In A Date You Can’t Refuse, by Harley Jane Kozak, greeting-card artist Wollie Shelley is made an offer she can’t refuse: the FBI wants her to be a cooperative witness and infiltrate the offices of MediaRex, as MediaRex’s newest “social coach”. In return, the FBI will ensure that Wollie’s brother, who suffers from schizophrenia, will continue to have a place at the federally-subsidized halfway house where he’s currently living. Everything’s going as well as can be expected for Wollie, until a coyote-chewed corpse turns up.
When I finished reading A Date You Can’t Refuse with a happy sigh, I was actually a little surprised that I enjoyed this book so much.
You see, a lot of things happen to Wollie from the moment she steps foot in the offices of MediaRex, a media-training company that teaches foreign celebrities how to handle living famously in America.
In novels where there’s a lot going on all the time, I tend to start feeling stressed and exhausted. Often, I get the feeling that the frenetic pace is forced, as if the author is worried that if there’s not enough “stuff” happening, readers will get bored and close the book. But it’s when things get too chaotic that I’m more likely to put the book down, never to return, or skim quickly past all the frenzy (and usually without really missing much when it comes to plot advancement).
Not so with A Date You Can’t Refuse. Wollie finds herself up to her eyeballs in stuff, but none of it ever feels forced. Yes, the pace is fast, but it all fits the story in such a natural way. And it was all really interesting, with lots of funny moments. Rather than feeling exhausted by all the action, I found I didn’t want to put the book down.
And here’s the main thing: I really liked Wollie Shelley. She’s smart, but vulnerable, too. And she doesn’t do anything dumb and out of character just to move the plot along (one of my pet peeves). She’s funny and endearing, the kind of woman you can see yourself becoming best friends with.
I also enjoyed Kozak’s secondary characters, and even found myself liking most of the suspects – Kozak has a knack for creating likeable and distinctive minor characters. The only characters I had problems with were Wollie’s two best friends, Joey and Fredreeq. Joey’s a sexy actor and Fredreeq’s a sexy soccer mom, and I kept getting the two of them mixed up. I liked them both, but they sometimes felt like they were the same person.
The plot has a lot of fun twists and turns and I didn’t figure out who-done-it before Wollie did. There are also some interesting side plots, such as Wollie’s wobbly relationship with her boyfriend, an FBI agent working undercover on another case.
All in all, I found A Date You Can’t Refuse to be a fun, fast and absorbing read with an endearing protagonist, a great cast of secondary characters and an interesting mystery. And because I stepped into this series with the most recent title, I’ve got a lot more to look forward to: not only Wollie’s next adventure but also the three previous titles in the series.
Where to buy A Date You Can’t Refuse:
Review copy details: published by Broadway Books, 2009, trade paperback, 338 pages