Calendar Girl, by Sommer Marsden; published by Xcite Books, 2010.
The title points to the premise: Merritt is recently divorced and hurting, and had only one serious relationship before her marriage. Her Sassy Gay Friend decides that what she needs is more experience, some confidence boosters, and lots of good sex, and sells her on the idea of dating one new man per month of the new year.
It’s really a brilliant plot device. There’s a reason to have a wide variety of very different lovers, all in a context that makes sense, and there’s the chronology moving forward, but in a contained amount of time.
As a reader, I fell immediately into the same trap Merritt did: I really liked Mr. January! Why couldn’t she just stay with him?? But at the same time, I did buy into premise, that it’s hard for Merritt to really know what kind of man is best for her if she’s never had very many. So, like her, I regretfully watched the very sexy Mr. January exit and Mr. February enter (and he was great too). The Lovers of the Month were all sexy, and all in different ways. Merritt is, as they say, “good, giving, and game” and she gives them all a fair chance; treats none of them poorly; and has just a ton of hot sex.
It’s also a plot device that could bog down if adhered to too closely. I mean, if Chapter 1 was January and Chapter 2 was February, and so on, till December in Chapter 12, you might find yourself getting bored with the predictability. So yay for a clever author who knew that and threw in some surprises and twists. I don’t want to give any of them away; suffice to say that the main plot allowed for a clever, structured story line that never became too restrictive.
There were two things I especially liked about this book (in addition to Mr. January): 1) very good sex scenes, and 2) the various subplots. Each of Merritt’s men is very different, which means that the sex is different, but even within one month the descriptions were just the way I like them: explicit without being crude, affectionate without being precious, and varied without depending on a lot of odd synonyms for body parts. OK, wait, three things, with 3) being her writing style in general. I especially liked some of the humorous descriptions from the first-person narrator, such as I wiped my nose and checked my face. Red nose like Rudolph, red cheeks, red eyes. Basically when I cry I start to resemble a cherry tomato. Or a lifelong drunkard.
Many of the subplots involve family members. At the same time that I read Calendar Girl, I reread Anna Karenina. Even if you’ve never read it, you may be familiar with its opening line, because it’s just That Famous: All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. When I first read Anna Karenina in high school, I thought that line was very clever. As an adult, though, I find myself disagreeing. I know lots of happy families who are very different from one another. And, just going out on a limb here, I’m going to say that the happy families in Calendar Girl are like nothing Tolstoy ever knew. Now, granted, Calendar Girl is a different type of fiction — it’s light, humorous, exaggerated, and intended to arouse. Still, though, the sentiments rang true for me. There are brothers and mothers (and mothers-in-law) and spouses and ex-spouses (and friends), and they fight and feel frustrated and misunderstand one another — but they love one another and work through their problems. While some of the scenes were pretty wild, the feelings were familiar. This is how complex, loving family members deal with each other. It wasn’t the main point of the book, perhaps, but it was a nice side element, as was the treatment of Merritt’s job.
Great plot device. Enjoyable writing. Hot sex. Rich characters. Zany situations. Hot sex (it’s worth saying twice). Yes, I recommend this book.