Take a Look at Me Now – Miranda Dickinson

When the thing that was going to change my life arrived. It didn’t look anything like I’d expected.

Nell Sullivan expects life-changing events to arrive accompanied with an X-Factor style voiceover. She does not expect them to arrive on a lime green post-it attached to her work computer.

Nell’s a Planning Officer for Islington Council where she works with her best friend, Vix, although her real dream is to run an authentic American diner. Nell and Vix’s boss, Aiden Matthews, is also Nell’s on/off love interest and on seeing the post-it, left by Aiden, Nell thinks he’s about to suggest they get back together. He’s not though:

My home, my car, my career – and even my secret future dream of running my own business – were all nothing without money, without stability.

I stared at my reflection in the dark screen of my computer monitor and saw pure, hollow-eyed fear glaring back at me.

I’m losing my job. What am I going to do?

What Nell decides to do is use her redundancy money to visit her cousin Lizzie in San Francisco:

Lizzie observed me, a sly grin appearing. ‘That is not the Nell Sullivan I knew. You were always Miss Five-Year Plan, even when we were growing up. What’s changed?

‘My five-year plan has. Which had actually become a six-year plan without me realizing. And then became a defunct plan. Up until last week I let it guide my decisions, and now its been taken away I don’t have to stick to the programme any longer. I just want to know what it feels like to have no plan – to step out into life and see what happens.’

And so Lizzie turns tourist guide for a week and takes Nell (and us) around San Francisco – Haight-Ashbury, the bay area, Union Square, Chinatown, Almo Square. But down at Pier 39, there’s a surprise waiting for Nell:

His eyes were shaded behind sunglasses and his dark wavy hair was being blown about his tanned face by the chilly breeze gusting in from the Bay. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans with a khaki jacket – and he looked utterly horrified.

‘Man, I’m so sorry,’ he said, his voice deep and pure West Coast. ‘I wasn’t looking where I was going.’

The gorgeous stranger is an artist named Max. But Aiden’s sending daily emails from London and Nell’s only on an eight-week holiday. This isn’t going to amount to anything, is it?

Take a Look at Me Now was a page-turning pleasure for a couple of reasons. The first was that San Francisco was as much of a character in the novel as Nell, Lizzie and their friends; I loved learning about the parts of the city and it’s made me desperate to visit. The second was that although I’d worked out fairly early on how it was going to end, there were so many unexpectedly delicious twists and turns getting there it stopped it from feeling predictable.

I also thought that Vix was a good foil for Nell. It’s all well a woman with few commitments taking a redundancy payment and blowing it on a trip to America, but what about those with kids and a mortgage? Vix’s email correspondence with Nell keeps us updated on the joys of wondering how you’re going to pay the mortgage while watching hours of kids’ TV.

Commercial women’s fiction often takes a battering from the literary establishment, an unfair one, in my opinion. Take a Look at Me Now (like many commercial women’s fiction novels) considers a serious topic while keeping up a page-turning plot spanning two continents, two love interests, a friendship group, and working life. I’d say that’s some achievement.

If you like the sound of Take a Look at Me Now, you can read an extract over on Miranda’s blog.

Miranda’s also a keen vlogger and she filmed two while she was in San Francisco researching the novel. With Miranda’s kind permission, you can watch them below. (If you want more, head to Miranda’s blog or YouTube page.)

Thanks to Avon for the review copy.