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Book Review: Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate

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Twenty-one-year-old Amber Anderson, gospel country singer, has made it to the final five on the American Megastar Show. Of course no one is supposed to know that until the moment of the big revelation in her home town of Daily, Texas. Now it’s American Megastar’s associate producer Mandalay Florentino’s job to make sure that all the plans for that disclosure are made but kept secret from Daily’s Amber-crazy townsfolk. Not that Mandalay’s presence hasn’t already caused a stir in Daily. Word at the café is that she is only the first of a horde of journalists and paparazzi about to descend on the town.

For Mandalay’s part, the sudden rainstorm that introduces her to Daily is only the first of a chain of catastrophes that threatens to tank her career. In Talk of the Town Lisa Wingate takes us through that whirlwind weekend that not only changes the course of Mandalay’s life but introduces her and us to a whole townful of salt-of-the-earth Texans who make us laugh, cry and promise ourselves to look for other books by this warm and funny novelist.

The tight timeframe of the story is the perfect vehicle for Wingate to spin her comedy-of-errors plot. Of course she throws every possible obstacle into the mix — from Mandalay getting arrested to a missing starlet — so that the action never stops (although it does slow down with some days going on until it feels like we’ve lived through several). Using a dual point of view to tell the story (alternating first-person chapters by Mandalay and Imagene Doll, a Daily widow) help us keep on top of how things are playing to both sides. A hunka love interest for Mandalay and close-up glimpses of Amber’s family toy with readers’ emotions and help spin this into a tale with just the right balance of laughter and heart.

The characters in Talk of the Town are each one of a kind and go hand-in-glove with the setting. Imagene shines as the voice of the Dailyians. Her way with a story, told in the language and cadence of small-town Texas, had me laughing out loud in places. (Wingate could have gone lighter on spelling out the accent though.) Imagene’s friend Donetta, proprietor of the beauty parlor complete with exercise room and choice of three exercise tapes, is another star on the comic side. Carter, on the other hand, is the straight and is just mysterious and strong enough to be a match for feisty first lady Mandalay. She would have come off as a somewhat cold and trying-to-be sophisticated bumbler if the chapters narrated by her hadn’t been countered by Imagene’s segments where we see her vulnerable side. Ursula is the ultimate in evil bosses and comes to life mostly in Mandalay’s imagination via her thick Swedish accent.

The themes Wingate addresses range over singleness, love, community values and faith. Both Imagene and Mandalay are single and facing their share of issues over it. I enjoyed watching Imagene morph from the timid, depressed widow to someone eager to again take risks. Wingate explores family love through Amber’s family, especially the way her brothers treat their drunken granddad. Romantic love also gets lots of space. The story plays out in a town where the Christian faith is a foundation value and loyalty to the town’s own comes before pretty much everything else. Finally, Carter plays a big role in showing us how faith comes to the rescue in tough times.

This lively tale of Hollywood getting its comeuppance is sure to delight. I expect Talk of the Town to be a big hit when it comes to bookstores next month.

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About Violet Nesdoly