Book Lovers

By Emily Henry

“You seem pretty pleased with yourself,” he says, “for a woman who just found out she was the inspiration for Cruella de Vil.” I scowl at him. Charlie rolls his eyes. “Come on. I’ll buy you a martini. Or a puppy coat.”

Mom and Libby liked the love stories where everything turned out perfectly, wrapped in a bow, and I’ve always wondered why I gravitate toward something else. I used to think it was because people like me don’t get those endings. And asking for it, hoping for it, is a way to lose something you’ve never even had.

I suspect that many romance authors put the word “book” in the title in order to increase their sales, so I vet a book set in a bookstore or involving novelists very carefully. This one was a no-brainer though because I enjoyed two of Emily Henry’s previous books, Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation. I was immediately drawn in by the heroine, Nora, comparing herself to “the other woman” in a small town (read Hallmark) romance. That would be the hard-charging, cold and manipulative, career-oriented city-centric woman that the hero dumps for love and marriage with the sweet small-town heroine. Libby, Nora’s beloved sister, a happy but harried and exhausted mom, thinks that she and Nora need a reset in their lives. She, to get some rest and relaxation, Nora to re-examine her lifestyle and perhaps find love. Nora agrees to the plan because she cannot deny her sister anything. Libby decides to take her sister to a highly fictionalized (it turns out) version of the small town in the mountains of North Carolina in which one of Nora’s authors/clients set her recent best-seller (soon to be a major motion picture.) There, Libby presents a list of small-town romance cliches that Nora is to do (attend a festival, save a local business, etc.) before the end of their stay. Being a reluctant and slightly embarrassed Hallmark aficionado, I was hooked. Libby is trying to engineer the flipside of the Hallmark romance trope for Nora: The workaholic big city girl who finds love in the country and changes her ways. But that’s boring. Luckily, a fly in the ointment appears in the form of  Charlie, a city acquaintance of Nora’s who is kind of a male version of her and thus not suitable to force Nora out of her rut. Their initial antagonism, based on a past encounter and their mutual reputations, quickly leads to sharp and clever banter,  funny wisecracks, and lust.

The entertaining snark flows thick and fast, but I realized, around the 30% mark that nothing else was happening. Nora’s dates with the local swains don’t count because we know those are going nowhere. Her small-town adventures are just amusing window dressing. Nora’s growing lust for Charlie and vice versa is described over and over. Their personal relationship develops while working together on a new book. But it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  

Things did pick up a little over halfway when it became obvious that Libby, who I came to like, was hiding something from Nora. Something not good. So the intrigue and mystery of that kept me going. Also getting a lot of pages is Nora and Libby’s childhood, the death of their mother and how that molded their current dysfunctional relationship. Charlie’s past struggles with his family, and why Nora and Charlie, obviously made for each other, can’t have a sexual fling, let alone a long-term relationship, also get a lot of words.

In the end, it turns out that if everyone had just had frank and honest conversations with each other we wouldn’t have had a book. And why that didn’t happen didn’t make sense. And isn’t that just the ultimate Hallmark cliche? The bottom line is, that if this had been a TV romance movie, this would have been 5 stars. As a novel, it was maybe a shade over 3 stars. There were just too many times that, if this had been a movie, I would have been yelling at the screen, throwing the remote, and rolling my eyes. That’s fun when looking at a Hallmark, not so much in a novel.

According to Emily Henry herself, she wanted to portray what happened “after the credits” to the dumped city girlfriend who is joyless, ruthless, and as Nora is described, shark-like. We are told that is how Nora is, but we never see it. She is kind, nurturing, and patient throughout. Yes, she wants to go back to the city in the end, but she also has a lot of fun in the small town while she is there. So despite the fact that I enjoyed Nora, she was kind of a fail. I would have liked to see her being scary even if just in one token scene.

