Artistic License

by Elle Pierson (Lucy Parker)

“Well, you will make mistakes. And people will get hurt. Unfortunately, that’s life. But that doesn’t automatically negate all the good stuff. And it doesn’t mean that you should make some sort of pre-emptive strike against taking the risk in the first place.” Sophy let out a sigh, examining the toes of her shoes as they scuffed in the gravel. “You’re a wise woman, Ma,” she said lightly after a moment. “I think so,” agreed Marion serenely. “Did you get that last bit from Oprah?” “A magazine at the hair salon.”

**4 1/2 stars.** For what it is, a light harlequin-style romance this was excellent. This was Lucy Parker’s first book, and it was self-published under what I assume is her real name. I’m used to her glittery sophisticated London-based books revolving around the theatre and other rarefied venues. Her ability to drop the reader right in the middle of her world has been part of her appeal for me. This one is set in New Zealand, and I was impressed that this setting seemed as authentic as her London milieu. I was surprised but not surprised to find she is a native New-Zealander, when all this time, based on her books, I thought she was a native Londoner.

This is an unapologetic romance with a bit of mystery thrown in to keep things moving. Sophy is very shy to the point that she suffers from debilitating social anxiety. With people she knows she is smart, funny, and cute. With people she doesn’t, she “shrinks in both size and personality” like a “spooked turtle.” An artist, she meets the very large, muscular, and very dangerous-looking Mick, a security specialist, while he is in charge at an art exhibit.

And look at them, for Christ’s sake. It was as if someone had mixed up the casting calls for a flowery chick flick and Terminator 5. He felt three times larger and at least twice as ugly as he actually was just standing near her. The chances of her reciprocating anything other than wary reluctance seemed to hover around zero.

When she finds herself in the middle of a domestic terrorist incident, Mick rushes to her aid when she is knocked down and has an asthma attack. Despite his reserve with women due to his looks (not attractive) and her shyness, it’s basically love at first sight.

This started off slow. At one point, I was going to temporarily put it down to start a book I was anxious to read. I gave it 20 more minutes and it came through for me. We learn that Mick does not like his family and that he comes from a very wealthy and privileged background. Interesting. Then Sophy starts getting anonymous gifts from someone who knows her tastes. It starts to get creepy. Hmmm. I loved Sophy’s family, whom we spend a day with. The Lucy Parker wit and sparkling banter seemed to get better and better as the book went on. Some of the humor is based on her talent for including apt cultural references. There were several engrossing scenes including Sophy meeting Mick’s heinous family. I liked that Sophy’s and Mick’s characters were true and consistent throughout. I enjoyed their warm and tender relationship. He was protective but respected her and didn’t try to “fix” her. I dreaded the point where Mick or Sophy’s hang-ups would endanger their relationship but the bump in the road was understandable based on their firmly established characters and was nipped in the bud quickly. The secondary characters were engaging. And it had a great ending. Really couldn’t ask for more from a light romance and it’s just what I was in the mood for.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Dog Lover’s Guide to Dating

Bad Doggy!

Based on the lively previews, I was looking forward to this first Hallmark offering of 2023. I’m sorry to say that it was very disappointing. Especially considering the sometimes stellar parade of Christmas movies. The first scene with a dog getting away from Corey Sevier and creating havoc among picnickers in a park was entertaining and amusing, but it went downhill from there. Plot and character-wise, it ended up dull and mediocre throughout, although the script had some semi-clever lines, occasionally.

Corey Sevier plays an advertising guy who is trying to get together with a beautiful model turned designer, We know she is meant to be shallow and “not worthy”  by her valley girl inflections and vocal fry. Her dog is a hindrance to the insipient romance as he is badly behaved and doesn’t like Corey. After Corey is rescued by our dog-trainer heroine from the ruckus in the park, he hires her to train the dog or help him train the dog, or train him to handle the dog, or something.

I didn’t like her. Her character has been stunted by her father’s abandonment of her and her sister when they were young girls. She refuses to be open to a relationship with a human man because of course she expects every man to be unreliable and to abandon her as her father did. Instead, she showers all her love on her dog while still acting flirty with the two main men. Dogs are famously loyal and reliable, as we are reminded throughout. We know this girl needs therapy when in the first scene we see her fixing an elaborate breakfast complete with a cheese omelet, bacon, hashbrowns, fresh sliced tomatoes, and garnished with parsley. For her dog. Meanwhile, she eats a power bar. I guess this was supposed to be cute and endearing but to me, it just came across as silly, stupid, and very unhealthy for her pet. This wasn’t just a treat. This is every morning. And from someone who either should have known better or just doesn’t care. Despite her likable and sensible sister’s advice and counseling, she remains stuck throughout the whole movie, causing her to be very annoying. There was no growth. She just finally listens to her sister and changes her mind at the end. The actress was a fresh face and had talent. She even kind of had a Julia Roberts thing going on with her hair down. It wasn’t her fault.

