Flipping by Mary A. Ellenton

Chick lit with a smart real estate twist.

The book in one sentence: Fay Famaghetti flips houses, and inevitably ... her life!

My thoughts: Flipping. So many meanings in that one word. And if you're familiar with real estate jargon, then you know what "flipping" means -  buying a property with the intent to sell it for a profit.

I have to say that this is an oddball of a book. It's a combination of chick lit and insider information on the business of flipping houses. I always enjoy odd combinations as they always end up to be interesting reads (say for example this economics textbook-novel, or this graphic novel - flipbook). So let's see how I found this combination ...

The story is about Farina "Fay" Famaghetti. She grew up in a loving, hardworking Italian family, who owns a restaurant. She is married and has a young son. She is also hardworking and ambitious, and feels that she is capable of so much more. Through a friend of a friend, she befriends a real estate broker. She finds herself selling real estate under her friend's licence, but being the driven woman she is, she jumps at an opportunity to make even more more money ...

Enter the charismatic, handsome and sexy Richie, a veteran at flipping houses and making a quick buck. Fay is slowly drawn into the allure of making wads of money quickly and unscrupulously.

Fay's professional life and personal life start to meld and go into hyperdrive. Just as quickly as she is able to make money, she throws a wrench into her already precarious marriage by acting on her attraction to a colleague. The lies and deceit pile up - both in her professional and personal life. Ah, the irony - she becomes more successful than she ever has in her life, making more money than she has ever dreamed of; she also becomes miserable as her marriage crumbles and her family relationships become strained and tenuous.

But something happens, and innocents are dragged into the mess - and Fay realizes too late that she has gotten into too deep. What ensues is Fay's attempts to get her life back on track, including patching up  broken relationships while being true to her own needs and desires.

What I found fascinating about this book is that the story revolves around the ethical and moral dilemma of making money, and its personal impacts. It touches on sub-prime lending culture, business fraud, "creative" accounting, loopholes to maximize profits (think Enron) in the real estate business. It draws from the US real estate market boom and the stock market crash of 2008. I must admit some concepts took a little more brainpower from me (or quick Wikipedia visits) - I had to reread some sections to understand the chatter about sub-prime mortgages, refinancing, etc. 

And now the chick lit part. Fay is one tough cookie that I am sure many women can relate to her!
I am of two minds about Fay. She somehow seemed too perfect a character to begin with - err, who actually can whip up a gourmet meal in 30 minutes? And what's with all the references to how attractive she is and all the cream-coloured designer clothing? On the other hand, she is smart, driven, fully aware of her sexuality, and knows what she wants. The problem is that Fay reads like two different people - kindhearted Italian girl and smart, ruthless businesswoman. Maybe this just a function of her being a conflicted character. At any rate, just when I thought I was warming up to her, I find that I'm not. 

One dimension of Fay that I did enjoy was her relationship with her father. A traditional Italian father, he dotes on her being the only girl, is strict, but as she becomes an adult he has difficulty letting go. But the relationship comes full circle as this father-daughter bond is put to the test.

There is a lot of insight into traditional Italian family life and culture, particularly how closely knit families are and how these family relationships play out in one's personal life. (And of course, being the foodie I am, mentions of good Italian food!) I especially enjoyed the back story of how the Famaghetti family were new immigrants to the US and how, through hard work and perseverance, they established themselves and became successful.

There are a few titillating scenes in this one, just a warning. Some of it was a little strangely placed for my liking, but what the heck!

As this is an Advance Review Copy, I also want to point out some little niggling things:

I hated the italicized English phrases which were direct translations of the Italian (e.g. "A cavallo con te." The hell with you He went back to his dinner.) Yes, that is verbatim. This is peppered all throughout the book! It really cuts up the flow of reading. And the fact these phrases are just hanging there, no punctuation whatsoever, wanted me to whip out my red pen and get into editing mode. (On a lesser extent, some of the text alignment was off but I  am sure that hope the editor becomes brutal and cleans all this up).

A word about the cover - oh no, please tell me that this is a draft! It looks so generic and absolutely screams of stereotype office romance! (I wonder if it is a stock photo - and that boring white background, really?) Flip over to the back cover and you have a repeating gray house icon, presumably to reference the whole real estate angle. Predictable much? I wish the cover gave the book's storyline a little more credit!

Verdict: If you're in for a titillating chick lit read with more meat than fluff, this one is for you! Look for it when it hits the shelves on January 17, 2012.

First line: The gravel in Mrs. Goodfellow's driveway crunched under the tires of Fay's Jeep Cherokee.

Last line: "Good. He'll love my mother."

{I received an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review, and all opinions are my own.}

Find out about Flipping and Mary A. Ellenton here:

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