Book Review, Chick lit

Review: The Secret Shopper Unwrapped by Kate Harrison

The Secret Shopper Unwrapped joins Emily, Grazia and Sandie two years after The Secret Shoppers Revenge ended. Things have moved quite a way for the three friends, who met in the first book as mystery shoppers for the secretive and shady Charlie. These days though, Emily is playing happy families with love of her life Will and keeping her own shop. Grazia is finally recovering from the death of her beloved artist husband, Leon, and tentatively making steps to a new relationship. Sandie, having made the biggest change of all, is now running her own shopping consultancy business and has moved in with her loaded ex boss, Toby and is blissfully in love. However, it seems that beyond the façade, all three woman are yet again in a period of turmoil and uncertainty. Can the friends come together again to help each other through their tough times?

What really stuck out for me in this book is that unlike the first, shopping was a mere whisper in the background this time around. Yes it’s still there, but it’s the three friends personal stories that manipulate the pages, and I liked this. I felt I really got to know and care for each and everyone.

Despite the fluffy shopping theme, some pretty deep and sensitive issues are tackled in this book, and with great sensitivity too. Sandie in particular has a pretty rough ride and has to make some heartbreaking decisions. In the original book, I didn’t really warm to her all that much. However, as we delve deeper into her life and her vulnerability is revealed, I really started to like and empathise with her very much. I also really enjoyed the softer side of Grazia, who, is revealed in this book. Her particular story is both sad and funny at the same time, and I loved the flamboyant and blunt, but incredibly kindhearted Italian glamourpus. I think what makes Kate Harrison’s characters work so well is the complete belief I had in them. They are real, down to earth and I can actually imagine knowing them.

The exception, or weak link, however was Emily. It’s not that she is terrible; on the whole I like her. I have a problem with her slight ridiculousness at times though, and I found one storyline involving her, pretty far fetched. I remember feeling the same when reading the first book, where her story dominated. In this one she plays less of a role, and the other characters manage to over shadow her so I didn’t find it too much of an issue.

The characters are given a first person narrative, and each speaks for a chapter at a time, titled with the name so it’s easy to tell whom you are with at anytime. I honestly think that even if the chapter was left untitled, once you knew the characters you would be able to identify them, as Kate Harrison gives each of them their own distinctive voice and personality. The friends don’t actually spend a lot of time together, and I think it especially to her credit that the author manages to create three very different personalities, keep them all distinctive, realistic and deep enough that by the end of the book you feel like you know them well. I do think that this book wouldn’t work as well as a stand-alone book, and would recommend that you read the first in the series, as a lot of background is set there. To keep fresh, Harrison introduces another character, Kelly, who slotted in beautifully. Again she is different and distinctive from the three original characters and with her Kate Harrison introduces a darker element to the book. Kelly was another fabulously real and believable character and I found her story intriguing.

‘Secret Shopper Unwrapped’ is themed around Christmas, and is quite festive. This was a perfect book to treat myself to over the recent holidays, but I think it could equally be enjoyed at anytime of the year. If you read and enjoyed ‘Secret Shoppers Revenge’ you will love this book, which takes us deeper into the lives of the three women. I’d highly recommend both of them, but I do think this is by far the better of the two. Kate Harrison’s secret shopper books manage to mix fun with serious issues and create very real characters that by the end you will feel are your own friends who you have laughed and cried with. I can’t wait for the third book in the series, due out in in 2011 I believe.
My Rating: 5/5

Published by orion in 2009
ISBN 978-1409107309

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