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

Romance to the Rescue

It’s All about the Dog

The human cast was OK but the dog stole every scene. He was adorable and hilarious. What an actor! Hallmark better get “Nova” locked down with an ironclad contract before GAC comes a-callin’. Just saying.

Andrea Brooks plays Kyra, a young and ambitious marketing person who works in a pet store. In order to impress her new boss, who she is also crushing on, she lies about having a dog. In order to cover her tracks, she goes to a local rescue organization to adopt a dog. The owner (Marcus Rosner-Kevin) is very picky about who rescues his dogs. She has to lie to him about her qualifications in order to fulfill his strict requirements. She really had to jump through a lot of hoops. Believe me when I tell you that Nova, who plays Sam, the dog, was absolutely pure liquid joy.

On a home visit(!) to Kyra’s house, to make absolutely sure Sam and Kyra are doing OK, it is obvious to Kevin that she doesn’t know what the hell she is doing as far as discipline and training are concerned. Sam has trashed her house in 10 seconds flat. Kyra goes through an amusing montage of prospective dog trainers. They range from militaristic to a holistic new-age approach, and none are a good match for the dynamo that is Sam.  Kevin ends up with the job and the rest is history.

Andrea Brooks was energetic, perky, and cute. I liked her, but I can see that a little of her could go a long way. After many many secondary roles in the Hallmark factory, she deserves the promotion to head girl. Marcus Rossner was fine, but I felt he was a little miscast. I feel like the part was written for a nerdy underdog type (no pun intended), and Marcus is anything but. But he carried it off.

Anyway, this was a perfectly serviceable Hallmark as far as plot and character, but OMG, that dog!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 23, 2022

Again, Rachel

by Marian Keyes

‘ “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” Emily Dickinson.’

I loved much of this book. First, The Walsh family is a main character here, with each of the sisters maintaining the personalities that we have come to know and love or not love as the case may be. I hate it when an author does a sequel or a series and personalities that were interesting and intriguing, that made you want to come back for more, have vanished and we have reconstituted versions. The people we were introduced to and came to know throughout the Walsh family chronicles are the same people, yet some have been allowed to grow and mature. And some haven’t.

Confidence was usually seen as a positive. But Mum was from that generation of Irishwomen who prided themselves on raising children with rock-bottom self-esteem. Nothing galled them as much as an offspring with confidence.

 I definitely need to re-read Watermelon and Angels. And maybe skip through Anna’s story to find references to Angelo. After the last book, my favorite sister is Helen and I loved her role in this.

Rachel is back. She is 20 years sober and the head counselor at The Cloisters, the rehab center that saved her life back in the late 90s. Marian Brings back the patients and their heartbreaking yet entertaining stories that I found so involving in Rachel’s Holiday.

In here, clients gave only the most sanitized, tragic version of themselves. To get the full picture, you had to talk to everyone who knew them. It was a little like investigating a crime.

Readers of previous books know that Rachel and Luke got married, and now we find out they have now been divorced for 6 years and he lives in Denver, Colorado. She is in a happy relationship with another man, Quin, who is not easy, but he is interesting and complex.  In the beginning, Rachel is told that Luke’s mother has died and of course, Luke will be back for the funeral and to take care of his Dad’s affairs. Told largely in flashbacks we learn that, according to Rachel, Luke deserted her (but how can that be?) and we are taken through their heartbreaking story that led to that surprising circumstance. Meanwhile, we explore Rachel’s present life, her relationships, her work, and catch up with the Walsh family. And of course, Rachel and Luke are in the same country again. Rachel wants an explanation and apology from Luke but he is distant. It can’t be over for them, can it? But what about Quin? And what’s up with Luke’s long-time partner who came with him to Ireland?

In all of Marian Keyes’ books, The heroines go through horrendous times before getting to the happy and uplifting. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes of their own making, or circumstances out of their control but exacerbated by bad decisions and self-delusion. Rachel part II was more heartbreaking than usual. I had some problems with some aspects of Rachel’s story and some of it was a little hard to swallow. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but in order for everything to come right, it had to be. Could Rachel have had her epiphany a little sooner? Maybe. could there have been a little more fair play with the reader? Hmmm. Not sure. But the book was as insightful, involving, and hilarious as usual. Marian is a master at balancing tragedy and comedy. And with a writer this good, the more words we are given, the better. So not too long for me.

After Anna’s story, Is Anybody Out There and Helen’s, the last sister’s, story there was an over 5-year gap.  Right before Marian came out with The Mystery of Mercy Close, she wrote a refresher to catch everybody up with the Walshes and kind of get them up to speed. If like me,  you have read Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family,  you can forget about what she told us about Luke and Rachel. This book completely retconns what we thought we knew about them. This is by way of fair warning. I wish I had had one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 27, 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

Frederica

by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis believed himself to be hardened against flattery. He thought that he had experienced every variety, but he discovered that he was mistaken: the blatantly worshipful look in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, anxiously raised to his, was new to him, and it pierced his defences. He was capable of giving the coolest of set-downs to any gushing female; and the advances of toadeaters he met with the most blistering of snubs; but even as he realised how intolerably bored he would be in Soho he found himself quite unable to snub his latest and most youthful admirer. It would be like kicking a confiding puppy.

In rereading Frederica (on audio) I did something I don’t often do which is read two books by the same author in a row. But, since my experience with the narration of These Old Shades was less than the best, when I saw The unabridged Frederica in my audible library, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take another whack at one of my most beloved authors. Besides, this book always reminds me of springtime with its settings and outdoor adventures: a family dog harassing cows in the park unaware of proper canine London manners, a runaway bicycle, scientific excursions, balls and parties, and of course a runaway hot-air balloon. Thankfully the narration of Clifford Norgate was “bang up to the mark” with even his female characters escaping the affected tones too many male readers give their females.

