Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?Are We Having Fun Yet?
by Lucy Mangan
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781788161084
Publication Date: November 1, 2021
Pages: 303
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Souvenir Press

From the deep rage of knowing where to find every single thing your husband is looking for to the joy of a friend's longed-for pregnancy, here is the pleasurable stab of fellow feeling you get over drinks with friends. Liz records her ups and downs, including the love of a good cat (up), not being able to find a babysitter (secret up) and the question of what 'we' really means when it comes to fixing the dishwasher (definitely, definitely down).

Spiky, charming and most of all loving, it's a hilarious skewering of the sweetness and nightmare that is modern family life.

This book is the literary equivalent of those visual illusions that psychologists try to hang meaning on depending on what you see – like the one that’s either an old woman or a candlestick.  Or is it an old woman / young woman?  Anyway, whatever, you know what I mean.

As someone who is voluntarily childless, this book was a hilarious – and I mean laugh-out-loud hilarious – justification that my decision to stick with the furry and feathered walks of life, rather than replicating my own DNA, was the right decision for me (and MT, who came to the same decision long before we met).  Her kids are hysterical, but they’re hard work and are constantly opening up avenues of conversation that I’d hurt myself to avoid having.  Mangen’s descriptions of child birth should be required reading in human development classes as psychological birth control.  I was made to be an Aunt.

There was another – unintended, I’m certain – consequence this book had for me, one that is again tied, I’m equally certain, to our choice to stick with non-human family members, and that’s the lack of suppressed rage that lies as an undercurrent in Liz and Richard’s marriage, that I recognise in the marriages of my friends with children.  It’s not all chocolates and roses here at chez zoo by a long shot, but without the stress and pressure of making new humans that will hopefully treat the world better than we have, MT and I have experienced more fun than festering resentment.  Of course, I also recognise the near-miracle that he’s one of the 1 in 100,000 men who seem to have been raised without the ingrained gender biases and learned helplessness most are saddled with when it comes to matters of home keeping.  Still, the book really gave me a few moments of “do you really appreciate how lucky you are? really, truly?“, which I think constitutes healthy self-reflection.

Putting all that aside, I have to figure out how to get my sister-in-law to read this, because, as the mother of 2, she will appreciate this book for all the opposite reasons: because Lucy Mangen wrote her truth, and she will laugh as she nods her neck stiff in righteous agreement of the trials and tribulations of an all-human family of 4.

I read so much of this out loud to MT (honestly, it’s almost been a nightly story-time around here lately) that he actually insisted I rate this 4.5 stars.  As he said, it made us both laugh out loud and the writing was excellent (which gives you an indication of how much I read out loud; he was able to judge the quality of the writing).  I’d been thinking more 4 stars, but since he put up with all the reading out loud, I acquiesced.

If you need a laugh, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Don’t Tell Alfred

Don't Tell AlfredDon't Tell Alfred
by Nancy Mitford
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1960
Pages: 248
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Fanny Wincham—last seen as a young woman in The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate—has lived contentedly for years as housewife to an absent-minded Oxford don, Alfred. But her life changes overnight when her beloved Alfred is appointed English Ambassador to Paris.

Soon she finds herself mixing with royalty and Rothschilds while battling her hysterical predecessor, Lady Leone, who refuses to leave the premises. When Fanny’s tender-hearted secretary begins filling the embassy with rescued animals and her teenage sons run away from Eton and show up with a rock star in tow, things get entirely out of hand. Gleefully sending up the antics of mid-century high society, Don’t Tell Alfred is classic Mitford.

Oh this was a lot of fun.  Ostensibly the third book of the series that includes Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, it’s been so many years since I read the first two that I barely remember the important characters, but it made not a lick of difference.  Don’t Tell Alfred takes place 30 years after the events of the first two books, and anybody who is still alive is almost too different to recognise anyway.

