If you’ve been following my blog for a while you will see that I tend to avoid self-published books. The exception has been if it was an author I read and loved already. Another exception is that I see a review from a blogger I really trust. Chachic’s review and her description of a slow burn romance (my favorite!) really had me interested, and $3.99 for a novel length e-book is well priced for giving it a shot. I actually ended up liking this one so much that I bought the book again in hard copy form so I could physically flip through it’s pages. That should tell you something right there.
The Premise: Upon arriving in Boston and discovering that the apartment she rented through Craigslist is actually a burrito restaurant, stranded college freshman Julie Seagle is saved by her mom’s college roommate. Erin Watkins let’s Julie move into her son’s old room, and soon Julie is immersed in the lives of the eccentric Watkin family. Parents Erin and Roger are very nice when they are around, but more often than not, leave their children alone in pursuit of academia (one’s a professor at Harvard Law, another is a oceanographic researcher). Their three children are all uniquely bright, but somehow something is not quite right. Middle child Matt is working on two majors at MIT: physics and math, and while he’s a sweet guy, he shuts down at odd times. Youngest Celeste is thirteen but dresses as if she was eight, talks with a high vocabulary but without contractions, and has a dependence on a life-sized cardboard cutout of her brother that she calls Flat Finn. And then there’s Finn, the good-looking and gregarious oldest son. Out traveling the world, he’s only available to Julie via Facebook, text messages, and email, but he offers some insight into what’s wrong with the Watkins. Over time, Julie’s long distance exchanges with Finn become something more, but it’s very easy to get mixed up between your feelings and reality.
Read an excerpt of Flat-Out Love here
My Thoughts: Julie is a bit of a rare fish in her hometown: social but with an interest in learning that she doesn’t think her friends will understand. So when she arrives in Boston and ends up living with a family that is academic and intellectual to a fault, despite their smarts, Julie manages to fit right in. Soon she’s bantering with the younger Watkin siblings and trading one-liners and sharing facebook statuses. There were some too-perfect zingers in the bunch but most of the conversations felt real enough to forgive this. The Watkin awkwardness trumps all, particularly with regard to the elephant in the room:
“ [...] what struck Julie the most about Celeste had to do about what-or who?-was in the chair next to her.
‘Oh, Julie! I didn’t introduce you properly, did I?’ Celeste chirped happily and then turned to the seat next to her. ‘Flat Finn, this is Julie. Julie, this is Flat Finn.’
Erin poured herself some sparkling water, and Roger continued daydreaming about brine, but Julie was sure she heard Matt catch his breath. She eyed the seat again.
Frankly, she’d been hoping to get through dinner without having to address this issue.
No one else had mentioned anything for far, but this must be what Matt had started to tell her about: A life-size cardboard cutout of their brother Finn leaned stiffly angled against the chair, his gaze fixed rigidly on the ceiling’s light fixture.”
Of course, Julie being the fixer she is, she sets out to help Celeste with her obsession with Flat Finn and with her not-quite-fitting-in-with-her-age-group problems. But it turns out that Celeste is the Watkin with the most obvious problems; the other members of the family are just better at hiding that something is off . Erin and Roger are often gone, leaving Matt to take care of Celeste and the house. Matt is antisocial and over-protective of his little sister, and tight lipped about what caused Celeste’s attachment to her cardboard brother-figure in the first place. So Julie lives with the Watkins and tries to help out with what she understands. In the meantime, she goes to class, tries to figure out her major, begins casually dating, and continues to develop a friendship with Matt in person and Finn online.
Finn’s charm and ease with Julie online is incredibly magnetic, and knowing that she’s in his room, sleeping on his bed, just adds to the allure. It isn’t long before Julie has a serious crush on the eldest Watkin, and she suspects that he may feel the same way. Finn is who she goes to to confide in and to ask advice on the other Watkins.
I loved the way that the romance unfolded in this story. It’s more about emotional connections, not physical ones, and it’s a slow courtship that spans from the first day of college, through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, into Julie’s second semester and ends at the beginning of a new school year. It hit some of my soft spots including love from afar, the dependable good guy, and a couple more of my favorite tropes. Flat-Out Love
put its own spin on these though with it’s use of social media peppered throughout real life interactions. All of these have plenty of humor in them, and the weirdness and vulnerability of the Watkins added an extra dimension. I correctly guessed the family’s dark secret, but not all the details. When it all comes out, oh, what a deep and turbulent well of emotion that was. I was very invested in finding out how Julie’s relationship with the Watkins (and one Watkin in particular) would end and I wanted so badly for things to be alright. I adored how things were handled.
Also kudos on the quality of the copy editing in this book. This wins the prize for having no obvious typos, which I’m sorry to say, I see a higher number of in self-published books.
Loved it. You know those books where you’re excited to tell the world about? I think this is one of them. The more I think about Flat-Out Love
the more I feel this “I need to pimp this book” feeling. It’s so funny and romantic and heart-wrenching all at once. Yes, when I think about it, I had a couple of “I beg to differ” moments (example: the girl hates twitter and loves Facebook), but when Julie and the Watkins are amazing and overachieving, something had to balance them out. It was nice to see a book that integrated social media into it’s plot so well, and that has a main character that is in college. And the sweet romance with an emotional connection left me very satisfied.
(Page 362 killed me. Page 384 killed me in a different way. Go read this and then we can talk. On twitter!)
Buy (ebook): Amazon
(kindle) | B&N
(eBook) | Other places to buy online
Chachic’s Book Nook
The Reading Date
Flat-Out Love website