Recent Reading: Nora Goes Off Script

Okay, so I picked this up solely because commenters here (Kim, seconded by Alison) recommended it, so you see how influential you all can be? One mention, maybe two, and boom, there it is, on my Kindle.

Of course, I was also in the right mood to try a contemporary romance. I find romances, especially contemporary or Regency, offer the kind of familiarity of setting and happy endings that work best for me when I’m also trying to get work done on my own projects. At times like this, if I can read fiction at all, it’s usually re-reads, and if it’s new-to-me fiction, it’s often romances.

This one, Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan, turned out not to be ideal because it was only easy to put down during the one high-tension period in the middle. The rest of the time, I was pretty strongly engaged and therefore had trouble setting it aside. A win for the book! Not ideal for me!

I dislike this kind of cover. Too … simplistic, cartoony, whatever. I just don’t like it. On the other hand, the cover doesn’t matter to me compared to a strong recommendation from you here. I turned out to like nearly everything else a lot.

Things I liked:

I liked that Nora begins the story over her failed marriage. Her husband, Ben, was awful, and I’m glad we never actually meet him. The term “narcissist” is thrown casually around today as a nearly all-purpose insult, which is perhaps not ideal, but Ben sure seems like a pathological narcissist. Also, no one ever actually uses that term when referring to him, as far as I can remember. I like that he is so clearly drawn, even in his absence, that we can say, How narcissistic he sounds! without the author pounding us over the head with the diagnosis.

Anyway, I also like that Nora in a secure place with her career. I mean, there’s room to improve, but though she has a habit of feeling that money is tight, she can apparently expect to sell every single screenplay she writes to a romance tv network for quite decent money, so she’s not in dire straits. I like that her new screenplay has hit it big and is being made into a serious movie, though it is DEFINITELY not the kind of movie I would watch because it’s closely based on her relationship with Ben and his leaving the marriage and how that was fine.

Here’s the setup:

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband, Nora’s life will never be the same.

That’s all backstory. This has already happened. The story opens on the first day of filming. Then the story moves on, thus:

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

That’s somewhat misleading, but it’s good enough to go with.

Leo is interesting. Not really sympathetic right off the bat, but interesting. Nora is sympathetic. Her kids are great, and they pretty much make the story, both in Nora’s interactions with them and — this is crucial — Leo’s interactions with them. The kids pull the reader’s sympathy toward Leo as we get to watch him unwind, relax, and smoothly pick up a dad’s role toward them without anybody exactly thinking of it quite like that. But nearly.

Nora and Leo fall in love — this is believable — the seven days disappear, Leo settles in for a longer stay, then he gets a major starring role in a big movie and leaves, promising to return shortly. He doesn’t return. All is woe.

This is the part where I was speculating — you may have noticed in a previous post — that maybe Leo’s co-star Naomi was blackmailing him. SO MUCH made that plausible, but commenter Alison said nope, that wasn’t it. It sure wasn’t. I didn’t see the actual reason coming at all, and Alison, I’m curious, did you? Kim, how about you, did you see that explanation coming? I feel like I should have figured it out, especially after I knew my first guess was wrong..

Things I didn’t like:

Okay, I’m going to start by saying that I did in fact like the plot twist and the reason that Leo left. That was fine. I liked how we finally (FINALLY) find out what was going on with Leo. That was also fine.

But why, why, why didn’t Nora ever text or call and ask straight out, Leo, what the hell? You said you were coming back. Why didn’t you come back?

Now, in story terms, it’s … kind of plausible … that Nora did not do that. Ben left, he didn’t come back. He said he’d come back to see his kids, but he didn’t. So … kind of? Maybe? A famous movie star who is very rich, I guess it’s reasonable to assume he was just toying with your affections and never meant to come back.

On the other hand, no, it’s honestly not plausible. The way he was with her, the way she was with him, it’s just not. So when he says, “I love you, I’m definitely coming back, I will see you this Friday, I would not miss your kid’s performance in his school play, I will absolutely for sure come back.” and then he doesn’t come back …

… Why don’t you ask, “What the hell, Leo? Why didn’t you come back?”

