A Christmas Melody

Coffee, Close-Ups, and Costumes

This Mariah Carey-directed vehicle is semi-notorious for its unintentionally funny softly filtered close-ups of Carey’s face and the jaw-dropping product placements of Folgers Classic Roast Coffee. But beyond that, it is an above-average Hallmark Christmas romance.

Dress designer and single mother Kristin Parson returns to her Ohio hometown right before Christmas after her boutique in Los Angeles fails. On her way out the door for the final time, she gives her framed first 5 dollars she ever made to a white-bearded beggar on the street. Ahem. Welcomed back to Silver Falls by her Aunt, played by the lovable Kathy Najimy, Lacey settles right in with her whiny and sulky-about-moving daughter, ably played by young Fina Strazza. Determined to win her daughter over to small-town life, Lacey sets about getting her talented daughter a place in the Christmas pageant. This is where Mariah Carey rears her almost always disembodied head to provide some conflict and trouble for Lacey to triumph over. Mariah is head of the PTA, in charge of the show, and hates Lacey for an undisclosed reason. And nope, auditions are closed. This is where the other lead, Brennan Elliot comes in. He is the music teacher who had a high school teenage crush on Lacey and gets her singer/dancer/ poet/ songwriter daughter into the show. Lacey and Brendan have great rapport and always work well together.

Everything is going along fine with Lacey saving the show with her talented costume making, her daughter settling into school and making friends with the help of a mysterious white-bearded janitor, and romance blossoming with the lovestruck Brennan. And then, one night, her former assistant shows up with the news that Lacey has been offered a job in L.A. designing her own line of clothes for a department store chain. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how this all ends. Spoiler alert: Lacey vanquishes Mariah by killing her with kindness and her daughter steals the show with a surprisingly entertaining solo performance complete with backup singers a la Love Actually. Song by Mariah Carey. Oh weird. Love Actually’s tour de force climatic singing performance at the school pageant was a rendition of a song by Mariah Carey. Hmmm.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Two Tickets to Paradise

I Like Her Again

I used to be a huge Ashley Williams fan. Her perky cheerful demeanor really energized many of the Hallmarks she starred in. I just couldn’t help smiling whenever she came on the scene. Then I got a little tired of her. Instead of perky, she came across as over-caffeinated and exhausting. Instead of cheerful, she came across as manic. And she started to wield that mega-watt smile like it was a weapon. So I approached this latest Ashley Williams vehicle with caution. I did look forward to how she would pair with one of my fave Hallmark actors Ryan Paevey.

I would like to renew my membership to the Ashley Williams fan club, please. At least on a movie-to-movie basis. She plays a happy bride who is dumped the morning of her wedding. Sitting on the floor of the church toilet stall Boo-Hooing hysterically with Mascara running all over her face, she was hilarious. I never liked her more. “I never should have forced him to watch The Sound of Music!!!!,” she wails to her mother and sister frantically pounding on the bathroom door.  Out she tumbles from the window of the church in full wedding regalia and meets Ryan Paevey, who has been similarly dumped. They engage in some banter and Ryan talks her into going on her Hawaiian honeymoon by herself. She is taken under the wing of a sweet resort manager and starts having a good time. “ Mango-Lime Mimosa? Sounds Gross. I’ll take it!” Ryan later shows up at the resort himself (Are you following me?”). No, he has a good friend on the island and also needs a break. They become friends, go on adventures, start to recover from their trauma, and the inevitable happens. Yes, that. But also her ex-fiance shows up.

The dialogue was funny and the rest of the scripting was good too. Ryan and Ashley’s relationship develops naturally and they both experience a needed change of attitude towards how to approach life. Ashley really nailed both the comedy and the serious stuff and her good-humored rapport with Ryan was spot on. Yes her too famous for her own good grin was front and center, but somehow it was just fine. Great Scenery, well-played secondary characters, and topped off by a nice satisfying “One Year Later” scene. I love those.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 27, 2022

A Gift to Remember

Nice!

I really enjoyed this one back in 2017, but I never reviewed it. It came up again during Christmas in July or Merry Movie Week or whatever so I decided to re-watch it. I am pleased to say it really held up.

