Mad About You

By Mhairi McFarlane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 6, 2022

Just Last Night

By Mhairi McFarland

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that harm done with explicit conscious intention of doing another person harm accounts for about two percent of all harm inflicted. That descriptor pretty much only applies to dictators in banana republics, serial killers, and PE teachers.”

Today’s turning out to be a helluva day for self-discovery…I’m sincerely sorry for having hurt you. I didn’t intend any of it…” “Apology accepted….”

Mhairi McFarland always combines both wit and comedy, a great romance, and strong characterizations with thoughtful insights on serious issues. She is a deep thinker. In her latest effort, she examines grief and the joys and dangers of deep lifelong friendships. Yes, dangers.

“Hester recently observed that we are mutually “idling in neutral gear.” And “having each other stops all of you lot looking for more. Co-dependency. You are each other’s other halves, so you don’t bother with relationships as well.”

Eve, our protagonist, is smart, sweet and caring, charming, beautiful but doesn’t know it, and somewhat of an under-achiever. She is blessed with a strong bond with 3 others. Susie is charismatic, fierce, and spoiled but a wonderful and devoted best friend. They are each other’s “comfort and joy.” Jason is funny, irreverent, and sensible. He’s the gay one. Ed is the ultimate good guy: Attractive, responsible, super-nice, and does everything right. They all love each other very much and share a nearly 20-year bond. But Eve has been secretly head over heels in love with Ed for years.

Then early in the book, one of the three is suddenly killed. They, particularly Eve, must now navigate a world without one of their own. Eve tries to reconcile the contradictions and mysteries that emerge as truths and secrets are revealed. It turns out that she did not know her friends as well as she thought. With the help of an outsider, she starts to see herself and her compatriots in a whole new light.

That’s all it would be wise to reveal as there are a number of surprises and revelations from almost first to almost last. The first is “who died?” and I don’t even want to reveal that. I will say that I have some quibbles with the final outcome. Although the ending is happy and satisfying, I felt like Eve was still a little stuck. I wanted her to move onward and upward in more than one aspect of her life, and I don’t think she did. As much as I loved this book, it also must be said that, for me, there was a little too much philosophizing, wondering, and contemplating. But it was understandable and thought-provoking so maybe I’m not being fair. I did appreciate that though the friends’ history and past experiences are delved into, the book is very much anchored in the present. It was so good I deliberately paced myself, because I wanted it to last as long as possible. **4 1/2 stars**

May 11, 2021

Who’s That Girl?

by Mhairi McFarland

You were waiting for him to give you things he never said he’d give you and you never asked for. You could have asked him what your “thing” meant to him. But you didn’t. By default, you gave him all the power. Doesn’t sound like he was trustworthy with it.’ Edie nodded, miserably. ‘In my experience, hopeful silence is a tactic that is DFD.’ ‘“DFD”?’ ‘Destined for doom.’

He paused at the trailer door. ‘You’re a good person, Edie. Goodness will get you through this.’

Another wonderful Mhairi McFarlane! Includes her typical quirky characters, lovable hero and heroine, wonderful character development, lots of laughter, and a few tears. This one has a lot to say about cyber-bullying, celebrity worship, and gossip. The injustice of the bullying was painful, but not too painful since Edie, our girl, has a very supportive boss and was able to get out of town and land on a great project for work: Ghostwriting the auto-biography of a hunky superstar. Plus, her own sketchy behavior and insecurities did lead to her problems. This one was particularly strong in its numerous sub-plots, all of them interesting and engaging.

At times, Edie was a little slow in her insight and understanding regarding her romance but sharp and smart in other ways. She was able to grow out of her weaknesses, gain self-understanding and acceptance and emerge a strong, happy, much more healthy woman a good bit before the end of the book. No last-minute epiphanies, thank goodness. The character development in the whole “cast” was believable and satisfying.

I understand why some readers did not like the ending, (some are pretty harsh about it) but I was fine with it. I understood it and don’t see how it could have ended differently. Yes, I would have liked things spelled out a bit more with a nice epilogue, but fear not, it ends with hope and love. Actually, I’m really not sure spelling it out would do romantics-at-heart any favors particularly. I read the last sentence with a sigh and a smile. Isn’t that what we’re really after…after all? **4 out of 5 stars**

July 15, 2020

If I Never Met You

by Mhairi McFarland

This book was an absolute delight from first to last. I enjoyed every page of it. It was the best. I listened to the first half on audio narrated by Sara Novak and she was just fantastic. The Manchester accent made Laurie, our heroine, even more lovable, and the humor even funnier. Brilliant. About Laurie. What a pleasure to have a heroine be a strong, smart, successful and respected, funny woman of strong moral character from first to last. Too often, even my favorite authors(Mhairi M. included) start their off heroines weak, subservient, blind, and foolish in order to make their growth curve more dramatic. Laurie is done wrong and hurt by men in her life, but she never lets it get the better of her. She was a star even though she does have some growing and learning to do.

