Beginner’s Luck (Chance of a Lifetime, #1)

By Kate Clayborn


I’ve read Kate Clayborn before and enjoyed her writing. Unfortunately, this one was marred by a heroine I didn’t care for. It wasn’t a case of a character arc situation where the protagonist starts off weak, victimized, flaky, selfish, man-crazy, or whatever and grows and learns in the course of the plot, eventually gets her head on straight, and demonstrates how she has changed. This one stayed in her lane until the very end. I became more and more frustrated and hostile toward her as the book went on.

Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, our heroine, Kit, a scientific genius in the field of metallurgy is bound and determined to remain a lab research assistant so she can stay in her community and her new home and not be separated from her two best friends. She craves stability. If she fulfilled her potential, including just taking credit for her work, it would disrupt her life. Ok. You know what? I can relate to and even respect someone who prioritizes home, community, and personal life over career and money. But here’s the thing. Except for her two best friends, who have lives of their own, she doesn’t really have a family or a personal life. She has no hobbies, causes, or interests other than her work and fixing up her old house which winning the lottery allowed her to buy. The premise of this little series: 3 friends who win the lottery and how it changed their lives sounded intriguing and fraught with possibilities. But despite this novel’s marketing, winning the lottery doesn’t change Kit or her life at all. It just gives her something to do and a bonafide neighborhood to live in. She would still have the same “maintain the status quo at all costs” attitude she has now, but would be living in an apartment with nothing to do after work. I am re-reading a book now, A Spring Affair by Milly Johnson, in which a downtrodden woman sorely in need of a new lease on life transforms her circumstances by moving all the detritus of years out of her house. As she “cleans house”, she gets out from under the thumb of her husband, re-establishes a relationship with an old friend, starts a business, loses weight, and falls in love with the bin-man. And a lot of other things as well. It is a slow but very sure progression throughout the novel. It provided a real contrast and insight into why this plot didn’t do it for me. Anyway, back to Kit. As far as family, she has a beloved globe-trotting photojournalist brother who brought her up and loves her, but whom she rarely sees. And that is because she has all but alienated him by her constant nagging to accept part of her lottery winnings as a gift. As soon as he comes home for a visit, she starts in on him again, forcing him to be harsh with her to get her to stop. He cuts his visit short leaving her bereft but none the wiser.

Kit’s genius and accomplishments have come to the notice of a huge corporate research laboratory. Ben, our hero, has been sent to recruit Kit to Houston Texas with promises of a big salary, top-of-the-line equipment, fabulous working conditions, fame, fulfillment, and prestige in her field. Of course, it’s a big “NO” from Kit. She is happy where she is. She doesn’t want the pressure or hassle, would have to move, and is afraid that her work will be used to do bad things like making weapons. (That I can respect, but she doesn’t even entertain the possibility that her talents could also contribute to the good of mankind as well.) Anyway, while attempting to woo her to his company, Ben and Kit fall in love. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Ben’s father, whom he is temporarily caring for, owns a salvage yard in her home town which has lots of cool stuff for Kit’s House.

It doesn’t take long for Ben to realize that Kit is deadly serious about not moving, and he quits trying to make her. The love story precedes predictably until the big misunderstanding that drives them apart. Kit’s nice boss who Kit loves and esteems is offered his sorely needed funding by the corporation Ben works for if Kit comes to work for them. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that Ben used her private confidences to blackmail her into changing her mind. Of course, he is not capable of any such thing. Kit ignores what a good person Ben has proven himself to be, believes the worse, and doesn’t give him any chance to defend himself or deny her accusation. She just coldly freezes him out.

When her derelict addict father has a stroke in another state, he drops everything to jump on a plane to be by her side in the hospital. Nope. She is not having it. She will not even listen to him. To her shock and dismay (!), she learns her father has gotten sober, stopped gambling, got a job, and is in a relationship with a nice lady, Candace, whom he met at an AA meeting. He has been saving all of the money that Kit has been sending him to supposedly keep body and soul together in order to pay it back on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety. Her reaction? She is angry and resentful. “Given that Alex and I both have been sending checks, it would’ve been nice to know that Dad himself could have supplemented…Maybe this should make me feel warm and fuzzy inside…But it makes me mad…to hear he has been going along, getting better at his life, making some grand gesture…when all we’d really want was a bit more kindness.” She looks at his sweet intention as self-indulgent. I just didn’t get the reaction and was even more fed up with her. Plus she was snippy with Candace, who, though she lived in a trailer park (horrors!), was a peach.

In the end, Kit gets tired of waiting for heartbroken Ben to come back to try to change her mind, realizes he is not, and finally takes action. No big epiphany, no growth, no lessons learned, she just got tired of waiting for him to beg her for another chance (to not do anything wrong.) In the epilogue, we find out that she has finally decided not to waste her talents career-wise and flies up and down the east coast consulting and training. Why? Search me.

So it’s another case where protagonists make themselves miserable and almost ruin their lives for no good reason until they choose otherwise for no good reason. I am weary of that but I can put up with it if the protagonists have enough redeeming qualities or a good heart underneath all the flaws. Kit is not a bad person. She had a tough childhood. But she’s not a great person either. So this was a fail for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 3, 2022

Love Lettering

by Kate Clayborn

I hide things. My feelings about things in my life, or in the lives of people I care about. I hide them in my letters, and I hide them when I’m talking about the weather or Frisbee or whatever other thing I fill up the space with—”

“I want to try that,” I say. “Being honest. Talking about the things that are difficult. When I hide them—they seem to come out in other ways, anyway.”

It always adds an extra level of interest and enjoyment when a book or movie is set in a heretofore unencountered setting or includes a character’s unusual profession or lifestyle/interest. It’s always a good thing to become educated about something and exposed to new things. And this one certainly did that. I’m not sure if “calligrapher” is a really viable profession in the real world, but that didn’t really matter to me. It was interesting and enlightening. To a point.

Meg is a designer of journals, house decor, and day planners. She is all into signs and letters and making them her own to reflect the persona of her client. She is really talented and as famous and as in demand as a calligrapher can be. She used to design wedding invitations and programs. One time, upon meeting the groom of a bride for whom she was designing some wedding material, she recognizes “signs” that the marriage will be a big mistake. She is good at that. So, on a whim, she weaves the word “MISTAKE” into the intricate design, confident that it is well-hidden and would never be discovered. Because that would be bad. because she’s done it before. If her little habit was discovered…. Well. She forgets about it until a year later when the groom comes a-knockin’ at her door. She messed with the wrong groom. Reid is a math genius and savant who detects patterns and had discovered her hidden message. The couple mutually and amicably called off the wedding not only because of the message but because they truly were incompatible. But he is planning on leaving New York City soon and wanted to confront the harbinger of doom before he goes. How did she know? Why did she do it?
It turns out Meg is good at hiding in more ways than one.
Even though Meg is telling the story and indicates something has changed in her life, that something is not quite right, that there is some secret about her family, that her friendship with her best friend is fading, she, as the narrator, never outright tells us what is going on. What we know about her reveals itself in her actions, choices, and conversations. It did keep me intrigued. As we observe others’ behavior and ways through Meg’s eyes and what she tells us, we get the measure of the other characters, especially Reid and Lark.

We see that Meg is unable to engage fully with others and have honest close relationships because of her lack of self-esteem. She does not share what she truly thinks because she hates conflict and never wants to rock the boat. She puts on a mask of cheerful accommodation that hides her loneliness and troubles. At one point I thought she might be on the spectrum. Although the reader understands what is going on, we are not let in on what is behind it. Meg hides. Just past the point where I was starting to be impatient and her reticence started to seem coy, she finally starts to both reveal her secrets and make strides in being more open. This is due to her developing relationship with Reid, and their games with signs around New York which establishes a kinship. They have a lot in common. At that point, the book really picked up, because it had started to get bogged down for me. Once she started on her road to revealing more of herself, it was onward and upward from there. There are several crises that she has to navigate, but she is not derailed. I liked that.
Reid is likable and intriguing and their journey and romance are engaging. So strong character development, intriguing plot points, interesting secondary characters, witty and amusing narrative voice. What’s not to like?

The constant repetition of certain words and themes such as “serif” with or without the “sans”, “signs”, “Swoonsh” to describe Reid’s quirky smile, “blocked,” game playing, and the author’s need to describe Meg’s lettering and flourishes in excruciating detail was as bewildering as it was tedious. It was so unnecessary to what was going on with the plot and the character. Yes, I saw the symbolism, but it was like she fell in love with her own themes and fancies and wouldn’t let them go. The reader bedamned. It actually would have been great in a movie, where animated graphics could be employed. But not a book. Unless it was an illustrated book. I read this on kindle. Maybe the calligraphy aspects were more tolerable on paper?

All in all, this was a good read, but a strong editor could have made it a great one. Not quite 4 stars. But almost!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 30, 2022