However, Libby’s secret and the big misunderstanding turned out to be a good one and really made perfect sense out of everything. I really liked the final chapters of the book, and the epilogue was one of the most charmingly written I can remember reading. It was very very well done. To sum up, the banter was good, the wisecracks were funny, Emily Henry is a good writer, the concept was great, I liked the characters with the caveat that we should have seen Nora’s “shark” side and we didn’t, the balance between the romance and the other threads was good, and the last 15% I enjoyed greatly. But see paragraph 4.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 3, 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 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

Act Like It (London Celebrities, #1)

By Lucy Parker

I sunk into this book like a favorite easy chair after a hard day’s work. I don’t know what it is about this series by Lucy Parker. It’s light and funny but in a natural authentic way. The writing is sparkly and clever. And although the setting (the West End theatre scene in London) is glamorous, Lucy makes the reader feel part of it all. Romance is job #1 but everything else: the setting, the writing, the characters, and the journey are so exceptional, nothing else is needed. If you need a break from darkness, tension, family drama, shocking secrets, and angsty love, Lucy Parker is your girl.

Lainie is a likable, nice, and funny woman from a large happy family. Richard Troy is “an intolerable prick” who had a troubled childhood. Not that that’s any excuse for his behavior. Richard is angling for the presidency of the conservative and influential RSPA, but his only press is bad press due to his rude behavior, terrible temper, and lack of tact. In order to soften his sharp edges and create some good buzz for a change, it is arranged for Richard and Lainie, who is popular, wholesome, and scandal-free to fake a relationship while castmates in a play. Because anyone Lainie likes can’t be all bad, can he?

“Do you really think you’re the political type?” [Lainie] ventured, trying to think of a way to put it tactfully.
“Meaning?” the inquiry was frosty.
Screw it. “Meaning you have the diplomatic abilities of a tea bag, and a tendency to go off like a rocket at the slightest provocation.”
“I’m aware I’ll have to work on controlling my temper,” he said even more stiffly.…“I wouldn’t have to lose my temper if people weren’t such morons.”
“I would suggest going with a different quote when you open your campaign speech.”

Together, they navigate a pesky jerk of an ex-boyfriend, red carpets, morning show appearances, and an important dinner with the board of the RSPA which features Richard rescuing Lainie from the clutches of a horny vice-president. Meanwhile, Richard is victimized by village fetes including leaking babies, blue-ribbon pigs, and giant gourds, a 5-k race for charity, and Lainie’s large protective brothers and their unruly children. The inevitable opposites attract thing happens, and the fake relationship turns into the real thing.

Also inevitable is the break-up before the (inevitable) happy ending. I really liked Lucy Parker’s fresh approach to the big crisis. Lainie forthrightly admits her mistake and apologizes while explaining how it happened. When Richard (being the temperamental diva he is) does not choose to forgive her, instead of getting all depressed and taking to her bed with a carton of ice cream (as any self-respecting romantic heroine would do), she rolls her sleeves up and goes on a mission to get him back.

The woman she was now knew what she wanted-and she intended to have him. She would pit her personality against his any day. But he had a right to be seriously pissed. And she knew him. Even on his best day Richard couldn’t be described as charitably forgiving. He wasn’t going to make it easy for her.

He actually turns out to be no match for Lainie or his own tender if reluctant feelings for her. But fair warning: Blood and a Hospital are involved before we get to the happily ever after. And we know it is “ever after” because the happy couple makes appearances in at least 3 more of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 1, 2022

Malibu Rising

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Spoilers**

So. Many. People.
Given the storyline, I thought this would be a more character-driven plot. Well, there were undoubtedly a lot of them. Although the background of the main characters, the Riva family, was interesting enough and rife with possibilities, ultimately the characters were very flat and I was not emotionally involved. I neither loved nor hated them. They were just there.

Ok, so what about maybe a great plot? It was high concept as all of her books seem to be. I think one of the problems with it was the lynchpin that all the developments stemmed from: A famous star abandoning his wife and children and leaving them almost penniless to fend for themselves. It just wouldn’t happen, even back then. I don’t understand why June stood for it. But that is nothing to the implausible predicament that Nina and the children found themselves in when June died. Impossible. Even if a main character (Mick) would be so inhuman as to do what he did to his own children, he would have a team of PR people, lawyers, agents, etc. that wouldn’t allow it for fear of career-destroying public exposure. Not to mention jail time. The concept was contrived to within an inch of its life. I guess we were supposed to ignore that. It all just made me angry and contemptuous. I actually felt kind of insulted. And from then on, I questioned and argued with almost all the developments. Never a good sign when you can’t conjure up even a morsel of suspension of disbelief and just go with it. Oh, and by the way, “The Riva Mansion that goes Up in Flames and Burns to the Ground” in all of the publisher’s descriptions and blurbs? It’s not even the Riva Mansion! It’s Nina’s ex-husband’s! To whom she was only married a year! So who cares?! But it must be me, because Taylor Jenkins Reid is a top-selling author and this book is very highly rated.

