Zoey Phillips, by Judith Bowen

>> Monday, August 22, 2005

New-to-me author of the week: Judith Bowen. Her Zoey Phillips (excerpt) is the first in a trilogy which follows three friends as they track down their first loves or crushes, to see if there's anything left there.

They met ten years ago, and they've been friends ever since. Zoey, Charlotte and Lydia.

At their last reunion, they all accepted a challenge: look up your first love. Find out what happened to him, what kind of man he became. Since Zoey's spending the month before Christmas back in her old hometown— Stoney Creek, in British Columbia's interior-she decides she'll take the opportunity to search for Ryan Donnelly, the boy she'd loved with all the passion in her teenage heart.

Zoey ends up visiting the Donnelly ranch, and she discovers that Ryan-who's still single-does seem interested in pursuing something with her. But what about his brother, Cameron? Cam Donnelly, successful rancher and single dad, is as remote and mysterious as Ryan is flirtatious and charming. Does he approve of her "romance" with Ryan or not? What does he think of her? Zoey's not sure why it even matters. . . and yet she knows it does.
Zoey Phillips picks up a bit in the end, but it's not really a very engaging book. A C+.

A likeable heroine, a premise that really appealed to me, a rural-ish setting that was pretty well done... that was all fine. My main problem with it was the hero. He's not unlikeable, or anything like that, it's just that he's a cypher throughout most of the book. We have no insight at all into his motivations and character, and up until the very end, I just didn't see any sparkle, any chemistry between Cam and Zoey.

I guess part of the trouble is that Zoey doesn't even notice him particularly until late in the book. For most of the story he's just Ryan's matchmaking brother to her, not a person in his own right. And then there's the fact that we don't see his POV until late, late in the book, and since we're not really even seeing him through Zoey's eyes, that insight into his mind was too little, too late. I did like what I saw of it, but it just wasn't enough.

Another little annoyance is the fact that this feels as if it were part of an ongoing series, in the sense that there's piles and piles of characters with complicated past histories which are just mentioned in passing. I didn't feel lost or anything, but I did feel somewhat left out. As I said, not a critical flaw, but just an annoyance.

I don't think I'll read the rest of this series, I'm afraid, unless someone raves about those books.


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