Author: Leila Sales.
Publisher: Simon Pulse.
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated… even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.
Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it…
Cover impressions: Sometimes there is nothing that will satisfy a reader such as myself like a good piece of sweet fluff. That is not in any way meant as an insult towards “Past Perfect” and other such books, there’s no such room for genre snobbery in my eyes. While genre fiction such as horror, romance and the romantic comedy, which is how I would classify this book, are the first to be mocked or derided, it’s worth remembering that it’s pretty damn hard to write a convincing and entertaining piece of genre fiction. Writing a romantic comedy that can use familiar tropes of the genre and remain charming and entertaining is a tough task, and I’m pleased to say that, for the most part, Leila Sales pulls it off.
The unconventional setting – a colonial village re-enactment centre - and set-up for the novel creates countless opportunities for entertainment and mayhem. Some of the funniest moments of the book come from the over-the-top and gleefully ridiculous war plans between the colonial re-enactment workers and the civil war re-enactors right across the road. It’s incredibly petty and immature but there’s something undeniably funny about Churchill war speech parodies and battle strategies that revolve around historical anachronisms. This element of the book was definitely my favourite part and I only wish more time had been dedicated to it rather than Chelsea’s love life.
While I appreciated that Sales spent some time deconstructing the rose-tinted image of her ex boyfriend that Chelsea had built up for herself, so much time is spent with Chelsea in moping mode that it became very tiresome. I think one’s mileage may vary for such scenes and will depend on the reader’s emotions towards Chelsea. I did not find her to be a particularly brilliant protagonist. She had her moments – I enjoyed her ice-cream taste testing – and I greatly appreciated her close relationship with her quirky parents and group of friends, but said moping grated on me. She also makes a couple of plot driving decisions that made me lose all sympathy for her. If I was to pick a character in the novel to follow, it would be Tawny, the general of the colonial workers in the war.
There was one element of the romance plotline that really got to me. This small rant is partly inspired by this book but is also something I’ve had on my mind for a while so please take this with a pinch of salt when considering reading this book for yourself. Dan, the primary love interest of the novel, is set up in a forbidden love style element (a “Romeo & Juliet” parallel is actually mentioned by Chelsea, but since the war between both sides spends most of its time in war parody mode, don’t take that comparison too seriously) so of course there needs to be a degree of animosity between the pair, coupled with that trademark jerk charm so common with male love interests. I’ve become rather fed up with books, mainly YA, where the male love interest is characterised by being charming when he’s really a smug know-it-all that borders on insulting. Chelsea’s often not very likeable but generally I find it difficult to believe that every teenage girl is charmed and seduced by this sort of behaviour. The fact that such behaviour is often the only defining characteristic of many male love interests is even more infuriating for me. Luckily, Dan is given more depth than this but it does make the romance between him and Chelsea harder to believe considering her own decisions.
The key to this book lies in its charm. Sales writes a well paced and often very funny book with witty observations, an interesting supporting cast to prop up a less than perfect protagonist, and a whole assortment of pranks, jokes and completely ridiculous war parodies with just a pinch of history. “Past Perfect” won’t be considered groundbreaking by any standards, and the romance angle will be read differently by different readers depending on one’s opinion of such elements, but it’s a quick read with bagfuls of charm you could have a lot of fun reading.
“Past Perfect” will be released in USA on October 4th. I received my arc from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program.