The author kept bringing in side characters and going into their backstory as if they were going to be integral to the plot somewhere down the road. Somewhere down the road when all would come together in a thrilling conclusion and all would be revealed. But no, most of them were just random characters and had nothin’ to do with nothin’.

The big crisis between the two brothers was a non-issue. Am I the only one that didn’t understand why one should feel so guilty and the other so mad and betrayed? Is it because I’m not a guy?

But yet…it was no hardship to keep reading. I didn’t skip and was quite interested in what was going to happen. Everything just barrelled along as we got closer and closer to the big party and the promised dramatic confrontations. If I could have a book with her writing but with characters I could get invested in or a plot that made sense, or even a romantic romance, I would be all in.

But for our next blockbuster by Ms. Reid we have a whole book about the unsympathetic tramp who had an affair with Nina’s weak non-entity of a husband and then had the bad taste to take him back. Wonderful. Can’t wait.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

May 21, 2022

One-Hit Wonder

by Lisa Jewell

I wanted to give Lisa Jewell another try after the first book I read by her. Like the previous novel, I was intrigued by the concept behind this one.

Ana, a bonafide card-carrying ugly duckling is 25 years old. She is repressed and bullied by everyone around her, especially her abusive psycho mother. She thinks she is ugly because she is tall, thin, and has a big nose. Her beautiful and dynamic half-sister, whom she barely knew, has died suddenly and she must go to New York to put her affairs in order. Bee was a wild child and ex-pop star whose celebrity faded quickly. A One-Hit wonder in fact.

When Ana gets to New York she is saddened and disturbed to see how Bee lived and died. She falls in with her two best and apparently only friends, Lol and Flint. Together, they are determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Bee. It is soon apparent that Bee had been living a double life with many secrets. In the course of her investigations, and away from her mother, Ana blossoms into a swan, finds inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem, and falls in love. By the end, there is plenty of redemption, happiness, and hope for the future for our main character, Ana, and others we meet along the way. But the happiness and hope that is found are in the ashes of Bee’s tragedy.

I liked Ana but didn’t love her. She was kind and good. I guess I can’t blame her for being a doormat to her mother and others, because the primary focus of the book is how she gets herself up off the floor. However, her constant poormouthing herself and failing to see her striking beauty that is obvious to everyone else was irritating. I listened to this on audio, and I liked the reader’s characterizations of everyone except two other main characters: Lol (short for Lolita, we are finally told) and Flint. The accent and voice tone was over the top with these two, and actually gave me a bad impression of them throughout most of the book. Flint’s character really turned me off and his voice just exacerbated my initial dislike. I just didn’t see how he could be the love interest but there wasn’t anyone else. As the book went on, and we learn more about him, my feelings did change, but it was slow going.

The gradual solving of the mystery and anticipation of closure on several fronts were what kept me going with this one. There were some interesting characters, particularly the difficult mystery boy and the cruel neurotic mother. The final outcomes with these two came too easily and were too pat for me.  As welcome as they were. The author had to put a pin in an ugly problem looming on the horizon to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Not that I didn’t appreciate it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 19, 2022

Mad About You

By Mhairi McFarlane

In chapter 5, our heroine, Harriet, returns her boyfriend Jon’s engagement ring the same night he tries to trap her by proposing in front of his obnoxious family. To avoid humiliating him, and to avert an ugly scene, she accepts. A couple of hours later, when finally alone with him she returns the ring and she gives him what for. Decisively and with no fooling around.

