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

The Clue of the Broken Wing (Judy Bolton #29)

by Margaret Sutton

“I dozed off and didn’t wake up until I heard those police sirens.”
“Then what?,” asked Judy. “I don’t suppose you knew they were coming to arrest me?”
Peter grinned. “I should have known it. Past experience should have taught me that something was bound to happen. You enter a queer old house. The police arrive. You vanish. It all adds up.”

The cheer of the kitchen had vanished. Like the rest of the house, it was suddenly filled with ghosts. Their names were fear and suspicion and guilt. Prejudice was there, too, and panic that drives a person who runs away.

Like many of Margaret Sutton’s books, this one has some dark elements in it which reveal her social consciousness. Although those children reading it in the ‘50s or even today may not have picked up on these, an adult reading it today surely does.

A little girl, afraid of a temperamental and harsh mother’s punishment, runs away from her in a department store and is helped by a woman who finds her at a bus terminal. The little girl tells her she is alone in the world and the woman takes her with her while visiting her estranged mother who is neighbors with Judy Bolton. Her mother disapproved of the man she married, who is poor, and will not accept him. She tells her mother that “Anne” is her own little girl in hopes that when she dies (she has a terminal illness) her mother will not try to take her real daughter away from her husband and his mother. Anne is happy with her loving grandmother but still thinks of her real family and misses them.

The book picks up a year later with Judy and Peter traveling to New York City at Christmas time to visit her friend Irene, her husband Dale, and her daughter, little Judy. When they get to Irene’s address, they are surprised to find Irene’s house is razed to the ground and an apartment building in its place. She goes across the street while Peter, tired from his long drive, takes a nap, to find out what happened to Irene and her family. It is the home of the Lakes, the same family that lost little their little girl and believes, along with the police, that she is dead. They suspect that Judy is part of a gang that kidnapped their daughter “Sukey” for reasons I won’t go into here, and the adventure begins when the witch-like Mrs. Lake locks Judy in an upstairs room and calls the cops. Plus we have the mystery of what happened to Irene and her family. They soon find out that Irene and Dale moved out to Long Island and didn’t tell Judy and Peter because Irene wanted it to be a “surprise.” It was a surprise all right. Irene is a real dingbat among other things, but after we get past that bump in the road, she turns out to be a valuable partner to Judy while she tries to help the dysfunctional Lake family against their will.

While the ending results in a happy reunion between the Lakes and their girl, Mr. And Mrs. Lake’s behavior throughout the book has been alarming, to say the least. While their actions are smoothed over at the end, we can’t help but be concerned about their parenting skills and can only hope for the best as far as the fates of their younger children. (Polly, their oldest, seems to have escaped their negativity and is remarkably likable and well-adjusted.) Margaret does a good job balancing the bleakness of the Lakes with the cheerful Christmas celebrations at the Meredith’s new home. (when they finally find it.) Despite the loose ends, I think it’s one of her best. **4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

January 8, 2022

The Joyous Season

By Patrick Dennis

“Daddy always said that Christmas is a joyous season when suicides and holdups and shoplifting and like that reach a new high and that the best place to spend the whole thing is a Moslem country.”

A cross between Cather in the Rye, Parent Trap, and the Eloise books, I think it’s one of the most hilarious novels ever. It is certainly the most hilarious novel I’ve ever read. Set in 1960’s Manhattan, narrated by a VERY precocious and smart-mouthed (but nice) 10 year old, this book is a delight from start to finish. His take on the antics of the adults in his and his eccentric younger sister’s lives during his mother and father’s break up and ultimate reconciliation commences during a disastrous family Christmas.
For Cripes Sake.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday

By Milly Johnson

I don’t want to get back to reality, said Robin inwardly. He felt protected here in this odd little inn. It was as if it was enchanted, like the Beast’s castle when Belle walked in and found all the luxury food waiting for her. He wouldn’t have been at all surprised if clocks and candelabras had started dancing around the room singing “Be Our Guest.”

In reading the description of this book and right up to about the 20% mark, I thought I knew where this one was going to go. It starts out as a fairly typical Milly Johnson. She really likes to have 3 stories going at once. In this one, 3 couples get lost during a terrible snowstorm two days before Christmas and end up together in a deserted but charming inn (Which is magical. Of course.) One couple, once passionately in love, is meeting to sign their divorce papers after years of acrimony. They are tired of fighting, have new partners, and just want to move on with their lives. Couple number two is the head of a large company who is accompanied by his unappreciated PA who has been in love with him for years. The last couple is a very happy gay couple who have been together for over 30 years.

I settled down to enjoy the journeys of at least several characters who had to learn, grow and break out of self-destructive patterns in order to find fulfillment and happiness. Of course, finding happiness would also mean finding true love with the obvious person as well. Well, all did not go according to plan. I am happy that Milly has grown out of her usual formula that all of or most of her early books incorporate, as delightful as most of them were. It became pretty obvious pretty early on, that the love stories were not going to follow the usual romantic comedy playbook. For one thing, Two halves of the prospective couples were so unlikable, almost toxic, that I was rooting for the people they would naturally be paired up with to run far and fast in the opposite direction. To make it more confusing, One of the prospective love interests was already in a very happy and healthy relationship albeit “off-screen”. So It was not predictable how all this was going to play out, romantically speaking.