 First off, it was based on an amnesia scenario and thus was able to avoid the city bad/country good rescue the whatever from the evil corporation,” Let’s go to or save the festival!” Hallmark tent poles. It was actually set in Philadelphia although it is debatable whether it was filmed there. Another point in its favor was that this featured an interracial secondary romance, fairly unusual in 2017 for Hallmark. Third and most important were the talents and charm of the two stars Ali Liebert and Peter Porte. Ali has been up and down with me depending on the state of her botox treatments. One of her main appeals is her unusually expressive eyebrows. So when her eyebrows are working, all is well. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true! This is early-ish in her Hallmark career and her first lead role in a Hallmark after languishing in the friend zone for a couple of years. Peter Porte’s acting chops are not up to Ali’s but he is too gorgeous to be real and he seems like a nice guy. They worked well together.

Ali plays Darcy, a shy and reticent bookstore employee who does not like to take chances or rock the boat. She accidentally runs over Peter Porte on her bike sending him into retrograde amnesia. She feels responsible because she is so nice and in her desire to help him regain his memory she starts uncovering clues to his background and identity. By doing this, she discovers she is persistent, a problem solver, and is willing to conquer the fears which are holding her back from going for the job as manager of the bookstore. She figures out that he is rich, has an important job in the literary world, doesn’t like Christmas, and is about to become engaged to his girlfriend. These conclusions make sense given the clues, but don’t make sense as she comes to know Aiden and don’t jive with his gradually returning memory either. So we have a little mystery going on as well as a roadblock to their growing attraction to each other.  When the truth comes out, it all makes perfect sense and all of the details are tied up. (He is single for one thing) Aiden’s real story results in a very nice ending with Darcy meeting his real family, and her little local bookstore triumphing over Mega-book’s ruthless machinations. And she gets promoted to manager. Ali Liebert just has a special spark in this, and she was just charming.

This part is really silly, but I really liked her make-up. It was pretty rather than glamorous until she had a fancy event to attend, and only then did she have the false eyelashes and the red lipstick. It seems like these days Hallmark actresses put on the Glamour Shots treatment just to walk the dog. Oh, the good old days of 2017.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 26, 2022

Finlay Donovan is Killing It (Finlay Donovan #1)

By Elle Cosimano

“You told me to bring plastic wrap.” “I told you to get plastic sheeting.” “Same thing.” “No, it’s not. Plastic wrap goes around sandwiches. Plastic sheeting goes around dead people. It’s bigger and sturdier. More like a shower curtain.” “You told me not to bring a shower curtain because it would make us look guilty!” “Because nothing screams innocent like a rotting corpse in three thousand feet of Cling Wrap!”

…“She chuckled darkly. “And to think you were worried about a damn shower curtain. Nothing says ‘serial killer’ like a chest freezer in a garage.”

This was a fun comic mystery, based on a really good idea for a fun comic mystery. It kind of reminded me of the Stephanie Plum books and this one is also the first of a who-knows-how-long-it-will-be series of books. Finlay is a recently divorced financially strapped single mother of two pre-school children. Her only source of income is her career as a not very successful writer of romantic suspense novels. While discussing some plot ideas and being pressured by her agent to satisfy her contract, they are overheard and misunderstood. Finley finds herself being hired to kill a strange woman’s husband. Of course, as much as she needs the money, she has no intention of following through, but one thing leads to another, and (you know how it goes) she finds herself burying a Russian mobster’s dead body on her ex-husband’s sod farm. As she tries to cover her tracks and, aided and abetted by the irrepressible Vero, her friend/nanny/accountant/housekeeper she digs herself deeper and deeper (pun intended) into trouble and danger. With both the police and the Russian mob closing in, not to mention her literary agent, I had to keep reading to see how she was going to extricate herself from her predicament(s). It reminded me of a surreal I Love Lucy episode. Or a game of whack a mole.

By the end of the book, thanks to a darkly comic twist, she escapes both arrest or being murdered by the mob. She also figures out the real murderer, ends up being financially solvent, pursued by not one but two very hot suitors, snagging two huge advances for two sure-to-be bestselling mystery series, and secures custody of her two children. I forgot to mention that her douchebag husband was threatening her with taking away her children on top of everything else.

