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:

To
THE READER
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

I DEDICATE THIS ONE
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

A TABLE NEAR THE BAND
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 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 Newcomer

The NewcomerThe Newcomer
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250256966
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Pages: 440
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

After she discovers her sister Tanya dead on the floor of her fashionable New York City townhouse, Letty Carnahan is certain she knows who did it: Tanya’s ex; sleazy real estate entrepreneur Evan Wingfield. Even in the grip of grief and panic Letty heeds her late sister’s warnings: “If anything bad happens to me—it’s Evan. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

So Letty grabs her sister’s Mercedes and hits the road with her wailing four-year-old niece Maya. Letty is determined to out-run Evan and the law, but run to where? Tanya, a woman with a past shrouded in secrets, left behind a “go-bag” of cash and a big honking diamond ring—but only one clue: a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town with the improbable name of Treasure Island. She sheds her old life and checks into an uncertain future at The Murmuring Surf Motel.

And that’s the good news. Because The Surf, as the regulars call it, is the winter home of a close-knit flock of retirees and snowbirds who regard this odd-duck newcomer with suspicion and down-right hostility. As Letty settles into the motel’s former storage room, she tries to heal Maya’s heartache and unravel the key to her sister’s shady past, all while dodging the attention of the owner’s dangerously attractive son Joe, who just happens to be a local police detective. Can Letty find romance as well as a room at the inn—or will Joe betray her secrets and put her behind bars? With danger closing in, it’s a race to find the truth and right the wrongs of the past.


 

The absolute latest by Mary Kay Andrews (I told you I needed post-op easy reads), save for the somewhat disappointing novella The Santa Suit, and reading this I could almost believe Andrews has found her groove again.  It’s another mystery/romance in the same vein as The Weekenders but written a lot more smoothly with a much easier flow.  Andrews is still using multiple POVs, and they start off a bit clunky – this might be an editing issue, as I think bolder title timelines/location identifiers might have helped.  Once established though, the POVs worked smoothly, and Andrews played some small mind-games with the reader, introducing possibly unreliable narratives once or twice.  Again, a little clunky, but mostly effective.

The story is about the murder of the MC’s sister, which = mystery, but really, there’s no mystery about who killed her, just whether or not justice will be served.  That means that it’s less about investigating and more about case building, leading to some over-the-top antics that you’d like to believe are totally unrealistic, but just might not be.

I’ve read a lot of Andrews’ work now – not all of it, but enough to feel confident saying she really doesn’t write romance in the sense that the reader is swept away.  The male mc’s are mostly ‘good’ guys, but there’s not a one of them I can remember thinking I’d date him. At the end, I’m happy for the MC, but not bowled over by her HEA.

This is a beach-read worth reading; or, if you’re luck runs like mine does recently, a good solid yet light read to loll away the hours when confined to your bed.  Enough to keep you interested, not enough to tax your pain-meds-addled mind.

The Weekenders

The WeekendersThe Weekenders
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250065940
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Pages: 451
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Some people come only for the weekends-and it's something they look forward to all week long. When Riley Griggs is waiting for her husband to arrive at the ferry one Friday afternoon, she is instead served with papers informing her that her island home is being foreclosed. To make matters worse, her husband is nowhere to be found.

She turns to her island friends for help and support, but each of them has their own secrets and the clock is ticking as the mystery deepens. Cocktail parties and crab boil aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.


 

As I’ve said elsewhere recently, I’ve found Mary Kay Andrews’ last few years of output to be hit or miss, with more closer to ‘miss’ than ‘hit’, but she’s been setting her stories in Florida, and the type of stories she writes is a known quantity and, well, hope springs eternal.

So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to see that The Weekenders was much closer to hit than her recent average.  In might be in part because this story revolves around a mystery (Andrews used to write murder mysteries under the name Kathy Trojek, if I remember correctly), but even without the mystery co-plot, it’s a much more solid story than quite a few in her list.  There’s decent character development of both the MC and the side characters, including her spoiled brat of a daughter.

I was tickled when the ‘grand reveal’ of the murderer was done; not only did I not see it coming, but the way Andrews did it was a little bit inspired.

The romance was … choppy.  I liked the romantic interest well enough, though he wasn’t memorable, but the MC’s flaws (or the flaws in the writing of the MC) shined in the romantic co-plot.  She was too hot-and-cold without sufficient (for me) justification to make me believe or support it.

The book was still a pretty uneven effort for Andrews, even if it was vastly more enjoyable than others; while the main POV is the MCs, we do occasionally get POVs from other characters; some of them made complete sense, but some of them did not.  A few times we get her BFF’s POV and it made me think there was a story there but it just sort of never happened.  Those POV sections could have been omitted entirely and absolutely nothing would have been lost.

Overall, I was looking for a post-op distraction that didn’t require too much thinking through the haze of pain-killers, and I got that, plus a story that kept me reading because I wanted to, not just because it was what was in front of me.

Hello, Summer

Hello, SummerHello, Summer
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250272195
Publication Date: April 27, 2021
Pages: 472
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat—and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman—a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.


 

Mary Kay Andrews has been really hit or miss for me the last few years, with a couple of very average efforts, and one downright bomb coming across my shelves, but Hissy Fit is one of my favourite reads, so I keep coming back for more.

I found Hello Summer at the library and I expected another meh read, but I find myself in the mood for the quirky characters and the Southern setting she writes in, so I sat down with it thinking I’d set the appropriate expectations.

And found myself a little bit surprised.  It’s chock full of the quirky characters, and the North Florida setting is par for the course; it’s definitely not up to Hissy Fit standards, but it’s also a lot better than her other recent efforts I’ve read.  There’s a bit of mystery here, a very solid plot, and although the book is labeled “romance”, I think romance readers would be disappointed.  There is a romance, but it’s really back-burner stuff – the congressman’s death is always front-and-center.

The story starts slow, and much like her most recent release, The Santa Suit, the character does not come across sympathetically.  Fortunately for Hello Summer, it had about 350 pages more to make Conley (the MC) relatable.  I was feeling ambivalent about her and the book until the  car wreck/death occurred, but from there the story hooked me.

Still, this was not a great book.  It might have been a great book, had the characters been better developed, something that might have been possible had there been fewer of them, and better editing overall.  I found at least half a dozen inconsistencies spread out in the story that jarred me out of scenes, and what little romance there was felt lukewarm at best.

I went 3.5 stars because the plot was really good.  Had this been a first book, I’d even be a little gushy about it.  But it’s not even a 10th book and I know Andrews is capable of much better writing; she’s certainly had enough practice.

I have another couple of her recent titles, and this one was good enough that I’ll keep on reading and hoping.