She moved swiftly across the room, sliding the ring from her finger and placing it on a French chest of drawers, then turned and folded her arms. Jon, seeing this, looked unperturbed…. ‘Jon,’ Harriet said, in a voice so low and grim, it didn’t sound like her own. ‘What the hell did you do that for?…

You thought once I was permitted to plan a party, all my silly little feminine objections would magically fly away? It was one of those little lady ideas that don’t really matter in real actual life?’ ‘Come on, Hats, I’d never think your opinion doesn’t matter, you know that. You’re being a bit mischievous here,’ Jon said, and she tried not to scream. ‘I suppose I thought… As ridiculous as it sounds, I thought no harm in asking…. She took a deep breath into her lungs. ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore. This is over, Jon.’ …


She hard-gulped, as the tears surged up. ‘I’d hardly say this and not mean it, to punish you. That would be vile.’ ‘Then why say it now?’ Harriet said, thickly: ‘You’ve kind of forced the issue tonight.’ ‘So you weren’t happy before I proposed?’ Deep breath. Say it. ‘No.’ Jon said: ‘Really?’ in a broken voice, which was a small stab to her heart. ‘Yes.’

I almost cheered out loud. It is a not uncommon tactic for an author to put her readers through the mill with a mushy hearted clueless heroine in order to stir up sympathy, tension, anticipation, suspense, and to make the inevitable break even more dramatic (so she can find her REAL love interest or provide a cathartic climax). In many comedic romances, the heroine would have allowed herself to be won over, given him another chance, caved in to pressure and argument, or delayed and delayed the painful confrontation. Nope. Harriet was a heroine I could really get behind, not just root for in spite of her weaknesses and bad decisions. She never waivers, despite some entertaining confrontations with annoying Jon and his awful mother. So this got off to a great start, and in the ups and downs of Harriet’s adventures going forward, the novel never let me down.

Luckily, thanks to one of her friends who is a realtor, she is able to get out from under Jon’s roof almost immediately and finds a house to share with a guy who seems nice in a perfect house in a nice neighborhood. She is a wedding photographer and to her dismay, it turns out her landlord and housemate is a groom who famously left his bride at the altar at one of her weddings. When Jon shows up at their house and ends up punching him, both of them start to view each other with suspicion and trepidation.

Oh, hah hah. We all know I’ve got the section of my Wikipedia subheaded Controversy covered. If the waiter comes while I’m in the gents, I’ll have an espresso, thanks.’ Timely call of the bladder, Harriet thought. ‘Notice that our Calvin assumes he’ll have a Wikipedia,’ Sam said, once Cal had gone, and Harriet properly laughed this time.
‘In fairness here, I should tell you he’s not that guy.’ ‘What guy?’ ‘The one who traumatised a woman for life, in public.’ ‘Ah.’ Harriet didn’t know what to say and hesitated. ‘He kind of is that guy though?’ ‘Technically yes, he IS that guy. But he’s not that kind of guy.’ Harriet felt this might be an argument of creeps the world over. Yes I Did The Thing But I’m Not Defined By The Thing, Like Those Other Guys Who Also Did The Thing. ‘The unfortunate thing is, he’s a hopeless romantic…

While Harriet is working through her relationship with Cal, and dealing with Jon’s persistent almost-stalking, she meets a former boyfriend at another wedding she is working. Everyone loves this charmer but behind closed doors, he is a gaslighter, controller, and an emotional abuser. “Uh Oh,” I thought, “Here’s where we have a long flashback where we are taken through the heroine’s ordeal with a monster in excruciating detail in which she ignores ALL of the red flags.” But no. Once again Mhairi McFarlane doesn’t take the well-traveled route. When Harriet sees herself in his fiance’s sparkly on the outside but sad behind the eyes behavior, she writes her a letter telling her and the reader her story. This decision by the author keeps the past in the past and the reader is not only spared too much anxiety and frustration with the heroine but keeps the novel in the present and moving forward.

You think you’re going to pen her a letter saying your fiancé is a monster, and she’s going to write back first class and say aw thanks for the heads-up, doll, consider him binned?”…

‘Who stops these men? How do we stop them? Scott never hit me, he never physically attacked me or hurt me in any way where I can point to a scar. But he demolished me….
If I leave another woman to suffer Scott Dyer because I’m frightened of intervening, then nothing has really changed. If I don’t do it, Lorna, then I’m still scared of him. That’s just a fact.’

And she does it because she believes women should help other women. One of the themes of this novel is the importance and power of female friendship and advocacy.

But no good deed goes unpunished. Harriet is subjected to all kinds of havoc in which not only her business and reputation are threatened, but also some of her friendships. Things get pretty bad but I hope it won’t be a spoiler to say, “Fear Not!” Some new friendships are made and we are treated to a very satisfactory girl-power-variety takedown.

If there was a special place in hell reserved for women who didn’t help other women, perhaps there were special rewards for those who did. Harriet did not feel alone anymore. They couldn’t have achieved this without each other, they couldn’t have vanquished this man, except as a team.

As events marched towards the climax, I noticed my heart was actually thumping hard in my chest. No, I wasn’t having a heart attack, thank God. The book was just that gripping right there.

There is a nice romance that provides a hopeful happy ending for our heroine, but it is very much secondary to the drama of Harriet’s journey to understand her actions (both good and bad) and achieve emotional closure. I don’t think Mhairi McFarlane is capable of writing a book that does not have plenty of humor interwoven naturally throughout serious situations and conversations as well as more lighthearted moments. As well as thoughtful insights and character arcs. This one is in my top 5 by one of my top 5 favorite authors. Definitely 5 stars.

P.S. One quibble. The title made no sense. She was not mad about anyone. That is not what this book is about. She was upset at some people and had plenty of people mad, even enraged, at her. But not about her.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 6, 2022

Should I Tell You?

by Jill Mansell

He’d long feared that one day, Lachlan would decide to set his sights on Amber, which would be fine, he could easily accept that, if only Lachlan wasn’t who he was. But he was Lachlan, mercurial and capricious and with all the romantic staying power of a mayfly.

It’s hard to know how to review this book without spoilers. Looking back, I guess everything ended up in a pretty predictable manner, and there were happy endings aplenty. But Ms. Mansell threw enough doubt into the equation that I thought things might take an unexpected turn in at least one of a couple of cases. I wish that the unexpected had happened in one instance. I wasn’t 100% all-in with the outcome of one of the romances. Not enough work was done to convince me of a happy ever after there. There were still too many red flags even at the end despite jumping to a very optimistic final chapter, where we revisit the ensemble cast 3 years later. Plus, one of the heroines, though nice and likable, was kind of a non-entity. Since I felt her story was the main focus, it had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the book. There were two other couples whose journey ended up being more satisfying and entertaining. In one, I wasn’t sure if one of the partners was good or evil, and in the other, I felt like the relationship was a lost cause for sure, until it wasn’t. The latter story included an explanation of a character’s behavior that came as a surprise, yet make perfect sense. The former was a delight and I enjoyed it very much. The fourth of the stories had some troubling aspects and was borderline creepy and I didn’t enjoy it at all at the end. I liked it at first.

The plots were well constructed and everything was closed out satisfactorily except the doubts as to one person’s character which I’ve already stated. There was a lot going on and a lot of characters to engage my interest, which I like. The overall tone was light and amusing, though some serious and scary things were touched on, as with most women’s fiction. Despite my quibbles, I felt I was in good hands with Ms. Mansell.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 19, 2022

The Homewreckers

By Mary Kay Andrews

“They stood in a small semicircle, facing the Creedmore house. “Jesus, Mary, and Fred,” Tug exclaimed, wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. “Hattie, what have gotten us into?”

I’ve finally read a Mary Kay Andrews book! Yay! I’ve seen her name many a time, and a former co-worker highly recommended her, but I just couldn’t decide which one to start with so I just kept putting it off. When this one came up on NetGalley, it seemed like a sign.

Hattie is a young widow who works with her father-in-law flipping houses. When we first meet her she is struggling to renovate a house in Savannah, her hometown, but it is a disaster and she ends up selling it at a loss. Eager to atone for her bad judgment in buying the house, she jumps on the opportunity of a lifetime to bid on a condemned beach house in foreclosure on nearby Tybee Island. Meanwhile, she has been discovered by a producer for an HGTV or Magnolia type media company who wants to feature her “Saving Savannah” reclaiming and renovating historic houses. Her decrepit beach house is perfect for the show. She is the successful bidder and gets it for a small fraction of the worth of the lot alone.

We follow the likable heroine as she deals with the jealous hostile former owners, the officious local building inspector, falling trees, fire, possible sabotage, a vain male diva of a co-lead, his fan-girls, constantly shrinking impossible deadlines, a tyrant of a network boss, hair, make-up, and wardrobe, and oh yes, that producer.

Everything bubbles along (Ms. Andrews is a talented storyteller) when a dead body is discovered in the property’s septic tank. And not a moment too soon, because the ante needed upping just a bit. From there, we learn about the victim, her family, some shocking history, many secrets, and meet the almost retired detective who investigates the 17-year-old murder with Hattie’s help.