Despite the fun, I probably won’t be reading any more in the series. Elle Cosimano has already written the third book, and I didn’t appreciate the ending of this one which was a cliffhanger and nothing but a setup for book #2. I don’t like that. And I see the handwriting on the wall. This series will never end a la Stephanie Plum, and reading never-ending series featuring a “torn between two lovers” scenario is just not my cup of tea. I like closure. Wake me if she decides between the hot young attorney-to-be and the hot detective.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 25, 2022

Our Dream Wedding

Unveiled

I liked this one right from the beginning. Two medical students, Natalie and Scott, sending out their applications for residencies, are very much in love. We meet her family who also loves Scott. Sometimes you just get tired of two strangers meeting cute and going through the old enemies-to-lovers thing. Natalie is a perfectionist who always has a plan and is in control. Scott is a more fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy. This is demonstrated by his proposal of marriage to her out of the blue when it had never even been discussed. She turns him down, and frankly, it did seem like very poor timing. They are about to do their residencies and there is no guarantee they would even be in the same city for years. But anyway, he is heartbroken and she is conflicted because she really does love him. She goes to Mimi her grandmother and Mimi pulls out her magic wedding veil. Natalie is shot 10 years into the future so she can get some clarity by experiencing life married to Scott. She gets plopped down a couple of days before her sister’s wedding which Natalie is organizing because she is so organized. Needless to say, the marriage is happy and successful. There are some blips, starting with her fainting upon seeing she has two kids and the whole situation. She falls and hits her head and gets knocked out. This gives her an excuse when she acts weird and forgets things she never knew. The couple gets peeved with each other, feelings are hurt, and there is even some bickering, but all in all the marriage is a success. She wants to go back to make things right with Scott,  but Mimi tells her that is up to the veil. When the time finally arrives, I really liked that Mimi explains that when she goes back to trying on the veil 10 years ago, she will think that what she experienced was all a dream. I like it when these little time travel dilemmas are explained. Her “heart will know the truth” and she will know what to do about marrying Scott if she listens to her heart. But did she hurt him too deeply? Is it too late?

There were some minor problems with some of the details. Back to reality, she rushes to the airport to stop Scott from getting on the plane to Chicago and is freaked out when she thinks she missed him. Why didn’t she just text him not to get on the plane? 10 years in the future and everyone looked the same and so did the world. Where are the flying cars? And most egregious of all, The mother of the bride, the maid of honor, and the grandmother all wore white to her sister’s wedding! In the end, Scott and Natalie are engaged, but the probable conflict with their immediate career paths, which is the main reason she turned him down to begin with, is swept under the rug. But all in all, it was a nice story with no festivals, exotic locales, or other gimmicks to fill in the time. UPtv keeps it simple. The acting was really good, and there were touching moments, a little drama, a little humor, and some learned lessons. I particularly liked the actor who played Scott, who was cute, but in a normal guy kind of way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 23, 2022

Good Girl, Bad Blood: A Sequel to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

by Holly Jackson

I did not enjoy this as much as the first one. Pip is drawn in very reluctantly to another dangerous mystery when Jamie, the older brother of one of her friends, Connor, goes missing. In the first book, Pip goes to some dark places in solving the mystery of who really killed Andie Bell and clearing the name of her boyfriend Ravi’s brother. But when the police won’t do anything because Jamie is an adult and he is low on the risk assessment scale, Pip feels she has no choice. Also, she is in a unique position. She knows her podcast would be a powerful tool to get the word out to find Jamie.

I listened to this on audio and am not sure that’s the best way to “read” a murder mystery where you want to sift through clues, pause and reflect, and backtrack at times. The narration was good and I did enjoy the multiple actors and sound effects. I was kept interested by the question of what happened to Jamie and why. And if he was still alive. It did not look good for him, for sure. I felt like one of the reveals came out of nowhere with no foundation being laid. Even if the reader wasn’t played fair with, it was entertainingly shocking and it did make sense, I thought. Once we were given the information out of nowhere. Besides that, a few things affected my enjoyment of this one. Jamie’s character was presented in such a way that I really didn’t care about him that much. Pip’s reactions to some happenings were a little problematic for me. And towards the end, the emotion was overwrought. Her behavior was probably realistic but, sometimes, when you put it all on the page, there’s nothing left for the reader to feel.