Besides my dislike of the heroine, I found Corey Sevier’s performance in this one a little off as well. Can’t quite put my finger on it, I have liked him in the past and he did have a couple of good scenes in this. I found the vet who was his rival for the dog trainer’s affections a little creepy and vaguely sinister. The subplot of “save the dog shelter” is the excuse for Corey and dog girl to spend time together. It also serves to keep the rivals for the couple’s affections in the picture. Presumably amping up the tension and suspense. What a laugh. The scheme they came up with was unbelievable and contrived. He is putting his talents to work by throwing an exclusive gala and silent auction to scrape up the money for the shelter’s owner to buy the building which is being sold out from under her. They didn’t even try to make any aspect of this scheme even vaguely credible. So unlikable and uninteresting characters, a silly plot, not enough humor, and irresponsible pet ownership. Not good.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Merry and Bright

Candy Canes Incorporated

I came upon this older Hallmark Christmas movie by chance a couple of minutes in and up popped Andrew Walker and in walked Jodie Sweetin. I looked it up and not only had I not reviewed this, I had not even seen it. Since I am not reviewing GAC or GAF or whatever they are calling themselves these days anymore, I had caught up with all the movies I had on my DVR.  As I have mentioned, while Jodie has not always been a favorite, she has grown on me in the last 2 years. Her acting and looks always give a down-to-earth relatable aspect to the characters she plays. And she has a killer smile. Andrew is always good, and with the right partner, he can be great. I came in at the “meet cute”. Jodie’s mother (the talented and award-winning Sharon Lawrence) is always trying to fix her up, and Jodie thinks Andrew is a prospective date sent by her mother rather than an important business associate. The misunderstanding results in some pretty amusing back and forth.

Jodie has taken over her grandmother’s candy cane business after her death. It is the family legacy and it is struggling. How successful can a business be with a product you can only sell for 4 or 5 months a year? She knows what she is doing as she has an MBA and gave up a good career in California to take over. The investors or the board of Merry and Bright, the name of the company, have called in a consultant (Andrew Walker) to figure out how to generate more profit for the business. He is Christmas and small-town averse and doesn’t want to be there as much as Jodie doesn’t want him there. They butt heads as Jodie wants to do things her way. This could have been a lot more frustrating than it was, but luckily Jodie is a smart businesswoman and already knows they have to expand their product line.

As Andrew and Jodie work together they soon begin to like and respect each other. Can romance be far behind? That was a rhetorical question. Meanwhile, Sharon has a nice, funny, but heartwarming storyline. I can see why she took this part. She is not a dog person, but a dog at a shelter has caught Jodie’s eye, and Mom reluctantly adopts it for Jodie a week before Christmas as a surprise. Her antics in trying to hide it but not having the heart to leave it alone in the house is cute and sweet. Adorable dogs always elevate a Hallmark movie or any movie, for that matter. Unless the dog is in danger. The final solution to the business problem is clever and sensible. And Jodie lets her Mom keep the dog when she sees how attached they have grown to each other.

This perfectly enjoyable story is capped off by a nice epilogue where we see the renewed success of the business and Andrew getting down on one knee to propose marriage. That is an increasingly rare conclusion to the romance end of these shows these days, and it was refreshing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

We Wish You a Married Christmas

Goodness Gracious!

I absolutely love Kristoffer Polaha and so I was really looking forward to this movie. I wasn’t sure about his pairing with Marisol Nichols but I haven’t seen her in anything before and I was willing to give her a chance. I must say though that her eyebrows did give me pause. They were very scary and actually looked navy blue in certain lights. Also the height difference. It was flattering for Kristoffer, but not so much for Marisol.

It started off very promisingly and unusually for Hallmark. Not the usual sweeping city or country scene but extreme closeups of a couple in a marriage therapist’s office talking directly to the camera. The therapist is played by Pascale Hutton, a Hallmark leading lady herself. I don’t care for her in starring roles but she made a great therapist in this little cameo. So calm, gentle, and pleasant. She sends them off for a Christmas getaway in Gracious, Vermont to spend some time together and make an attempt to repair their faltering marriage.

Gracious is a quirky little town filled with alpacas and really really nice friendly people who welcome the couple into all of their holiday activities. This includes Amy Groening once again charming and funny in a supporting role as a pet portrait painter. Time for a promotion, Hallmark! She really has a certain something. Marisol was ok but I wish Kristoffer would have been paired with someone with a little more spark.

