A Girl Like You by Gemma Burgess

A Girl Like You
Gemma Burgess

I enjoyed Gemma Burgess’ first book,  The Dating Detox, and I liked the premise of this, her second. It’s not available in the U.S right now, but I was able to buy it online via Awesome Books. This turned out to be a good decision, since I liked this one even better than the first.
The Premise: After years in a stagnating relationship, Abigail Wood broke up with her boyfriend. Now she’s single for the first time in forever, and she has no idea how to act when it comes to men and dates. After a first date where all she could do was ask questions like she was interviewing someone, Abigail rehashes the experience with her new flatmate Robert (best friend of her sister’s fiancé), who tells her how to act the next time (“cool and detached”). With a different girl every other day, Robert is an expert at being single and sought after, so Abigail takes Robert’s advice as gospel and becomes much more confident at the dating game. As a bonus,  Robert is a great buddy. But as their relationship develops and their circles of friends overlap, she meets one of Robert’s best friends and her newly learned confidence begins to unravel.
Read an excerpt of A Girl Like You in Amazon Look Inside
My Thoughts: Like The Dating Detox, A Girl Like You is a book that’s about dating and the worries it brings: first dates, first impressions, and awkwardness. Abigail is in that situation after dumping her long term boyfriend. It was a brave decision, but now she’s clueless in the face of singledom. Having her flatmate Robert tell her what to do is a godsend. He has advice for any given situation, and it works! Abigail is soon walking into bars and thanks to Robert’s strategies, walking out with phone numbers. If she gets into a pickle, Robert is a phone call away to get her out of it.
Abigail had lost some friends in her breakup, but she has a core group of her sister Sophie, and her best friends Plum and Henry. With Robert giving Abigail advice and best friends with Sophie’s fiancé, he is soon part of their circle too. It’s a small but loyal group, often socializing and commiserating about their love lives (or lack thereof). And I’ve got to say, Gemma Burgess shines when it comes to writing scenes that illustrate the social lives of these young Londoners. There’s plenty of bar hopping and parties, and one significant weekend in the French countryside, but what I loved the most was the easy banter of long familiar friends. It’s clear that Abigail and her buddies have had years together, and these side characters with distinct personalities and their own relationship problems and shared past histories that are relayed as the book went on.
Now about Robert and Abigail and their unlikely friendship. While Abigail is a nice girl who just needs a dose of confidence in her life, Robert is almost her opposite. While she’s rather sweet (with a dose of sarcastic), he’s a little on the broodier side, with a reputation for being somewhat of a loner. While she’s a dating newbie, he’s a total player. Robert says of his love life, “I’m totally honest that I am not looking for, uh, anything, and I end it within a month. I mean, that doesn’t make me a bad guy, does it?” His many relationships don’t make him a bad guy, and he isn’t an obvious jerk to women in this book (he’s basically charming), but that Robert has broken a few hearts put him in a gray character area. If you can’t overlook that he is a playboy, it may be a problem, but when it comes to Abigail, and this story is told from her point of view (in the first person), Robert is always there for her. They are both completely themselves with each other, and like a proper friend, he never judges, even when Abigail calls frantically from the bedroom of a embarrassing one night stand. I was worried about him when I was introduced to him in this story, but he went against my expectations in the best possible way.
I liked that rather than the ‘rules’ of dating being the focus of the story, the story was more about the growth of Abigail and Robert’s friendship over time. Robert begins genuinely wanting to help Abigail build up her self-assurance, and his help is the catalyst for this story.

‘What’s mine? Achilles’ heel, I mean?’
‘Lack of confidence,’ says Robert instantly. Ouch.
‘I have confidence,’ I protested feebly. (This, of course, isn’t the correct response when someone accuses you of lacking confidence. The correct response is a derisive ‘blow me’.) ‘Dating is just out of my comfort zone.’
‘Well, you also often look preoccupied, like you’re arguing with yourself. It gives you a fuck-off aura.’
‘Suck my aura,’ I say sulkily.
Robert smirks.
‘It’s not my fault,’ I say, after a pause. ‘You need experience to be confident at anything. Driving. Putting on make up. Flipping pancakes. I have no experience at being single. How could I possibly be confident at it?’
‘We’re working on that,’ he says. ‘You’re next.’

The playboy and friend becoming something more story lines can become predictable, but A Girl Like You manages to make those tropes its own. It didn’t go the obvious route with a jealous scene or a glib moral about taking advice from a playboy, this story plays it a bit smarter than that. The story spans over a year’s worth of friendship and that in that time, the character’s actions tell us more than what they say. I liked that they were nuanced and that I learned about these two friends as they were getting to know each other. I liked the insights from things like Robert’s embarrassing past and Abigail’s unsatisfying career. I felt like there were shades of Sarra Manning in this story in that it delves more into the heads of the main characters. A Girl Like You didn’t make me quite as wrung out as Manning’s books have, but there is some gritty emotion in there, like Abigail’s desperation when she enters a relationship where she doesn’t feel like she’s in control. When Abigail unravels, it is raw, but so necessary. I think she has to experience something that’s not quite right in order to find the real thing.
A warning: if you read the prologue it may make you worry about the ending and possibly jump to the wrong conclusion. Wait it out. Do not flip to the end, no matter how much you want to.
A bonus for those who don’t like explicit sex scenes: this book always fades to black for those bits.
Overall: A Girl Like You has a protagonist who is trying to figure out dating after being in a perpetual relationship, a core group of loyal friends, and a playboy who is more dependable than you’d think. I really liked it. It was a chick lit/contemporary romance that had the right balance of fun (in the form of an active social life), and depth (in the form of character and relationship development), and I loved the interactions throughout the book. Gemma Burgess is going onto the autobuy list now.
I’m looking forward to her new New Adult series, Union Street, set in a Brooklyn brownstone with a cast of young women.
Buy: Amazon UK | Awesome Books | The Book Depository | Fishpond World
Other reviews:
None amongst my blogger friends. Let me know if I missed yours.

