Book review: Kesh Tanglao’s “The Real Score”

Several months ago, chick lit author Mina Esguerra conducted a romance novel writing class for dozens of aspiring romance writers.

The numbers were whittled down as the months progressed, until five aspiring writers managed to finish — and self-publish — their own contemporary romance novellas.

One of those five authors is Kessica Tanglao, who debuts with the novella, “The Real Score.” Set in the Philippines and in England, it tells the ups and downs of the friendship that develops between Filipina Caitlin Tan and Brit boy Marcus Wayans.

Senior media planning executive Caitlin Tan thinks she’s got it all figured out. Her whole life is organized and synced on her phone, Outlook, and her Starbucks planner. Her meticulous planning and dedication to her work has helped send both her siblings to school, and throwing all of that away for an adventure isn’t something she isn’t keen on doing.

But it’s adventure that comes her way when her colleague Lorin manages to score the two of them tickets to meet and greet Gezellig, the latest boyband to take the planet by storm. Despite going into the meet and greet not knowing anything about the group, she ends up catching the eye of Marlon Wayans, the band’s de facto frontman.

From there, Caitlin and Marlon develop a friendship, one that manages to survive being separated by continents, nosy fans, and the occasional drunk call or two. But when a trip to London results in a misunderstanding that could change the dynamics of their friendship, will Caitlin and Marlon be able to come out of it intact?

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There’s a lot to enjoy in Tanglao’s first foray into romantic fiction. For one thing, perceptive readers will be quick to figure out the boyband Gezellig is patterned after, and fans of that band will probably find amusing the many nods that Tanglao makes towards Gezellig’s real world counterparts.

“The Real Score” also hits all the wish fulfillment fantasies that readers have come to expect from works like this one. There is the admittedly adorable meet-cute that Caitlin has with Marlon, as well as the quick and easy way that Caitlin finds herself in Marlon’s good graces. Because Marlon is fond of grand gestures, Caitlin finds herself in situations that any boyband fan has surely imagined themselves in at least once or twice.

It’s easy to suspend one’s disbelief and root for Caitlin because Tanglao doesn’t write her as someone who is above the rest of the in-universe fandom. Caitlin makes no swipes at them and is fully aware of how lucky her position is, making it easy for readers to see her as a surrogate rather than an irritant.

Beside, if some readers may view her friendship with Marcus as unearned, Caitlin certainly does the work when it comes to turning her and Marcus’s friendship into something more. In fact, Tanglao makes Caitlin — and the readers — go through the ringer before she gets her happy ending.

This is another strength that “The Real Score” has: It’s not afraid to make its heroine work for the big prize.

Tanglao also makes it easier for readers to suspend their disbelief by at least providing rational reasons as to how Marcus can get away with some of the things he does — such as sneaking into the Philippines without any of his fans noticing. It’s just a little thing that goes a long way towards making the story believable. 

That’s not to say that “The Real Score” doesn’t have a few bumps here and there.

For those who aren’t too into wish fulfillment stories, “The Real Score” may be a little too heavy on that front. As much as Tanglao strives to keep her story as realistic as possible, some people may just find Caitlin a little too lucky to be believed.

For another, native Brits might just raise their eyebrows at some of the liberties that Tanglao takes with London geography. A cursory look on Google Earth makes it hard to imagine the large green grounds of Marcus’s estate existing in the midst of London’s urban sprawl.

However, these are just minor problems in what is an otherwise entertaining debut. Tanglao does apologize for her lack of knowledge of London geography at the end of the book, and those who don’t like wish fulfillment stories were never going to like this story anyway. But for those looking for a light, fun read to pass the time, “The Real Score” might just be what they’re looking for.

(Disclosure: The author was also part of the same romance novel writing class.)

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