I will preface this by saying I have never read a James Patterson novel before (written by him to not) nor have I had the urge to. I always thought of them as airport books for “middle-aged men”, which is not my demographic!
I only picked this one up because it was 99p and Dolly Parton was involved. My hope was that since Dolly writes great emotional stories in her songs that might transfer into an engaging novel.
What I sort if forgot was that American Country music isn’t really my genre,1 and the Nashville setting was bound to be stuffed with American clichés that I always feel have a forced “authenticity” that is not my flavour. So some of this is on me… but also, the setting aside, this is also just straight up not a good novel and it fails to be satisfying on many counts!
What didn’t work
– AnnieLee is as close to a Mary Sue as I’ve read in a long time. She is the most beautiful woman Earth (even when she has slept rough outdoors, and not showered or washed her clothes for weeks). She is basically amazing at everything and everyone instantly loves her. Everything comes far to easily! She’s also got a whiff of “not like other girls” in the way her preference for dirty old jeans over a photo shoot dresses is written.2
– She makes numerous unrealistic decisions, not least of all the central premise of the book being her big secret that really no sense for her to keep. She just made friends with an incredibly famous and rich person, who could absolutely solved all her problems to clear the path for achieving her dreams. Her back story really has no point, it’s not effectively used to build or inform her character (e.g. why she may not want to wear sexy clothing) instead sex trafficking is a barely used plot point.3 In fact the whole idea of her pursuing a high visibility career (on radio, in magazines, on stage, posters etc) while also being on the run seems bonkers to me and yet this is never questioned in the novel!
– Ethan also has a “dark secret” which is the kind of thing that would at least raise a few eyebrows but illicit barely a shrug and a “‘k” when he finally tells AnnieLee. It changed nothing. What the hell was the point?
– The thriller element is bizarrely tacked on as an afterthought in the final few chapters, and it doesn’t work at all. AnnieLee running around risking her personal safety again makes no sense at that point in the story, but once we find the truth of her “dark past” it’s all over in paragraphs and there are no consequences or resolution to any of it! No word again about her abused younger sisters who presumable are still stuck at home! We just cut to her big stage performance and all is golden.
– The whole Nashville plot and romance felt very A Star Is Born but with none of the interesting parts, and without AnnieLee having go really try at anything. Everything is handed to her because she is just sooooo fucking amazing.
– This book made me hate the world “ornery.”
– There is a “it was all a dream” fake out at one point which I was ready to believe after how mediocre, unbelievable and unimaginative the plot had been!
What was good?
– The obvious Dolly character, Ruthanna, was the only one that felt in any way realistic, but she is just a fairy godmother and there wasn’t enough of her. I would have been much more interested in a book about her rather than bloody AnnieLee.
– The beginning of the book is very gripping, and the short chapters make for easy binge reading. I did start to skim read in the final third once I realise it wasn’t going anywhere remotely interesting and I didn’t care for any of the characters!
I don’t really recommend this unless you’re really bored and you can get it for 99p like I did! If they make a movie I think that might be a better experience than reading this mediocre book.
- I do love a bit of Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Trixie Mattel’s country album and I’m slightly obsessed with Orville Peck. ↩︎
- Feeling uncomfortable in sexy clothes or make up – feeling sexually objectified – could have a demonstration of trauma from the life she has run away from, but that is not at all how it is written on the page! ↩︎
- The sex trafficking casually used as a plot device reminded me of Hoofin’ It! ↩︎