The Dating Detox by Gemma Burgess

The Dating Detox
Simone Elkeles

The Dating Detox was an impulse buy on Bookcloseouts (OK self, get real, what’s not an impulse buy from you at that website?).   I’ve really enjoyed the British chick lit/ contemporary romances I’ve read this year, and I want to read more. This looked like a good candidate, and a quick search said that my go-to-girl on this topic, (Sabrina of About Happy Books), liked it, so in the cart it went!

The Premise: Sass is a twenty-something girl, living in London and struggling with her love life. After getting dumped six times in a row, the latest the most humiliating (walking in on her boyfriend Rick and some other woman going at it at a Halloween party), she decides that she’s not going to date at all – why go through all the trouble, only to be severely disappointed in the end? The solution is to cut herself off dating for a little while. Go on a sabbatical, if you will. Sass and her friend draw up some rules to live by (“3. Obvious flirting is not allowed”) that Sass decides to follow for three months. Suddenly her life is looking up. Men are interested.  Work is going great. Sass is more confident and happy than she has been in a long time. Three months begins to look too short. Maybe she should extend the Sabbatical to six months. Or indefinitely. The problem is, Sass keeps running into A New Guy, who seems like a great guy. Is he too good to be true and not worth breaking the sabbatical over, or is Sass cutting herself off from a good thing?
My Thoughts: This is a story narrated by Sass herself, and she has a very casual voice that is fun and full of the pop culture references you’d expect of someone who grew up in the eighties and nineties.  Sass is also a girl who doesn’t lack for friends. She has a tightknit relationship with her girlfriends Bloomie and Kate (calling and emailing them to keep in touch throughout the work day), and then there’s a gaggle of other friends that she’s known since university, and satellite friends-of-friends that she sees at parties and nights on the town. For someone as social as Sass is, she is a girl surprisingly loathe to rock the boat. As a result, while she has a great relationship with her friends, when it comes to work and love, Sass has let others take the reins. This has led to disastrous relationships, a bully at work, and a salary that forces her to be extremely strict with her finances.
The premise of a dating sabbatical is very simple, but Sass’ active life provides plenty of meat. She’s someone who more social than anyone I personally know, but it’s fun to read about someone who goes out and sees her friends a lot. And there are plenty of amusing anecdotes, from the disasters that were her past six relationships, to the mental adjustment Sass has to go through to keep herself from going back to old habits. I found Sass to be a regular kind of girl – one who is a little creative (every morning she dresses in an outfit, which she names), a little dorky (she likes to get a little silly with her humor sometimes), and one who goes out A LOT (doesn’t she get tired?), but otherwise, she has a good head on her shoulders. I liked her. When the sabbatical gives her the excuse to say no and stay firm to her convictions, I cheered at the positive effect it had on her life, from learning how to be firm while still being polite, to getting to know the men she meets before becoming involved with them.
So when new men entered the story, knowing that Sass is on a dating sabbatical was kind of delicious. I knew that I would get a romance that was a slower moving one.  The new contenders could make her laugh or seemed nice, but with Sass’s new rules, she actually gets to know the guys before moving forward. She meets a few of the same men over again on different occasions and It was nice that by the time Sass was ready, her choice was clear, not because the only man standing, but because he is the best fit for her. And because Sass had her rules and had to abide by them, the romance was about an emotional connection, and is pretty cute. I adored the banter involved in this story with the guy she ends up with. Particularly adorable was a shared sense of humor, to the point where they were the only two laughing at their own jokes, while everyone else stared at them.
The only thing I would warn readers about ( I personally liked it but I could see others finding it draggy), is that the narrative goes into a lot of detail about things like Sass’s clothes and blow-by-blow accounts of the parties and nights out Sass enjoys. There is one section where a weekend party probably takes about 100 pages of the book. I LOVED that through dialogue and significant looks, I learned a lot about Sass’s friends and their relationships with each other. I’d say there was something like 15 people to keep track of at this party, and the book manages to make their personalities and general reputation within the group very clear. There are secondary and tertiary (and quaternary, quinary, senary?) relationships as Sass’s friends fall in and out of love around her, and the weekend party is a turning point in a lot of these. It was refreshing that it wasn’t all about Sass. And I laughed a lot.
Overall: This was a British chick lit that falls on the fun side of things, but at the same time is a dense story with plenty of characters. Sass’s social lifestyle is pretty removed from mine, but I loved the glimpse I got. It was a nice change to laugh at (and with) Sass and her friends: a mostly single group unfettered by life’s responsibilities, who spend their free time out drinking and having fun, but are for the most part, very likable. Sass fits right in as a working girl with a string of bad relationships under her belt and trying to break the cycle of disappointment. Her trials and tribulations are fun to follow, but I cheered for her as she overcame her ‘pleaser’ tendencies. I liked that she became stronger and happier (and got the guy), because she stuck to her guns.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository | Bookcloseouts
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – positive
Book Trailer:
This is one of the best book trailers I’ve seen in a while – it feels like I’m watching a RomCom movie clip: