I was looking forward to Watching Willow Watts rather a lot. I loved Talli Roland's last book, The Hating Game, and I was hoping for big things.
I ended up liking Watching Willow Watts more than The Hating Game.
Once again, Talli is writing about fame, celebrity, and ordinary women in extraordinary situations, which seems to be what she does best (if there is something she does better, I would like to read it. Now, please). Willow Watts dresses as Marilyn Monroe during a village fete, and the resulting video is uploaded to YouTube, where it becomes an overnight sensation - not least because some fans believe they have spotted Marilyn's ghost in the background. Willow, an unassuming former florist, is not prepared for the reality of being hailed as the reincarnation of a dead sex symbol.
Her path to riches - well, the moderate riches she needs to pay the tax bill for her dad's antique shop - is beset by an unscrupulous failed agent, a mad American divorcee, a super-glam best friend, the ex who got away, the ex's new love interest, an aging reclusive film star, immigration officials, a JFK impersonator from Essex who sometimes forgets he isn't JFK, some butt padding and a large pink elephant (don't ask, just read).
Like The Hating Game, this is a funny book. But it isn't full of lame jokes and puns. It's seriously told, but by a writer with a marvellous eye for the ridiculous and a sharp sense of humour.
But as always, it's the characters who shine most. Willow may be quiet and unassuming, but her life hasn't been without its mistakes and she grows as a person during her brief tenure as the New Marilyn (and not just because her agent keeps feeding her junk food to fatten her up, either!). She could very easily have been a generic good-girl in the hands of a less skilled writer, but Talli manages to create someone gentle, shy and kind without turning her into a Mary Sue or the sort of fictional dullard you want to shake.
The secondary characters are also very strong - no surprise to anyone who has read The Hating Game, which also had a brilliant supporting cast. The village of Belcherton also comes right off the page. If I saw a tourist brochure for it, I wouldn't be surprised.
A great second outing from Talli - this book definitely doesn't disappoint and I can't wait for her third book, Build A Man, in December 2011.