Don’t worry. There are happy endings in this one and a love story or maybe two by the end. But it does not go how you think it would at the beginning. Turns are taken and there is some suspense up to the final climax. And that is a good thing. Once again Milly delivers a satisfying, touching, and amusing story. As always, it was very English. The title is based on a popular British Christmas song that is virtually unknown in the United States. And a dose of Jane Austen-love never hurts.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 21, 2021

How to Find Love in a Bookshop

By Veronica Henry

It’s a question of whether you want to live, breathe, sleep, and eat books for the foreseeable future.” “It’s how I was brought up.” “Yes, but you won’t be able to float around plucking novels from the shelf and curling up in a corner.” Andrea laughed. “Every time I went in, your father had his nose in a book, away with the fairies. That’s not going to work. You’re running a business. And that means being businesslike.”

Yay! Andrea tells it like it is. Thank goodness, her friend Emilia, who inherited the bookshop from her beloved father took her advice very seriously and understood she had to run the shop like a business that had to get out of debt and make a profit and not like it was a lifestyle.

While Emilia is attempting to keep her bookshop in business both because she loves it and as a tribute to her late father, we meet 6 couples who find each other or re-find each other because of it. Hence the title. Emilia also has a romance of her own, and we learn about her father and her dead mother’s story. The only one that really engaged me was the story of Alice, the sunny energetic daughter of the lord and lady of the local manor. She is soon to be married to the wrong man. Will she realize her mistake in time and recognize that her lowly estate gardener is her perfect match? Alice and Dillon’s story had some real drama and suspense. And in a book full of sweetness and sweet romances, it was the most romantic, I thought. The other stories filled the pages nicely, but ultimately were a little tame. The complications were resolved pretty easily with a little gumption and communication.

This was a well-written book full of likable people that you want good things for. It was lovely. Their happy endings were more than even they probably could have imagined in their wildest dreams. In fact, it was a little too fairytale especially the bookshop part. If a bookshop can be a Mary Sue, this was it. But you know what? Sometimes that’s OK. And I also got a new author that I want to try out of the experience.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 15, 2021

Trading Christmas

By Debbie Macomber

This was a typical latter-day Debbie Macomber, unfortunately. In this case, the movie was better thanks to the charm and the appeal of the actors. And instead of the wacky charm of the movie character of Faith, we have a nice woman, with absolutely nothing compelling, or interesting, or amusing about her. Same with all of the other characters. Very stale. The actual plot had a lot of promise. Some scenes were mildly amusing but could have been laugh-out-loud funny.

Debbie’s tone with the reader is like a kindergarten teacher with her 5-year-olds: over-explaining, keeping it simple so we understand, and repeating constantly lest we forget. It’s almost insulting. It’s too bad because she used to be one of the best. Many of her old Silhouette Special editions were worth rereading several or more times.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

December 14, 2018

Starry Night

By Debbie Macomber

I’m about half way through this book but 3 things are bugging me so far that I must get off my chest.
1.) She is a journalist and she knows nothing about the most sensational best seller of the last year? A book that has clubs devoted to it; inspired by it? She has never heard of the author? Come on. that is just ignorant.
2.) She goes to Alaska to spend time in the wilderness and airports and does not bring her E-Reader? Please. Debbie, most people who read your books do not go out the door without a paperback or their E-Reader.
3.) The word “Grizzled” does not mean unshaven. It means gray haired. I could forgive this in a new young author. but for someone of your stature, it beggars belief. This is not some self-published novel done on a shoestring without an editor.

It didn’t get any better.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

November 18, 2013

A New York Christmas

By Anne Perry

She was profoundly grateful for her own mother’s advice, and even more for that of her aunt Emily, who was less of a rebel than Charlotte. It was very good to know the rules, even if you did not intend to follow them.

Loved this one. Jemima has grown up to be a wonderful woman, the romance was much more developed than is usually found in Anne Perry, and her trademark too abrupt ending was thankfully missing for once. Very happy and satisfying. Loved Perry’s romantic choice for Jemima. Very apt. In addition to her choice of partner, Jemima has inherited her Charlotte’s ability to ingratiate herself and uncover secrets from the upper echelons in society even though she is an outsider and viewed with uneasy wariness. In Jemima’s case, actually detained under suspicion of murder. That’s a feat even her redoubtable mother can’t claim. **5 stars out of 5**

June 1, 2016

A Christmas Beginning

by Anne Perry

Weak motivations in this one. The dark secret was very dark, and entirely plausible. However I did not see how it was much of a motivation for murder, especially considering the personality of the perpetrator and their tenuous relationship. I may have liked it better had I been more familiar with the hero, Runcorn, of the Monk series. His romance and his longing for a woman whom I would have presumably met in an earlier novel was sweet and had a happy end. However, once again, I did not understand why she would have fallen in love with him going by his self –described lifelong character weaknesses, and her beauty and intelligence. Still, it was a nice example of an upstairs/downstairs romance, a favorite trope of mine, if done right. **3 stars out of 5**

June 2, 2016

A Christmas Secret

By Anne Perry

This one puts a nice bow on the story of Dominic Corde, Charotte’s ex-brother-in-law, who has played a part in at least 3 of her books, lastly in Brunswick Gardens. ***spoilers for Brunswick Gardens!***** In that book, we learn that Dominic has repented of his kind of evil ways under the influence of a Bishop and has taken orders. When the Bishop is murdered, Dominic is almost falsely accused. In the end he walks away with one of the daughters of the murdered clergyman, the appealing, intelligent, and unconventional Clarice. In A Christmas Secret, we find them very happily married, and solving a murder mystery of their own. The solution of the mystery was lacking as the motive was very weak or non-existent. **4 out of 5 stars**

May 31, 2016