Desert Isle Keeper
All the Feels
Olivia Dade’s All the Feels is a terrific follow-up to last year’s Spoiler Alert, a charming, thoroughly entertaining read that, for all its outward lightheartedness, tackles some knotty issues in a sensitive but down-to-earth way. We met Alex Woodroe briefly in Spoiler Alert and he charmed me completely, so I’ve been eager to catch up with him in his own book ever since – and I’m happy to say that All the Feels is just as enjoyable and sharply observed as its predecessor.
Like his best friend Marcus, Alex has been playing a lead role in the hit TV show Gods of the Gates for the past seven years. The similarities to Game of Thrones – in the sense that the showrunners have run out of books to adapt and are going it alone (and fucking it up) are obvious – and like Marcus, Alex has become very disenchanted with the writing and the storylines given to his character, Cupid, and for similar reasons. But there are other reasons for his discomfort that nobody else knows about, reasons related to past trauma and overwhelming guilt that have begun to affect his – already erratic – behaviour.
When the book begins, Alex is in big trouble; he was involved in a bar fight the previous night and the showrunners have had enough. He’s always been a bit of a loose cannon, but this is too much, so for the rest of the shoot, he’s assigned a minder, someone to go wherever he goes, to keep him in line and who will report back on his behaviour. Needless to say, Alex is not at all happy about this; but worse is the fact that nobody has asked to hear his side of the story – everyone assumes it happened just because he’s Alex, and getting into trouble is what he does.
Lauren Clegg is a former ER therapist who desperately needed a break from her job and decided to go to Europe for a much-needed vacation. The Gods of the Gates showrunner is her cousin (a total dickhead who was always awful to her when they were kids and whom she’s never liked) so while she’d never in a million years have gone anywhere near the GotG set in Spain if it had been up to her, family pressure finds her accepting the job of “babysitter” to the show’s bad-boy star.
They don’t get off to a great start. Alex resents Lauren’s presence and thinks she’s judging him, and Lauren expects him to be a self-centred spoiled brat, but it doesn’t take long for her to realise that he’s nothing like that at all, that he’s kind, smart and funny, an unpretentious, generous man who is well-liked by cast and crew – all things that are completely at odds with the image that’s so often painted of him in the media. Once the shoot has wrapped, Lauren accompanies Alex back to his LA home where she’s to live in his guesthouse for the next few months, and over the weeks and months a genuine friendship develops between them as they share meals and long walks – and Alex introduces Lauren to his love of fanfic and obsession with the Great British Bake Off.
Their romance is a lovely slow-burn, full of affection and humour and honesty. The grumpy/sunshine trope here is turned on its head with happy-go-lucky Alex as the sunshine to Lauren’s more sober, level-headed personality, and it works really well. Alex talks a mile a minute (seriously, he never stops!) and a lot of his chatter is peppered with good-natured jibes and banter – and I’ll say now that he is NEVER intentionally cruel (and if he’s accidentally so, he’s mortified) and that Lauren very quickly sees it for what it is and doesn’t take anything he says about her shrewishness or killjoy tendencies to heart.
I liked Alex and Lauren immensely. Alex has ADHD and has worked incredibly hard to manage it while also achieving professional success in a demanding, stressful career that often makes the condition that much more difficult to live with. The portrayal of his ADHD is extremely well done, and while I know it’s a condition that affects people in many different ways, its portrayal here is effective and consistent. Despite being one of the most famous actors on television Alex is refreshingly down to earth, and I loved seeing his joy in the simplest of things, his delight in his favourite fanfic tropes and his acceptance of and willingness to be a part of fan culture. The scene where Alex geeks out at the fact that there is Only One Bed at the hotel he and Lauren are at is priceless – not only does this book use the trope, it has a character who is aware of it and adores it!
Lauren is plus sized and petite (fat and short, in her words) and is comfortable and content with that, even if the rest of the world isn’t. I liked that she has decided not to allow others to define her, or to become upset by things she can’t control, but was saddened by the way she arrived at that position, simply because she learned that telling her parents about the cruelty of the insults levelled at her when she was a child upset them – so it was better not to say anything and remain as unobtrusive as possible. And as an adult, that ‘lesson’ has turned into a kind of self-abnegation, Lauren putting her own needs and wants at the back of the queue and deciding that she’s not as important as everyone around her.
… she’d spent decades giving away pieces of herself, because she didn’t matter. Not as much as everyone else. She’d given herself away at work with every overtime shift she took, every holiday she worked in place of a colleague, every time she chose to ignore her increasing misery and work harder, She’d given herself away to her parents, who’d leaned he would drop everything to help them at an time, no matter what they wanted… Eventually she’d given so much of herself away, there’d been almost nothing left by the time she boarded that flight to Spain.
Alex’s fury at Lauren’s obvious lack of care for herself and her statements that she’s unimportant finally start to wake her up to the fact that she’s let herself ‘disappear’ for a long time, so part of her emotional journey in this book is learning that she’s worthy, she’s allowed to put herself first, and that she’s important, too. Alex’s story arc is a heart-breaking one in which he has to learn to let go of the guilt and responsibility he’s been carrying around for years about a situation over which he had no control. I appreciated the novel’s emphasis on self-worth and learning to love oneself, and the way those things are emphasised in the journey taken by both characters.
As in Spoiler Alert, there are some entertaining vignettes between chapters in the form of snippets of Alex’s fix-it fanfics, and group chats and texts involving Alex and other cast members which are frequently hilarious.
All the Feels is absolutely delightful, a fun, sweet and sexy read overflowing with good humour and witty banter that doesn’t shy away from addressing some heavier undertones in its exploration of the issues that have shaped its two leads. I enjoyed it very much and am more than happy to recommend it.
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