A lot of the threads have a satisfactory optimistic conclusion, but some of them do not. The fate of the rapist Max Hastings, who was indirectly responsible for some of the tragedy in the first book is one of the ones that do not. Pip does something risky and badass to deliver her own justice, but I do not like comeuppances left to my imagination. I want retribution, pain, and suffering! Perhaps in the next book? Perhaps not. Pip seems like she is not in a good place and things with her seem destined to get worse before they get better. If they do. I was left a little pessimistic about Pip and humanity in general. The first two were enough for me, I think. **3 out of 5 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 19, 2022

The Whispered Watchword (Judy Bolton #32)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy, Peter, and Blackberry are in Washington D.C. and get involved with investigating the mob. Since Peter got shot in a previous book, he is there for a refresher course and brings along Judy and for some reason, Blackberry. While there, he is assigned to investigate a crime syndicate ring. The manager of the hotel they are staying at is being threatened into paying protection money. If he doesn’t pay, his little daughter will be kidnapped and even killed. He does not know where to turn as he refuses to give in to the mob, but will not go to the FBI or the police because he fears reprisals. To make matters worse, his own relatives are involved with the mob unbeknownst to him. A senator who is fighting for tougher crime laws is also in danger. Yikes. To add to Judy’s concerns, Blackberry is missing from their motel room. There is a lot going on in this one. (Blackberry is Judy’s cat )

This one gets pretty messy. I will say that Margaret does a good job of incorporating the mystery with an educational tour of the Capitol for her young readers as well as providing a cautionary tale on joining a crime syndicate. I loved Judy’s musings on freedom and patriotism. We also spend a lot of time in the less savory parts of our nation’s capital. The middle chapters are taken up with Judy being led around in circles by her sketchy new “friend” Liz who tells her that her husband is an FBI agent when he is really working for the mob and related to Mr. Rocklin, the hotel manager. Liz is a confused 17-year-old who can’t decide between protecting her stupid husband or doing the right thing and being straight with Judy about what is going on. I struggled with Liz and what her game was.

To make a long story short, Judy is imprisoned in an abandoned building (again!) while rescuing Rosita, Mr. Rocklin’s 8-year-old daughter from a violent death. Blackberry, himself kidnapped by the mob, is found safe and sound making himself at home in the Capitol building basement ridding it of its mice problem. Judy cracks several mysteries in this one.

There were some weird things about this one that I could not overlook.

Why did Mr. Rocklin think Blackberry was a warning from the Mob when his motel allowed cats?

Why did Peter and Judy even bring Blackberry on a long car trip to Washington? Is it any wonder something bad happened to him?

Why did Walter Krut, one of the head mobsters, think Blackberry’s collar was made of solid gold? (He didn’t, but I only figured this out after a careful re-read.)

After getting led astray by Liz (another problem) Judy gets an offensive and sanctimonious lecture from one of Peter’s colleagues (and tour guide) on her wifely duties being married to a G-man (with Pamphlet!). Nope. Just nope.

Judy, lost and driving on the mean streets of D.C. in the pouring rain, hails another passing car to ask for directions. While driving. With her windows rolled up. Successfully.

The victimized Rocklin family was not very sympathetic. In fact, they were kind of hateful. and that especially includes Liz’s husband Charlie who was a wet noodle. I don’t believe for a minute that he was going to go back to rescue Rosita, despite what he told Liz.

Judy uses a childhood yell that only Peter would recognize to call for help when she hears a siren outside the abandoned house. “Hip deminiga folliga sick de hump de lolliga yoo hoo!” Luckily Peter is with them and answers in kind. I bet his FBI buddies got a real kick out of that.

The FBI intercepts an attack on the senator’s life mid-speech. Shades of The Manchurian Candidate!) Right when he was pulling out a deadly fountain pen. (Poison dart? It couldn’t have been a very high-caliber firearm. Or maybe he was going to scribble him to death.)

Once Rosita is rescued, her father refused to press charges against his cousin by marriage for her kidnapping and attempted murder. WTF? Is he insane!?

So while the bones of the story made sense and were interesting a lot of the details did not hold water and it was distracting and bothersome. The problems could have been fixed easily. They were not major holes. I feel like Margaret was let down by her editor. On to The Secret Quest!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 17. 2022

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

By Kristan Higgins

I could tell from the git-go that Kristan Higgins’ new book, in some ways, was a return to her lighter fare of yesteryear after her recent forays into more serious women’s fiction. As much as I love and even esteem her more recent books, (4 out of 7 were 5-star reads for me)I welcomed her return to her days of yore. It was great to see that a beloved author can, in a sense, “go home again” no matter what Thomas Wolfe says. I say, “in some ways.” Her first books were definitely romantic comedies while incorporating emotional serious issues along with the fun. And this one has that lighthearted tone. But this one is not a romance. Not at all. The book concludes with our heroine in a satisfying hopeful relationship with a great guy. But the journey to that end is a very minor aspect of Lillie’s personal journey.

