Romance writer Mona Berman never expected her own life to become a bad romance novel cliché. In her mind, her marriage had been perfect, ideal. It took her husband leaving her for a younger, thinner, blonder, French woman for her to realize that not only was her husband not the devoted man she thought he was, but she wasn’t happy, either. Now she is faced with writing a new book about love when it’s the last thing on her mind, and moving on from relationship disaster while raising three teenage girls.
Better Off Without Him is filled with entertaining characters. Each one was unique and had their own story that lent an air of reality to the novel. Mona was very naïve about her relationship in the beginning, but it was believable because she was such an independent and self-sufficient woman she wouldn’t realize how much her husband never helped and even neglected her. The other characters each had aspects that kept them from being too stereotypical as well.
One element of this book that I thought was interesting was Ernst’s combination of Mona’s romance writing life and her real life. Every once in a while (usually when around an attractive man) Mona’s thoughts would wander into novel mode, describing the scene as she would in one of her books. It added a slightly silly, but fun aspect to the book.
When Mona begins practice dating (dating only men she knows so she can get ready for dating a stranger), it doesn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped. Mona ends up with a purely physical relationship with her neighbor, Doug, and a string of awful, but very funny dates with other islanders. I enjoyed the terrible dates, and laughed my way through those chapters. I was actually rather surprised that there were no sex scenes in this book, given the Mona’s job and the type of book it was, however that doesn’t mean it was a PG type story by any means.
There was a fair amount of profanity in this book, which I don’t care for, and even without sex scenes there was frequent talk about sex. With the language and the sexual references, this book definitely makes it onto my “No way would I let my teenage nieces read this” list. I also felt like the language detracted from the story in some ways. Even though Mona was angry about what had happened, the foul language didn’t seem to suit her character, and she really could have expressed herself without the profanity just as easily and more effectively.
The sexual references seemed to be a substitute for not having any sex scenes, but for me this didn’t fit well, either. I understand not wanting to write sex scenes, but using explicit conversations as a substitute wasn’t genuine. I would have preferred Ernst had kept a consistent outlook on the sex aspect of the book. I felt like she could have done without the language and suggestive conversations and still told her story effectively.
Overall, Better Off Without Him was an entertaining book. I enjoyed the characters and watching Mona progress after her husband left her. I did expect from the very beginning that Mona would end up with a particular character that she did in fact end up with, so that was somewhat predictable, but I was still pleased with the ending.
Would I recommend this book? Not without warnings about the language and sexual references. This was a good casual read. There were some editing errors, but nothing significant that distracted from the book. It was well written with good characters, and an entertaining read.
Who would I recommend this book to? Definitely adults. It’s a tough one to place with a specific reader group. Hard core romance readers will be expecting sex. Some women’s lit readers may not care for the focus on sex, which sometimes seemed to dominate over Mona's personal change. The language may be a problem for others. This book is for readers who want a romance novel that is somewhat tame with a good story line and fun characters.
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