But you don’t ask that. Instead, you sort of text message around the edges of this crucial question and then fall apart emotionally. Later, after you’ve somewhat recovered, during a text exchange, you say something or other that tentatively pins the blame for heartache on Leo and he returns quite sharply, “I said I was coming back!”

You don’t respond, “Yes, so that’s why I thought you were coming back! Why didn’t you come back?” Instead, you pause in puzzlement and ask your friends what they think he could be thinking.

This is the quintessential “If only they would TALK to each other!!!!” situation.

The only reason this was tolerable is that Nora falling apart emotionally didn’t last all that long and after all they did get it figured out in the end. Oh! No, I’m wrong. The thing that REALLY made this tolerable is that everyone supported Nora. Her friends, her family, her kids, Leo’s employees when she occasionally spoke to them — everyone. This was just really nice to see.

And they all did so believably too, except that — as far as I can recall — none of them said, “Oh, honey, this seems so strange. I know you may not like to [for some fairly inexplicable reason] ask Leo why he didn’t come back, but rather than assuming you know, maybe you should ask him?”

When I try to think of an actual sensible reason for Nora not to ask, I can’t. So maybe ignoring that [inexplicable] failure to ask is about the best way to handle this?


I probably emphasized the implausibility of this plot point a little too strongly. It was pretty implausible, sure, but this by no means ruined the story, which I really did find difficult to put down. I enjoyed this book very much and eventually, when I re-read it, I’ll be paying careful attention. Maybe I’ll see some plot justification that seems adequate to explain the above, and if not, fine, it’s still a good story and a fun read, with engaging characters and great family dynamics. I liked it a lot and I would be happy to read something else by Monaghan.

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7 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Nora Goes Off Script”

  1. Hi Rachel
    I have to agree with you in almost every respect. The part where there was so much tension and unhappiness was almost too much for me–I realize there has to be some kind of tension in a book or there is no book, but still! I almost did not finish it. I also did not see the plot twist coming. But I loved the writing, the characters seemed quite real to me, and I agree, everyone was supportive, and I liked that. It’s (for me) definitely a book worth reading!

    I really think you would like The Unsinkable Gretta James by Jennifer E Smith. I love her books, and this one in particular. But you may be over contemporary romance.

  2. I’m never over anything, Alison, though it may take me a while to get to something. … Oh, a lot appeals to me in this description. An important father-daughter relationship, that’s unusual and I like that. An Alaskan cruise, great setting, I like that a lot. AND the male lead sounds great, what little we know about him from the description. Adding a sample right now and I may look at this pretty soon!

  3. Kim Aippersbach

    It was the best kind of plot twist, the one where you say, “Oh, of course that’s what happened!” but, no, I did not predict it.

    Slightly more spoilery part of my comment (though Rachel already mentioned most of this):

    I agree that one little “I thought you were coming back” text is the “why didn’t the eagles fly them to Mount Doom” of this book. But while I was reading, I was convinced: I think his great fame makes it more plausible that she would suddenly second-guess everything and doubt her own experience of his character, and be too intimidated to push back against the assumptions. And there was that interaction with his agent/manager/whoever she was that sure made it sound like he was dating Naomi. (At the end I meant to go back and reread that scene, because it very successfully misdirected me and yet the agent woman couldn’t have actually said what I and Nora thought she said.)

  4. Kim, I agree that her failure to ask him what the hell was up was somehow substantially more believable while I was reading the story than it should have been by any rational assessment.

    The eagles couldn’t carry them to Mount Doom because the king of the eagles would have claimed the ring and All Would Have Been Lost. Or so that was explained to me, and I thought that was sufficiently plausible that the question stopped bothering me!

  5. That sort of thing drives me crazy – I almost DNF’d the latest Ursula Vernon middle grades book because I was so annoyed with the main character for not just telling someone about the problem and asking for help. If something has to be a secret, or two people can’t just have an adult conversation and come clean with each other, the author has to do a darn good job of justifying it or else it just drives me crazy.

  6. SarahZ, usually two characters failing to talk to each other utterly destroys the book for me. This one was unusual in that it didn’t, and I have to say, that sure says something about the author’s ability!

    For me, I DNF the Wizards Guide to Defensive Baking not for that reason, but for dire character naivety, to the extent that it came across as pure stupidity.

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