen-year old Alice is on her own, trying to pretend to the world, and most importantly her mother's publisher, that everything is just fine. Happily there are two caring friends of the family to help her out, but still she's essentially alone. And when the letter from the publisher arrives, asking for repayment of her mother's last advance, Alice is afraid she reached the end of the line, unless a miracle happens.

So she decides to whip out her mother's new book in the next few months. How hard can it be, for one who has grown up breathing in the tropes of the romance novel? Answer--pretty impossible. So when she meets Errol, who asks her to write the romance story he lived, she agrees (after much very understandable hesitation) to give it a shot.

Errol's story is much more interesting than Alice dreamed. He's the one and only Cupid from mythology, and he doesn't have much time left on Earth in which to get the true version of his romance with Psyche down on paper. He'll do anything to get Alice to work with him--and he has arrows of passion that he isn't afraid to use...

Alice wants her mom back, and her life back, especially now that she's met the very cute and very likable Tony, who likes her back. But Cupid can be very persuasive....and when she starts hearing his voice inside her head, Alice wonders if she, like her mother, has gone mad...

In short, Mad Love combines realistic situations, and believable romance (Alice and Tony, just to be clear), with a whumph of the fantastic. This can be a tricky mix to pull off well--too much of the fantastical, and there's the danger of farce, too much of the realistic, and the reader wonders why the author bothered to have a Greek god in the book at all. Selfors blends her humor and her discussion of serious issues very well, I thought (although the clam juice wavered on the edge of farce, as clam juice so often does....), but still, the two sides of the story (the real and the fantastic) weren't strengethened by their juxtaposition as much as I had hoped they would be.

Despite that nagging feeling, I did enjoy this one lots--I really liked Alice and enjoyed her foray into the world of romance writing very much.

(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher)

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