The book begins as our heroine, a happily married mother of a son about to leave for college in far away Montana learns that her husband, Brad, “out of the clear blue sky”, tells her he is leaving her for a beautiful, younger, and wealthy woman, Melissa. The story is told in first person by Lillie with occasional contributions from “the whore” who has a substantial journey of her own. Actually more substantial than Lillie’s, truth be told. Lillie is a 41-year-old nurse-midwife on Cape Cod who loves her family, her home, and her community in which she is a popular fixture. Everyone knows and loves her. At first, all she wants is revenge, and her brilliantly successful efforts are very funny. Yes, we know her stunts are petty, childish, and even mean. And she knows it too, but darn it, she just can’t help it. Brad deserves it all and more. But even as we laugh at Lillie’s antics, we start to get to know Melissa, her other victim. Yes, she is shallow (she almost makes it an art form), materialistic, a user, and a husband stealer. But such is Kristan’s imagination and craft, that as we learn her story and get to know her, you (by which I mean I) got to kinda like her and actually admire her. There was a lot to “Missy Jo” that was quite endearing (word of the day!). I didn’t always like and admire Lillie. Lillie has a lot of growing to do and challenges to overcome. In addition to losing her son (in a way) and her husband and his family, she tackles a problematic mother (a Kristan Higgins fixture) a fractured relationship with a once-beloved sister, financial difficulties, a childhood trauma that continues to impact her life, a terrible tragedy in her past, and even a professional nemesis who must be vanquished. It’s kind of amazing all of the issues that are explored in this book, without the tone turning dark. As in all of Kristan’s books, there are some epic scenes, both hilarious ones and triumphant ones. And, as always, some great lines:

*He studied the wine list like it was a lost gospel

*”What’s your daughter’s name?” “Ophelia.” I winced. Who names their kid after the doomed innocent who commits suicide in Hamlet?

*…my own mother, who had the same maternal instincts as a lizard that eats her own eggs.

*“Calm down,” he said, because women love hearing that.

*“Name’s Harminee. Spellin’ it different to be special. Harminee Fawn.” Well, that would just about guarantee the baby would become a stripper, Melissa thought. Harmony was a beautiful name. Harminee though? Gosh.

*I turned on the outdoor lights and peered out. It was a woman dressed in high boots, a fur coat, fur hat and fur gloves. It was either Lara from Doctor Zhivago or Melissa. Sadly, it was not Lara.

*“Thanks for buying me,” Ophelia whispered. She took a shaky breath, and Melissa knew she was crying, and hugged her close.

And as always, we are blessed with another Kristan Higgins trademark, an adorable dog with personality plus.
So what kept this from being one the best of the best Kristan Higgins novels ever? Two things. First of all, I found that Lillie was a little too hung up on her son. The time between the marriage breaking up, keeping that from him so as not to ruin his last weeks at home, and him leaving for college really dragged for me. I honestly couldn’t wait for him to go. Thank goodness Dylan was an independent, well-adjusted kid (yes, thanks to Lillie being a perfect mother). No woman ever loved a son more than Lillie loves hers. And she does go on about it. And no son is more perfect. I couldn’t really blame her.

Of course, no husband who cheats on his wife will ever be a hero. But Brad “Bridiot” Fairchild has got to be the most contemptible human being on Cape Cod or in any Kristan Higgins book ever. Not the evilest Kristan Higgins creation, I hasten to clarify, because she has created some doozies. Even Melissa started to see his true colors before the ink was barely dry on the marriage license. And Lillie was married to this pompous pretentious dickhead for 20 years? Happily? And mourned his loss (or the loss of who she thought he was) so dramatically and sincerely? As she looks back on him and their life together, she sees him clearly. Getting shot of him should have been #bestdayever, #Thank-youGod, #IoweMelissabigtime, #GoodRiddance. I have to admit I got very impatient with our heroine. Maybe even a little disdainful? To be fair, late in the book she does explain why the strong Lillie was happy with the weakling husband, but not until the 96% mark! I think Kristan kind of piled on a little too much when it came to Mr. Brad Fairchild (that’s Dr. Fairchild, huh, huh, huh.), as entertaining as his weaknesses and assholery were. It intruded on the credibility of her main character.