A few things bothered me. Hattie loses all of her savings on her failed project because she didn’t get the house inspected first. Then she signs a contract with the network without a lawyer looking over it. It did not give me a good first impression of an essentially admirable character. Not to mention the guy she is initially attracted to doesn’t speak well for her taste or judgment either. There were other inconsistencies in the character building of two “baddies” as well and the timeline in a chain of events at the end, but it did not distract too much. The main thing, though, was this: Hattie wins the condemned property with a less than $30,000 bid. We are told the lot alone is worth at least half a million dollars. Yet the former owner offers her only $50,000 to get it back, and her rich father-in-law is appalled she spent $30,000 on it and wants her to sell it back to him “for a handsome profit.” What? I kept thinking “What am I missing? Is it me?”**Spoiler**She ends up selling it for almost a million, and should and would have probably gotten more if not for that pesky murder. **End Spoiler**

The ending was a little abrupt. I would have liked more closure for her love life, her pawned engagement ring, the victim’s family, her relationship with her father, and the outcome of the TV show we invested so much time in filming. I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, though once you rule out the obvious suspects, it could have only been one person.

My picky faultfinding aside, Homewreckers is a light fun read. It is mostly a mystery with a splash of chick-lit, and of course a bit of a romance. It doesn’t go very deep, and nothing truly upsetting or emotional happens, and that’s OK. Ms. Andrews keeps things moving with both the mystery and putting us behind the scenes of a challenging home renovation. Some nice entertaining banter, a lot of action and crises, southern charm, and lots of characters we are given good reason to root both for and against made this an enjoyable read. And one more thing. I liked that the chapters had titles. The first chapter, where the president and producer of the media company, Mo, meets Hattie by falling through the rotting floor on top of her is called “Do-Drop-In”. Definitely chuckled. I will certainly keep Mary Kay Andrews at the front of my back burner of TBRs in the future. **3 1/2 stars**

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 10, 2022

Just Like Magic

by Sarah Hogle

Bettie used to be a popular and successful internet influencer but has fallen on hard times. She is squatting in a dead woman’s abandoned ramshackle house near her rich and famous family’s home in Colorado. She bemoans that the woman only had a 24” TV, but will only drink Evian water because she “is not a plebe.” She is shallow, materialistic, and steals her neighbors’ Wifi signal and their electricity. Due to her poor decision-making and bad advice, she is a laughingstock on social media and flat broke to boot. Or I should say she was a laughingstock. Nowadays “Even my unpopularity isn’t popular anymore.” Most people think she is dead or in rehab when they think about her, which is never.

It’s Christmas and Bettie is dreading the family get-together where she will have to pretend to still be wealthy and successful. And what is she going to do for Christmas presents? One night, while drunk, she conjures up Hal, who is “The Holiday Spirit” personified by (somehow) playing Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” backwards on vinyl. Hal is nice and pure, “a glowing unicorn untainted by all that is crass and vulgar.” His mission is to restore Bettie’s Christmas spirit by granting her every wish as long as, among other caveats, it is not damaging to history or cause harm to others. He is also very attractive. So far so good. I like a good redemption story and an unconventional hero.

Unfortunately, things started to go awry pretty quickly and I gave up at about the 25% mark. I skimmed through to the end. I made it past the Water Buffalo she wished into an enemy’s 4th floor Chelsea apartment building. And Hal explaining that the “number one most forbidden wish” would be to bring back the McRib when it isn’t in season. I think I started to realize I was probably going to DNF this when Bettie and Hal teleport to her grandparents’ “small gothic castle” her sinuses are filled with ice-cold eggnog and the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” becomes stuck in her head. These are the two side effects of teleportation, you see. I tried to give it another chance, but the incessant zaniness was exhausting. I can deal with wacky and eccentric in small doses but not unremittingly. It was contrived and disingenuous.

Sarah Hogle has an appealing narrative voice, which kept me reading her You Deserve Each Other despite my initial contempt for the heroine. But this one did not redeem itself although thankfully***spoiler alert*** the heroine did. Kooky is not always funny or interesting and, for me, it got old fast.

Thank-You to Net Galley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Sorry.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 21, 2022