‘Secret Shopper’ is a first novel written by Tanya Taimanglo. It’s a romantic comedy that follows a young woman whose whole universe is suddenly turned upside down.
Life is not always a fairytale, and Phoenix certainly knows that. When Bradley, her high school sweetheart husband, calmly tells her their marriage is over, she realizes there’s absolutely nothing she can do to change that. But she may do something else – she can start again from scratch and rebuild her own little world.
With a positive encouragement from her best friend, Nix gets a grip and becomes a true goddess she was always meant to be. She begins to enjoy life and thrive in her job as a secret shopper. While on assignment, she meets a handsome man whose charm is impossible to resist.
At first glance this book may seem like a typical light-hearted romance, where two people fall madly in love with each other and – after overcoming several formidable obstacles – live happily ever after. But, start reading – take a second glance – and you’ll soon discover that this novel is so much more. It is light-hearted, yes. Its main characters indeed fall in love with each other – not madly though. And there are really no obstacles they need to surmount to live happily ever after. By the way, do they live happily ever after? Well, you don’t expect me to give you such spoilers, do you?
‘Secret Shopper’ scores high on all fronts – from storyline and characters to style in which it is written. The latter makes the book a true pleasure to read. Tanya Taimanglo is a former English teacher, so she knows exactly how to put thoughts into words. In terms of language and tone, this title is a very contemporary work. Even though the author shows, not tells, you won’t find here any yawn-inducing descriptions, elaborate sentences, incomprehensible expressions. This is not to say the book is plain; oh no, it is not! It’s clear and straightforward; extremely well-crafted, and adorned with feminine humour – remarkably uplifting – that will certainly bring a smile to your face. Tanya Taimanglo didn’t even try to impress readers with her impeccable writing skills. But that’s exactly what she did by creating a novel that’s beautiful in its simplicity.
The story itself unfolds at a lively pace, and each chapter compels you to read another. The narrative is quite brilliantly constructed, I must say. Untypically for this kind of genre, it has ebbs and flows that gently carry you through the pages instead of progressively raising tension that leads to one powerful climax. It’s pretty much like the human’s existence – we experience constant ups and downs; every single day little occurrences we sometimes don’t even notice affect our behaviour and shape our choices. We don’t wait for the big storm to happen – we just live. This may be the reason why the plot is so incredibly believable and easy to relate to – this is not a fairytale you dream of, but a story solidly anchored in reality.
The narrative of ‘Secret Shopper’ wouldn’t be so convincing if it weren’t driven by strong characters. Especially Phoenix, the heroine and female voice of the story, is thoroughly lovable. She is one of those woman you pass by on the street – a woman that has her issues, deals with one hundred problems a minute, and does everything possible to lead a happy life. Her incredible journey of self-discovery, of becoming a better (or the best) version of herself makes you cheer for her. For her and for Thomas. When the two meet, the chemistry between them cannot be denied. Chemistry, not love at first sight. Despite the evident attraction, Phoenix lets this relationship develop naturally. She doesn’t try to rush things that need time to grow. Because there is one important lesson she learns along the way: you should never make your self-worth dependant upon others; love and value yourself and then let others do the same. A protagonist with such mature attitude is a very refreshing change from your typical romantic comedy characters. Don’t you agree?
Another interesting feature of this novel are constant references to Chamorro culture, which give the book a nice multicultural dimension. A perceptive reader will be able to ‘see’ Guam in little snippets about the island’s food, legends, beliefs, traditions, practices. These are not insights that may help you get to know the Micronesian country, but if you’re already familiar with it, you’ll surely enjoy this added bonus.
Tanya Taimanglo managed to create a charming and quite thought-provoking novel, which – I would say – should be a mandatory read for every self-conscious, insecure woman. It’s perfect for long winter evenings and warm summer days. And it proves that it is possible to write a romantic comedy that is not only sweet but also funny and – most importantly – intelligent.