Fanny is now the main character, rather than just the narrator, but it seems she’s also a helpless bystander in the three ring circus her life has become when Alfred becomes the Ambassador to France.  One hilarious calamity after the other – most involving her extended family, if not her own children – has her scurrying to keep one step ahead of the chaos, and if not one step ahead, arranging the fall out so that Alfred comes out looking his best.

Not quite under the surface of these calamities – it bubbles up regularly throughout the story – is every parents lament over their childrens’ avowal to reject every principle they were ever taught.  This being the late 50’s, the rejection is, as the age of Aquarius looms, that much more outsized and outrageous.

Throughout the narrative, Mitford takes potshots in turns at the British, the French and, of course, the Americans (I’m pretty sure it’s a national sport in the UK); about the only country to come out unscathed from her pen are the Irish, which she feels a rather lot of sympathy for.  It all reads as though it’s meant in good fun and it adds to the often manic laughs.

So far, Mitford is 3 for 3; I have a couple of her other titles on my TBR and I’m curious how well the humor will hold with a whole new cast of characters.

Miss Benson’s Beetle

Miss Benson's BeetleMiss Benson's Beetle
by Rachel Joyce
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 0857521993
Publication Date: June 11, 2020
Pages: 389
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

Margery Benson's life ended the day her father walked out of his study and never came back. Forty years later, abandoning a dull job, she advertises for an assistant. The successful candidate is to accompany Margery on an expedition to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty is not who she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all Margery's expectations, eventually finding new life at the top of a red mountain.

This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story and it is also a tender exploration of a friendship between two unforgettable women that defies all boundaries.

My rating is not an accurate portrayal of the quality of the book, my rating is an accurate portrayal of my enjoyment of the book.

I say this because it’s not the book I thought it was going to be.  That’s entirely on me, because I’ve read another of her books and I should have known better.  But I got sucked into the summary about the expedition in search of a golden beetle, and allowed myself to be seduced by images of New Caledonia, beetle hunting, and elusive orchids (which depend on the golden beetle, of course).

This was not that book.  This is a wonderfully written book about deeply flawed and lonely people who come together under the guise of searching for the golden beetle.  Also motherhood, mental breakdowns and devastating nutritional deficiencies.  There’s a lot of baggage in this book and very little of it is related to the beetle expedition.

They do make it to New Caledonia and they do hunt for beetles; those moments were the best parts for me, but they were all too brief.  For the rest of it, I just kept thinking this was Thelma and Louise Get on a Ship.

This book is a lesson in the power of titles, covers and summaries.  I have a friend who wouldn’t look twice at this book, and it is perfect for her; if I can get her to read it, she’s going to love it.  Whereas I, who thought everything about the ‘wrappings’ of the book screamed “this is the book for you!”, found it to be not at all what I expected and was a little disappointed.

That does not mean it’s not a good book; it’s an excellently written book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a book about emotionally broken people persevering and finding their happiness.  It’s just not the book I was looking for.

A Table Near the Band

A Table Near the BandA Table Near the Band
by A.A. Milne
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1950
Pages: 223
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Methuen

It’s not often that a collection of stories comes along that doesn’t have a mix of average, above-average and maybe a couple of bombs.  When I wrote my reading status update for A Table Near the Band I didn’t really have a lot of confidence that the stories would continue to be the same high-quality delight that the first two proved to be – what would be the chances?  Imagine my surprise to find that, with the exception of 1 story, the entire collection never failed to surprise, entertain and charm.

I have to start first with the dedication, because it made me laugh:

Whose weekly parcel from the Library has included
this or that book, either because it has been re-
commended by a friend or because the author’s
previous work has recommended itself:
Who has flipped through the pages in happy anticipa-
tion and found that it is a book of short stories :
Who has said disappointedly
“Oh! short stories, and
has put it aside and settled down to one of the
other books

At the same time pointing out to her that completely
revealing titles which are both attractive and as
yet unused are hard to come by, and that after all
one should expect

to offer a view of other tables, at each one of which
some story may well be in the making.

