I didn't pick up a book called The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook expecting anything other than fluff. I wasn't expecting the fluff to be so ... fluffy, but perhaps my expectations were as unreasonable as those of the book's protagonist. While it's poking fun at an anti-feminist 1950s sensibility, it's also conforming to that sensibility.
Kate is an interior designer on a third-rate home decorating makeover show, where she clashes with the C-list celebrity host and longs to do something more meaningful, like renovating a hospice for cancer patients. She's a self-described hopeless romantic, looking for a fantasy, a man who will rescue her. Do women actually think like that? If they do, do they admit it?
To help her in her medieval quest, Kate picks up a book on eBay that comes with a find-love-or-get-your-money-back guarantee: The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook, from which Gemma Townley's novel takes its name. Many chapters start with excerpts of the fictional book-within-the-book, obviously ridiculous snippets of advice meant for 1950s wannabe housewives. It's likely no more ridiculous than The Rules or any of those other tomes meant to make women disguise who they are in order to find a man who will love them for who they are, but the old book's out-of-date advice has even Kate skeptical.
Yet she follows its advice and meets the man of her dreams instantly, or so she thinks. After a week of dating a man she's shoehorned into the knight in shining armour mold, she's ready to contemplate marriage, because of course it's not really about loving the man himself, it's about loving the fantasy.
Her friends Sal and Tom have their own love woes. Sal is married to a financier and struggling with the idea that perhaps she settled for safe. Oncologist Tom is romantically scarred from being abandoned by his mother as a child.
There's no surprises along the way to the conclusion, as every plot development is both telegraphed in advance and part of the familiar pattern of every cliched chicklit-lite book.
The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook, published by Random House Canada, is a fluffy diversion that doesn't take itself serious. There's nothing wrong with a little harmless fun, but you might have to check your brain and any even remotely feminist ideas at the cover.