As I finished the book (kept trying to stretch it out!) I felt that this must be one of her shorter books. But it turns out that it was actually one of her longer ones. I think that is a high compliment. I can’t wait to see what her next one is like.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 15, 2022

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor–the Truth and the Turmoil

By Tina Brown

In The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, I felt like I was getting the straight scoop. Or at least as straight as is possible. In addition, it was entertaining, seemingly agenda-free, balanced, eye-opening, and juicy. Alas, it relentlessly barreled towards the tragedy of Diana’s death, which, to put it lightly, put a pall on my wholehearted enjoyment of reading the story. All of the above adjectives also apply to The Palace Papers which, in addition, is sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny. There is a neverending stream of revelations and “Who knew?” moments involving Camilla and her first husband, Thomas Markle, The Spencers, the Queen Mother, and too many more to mention. I approached this one with more enthusiasm because as I write this, the main characters’ story isn’t yet finished. There is hope that everything will turn out all right for this crazy family.

In Tina Brown’s wry and clear-eyed analysis of the royal family’s characters and actions, no one escapes unscathed. Of course, some are more scathed than others. There is entertainment to be found on almost every page. If you can’t stand Prince Andrew and who does, you will take great pleasure in TB’s recounting of his degrading fall from grace. He’s even worse than you think he is. If you love the Queen, you will be discomfited to learn of the many times her habit of “ostriching”, that is, stubbornly ignoring red flags in order to avoid confrontation, has caused embarrassment and disaster. If you like Kate you may be disappointed that, yes, it’s probably true that she schemed and planned to catch William before she even knew him. And to keep him. And thank God she did. Catherine and William both as a unit and individually come off the best. As does her family, especially her mother. Also, Camilla. A lot of time is spent on Camilla and she emerges as somewhat of a heroine. And one you’d most like to be your dinner partner. Charles though mostly living up to his reputation as an “eccentric drip too needy, too vulnerable, too emotional, too complicated,[and] too self-centered,” in the end comes off pretty well. Why isn’t “Charles more celebrated for his strenuous progressivism, and for his demonstrably humane labors? Ironically, he cared about many of the things the liberal bible The Guardian espoused, and to which the [royalist and conservative] Murdoch press was instinctively hostile.” Surprisingly, Harry’s 2 most famous ex-girlfriends, Chelsy Davy and Cressida “Cringe de-la Cringe” Bonas, both come across as great girls that Harry would have been lucky to land. The despicable acts of the British tabloids drove Chelsy away. With Cressida, it was both the tabloids and Harry’s inability to manage his hatred of them. It was she who got him into much-needed therapy. Who knew?

William and Harry can only be understood in the context of their mother, so there is a lot of still interesting analysis of Diana and rehashing of her adventures. Volatile Harry idolizes his mother. He has inherited a lot of her qualities, both good and bad. He is more Spencer than Windsor. But he doesn’t understand her as well as sensible William. He was sadly privy to more of her unfortunate behavior and he is more Windsor than Spencer.

And what of Meghan and Harry? Whoo Boy. It is complicated. A lot of time is spent recounting Meghan’s history and trying to understand and explain her. In many ways, it all comes down to her non-understanding of British and Royal ways.

Meghan’s curious failure to prepare for a vocation that was the royal equivalent of taking the veil was a surprise to many of her former colleagues… Meghan as an actress had always been known for “doing her homework,” exhaustively grilling anyone who could help her for “notes.”

And the converse is true. Shouldn’t the Royal household have made an effort to understand her and explain things to her? “She found it draining to traverse the chasms between her California effusiveness and British understatement. It was her earnestness versus their irony, her explicitness versus their words unsaid.” It was a clash of cultures rather than personalities. “The British work ethic is a frustration for any alpha American hell-bent on “hitting the ground running.” William advised Harry and Michelle Obama advised Meghan to “take time”. Harry, to marry Meghan, and Meghan to make positive change. Neither of them listened. Maybe they would have, but time is something that Harry, wanting a family, and 38-year-old Meghan did not have a lot of. It’s a darn shame. She started off so well.

