March 11, 2011

Must've Done Something Good: In A Nutshell (Adult)

Taken from Goodreads:

Sylvie O'Rourke, "The Sound of Music" devotee and born procrastinator, is about to die. Well, she thinks she is, anyway, and so attempts a last-ditch bargain with God for her life.

"You guys are my witnesses," she tells her sisters somewhere over Connecticut. "If we get out of this plane alive, I promise to do something good with my life."

Back on firm ground, Kate and Meg won't let their sister forget her promise, and with their years of practice hitting just the right chords of guilt ("What kind of person lies to God?" Meg wants to know), Sylvie finally caves.

A teaching position at the broken-down St. Matthew's High School appears to be Sylvie's perfect opportunity to do some good. That is, until she's snubbed by a fellow teacher on the first day of school.

Whether she's becoming a bit too invested in the students' fall fundraiser or directing the school's sure-fire musical disaster, Sylvie's charmingly irreverent style gets her called down to the principal more often than her students. Can Sylvie keep her promise and make it through the year, dignity and sanity intact?

Must've Done Something Good by Cheryl Cory

My reaction: I warmed up to the main character Sylvie right away. Her wry, self-deprecating sense of humour gives her a distinctive voice that comes through from the very first chapter. I'll admit the jokes were a bit hit-and-miss — I could usually tell when the author was trying to be funny, but she didn't always succeed — but I was laughing out loud many times throughout this story. Sylvie just has such a fabulously sarcastic commentary on everything that happens to her. Plus, she and I had a lot in common: we're both fans of Pride and Prejudice and The Sound of Music (although Sylvie and her sisters kind of took their Sound of Music love to scarily obsessive heights), we both don't like modern art (well, I don't like the vast majority of it, anyway), and we both have a tendency to procrastinate.

Must've Done Something Good is very much a character-driven story that I read in multiple sittings over the course of several days. The plot was quite predictable as soon as I recognized (several chapters in) that it was loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. However, I did like the twist in the premise — that the main character is an English teacher — and having been an assistant ESL teacher myself, I certainly enjoyed many of the scenes involving Sylvie's interactions with her students, which often added to the humour quotient. (Though I have to say, I thought she was extremely lucky — most of her students seemed to be interested and engaged in the lesson, rather than goofing off!) In fact, I would have loved seeing more scenes in the classroom, perhaps with a few more realistic, trouble-making, kids.

There is a fair bit of 'wish fulfillment' in this one — hey, what woman doesn't want her own Mr. Darcy? — so the ending is quite sweet in its happy-ever-after. Romance aside, I particularly liked seeing what Sylvie decided to end up doing career-wise; I respected her decision, and thought it was realistic and made a good deal of sense.

Best aspect: The humour, particularly Sylvie's internal monologue. I know I already mentioned this but Sylvie's dry wit really shone in this novel. This amusing commentary, more than the actual storyline itself, is what made me think of Austen.

And I liked the various literary allusions introduced, ranging from Othello to My Fair Lady. Their connections to Sylvie's life and the storyline were pretty obvious, but since I'm familiar with most of them it was nice to be able to understand the references as I went along.
If I could change something... I felt like perhaps the author was trying to do too much with this book. It seemed like the main storyline was the Ben-Sylvie-Evan love triangle, but in addition to that there was also the teaching aspect, and even subplots involving Sylvie's sisters and parents. Since the storyline is based on Pride and Prejudice and (to a lesser extent) The Sound of Music, sometimes the events felt a little contrived; I think this was particularly true for Ben and Sylvie's reaction to him. Spoilery bit, highlight to read: Ben is undoubtedly based on Mr. Wickham, but unlike Austen's Wickham he doesn't come across as particularly charming or charismatic. So when Sylvie fell for him, it frustrated me that she couldn't see what a jerk he was when it was so obvious to the reader. I think if Ben had been a better actor, Sylvie's persistence in believing him to be a honest, decent guy would have felt more genuine.

Because this was more or less a retelling, some of the characters had to fit into certain roles that unfortunately felt forced, which meant they didn't really come alive for me. This was the case for the relationship between Kate and Jared, which seemed to happen awfully quickly and only because it was a parallel to Pride and Prejudice. Although in terms of P&P representatives, I would have added a character to stand in for Mr. Collins, as I'm sure his caricature-ish personality would have fit right in!

While I was impressed by the quality of the writing given that this is a self-published novel, I did think that sections could have used additional editing. For instance, some of the dialogue felt unnecessary and didn't really move the story forward.


"Sylvie, what's so interesting? You've been staring over there for five minutes now," Ben thus interrupted my thoughts.

"Oh, I thought I saw a, um, mouse run across the floor."

"For five minutes."


"Without feeling the need to scream or alert anyone to the mouse's mysterious presence?"

"Okay, first of all, I wouldn't go so far as to say mysterious. Take a look around." I made a gesture meant to encompass the entire school. "Secondly, I obviously didn't want to frighten anyone and cause a crazy rampage for the one remaining exit, which I happen to now be blocking." I certainly was getting better at thinking on my feet. Who says there was no mouse anyway? There more than likely was.

Recommend for: Pride and Prejudice and Sound of Music fans, of course, or anyone who likes to laugh.

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars.

Author's website: 

Note: while I think this one is intended for an adult audience, I would consider it "YA friendly," as there is little objectionable content.  


  1. I don't tend to read many self-published novels but this one sounds quite good.

    By the way I love how you structure your reviews - really detailed and very helpful :)

  2. I like both Pride and Prejudice and The Sound of Music so maybe I'll like this book too.


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