How often have I done this to myself – buying a book thinking it a story only to find it’s a collection of them.  Thankfully, this was not one of those books, but one I did buy on the strength of A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A list of the stories, with individual ratings and a sentence worth of blurb follows:

A Table Near the Band: 5 stars.  The titular story and a short comedy of … not errors, but a neat encapsulation of the foibles of both genders.  Neither side comes out looking good, but it’s light and amusing.

The Prettiest Girl in the Room: 5 stars.  This one starts out sad and depressing, but midway through turns into a sweet, generous tale that manages to warm the heart without the saccharine side-effects.

A Man Greatly Beloved: 5 stars. I was completely knocked back by this story; it starts off quietly and as though it could be predictable, although the narrator’s voice has an unintended cheekiness to it that is amusing.  The story than abruptly turns into an altogether different animal that leaves the reader foundering a bit, but Milne closes the story as gracefully as can be imagined.

The Rise and Fall of Mortimer Scrivens: 5 stars.  An epistolary short story that had me laughing at the ‘villain’s’ comeuppance, done in a way that really only British humour can pull off.

Christmas Party: 4.5 stars.  Family holidays from an untapped perspective, but which one anyone part of a married couple has experienced, and Milne delivers on the ultimate irony of the perpetual perception of the importance of family togetherness.

The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater: 4 stars.  Disturbing.  Well-written but with an ending that leaves the reader both crying deus ex machina! and floundering with judgement of the character.

The River: 4 stars.  This one was well-written but an odd duck.  The premise – the power of a powerful coincidence – works well enough, but given the reader knows the ultimate end of the story from almost the beginning, it fails to have the power it might have had under different circumstances.

Murder at Eleven: 3 stars.  The weakest, by far, of all the stories and a murder mystery, but a transparent one.  Luckily, it’s short.

A Rattling Good Yarn: 5 stars.  A humorous tale about how revenge can be subtle and still be sweet.

Portrait of Lydia: 4 stars.  Another mystery, but better written; the reader knows there’s something hinky but doesn’t get all the details until the end, when the protagonist finds out years later.

The Wibberly Touch: 4.5 stars. I want to call this another ironic story, but I’m not sure it is; it’s obvious that Milne writes with a satiric pen about a character that’s not nearly as suave or as good as he thinks he is, but the reader is left thinking he’s an ass, but is a really a dishonest one?

Before the Flood: 4.5 stars.  Not a morality tale, but a different perspective on the events proceeding the great biblical flood.  Told with humor, but not with disrespect.

The Balcony: 5 stars. This one is the most theological and not necessarily one that a lot of people would consider good, but it resonated with me a great deal because Milne plays with the average person’s overly simplified idea of judgement and heaven.  It’s a short piece but it balances angst and hope reasonably well, leaving an ending that is up to the reader to decide.

From a strictly mathematical point of view, the collection is not quite 4.5 stars, but I rounded up in acknowledgement of a collection that I never shied away from picking back up.  Milne wasn’t just a gifted children’s author, but a gifted author, capable of charming both young and old.

Reading Status: A Table Near the Band

A Table Near the BandA Table Near the Band
by A.A. Milne
Publication Date: January 1, 1950
Pages: 223
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Methuen

I grabbed this book as a counter-balance to Einstein’s War, and while I’m only 30 pages and 2 stories in, it’s charming so far!  A.A. Milne has given me a wry and humorous story and a sweet one that manages to be sweet without being saccharine or overly sentimental.  If the rest of the stories are this good this collection will be a treasure.

The Enchanted April

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April
by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1922
Pages: 204
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Folio Society

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, cowed and neglected by their husbands, make a daring plan: they will have a holiday. Leaving a drab and rainy London one April and arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean, they discover a flower-filled paradise of beauty, warmth and leisure. Joined by the beautiful Lady Caroline and domineering Mrs Fisher, also in flight from the burdens of their daily lives, the four women proceed to transform themselves and their prospects.