As one former Palace adviser put it to [the author]: “Very impressive. Very strong, very motivated, brought up to think she can change the world. It’s a very American type; we don’t have them here.” And she could have been just what the doctor ordered for the royal family. Now her platform is gone.

Meghan comes across as self-important, but, until her star aligned with Harry’s, uncomfortably aware her that actual social and professional status (6th on the call sheet) was not keeping up with her (very) lofty ambitions. Harry and Meghan are both too much alike. They are both temperamental and combative. They fuel each other’s distrust of everybody else and revel in their “us against the world” mentality. He did not want her to conform. That would not have suited his purpose. The other royal couples are successful because they balance and steady each other, not egg each other on. “My strength and stay.”

perhaps the most powerful survival element of the monarchy has turned out to be marital love. Without the caring resolve of the Queen Mother, George VI would have been a stammering introvert who could never have led the country in its hour of need. Without Philip’s bracing loyalty, the Queen could have been a lonely conformist, run by her courtiers. Without finally being allowed to marry Camilla, Charles would have suffered a slow death of the soul instead of his late flowering into an unapologetically happy man. And without Kate’s serene empathy, William might have collapsed under the pain of his childhood and the weight of his future. Diana’s two boys have each found the sustaining love that eluded her, even though in Harry’s case he chose to leave rather than allow his wife to be crushed by the media and the Palace machine.”

Ever since Harry was forced out of his chosen military career, which suited him perfectly and would have been the making of him, he had been unmoored and desperately unhappy. His escape, thanks to Meghan, was probably for the best. But can he weather the challenges of his new life and the necessity of making his own way? Given his history? Can Meghan’s ego be satisfied with her diminishing influence? And what about the rest of the Windsors? Can their institution survive the death of the Queen? It’ll be interesting.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 12, 2022

The Bodyguard

by Katherine Center

I listened to this on audio, and it was an entertaining romantic comedy. Our heroine is a female bodyguard hired to protect an A-list movie star (male, of course) from a female stalker/corgi breeder/sweater knitter. It was fun and funny with lots of both comedy and snark. There was some drama-our heroine, Hannah, has some self-esteem issues which she tends to over-compensate for and the hero, Jack Stapleton, is estranged from his brother due to the tragic death, blamed on Jack, of their youngest brother. Hannah is put in charge of Jack’s security while he is visiting the family ranch. His mother is recovering from a bout with cancer, and not wanting to put undue stress on her, it is decided that Hannah will pose as his girlfriend rather than his “executive protection agent”. It was a cute concept. Let the romance begin.

Written in first person, the book was narrated by Patti Murin who, with her tomboy-ish tone was perfectly cast as Hannah. I love Katharine Center’s authorial voice, as I did with the other book I read by her, Things You Save in a Fire, about a female firefighter. She has a real talent for establishing an intimate, “best-friends” relationship with the reader which puts you right in the midst of things. The heroines in the two books are similar, in that they both are a little too anxious to prove their badassery. Hannah started off very cantankerous to the point that I was a little put off at first. Once she settled into her role at the family ranch she calmed down, and we are taken up with Jack’s relationship with his family and what was going on there. Not to mention Hannah’s reluctant attachment to the Stapleton family. And Jack, of course.

This was a straight-up rom-com. Nothing more and nothing less. For the com part, we are treated to a lot of funny banter, and fish out of water scenarios. We have some pretty entertaining cheating ex-boyfriend and beautiful mean ex-girlfriend action added to the mix. As for the rom part, it’s never smooth sailing (it can’t be, can it?) but the roadblocks to the relationship between Jack and Hannah were entirely of her own making. Her determination to not believe in Jack, who was perfectly lovely by the way, didn’t sit too well with me. Especially as Hannah goes to great pains to tell us what a genius she is at reading people. Her obtuseness almost leads to catastrophe.

The final wrap-up made up for the quibbles I had as a whole. Katherine Center really knows how to end a book. There was one part that was even quite moving but it involved a very peripheral character we barely know. So. The Ballad of Jack and Hannah was an entertaining story but didn’t go very deep. No thrills or chills for me, but that’s OK. It accomplished what I think it aspired to. It was fun. I can’t blame it for not being what it wasn’t even trying for.
3 1/2 stars I’ll round up thanks to the ending.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 4, 2022