All proceeds predictably, repetitively, and boringly as the troubled couple starts to reconnect as they spend more and more time together. The tale of their marriage troubles and the steps forward to eventual reconciliation needed a lot of bolstering and luckily it got quite a bit. Their dog, Jerry was, adorable and a real scene-stealer. He was no Nova. But he was a charmer nevertheless. The couple, Vince and Brian, who own the inn, had a sweet relationship and put a smile on my face whenever they came on the scene. Amy played her funny quirky character to perfection and her tentative romance with the awkward infatuated waiter was darling.

Kristoffer and Marisol’s characters actually turned out to be quite likable even if their journey was not. Isolated parts of the script and plot were well-written and entertaining. The ending had a cute little surprise at the end which hints that their therapist, the inn owners, and the town might have a little Christmas conspiracy going on with more than a hint of Christmas magic. All in all, it’s a 7: nothing really special but little to no eye rolling or remote throwing involved.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Attraction Test

Nova Saves the Day!

I bypassed a number of recent Hallmark productions to watch and/or review to take a whack at this UPtv production. I read another review of this one and it seemed promising even though I had never seen anything else starring either of the two leads (that I remember).

Tara Wilson plays a mature relationship-averse professor who has developed a technology that scientifically determines whether your match is “the one” by the end of 3 dates. Our hero, a not-all-that-mature veterinarian who runs a dog rescue organization is somewhat of a wise guy. He goes with his girlfriend, who is a fan of the professor, to her presentation unveiling her successful study.  He doesn’t buy the professor’s contention that true love can be scientifically determined and measured. He brashly stands up, expresses his skepticism, and sarcastically asks whether she has ever used her own technology. She hasn’t, and demurs, but he embarrassingly persists and she is hustled off the stage. This is not how things were supposed to go. A video of the confrontation goes viral and throws her research and credibility into doubt. She does not want to be in a relationship but is forced to publicly date her adversary in order to prove her technology.

All proceeds as expected with the two going on the requisite three dates and surprisingly having a great time together and really connecting. The opposites attract slow burn thing really seemed to work between these two. The attractive Tara Wilson has a terrific smile and really grew on me partly because her acting wasn’t hampered by an immovable forehead. But, helpful hint, lose the sausage curls that seem to be so prevalent with TV romance leading ladies lately. I liked Andrew Dunbar as the hero right away. He had an almost frat-boyish charm and a lot of charisma.  And I liked that he was open and honest about his growing feelings for his reluctant professor.

Even so, I was starting to get a little bored with the plot when what to my wondering eyes should appear but Nova, the utterly charming dog-actor who played Sam in Romance to the Rescue!

He really added the spark needed to bolster my flagging attention until the predictable but nicely done conclusion. That dog is a gosh darn superstar.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

October 9, 2022

The Happy Ever After Playlist (The Friend Zone #2)

By Abby Jimenez

This book started out so good, I was barely 6% in when I downloaded the first one in the series from the library to read it right after this one. I really loved the writing, and the way it started: A nice likable woman still trying to recover from her fiance’s death two years prior, her funny supportive friend, and the adorable dog. The promise of the dog’s absent owner, an up-and-coming acoustic rock star showing up to claim him was the carrot on the stick. Unfortunately, it went south pretty quickly. They text and talk being very cute and flirty before they ever meet in person. The getting to know each other stage was sweet and nice. They find each other online. “ Jason was hot. No, he was beyond hot. He was bearded, thick brown hair, sexy smile, blue eyes hot. Six-pack abs on the beach hot.” I can only take so much of that. When they finally meet and see how hot and gorgeous they both are and how cool and nice, well, it’s a done deal. End of. I’ve read a few reviews of this and this is the part people seem to really like. It’s light and funny and romantic. But I’m sorry, I was just bored with all of the sweetness, perfection, and adorableness. Had I but known.

He takes her to meet his parents (they love her-who wouldn’t) and they finally have sex. Of course, it is mind-blowing. She says “I always considered myself immune to that kind of frenzy.” among many other things. So sex with beloved dead Brandon was not as good as with Jason? I didn’t like that she even implied that, and I didn’t even know Brandon or their love story from the first book. TMI, Sloan. The last half is all drama and angst all of the time. At first, I actually found this to be a relief from all of the perfection. They have really got themselves in a pickle, and I had to keep reading to see how they would get out of it and achieve a happy ending. To make a long story short, Sloan is sick and miserable on the road and Jason is miserable because she is miserable. It was a constant litany of what a miserable life it was and how it was going to last a whole decade so they can’t have kids or a home and Sloan has to give up her career as an artist. He finally sends her to his parents’ house so she can paint and not be miserable, but they are miserable without each other. Maybe he should have sent her to Sting and Trudy, or BonJovi and Dorothea, or Ozzy and Sharon, to see how they did it.