I liked this book way more than I should have. Arnim’s ability to write a single moment right into the ground is admirable in a contrary sort of way – I mean, entire pages dedicated to describing one brief span of time, and it’s very stream-of-consciousness at times as well.  And Lotty, who starts off realistic if a bit pathetic, opens her eyes her first morning in Italy and turns into a character Disney himself would envy.  The only thing missing was somebody singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.  And the ending is the shallowest, basest, most unrealistic Happily Ever After I’ve ever read.  How is Frederick going to explain that unopened letter when he and Rose go home?

But in spite of all of this, the book was as enchanting as its title.  Were I but rich and idle, instead of just temporarily idle, I’d have jumped a plane for Italy before I got so much as 100 pages in.  Arnim wrote such a backdrop for these women that it was hard not to smell the wisteria as it dropped its accumulated rain drops on your head.  Even the castle, which Arnim spent little time describing overall, felt lived in.  And in spite of all the faffing stream-of-consciousness and Lotty’s Disney-esque departure from reality-land, I found myself liking, or at least sympathising with, all four women.  The men … not so much.  Even though they were supposed to have been ‘saved by love’ (ugh!), I still found Wilkins a condescending, pompous ass, Frederick pathetic, and Briggs a massive disappointment.  Somebody should have slapped that boy upside his head.

Arnim was a gifted writer, creating characters with a lot of character, so to speak, but she really shines – is absolutely brilliant – when it comes to writing about gardens, so I suspect that when I remember The Enchanted April it will be the gardens of San Salvatore that come through best and most vividly.

NB: I read the Folio Society Edition from 2002, and it included the most charming colour illustrations; they perfectly complemented the text.

The Last Bookshop in London

The Last Bookshop in LondonThe Last Bookshop in London
by Madeline Martin
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9781867231912
Publication Date: June 2, 2021
Pages: 300
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Harlequin

Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.

August 1939: London is dismal under the weight of impending war with Germany as Hitler’s forces continue to sweep across Europe. Into this uncertain maelstrom steps Grace Bennett, young and ready for a fresh start in the bustling city streets she’s always dreamed of — and miles away from her troubled past in the countryside.

With aspirations of working at a department store, Grace never imagined she’d wind up employed at Primrose Hill, an offbeat bookshop nestled in the heart of the city — after all, she’s never been much of a reader. Overwhelmed with organizing the cluttered store, she doesn’t have time to read the books she sells. But when one is gifted to her, what starts as an obligation becomes a passion that draws her into the incredible world of literature.

As the Blitz rains down bombs on the city night after night, a devastating attack leaves the libraries and shops of London’s literary center in ruins. Miraculously, Grace’s bookshop survives the firestorm. Through blackouts and air raids, Grace continues running the shop, discovering a newfound comfort in the power of words and storytelling that unites her community in ways she never imagined — a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of war-torn London.

(I read this last year, but somehow missed copying over the review to my blog.)

This is what my brain looks like on sleeping meds, and why it’s never a good idea to book shop under the influence.

To be fair, this looked like it should have been a good book for me.  It’s about a bookshop, it’s an historical WWII setting, and it’s not a romance, though I did pause when I saw that it’s published by Harlequin.  And the story does have its compelling moments; enough of them that I didn’t DNF it.

Unfortunately, the writing is not sophisticated and the whole tone of the book could best be summed up as the print version of a Hallmark Movie.  That’s not me dissing Hallmark Movies – they’re just not my personal jam.  Too emotional, too sweet, too earnest, too …too for my overly analytical preferences.

Full credit, however, for the vivid descriptions of the bombing raids on London.  They were almost, though not quite, visceral.  And I throughly enjoyed most of the bookshop scenes as Grace rehabbed a stuffy, dusty bookshop into a social hub for the neighborhood.