And it was a great, clean, romance. All about the chemistry, friendship to love, and the journey. It was so funny, but it had a lot to say about friends, office politics, sexism, family, judging by appearances, and so much more. It had me crying, angry, cheering, and laughing out loud. Our hero Jamie was revealed step by step, getting more and more worthy of Laurie and more admirable and appealing every step of the way. He doesn’t change, but we learn more about him. By the end, I didn’t want it to end. It could have really used an epilogue. It’s my only criticism.
This isn’t the best review I ever wrote, but it is one of the best done romantic comedies I have ever read. This author stands with the best in business. **5 stars out of 5**

July 6, 2020

It’s Not Me, It’s You

by Mhairi McFarland

Uncovering an affair wasn’t a one big fact headline story. It was like Matroyshka dolls, lies inside lies inside lies.

Mhairi McFarlane is a master at creating lovable interesting female heroines and matching them up with intriguing mysterious men that they have tons of chemistry with. Her secondary characters are complex and unusual: In this one there is a plethora. There is her best friend Emma, a brilliant lawyer who looks like Marilyn Monroe. “They think they’re dealing with Shirley Temple and discover it’s more Temple of Doom.” The internet troll that turns out to be her true friend and a hero (the progression of their friendship and the mystery of who he is is a source of anticipation and suspense.) Delia’s brother Ralph: “Who would have thought I could care so much about an overweight gamer who still lives at home, and fries food for a living?” Adam, a ruthless blackmailer who turns into a love interest. Talk about a turnaround! And it made sense! Even Paul, the Cheating Cheater from Cheatville, turns out to have goodness in him. And even the “other woman”. And Kurt, an evil and dangerous boss even gets off some funny lines and is a source of humor, particularly in a hilarious restaurant scene. “‘Fuckin’ troublemakers. If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did He make them out of meat?’ Our heroine’s development and appeal rests with her interactions with all of these supporting players.

Best of all besides the humor, intriguing characters, nailbiting intrigue, lovely romance, and will she or won’t she what will she do? suspense, there is some genuine wisdom and insights into the nature of relationships and other things.
My only criticism is with Delia’s motivations for compromising her integrity to keep a crap job.

Left alone with the last inch of her beer, Delia took stock. She was working for a principle-free sexual harasser who’d spy on and threaten young members of staff he’d sacked, invent cancers, suicides and sex tapes for the press and plotted to throw clients overboard if his machinations were exposed. Not quite what she’d hoped and dreamed for her new life in the capital. Delia was ashamed it had taken her so long to realize what she had to do.

Not half as ashamed as we are at her. Not good in a heroine you want to root for. Even at the end, when she has partially redeemed herself I was still questioning “why?”. This book was jam-packed with characters and plot-lines and I was fascinated by every single one. including the fictional fiction character of The Fox. **4 1/2 stars out of 5**

March 21, 2020

Here’s Looking at You

by Mhairi McFarlane

She thought seeing James again at work was a taunt from God, but what if it was a useful nudge from Him Above? Go. Look upon this creature and realise that really, him and his people aren’t all that.

It was authentically terrifying to think you could do so much damage to another human being, and then mentally store it away in the attic. Imagine if he’d never met her again? If he ever had kids, they’d have a Don’t Be Mean talk from him that’d involve a PowerPoint presentation.

Here’s Looking at You, is another gem by Mhairi McFarlane. Anna is a beautiful, successful, intelligent, kind, and funny history professor who is still living her life in the shadow of her miserable experience as a fat and ugly teenager who was unmercifully tormented and bullied by her peers. Her lowest point which has haunted her for years is when the golden boy she had a crush on took a leading role in her Carrie-like humiliation in front of the whole school. The book takes off when she meets him again, begins working with him professionally and he doesn’t recognize her. The book is told from both Anna’s and James’s points of view as per the two quotes above..

What made this book stand out from the typical ugly duckling story is that although James is certainly handsome, he is no prince. We know from Anna’s flashback that he was a shallow jerk as a teenager and although he has matured, he has continued to value the wrong things in life. He has a lot of changing and growing yet to do before he is worthy of being the “hero” in this story. Yet, we know from his voice and the comparison to his spoiled cold wife and his predator-like best friend that he has a good heart. I was very disappointed in him at one point and wondered how he was ever going to redeem himself in Anna’s eyes and my eyes. I credit the author for rescuing the character, not in one grand gesture, but a series of decisions and self-revelations. And a heck of a telling off courtesy of Anna. Please forgive Anna’s language here, but she is really mad. It’s not typical.