They have a big fight over Jason being a dick without her and Sloan can’t take the separation either so she surprises him by rejoining him. She has decided that the whole being miserable with life on the road was just her attitude problem and vows to make it work with a positive “can-do” approach. Meanwhile, though, Jason finds out that the record company he is tied to is even eviler than he thought it was and if Sloan stays with him, her very life will be in danger since the record company wants him with his crazy ex-girlfriend Lola for publicity purposes. Now I know record companies only care about the money, but it was pretty hard to swallow that they would maim (and maybe kill?) an inconvenient girlfriend. I mean wouldn’t that kind of thing get out? Anyway, Jason lies to her making her believe he is the worst person on earth so she will leave him and be able to lead a normal safe happy life. The other alternative would have been to just have a conversation, but I guess he just didn’t think it through. Or maybe he just likes the dramatic approach. So naturally, they are sick and miserable without each other. Jason says this:

It had been ninety-four days since I’d last seen her, and I was nothing but a husk of myself now. My world was dim. All was faded. And the more time that passed, the darker it got. Life without her was a sensory deprivation of my soul.

This is not the foundation for a healthy relationship, folks. No one should be that dependent on another for not only joy and happiness but not to be an empty shell with no soul. Sloan is actually trying to move on and is pretty successful, except she will never love again and spends her days in ‘various states of numb confusion,” so no, not really happy. They finally do get back together again after Jason overshares his personal business with a stadium full of people and all of the roadblocks are miraculously removed. But one of the things he says in his self-indulgent blubbering under the spotlight is this:

“Yeah. She’s on a date tonight. I saw her. Went down to her art gallery and saw her with some guy when I was about to come out. It fucking killed me,” he whispered. “I thought breaking up with her was hard. But seeing that…”

So in other words his 3-month separation from her was not as painful as seeing her moving on from him and trying to be happy in a nice relationship? And don’t forget, he purposely broke her heart just so this exact thing could happen. That is just messed up.

So there were even more problems for me with this one, as well as some good things. The redemption of Lola was well done. Abby Jimenez can be very funny-loved Kristen. Despite my difficulties, she is an engaging writer if a little over-wrought at times. I tried to skip ahead but had to go back. Life on the road with a rock star was something new for me, It was thought-provoking and educational. I even like that hunting was not demonized. It is told, and told well, from two alternating first-person viewpoints. Despite the bipolar nature of the plot, I might give her another try with a different story and not-so-problematic characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 24, 2022

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3)

By Candice Fox

“So you didn’t do it?” “No,” Amanda said. “But I’m going to. I’m gonna smack that bitch so hard her grandkid will be born with my handprint on its face.”…“Aman-duh,” she imitated me. “You’re the one who told me I wasn’t angry enough about her pushing my bike over. I don’t get angry, Ted. I just sear my visage deep into my enemy’s brain with the flaming cattle brand of my devilish trickery. Then, in their nightmares, it’s my name they hear whispered on the winds of darkness.”

This is the third in the trilogy. I skipped the second one and cut right to the chase. I loved the characters and wanted more of Ted and Amanda, but the anxiety of Ted being unfairly hated and hounded by virtually the whole country of Australia took too much away from my enjoyment. In the second one, that I skipped, the true perpetrator of the heinous crime that Ted was imprisoned for was caught and Ted is no longer a suspect. Since the pervert was killed by the father of the girl though and was not tried in the courts and the court of public opinion, his innocence is not cut and dried. But it was enough to officially remove Ted as a person of interest. Even though he still has to deal with some ignoramuses, much of the cloud has been removed from over his head so I was able to concentrate on the case Ted and Amanda are investigating and enjoy them as characters and the side stories that involve them. Amanda on the other hand got herself into some hot water in the second one, so the tables are turned as far as being a target of the local police force. She is not vulnerable like Ted was so it wasn’t a huge worry.

The case that Amanda and Ted are called in to assist with was much more interesting and suspenseful than the case in the first book. An 8-year-old boy is missing so the stakes are high. As in the first book some aspects of the case were pretty outlandish or just wrong.

A character is arrested for going to the police for reporting a crime against children and in the process told them he too was a pedophile. But he never acted on his impulses. Can you be arrested in Australia for just wanting to do something illegal? I don’t think so.