Sunrise by the Sea

Sunrise by the SeaSunrise by the Sea
by Jenny Colgan
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780751580341
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Pages: 356
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Sphere

When she is given the opportunity to move to a remote tidal island off the Cornish Coast, Marisa Rossi decides some peace and quiet might be just what she needs.

Since the death of her beloved grandfather back in Italy, she's been struggling to find a way out of her grief. Perhaps this will be the perfect place for her to recuperate.

But Mount Polbearne is a far cry from the sleepy little place she was imagining. Between her noisy piano-teaching Russian neighbour and the hustle and bustle of a busy community, Marisa finds solitude is not so easy to come by. Especially when she finds herself somehow involved with a tiny local bakery desperately in need of some new zest to save it . . .

Not at all the book I was expecting, but an interesting one.  There’s an “outro” at the end of the book by the author, explaining how it wasn’t quite the book she expected it to be either, and explains why.

Without spoiling the author’s attempt to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say this is a book about long-term grief and how it can turn into something altogether different and how Marisa finds her way out of it with the help of a small Cornish island.  Colgan addresses agoraphobia and how it tears Marisa away from her family and friends as she becomes ever increasingly isolated.  How her roommate kicks her out for being such a drag and she finds a home on a tidal island off the Cornish Coast that’s a perfect hideaway for Marisa, except for the Russian piano instructor living next door who teaches and practices all hours of the day and night.  Between the Russian, her therapist and her Nonna back in italy (the latter two converse with her via Skype/Zoom), she slowly finds ways to break the cycle of isolation and reconnect with people.

This is a book that manages to be neither perky nor heavy; respect is given to Marisa’s struggles without drowning the reader in it.  It’s light without being fluffy.  There’s obviously a back story with the secondary characters; I’m assuming this is part of a series that takes place on this island, but it never interfered, or left me feeling as though I missed something.  I’m guessing Sunrise by the Sea is marketed as a romance, but I’d argue against it.  There’s a romantic connection at then end but the rest of the book is about Marisa’s recovery with occasional side-forays into the financial struggles of Polly and Huckle (whom I’m assuming starred in a previous book).

An enjoyable read – not quite what I was looking for, but it held my attention nonetheless.

The Sentence

The SentenceThe Sentence
by Louise Erdrich
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472157003
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Pages: 387
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls' Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading 'with murderous attention,' must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day 2019 and ends on All Souls' Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

What an extraordinary read.  From first page to last I was awed and riveted.  There was a lot of pain in this book, but Erdrich never overwhelmed the story or the reader with it; there was humor subtly woven through the words like sweetgrass, but it never took over.  The angst – something I’m not normally keen to read about – was authentic, and both was and wasn’t a focus of the story.

It seems that I can only be swayed to read literary fiction when there’s a ghost involved.  First Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and now The Sentence.  Neither has let me down or made me regret my choice, but I think I might like The Sentence more, even though I rated it half a star lower.  Lincoln in the Bardo was often difficult to read as the human condition was a little too magnified, human and on display to really enjoy it.  But the structure just blew me away.  The Sentence has a traditional narrative structure, and I became invested in the characters’ lives and cared what happened to them, although Tookie’s journey to prison is, while shortly told, both painful and painfully funny.

There are really two, maybe three, stories in this book.  The Sentence begins with the aftermath of Flora’s death and her initial haunting of the bookshop, all of which happens in November 2019.  As the season and the months progress so, too, does Flora’s haunting, seeming to focus on Tookie more than anyone else, and escalating in alarming ways.

Then as 2020 progresses into that fateful March, another story takes over – the story of the pandemic; how it crept up on people and suddenly exploded on the scene in a flurry of hand-washing, sanitisers, and food hoarding.  Stay-at-home orders.  Keeping the bookstore, Birchbark books open.  At this point, I think, this story becomes more fictography, and Flora’s ghost fades to almost nothingness as the narrative is about surviving, staying open, staying safe.

