I was reflecting the other night on what it was that made a book a five-star read for me. When reviewing on Goodreads and Amazon, I’ve given five stars to a quite large number of books ranging from almost everything in the Choc Lit catalogue, quite a few recent psychological thrillers and some young adult reads. If I’d marked out of ten, I might have been able to separate them all by half points… but my basic measure for a five star book is that if it’s quite clear in what it sets out to achieve, delivers as promised and is an enjoyable read, then it’s earned the accolade. And that’s a very long introduction to why my review of Sue Welfare’s Off The Record is a five star one!
We meet Liz defacing her wedding album, her hopeless ex-husband having let her down by failing to pick up her sons for the weekend yet again. She has a wonderful, straight-talking friend called Claire who encourages her to take up her old career as a journalist to help her out with a double-booking. And so she finds herself travelling to the Flag Hotel in Norwich – a train journey fraught with bad luck and bad connections, to interview bad boy artist Jack Sandfi. Instead, she meets the gorgeous Nick Hastings who is there for a job interview with a female employer he’s never met. There follows a cleverly written episode of mistaken identity that it takes the rest of the book to disentangle.
The characters are beautifully written – the artist and his unusual domestic set up, the wronged wife, and the wonderfully predatory potential employer Jeanna O’Hanlon. The story twists and turns on coincidences and misunderstandings, but it’s very cleverly done, and I read the book in a single highly enjoyable sitting. The friendship with Claire is very well drawn, and it has its challenges to overcome. This book is unashamed chick lit, but a cut above the average, well written with believable characters (and some clever caricatures): it tugs at the heartstrings at times, but it’s also very funny. I once emphatically declared that I wasn’t really a fan of romantic comedy, but this is one of several recent reads that have really changed my mind – this is a story with both a heart and real intelligence.
My e-copy of this book was supplied by the author for review, and has been updated since its original release in 1998 Sue lives and works in East Anglia and produces her books under the names of Sue Welfare, Gemma Fox and Kate Lawson. Writing as Gemma Fox, Sue was short-listed for the Melissa Nathan Comedy Romance Award in 2006 for The Cinderella Moment.