‘I don’t care if you’ve changed or not. Because I’ve changed. Because I don’t let superficial dickheads get to me anymore.’ James grimaced. ‘That’s harsh, Anna.’ She was finally riled. She felt the kind of raging hurt that swelled behind the chest wall and travelled up the throat and out of the mouth in the form of ugly words. ‘That’s harsh?! Try five years of daily hell topped with a public demonstration that a whole school-full of people hate you, James…Every night I poured it all into my diary, great screeds of misery. I promised myself that one day I would get away. That the time would come when I’d never have to see any of you fuckers again. And by being friends with you, I’m betraying that girl. That’s why I don’t want to be friends. You didn’t want to be friends back then. But you do now, now that the very sight of me isn’t an embarrassment. Well, I don’t want to know you. What did you call that, “harsh”? Why don’t you try to pick up the shattered pieces of your life and limp on?’

That’s just a snippet. **Spoiler**At the end of her tirade, James finally realizes the extent of her damaged childhood and the strong character she had to have to bounce back from it. Anna herself is finally cleansed of the last vestiges. **end spoiler**

Mhairi’s characterizations of all the players are detailed, layered, and complex. I’ve read three books by Ms McFarlane now and all have been different; not fitting the same template that similar authors seem to sometimes get stuck in. Some of the reviews have noted the similarities between this novel and Pride and Prejudice. Although the plot is different, there are some parallels in the characters. I can see that maybe it is a homage to that classic novel, or the author just having some fun. Funny, interesting, briskly paced, and heart-tugging, I was “all in” every page of the way. **5 stars out of 5**

January 31, 2020

You Had Me at Hello

By Mhairi McFarlane

** spoiler alert ** This was a very well-written entertaining book. Mhairi McFarlane has a voice similar to Milly Johnson and Kristan Higgins. I did like it and will definitely be reading more novels by her. Ben and Rachel became friends and really soulmates minus the romance in college. We know they fell apart mysteriously. This is a double timeline story between the present, as Rachel is breaking up with her boyfriend of 13 years and meeting Ben again alternating with the past story of Ben and Rachel’s early friendship, leading up to how they broke apart. We become involved with Rachel’s friends and her career as a court reporter. Both the two timelines are engaging. Are you sensing a “but”? You would be right. Although I liked Rachel, her self delusion and passive approach to her life were irritating.

It was a decision by default. Which is how you seem to make your decisions, by not making them. They happen to you.’ The justice of this hits me like a tin of Spam in a swinging sock. I want to contradict it, with every bone in my body and fiber of my being, but sometimes, there’s not enough fresh evidence to appeal….”That’s going to be on your headstone. Here Lies Rachel Woodford. Not Intentionally.”

This is near the end of the book when we have seen this played out time after time throughout. This also plays out in her self deluded “innocent” involvement with the now married Ben. The reader knows she is playing with fire but she never has the moral backbone to see the truth and do the courageous difficult thing. It also applies to an ethical crisis in her career. She is a lying liar from lieville to herself and others. We never see her change and grow and do better. We can only hope. She has spent her adult life with a guy who was bad for her and not worthy of her. She only breaks up with him when she forced to. And it is not at all certain she will not go back to him. In fact it is not at all certain with whom she will end up or if she will end up with anyone at all. It is finally resolved in the last chapter and I felt her happy ending was just tacked on and I’m not sure she deserves it. She certainly didn’t earn it. **3 stars out of 5**

December 1, 2019

Don’t You Forget About Me

By Mhairi McFarlane

But I did win. For the first time, I’m not scared of the future. I want to use its potential. Words saved me. My words.

What a great book! A perfect mix of fun and funny with depth and serious issues. I teared up a couple of times and cheered a couple of times. Georgina and Lucas are two of the most intriguing and likable couples I’ve come across lately. Although Georgina’s life has been stunted both personally and professionally by two traumatic experiences, she is never a victim. She is strong and smart even though she has to tackle some challenges in order to lead her best life. One of which is a stalker ex-boyfriend. Troublesome scary Exs have been very prevalent in the novels I’ve been reading lately. Just an observation.

Lucas is a heartthrob but mysterious. He is revealed to have hidden depths and more than worthy of our Georgina, who I came to really love as a character. He is responsible for what I think is one of the most romantic passages I’ve read ever. I can’t say more. I’ve read a few reviews where the reader did not think that the book was romantic. I couldn’t disagree more. Okay. I guess if all you want from a romance is sexy scenes and if when and how the couple is going to seal the deal, then maybe this is not your kind of romance.

The author wisely keeps us wondering about a couple of things: the mystery of Lucas not remembering his steady girl in high school, and what has been holding Georgina, a talented writer, back for the last 12 years. The book is peopled with great secondary characters both family and friends. I love when characters other than the MCs have important parts and show some change and development. Just an excellent book. I got this from the library, but have already purchased a 3 pack of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous novels. None are rated as highly as this one, but she is such a good writer, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone who loves Kristan Higgins, Milly Johnson, or Sophie Kinsella. **5 stars out of 5**

October 12, 2019