Although no longer available on audible, I had downloaded this to my phone at one time so I still had access to it. Hopefully, the unabridged versions will be available again eventually in the United States as they are in the U.K. This one was an excellent interpretation. Mr. Norgate’s voicing of the Marquis of Alverstoke had nuance and subtlety and lived up to my imagination of his tone and expression. His inner dialogue trying to suss out his true feelings for the redoubtable Frederica gave a fresh insight into Heyer’s words. Some of the most amusing and memorable scenes (The Baluchistan Hound Incident and the dampening effect of “Restorative Pork Jelly” on incipient declarations of love) were “complete to a shade.”

Frederica Merriville has come to London so her beautiful and impossibly sweet and gentle younger sister can have her season and hopefully find an eligible match so she can be comfortably settled. She has audaciously reached out to her very distant cousin Alverstoke whom she has never met for assistance in getting her launched into society. He has no intention of doing any such thing, but once he meets the unusually frank and unaffected Frederica, her two young brothers, and Charis, a “diamond of first water” he thinks it might be an amusing joke on his two tiresome sisters, who have been needling him to give balls for their unimpressive daughters. He will do so but only if Charis is introduced at their sides. They are surprised but thrilled at his change of mind as their brother Vernon is a very rich and important figure in the topmost ranks of society. The Marquis has served them the lesson they deserve when they meet the lovely Charis, who totally outshines every girl in London and certainly her two plain cousins. But he’s not shot of the little family yet.

Charis soon becomes the darling of society, and her 24 year old “on the shelf” sister Frederica is well-received as well. Meanwhile, Felix and Jeremy, Frederica’s young brothers, take a liking to “Cousin Alverstoke” and he starts to become much more involved with the lively family than he ever intended. As he is drawn into their escapades, the perpetually bored Alverstoke is for once, not bored. Of course, Charis falls in love with a totally unsuitable but handsome blockhead, and Frederica struggles mightily to not be a bother to the formidable Marquis. But far from being intimidated, she finds herself constantly in need of his help and advice. The marquis, meanwhile, is falling deeply in love with this girl who treats him like an indulgent and kind uncle much to his bemusement.

This is a bright and delightful book. Georgette Heyer was at the height of her powers and Frederica is one of her most charming and likable heroines. Alverstoke is one of her most well-drawn and witty romantic leads and their interactions are high points. Felix and Jeremy are two very different brothers but are both irrepressible and fun. Even Alverstoke’s quiet and efficient secretary, Charles Trevor, shines and even plays a surprising heroic role during a final crisis. My favorite Heyer novels take place in London during the season where conversation, descriptions, and settings sparkle, and the ability to navigate the tricky conventions and manners of society put futures on the line. And you might even meet real historical figures like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Gentleman Jackson, or Sally Jersey and her cohorts. This one has the extra attraction of a warm and happy family at its center.

Frederica, The Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Beautiful Charis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 21, 2022

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe

By Debbie Johnson

As sweet and pleasant as this was, I don’t think the style of this author is for me. I listened to this on Audible and am not sure how much this influenced my lack of enthusiasm. I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice and charming accent at first, but after about halfway through it started to get on my nerves. On the surface, this seemed very reminiscent of a Rosamunde Pilcher, D.E. Stevenson, or Marcia Willett at first.

Laura, a young widow with a young teen daughter and a younger son finds herself in need of some income. She sees an advertisement and writes a long letter to the owner of the Comfort Food Cafe in Dorset and is offered a job there for the summer. She is still grieving, we are told and told, the sudden death of her husband about 2 years prior. He was her childhood sweetheart and they were married for 14 years. But she didn’t come across as still devastated. She seemed pretty chipper, actually. (Maybe it was the narrator?) Her daughter Lizzie is a typical teen girl with no more brattiness or rebelliousness than is normal for a girl that age. She seemed like a pretty nice kid. The son, Nathan is pretty much a nonentity.

She settles in smoothly to her job with the quirky ex-hippie owner, Cherie, and her merry band of quirky customers who are like family. She meets cute with a very nice and sexy Veterinarian who looks like a “young Harrison Ford” and who goes around shirtless a lot. Romance ensues. The meet-cute involves underwear flying out of her suitcase and landing on his head. It was cute but at least two of my favorite authors would have created laugh-out-loud comedy out of the situation. Two bad things happen near the end, but in one case, it leads to opportunity, not tragedy, and the other is foreshadowed pretty expressly. It was too bad so sad, but, not heartrending. Laura goes out on a limb and organizes a reunion for two people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years. She is very nervous about it but it all goes fine.

In the end, to her children’s and her new friends’ and her new boyfriend’s dismay she decides to go back to Manchester at the end of the summer as planned for no good reason. That was the one occurrence in the book that really stirred my feelings. Unfortunately, that feeling was disgust. I was so turned off by her senseless decision to leave her godsend of a situation to go back home, that I was totally unmoved by the inevitable change of mind and happy ending.

This book is an amiable diversion with a shadow or two here and there that we are told about. There is very little tension, suspense, or anticipation. It’s smooth going, but I guess I prefer my fiction with more peaks and valleys, hilarity, and tears. But you know, you get what you are promised, “comfort food”, and there is certainly a place for that. But not for me, at least not at this time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2022