And then George Floyd is murdered by a policeman in broad daylight.  Now the story becomes a fictitious memoir, but only in the sense that the names have changed.  This is the Native American perspective of the riots and it’s about as an effective narrative of the pain, anguish, anger, frustration, bitterness, hope, and need to heal as any I’ve read.  It is the hardest part of the book to read.

As Minneapolis puts things back together, Flora comes back to the forefront of the plot again.  These last few chapters were still beautifully written but it’s this part of the story that kept me from going to the full 5 stars.  The ‘solution’ to Flora’s haunting seems suddenly abrupt; their idea for her release seems to come out of nowhere, although it’s totally in keeping with the theme of the book.  The characters don’t know there’s a theme, so how did they suddenly get from what are were going to do? to wait! I know what she wants! ?  There’s no progression here, so it feels bolt-of-lightning-from-the-blue-ish.  And then the revelation Tookie has that does banish Flora.  I know exactly what Erdrich was trying to do, and I know exactly to what earlier part of the story she was trying to tie it to, but it was clumsily done.  I was left floundering for several paragraphs, and even when the ‘denouement’ came, it failed to have the emotional impact it should have had – I feel Erdrich missed a step that kept the reader from feeling the full power of the gut punch we’re meant to feel.

It doesn’t really matter though – this is a read that will remain with me, and one I want to talk about with everybody I come into contact with.  A damn good story.

The Christmas Bookshop

The Christmas BookshopThe Christmas Bookshop
by Jenny Colgan
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780751584240
Publication Date: October 6, 2021
Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Sphere

Carmen has always worked in her local department store. So, when the gorgeous old building closes its doors for good, she is more than a little lost.
When her sister, Sofia, mentions an opportunity in Edinburgh - a cute little bookshop, the spare room in her house - Carmen is reluctant, she was never very good at accepting help. But, short on options, she soon finds herself pulling into the snowy city just a month before Christmas.
What Sofia didn't say is that the shop is on its last legs and that if Carmen can't help turn things around before Christmas, the owner will be forced to sell. Privately, Sofia is sure it will take more than a miracle to save the store, but maybe this Christmas, Carmen might surprise them all...

I know – I’m a little over a month late to be reading this book, but I’ve found myself in dire need of comfort reads.  We’re in the middle of a very unusual, almost 10 day long, heatwave that’s making my smashed leg and foot swell up worse than is to be expected.  I’m living on ice packs and in a state of constant … not pain, but discomfort.  So I need to be entertained by something well-written enough to hold my attention while I constantly shift about in search of a new comfortable-for-five-minutes position.

This fit the bill very well – almost too well, as I saw midnight last night for the first time in months, engrossed in the story.  I’ve read two other Colgan books before, The Bookshop on the Corner, and The Bookshop on the Shore, and, story for story, I think I might have enjoyed them a little bit more, but that could just be the leg talking.  Edinburgh at Christmas sounds lovely, enchanting, chaotic, and with all the steps, my current nerve-exploding nightmare.  I’d have liked more page time devoted to the bookshop and it’s rebirth, rather than sister angst, or the silliness with the man-child author.  But I did appreciate that the sister angst had a solution that didn’t involve perfect-Sophia being anything less than perfect; I like that they both got to be happy being themselves with each other, without involving earth shattering life changes for either of them.  I enjoyed seeing Mr. McCredie come out of his shell, though I’d have loved to spend more time in that attic of his.

There’s a tiny hint of magical realism that’s too small to matter, but could have been explored a bit more.  The genre is listed as ‘romance’, and while, yes, there is a romance, it’s very, very light.  The focus is on the shop, and the sisters’ relationship, and the kids, and the MC’s pulling on her big girl knickers and growing up.  The development of the romance is saved for the very end, where it’s all massive epiphanies and mad dashes in snow storms, but that bit is over as quickly as it starts (the story part, not the romance part) and we end with everybody’s HEA.

All in all, a book that served its purpose.  So well, in fact, that I’m off explore her backlist a bit more in depth, to see if further relief can be found between the pages of her books.