**a little spoilery**

The crime is planned out in advance but the perpetrator has to rely on his/her ability to brainwash a group of children. A child psychologist with that deep knowledge of child behavior might know this might be possible, but there would be no way for even them to be sure enough to bet their life on it. It would only take one kid’s refusal to go along with the crowd to ruin everything. Yet the culprit has no doubt or worry about it. 

Towards the end of the book after a shocking event, the author gets mixed up as to who was a witness to it and who wasn’t. 

**big spoiler**

Ted saw the croc take Sara. Ted was the witness, not Amanda. Amanda was nowhere near. But Ted is allowed to go home and Amanda is kept at the scene to help the cops look for her body “because you know exactly where Sara disappeared from.” **end spoiler**.

This has huge consequences as to how everything played out.

As in the first book, the police obstinately ignore logic and evidence, (proof actually) that contradicts what they want to believe. And boy are they sorry in this one.

So apparently Candice Fox really really does not like local law enforcement. But for one exception, every one of them was either the scum of the earth and/or really really stupid. Especially as they are the bane of our dynamic duo’s existence, not to mention a menace to everyone else. Ted and Amanda keep getting work throughout the series because of their incompetence. It was bothersome and I think the books would have been better if there was some balance there.

But the mystery of the missing probably dead boy, Amanda’s relationship with the bikers, her confrontations with a crazed policewoman, the investigation itself, and the shocking twists and turns carried me through the book. Amanda is fascinating and priceless. Ted makes a sympathetic hero most of the time. Although justice was not fully served for everyone in the end, it was served enough to satisfy me. If this is the last in the series, I will be sorry. But it does make a fitting conclusion if it is. It looks like things are going to work out pretty well for both Ted and Amanda, and I wouldn’t want a continuation of the series to ruin that hope.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 14, 2022

The Identicals

By Elin Hilderbrand

I listened to this on audio because I wanted to give this author a shot but my time is always a consideration. I’m always looking for a shining star and her name is always popping up, especially in the summertime, and most people seem to really love her. I chose this one because twin stories always seem to be stuffed with possibilities. Two twins, Tabitha and Harper were separated as children when their parents divorced. Harper won rock paper scissors and stayed with her easygoing fun father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha had to go with her cold controlling mother to Nantucket. Tabitha’s unreasonable resentment of Harper getting to stay with the Dad laid the groundwork for their estrangement. It was taken to another level when Tabitha (again) blamed Harper for a personal tragedy that was not her fault. Though only 11 miles apart, they had not seen each other for 15 years when Billy the father dies and the two sisters, their mother, and Tabitha’s out-of-control teenage daughter meet for his funeral.

Frankly, soon after the drama of the funeral, I was all set to give up on this, which would have been a first for me for an audiobook. Since I always listen while doing something else, it is just so easy to go along with them even if the book isn’t that enjoyable. There was not one likable main character. And the sisters in particular were both pretty contemptible. Harper was an immature, irresponsible underachiever who thinks nothing of carrying on an affair with a married man while two-timing him with another guy who is serious about her. Tabitha is such a bitter woman and “piss-poor parent” to teenage Ainsley, that I really questioned whether she cared about her own daughter at all. Ainsley is a mean girl whose teenage angst was just exhausting.

But soon after the funeral, They decide to change places. Harper will go to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and the family dress shop, and Tabitha will take care of renovating and selling Billy’s ramshackle house on the Vineyard. I thought that maybe this would be the turning point in the story that would result in healing their relationship and the evolution of their characters. In some ways, it did eventually but not before the sisters continued to reveal their awfulness, especially Tabitha. With both of them, every time I started to gain some liking and even respect, they disappointed me. Especially Tabitha. It was very frustrating. The difference between them was that although Harper made awful decisions she was essentially good-hearted and sensible. But towards the end, she did something so heartless that I couldn’t forgive her. Tabitha was just awful. The love interests were weak as well. I don’t even want to get started with those guys. There was one decent man introduced who was a possibility for a while for either of the sisters, but he got kicked to the curb and disappeared. The most positive thread was Ainsley finally maturing and getting herself together after being a horror throughout most of the book. This was thanks to the one nice and admirable character who needed a lot more pages and a story of her own.

The one really enjoyable part of this book was the last chapter in which everything was tied up into a happy ending (no accountability here!) and told from the perspective of Harper’s pet dog, who was the other unobjectionable character in this book.

Hilderbrand is a good writer and most of the book was pretty engaging. I might try another one someday. Surely not all of her protagonists are so flawed. **not quite 3 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 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

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