Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review: Around the World in 80 Dates by Christa Ann Banister

Around the World in 80 Dates
by Christa Ann Banister (website)
Christian Contemporary Fiction (Navpress, 2007)

Synopsis: Sydney Alexander is a travel writer. She's a very well-dressed travel writer--hasn't yet met a shoe or clearance sale she could pass up. She's funny. She's got a great relationship with her sis. She's got a hilarious best friend, Rain, who happens to be a hippie. And she's got a wonderful relationship with God. So what's missing? A decent date. A date where she doesn't have to pay because he's "between jobs." A date where she's not fabulously fashionably ready to go only to learn "the band just got a last-minute gig" and he has to cancel. A date she wants to kiss good night--not run screaming from. Bridget Jones may have had a few more public disasters (Sydney works in print, not on the telly) and considerably more cigarettes (Sydney doesn't smoke), but really, besides that, their lives aren't so different. She's just a girl looking for love, drowning in a sea of cute couples--and determined to keep swimming! (from the back of the book)

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this is vanilla. There are many relationships with romantic potential, but the attractions are not sexualized.

Eye-Roll Factor: 9/10
Those of you who know me know that I have eye-rolling issues. Christan books over-dramatize relationships and/or make the conversations with God unrealistic, and I just get bored. It's automatic. But this book had relatively no annoyance moments that I can remember. The heroine, especially, seems to have one of the most realistic "normal" relationships with God that I've ever seen in Christian writing. I felt like I could relate to her, which I liked. There were a couple of cliche moments with one of the minor characters, but overall, this book was one of the best God-integrations I've ever read in Christian fiction. Definitely worth a look.

The Cosmo Factor: 24/25
I heart this heroine. Seriously, I think if I ever met her, we would be fast friends. She's sassy, witty, fun, and outgoing, but also somewhat insecure and flawed (which makes her accessible). She is a cross between Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, with a little Jesus thrown in. Love it. Not only would I raise a Cosmo with her, I'd probably even spring for one. She has her moments, like all of us, when she's not as much fun to be around, but that's part of what makes her a well-rounded character. But she strikes me as the type who will settle down a little once she finds her true love. (Although, based on what I've read of the sequel, true love makes her go a little crazy...) :-)

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 22/25
I don't want to ruin anything for you, because I sincerely hope you run out and buy, beg, or borrow this book for yourself. And part of the "80 Dates"-y-ness of this book is not knowing who she ends up with at the end. Let's just say, I won't kiss and tell, but she does find her true love. And he is quite a guy. The only unfortunate part about the book is that you don't quite get to know him the way you get to know her. But I suppose that's part of what's so great about chick lit. The heroine (and in some books, heroines) is (are) really the main focus of the narrative. That's definitely the case with 80 Dates. But all-told, she meets and dates some of the most interesting men. And the guy she ends up with, while he's somewhat mysterious gets lots of kudos for recognizing Sydney's worth, and for loving her as much as we do. So in the end, while I don't know the hero very well, I recognize his intelligence enough to think that I'd like him if I met him.

The Braveheart Factor: 10/10
Worldbuilding is just as important in contemporary novels as it is in historicals. I think a lot of readers don't realize how much research goes into writing something with a distinct culture, like freelance writing. Granted, it appears from the information on her website, that Banister does quite a bit of freelancing herself, but still. She's an insider. That's even better. The consistency of the world was great. And the fact that it took place in Minneapolis (largely... some in Nashville and LA) was a HUGE bonus for me. That's my favorite city in the US. I've been there more than you want to know. It was fantastic to get all the references to Caribou and the streets I've walked so many times on my own. If the writing mantra is "write what you know and know what you write", then Banister did herself a favor by doing just that, because the setting and the world she travels in is excellently consistent.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 9/10
This one is going on my shelf. I'm going to buy several copies of it... guess what all my friends are getting for Christmas next year? Eh? It is definitely a keeper. I probably won't re-read it again right away, because it's sort of light, and I prefer in general to be deep into a historical setting or a philosophical novel or a theology book or something like that. I like deep. But when I want light and fun, I know exactly what to pick up.

The Skim Factor: 9/10
Okay, so I admit to a little skimming in this book. Not a lot. Generally, it was very engaging. But I hit a section when I figured out that the guy she was currently with wasn't going to be The Guy, and I didn't like him very much, so I found myself skimming to get away from him. But in general, it moves so quickly and is so fun, there's not really a need to skim. This isn't one of those deep, historical settings with tons of descriptions and massive backstory. It's a quick-moving read. So it doesn't create as much need for skimming.

The Little People Factor: 8/10
Of course, the nature of the book (80 Dates sort of gives it away... although I don't think there were actually eighty dates) is that there isn't "one primary relationship" that sustains the whole book. And I do think that's more realistic to today's readers. But it did get a bit frustrating when I would get interested in one of the dates, and it turns out he's not The Guy. There were also *several* major-minor characters whose story is partially told in the book. Some of them were done really well (Sydney's sister, for instance, and the two boys in her life), but some of them were just too fleeting for me to really be engaged. Again, that's the nature of a book like this. Still, I would have preferred not to have so many storylines going on at once. Most of the time, I was thinking, get back to Sydney, please, which is both a good thing (connected to the main character) and a bad thing (not connected to some of the minors). But in general, they were pretty well-done.

Overall Evaluation: 92/100
Christa Ann Banister is the Christian version of Sophie Kinsella. She grabs me from the first page and I don't want to quit reading. For a flirty, fun generation of young Christian women, Christa Ann Banister could be the next big thing. I highly suggest you pick up this (her first book), and remember this date. It could be the first day you fall in love with a new author. I highly recommend this book to fans of Sophie Kinsella and Lauren Weisberger who have been looking for a solid Christian chick lit novelist to read for so many years, as I have. I think we've found our girl. Can't wait to finish the sequel, "Blessed are the Meddlers", and see if Sydney's younger sister's story is as good as the original.

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