Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Nora makes a living writing cheesy formulaic scripts for The Romance Channel. When her selfish and entitled husband finally leaves her, all she feels is relief. She writes about it and sells the script to Hollywood, and famous actor Leo Vance is playing the part of her ex husband. The film crew arrive to shoot a few scenes in the cosy writing retreat in her garden she calls the Tea House. She is surprised to find Leo has stayed behind when everyone else has left. He offers to rent the Tea House for a week to get away from the pressures of his fame.

Nora likes to watch the sunrise on her porch every morning, Leo joins her and they get to know each other better. His fascination with everyday life is both touching and hilarious. He wins over Nora, her children, Arthur and Bernadette, and everyone he meets in the local town. Inevitably, they fall in love, but just when all is going well a major misunderstanding puts everything in jeopardy.

A lot of the romance novels I have read recently have been a big disappointment. It is not easy to get it right. The story may have its flaws, but this can be overlooked if the characters and their mutual attraction are believable. Nora Goes Off Script is one of the good ones. The characters are well written and convincing, and the witty dialogue is an added bonus. Bearing in mind the ‘hero’ is a famous actor, the plot may be a touch unrealistic, but this is fiction, and I for one really enjoyed it.

The story is told entirely from Nora’s point of view, and we get to know all her thoughts and fears. She is a survivor and will be alright no matter what life throws at her. Arthur and Bernadette’s relationship with Leo contrasts with how their real father behaved towards them. The story is all the better for the inclusion, as children don’t often feature so prominently in books like this. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the film industry, and really wish I had a porch to watch the sunrise from. This is the first book by Annabel Monaghan that I have read, it’s her debut adult novel, and I’m really looking forward to what she writes next.     

The Curfew by TM Logan

The Curfew by TM Logan

To celebrate the end of their exams, Emily, Olivia, Drew, Connor and Zac go into the woods, but only four of them will make it out again. To begin with, it is not even clear which one of them has gone missing as Connor tries to cover up the fact that he has missed his curfew. The story is mainly told from his father Andy’s point of view, with occasional chapters by others, and flashbacks that gradually reveal the events of the night in question. As the story progresses and more details come to light, I changed my mind several times about who was responsible as the author lays false trails and peppers the narrative with red herrings galore.

The pace is a bit uneven, and the first half overly descriptive, but it picks up nicely as the ending approaches. A lot of topical subjects are covered in the narrative such as bullying, drink spiking, and the toxicity of social media and the press. The main focus is how the parents of teenagers can balance the need to give them more freedom with trying to keep them safe. The parents in The Curfew are all faced with the dilemma – how far would they go to protect their child?

This is the first book by TM Logan that I have read but it won’t be the last. The characters are well drawn and believable, even the less likeable ones. My favourite was Harriet, Connor’s younger sister, whose computer and detective skills were exceptional and helped to solve the case. Thanks to Zaffre and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo is a dark and disturbing story where the only positive thing is the fledgling relationship between Mungo and James. This is a world where the only thing seen to be worse than a relationship between a Catholic and a Protestant is if they also happen to be gay.  Mungo is only just beginning to realise that he is different from the other young men around him; he doesn’t fit in, but instead of trapping him this may turn out to be his salvation.

In some respects, this is a kind of sequel to Shuggie Bain in that the main character begins the book at about the same age as Shuggie was at the end. There are similarities and there are differences between the two stories. The setting is the same though time has moved on. This is a much bleaker story as Mungo faces daily the pressure to ‘man-up’ and behave like all the other young men around him. He remains loyal to his mother despite her behaviour. Unlike Shuggie’s mother Agnes, Mo-Maw has no saving graces – she is completely self-centered and often leaves her children to fend for themselves, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, as she goes in search of her own gratification.

The writing is excellent, the characters are well drawn, and the time and place are strongly evoked. The two main strands of the narrative are skillfully woven together. The fishing trip is imbued with a strong sense of foreboding right from the beginning, and gradually builds into a nightmarish scenario where Mungo will be tested to the limit. The ending is ambiguous but offers the possibility of hope. I have no idea if Douglas Stuart intends to write any more of Mungo’s story, but I would definitely be happy to read it. Despite the bleakness of this story, I was gripped and hoped that Mungo would escape the toxic masculinity and violence that was seen as the norm for young working-class men at that time. Thanks to Picador and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

The Meet Cute Method by Portia MacIntosh

The Meet Cute Method by Portia MacIntosh

I have read and enjoyed books by Portia MacIntosh before, but for some reason The Meet Cute Method just did not quite deliver. Frankie, a journalist who writes about dating and relationships, has a new boss who she must impress or she will be fired. She has the idea of writing an article about real life ‘meet cutes’ being better than dating apps, but her attempts are either dismal failures or a bit cringeworthy.

In the meantime, she meets Max in the lift at work and they seem to be getting on well. He invites her on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, which her boss is keen to exploit, but does not let on that it is a get-together for his extremely wealthy family until they arrive at the luxury resort. This is where the narrative does not quite work for me. It becomes obvious that Frankie cannot continue to set up meet cutes, while convincingly playing the part of Max’s fake fiancée. The main problem was that the relationship between Frankie and Max was not entirely convincing. The spent hardly any time together and, despite a promising start, the chemistry between them was underdeveloped.

The story is told entirely from Frankie’s point of view, but I found her quite hard to relate to. As a lot of the story is about Max’s difficult relationship with his family, I would have liked some chapters from his perspective. The descriptions of the Hawaiian setting are wonderfully evocative, and one of the best things about The Meet Cute Method – I would definitely love to visit that part of the world.

Ultimately, this was a pleasant enough read, but there were too many romance tropes fighting for space when one would have been enough. Thanks to NetGalley and Boldwood Books for a digital copy to review.

One Good Thing by Alexandra Potter

One Good Thing by Alexandra Potter

Liv’s husband has left her for his (much younger) yoga instructor. Needing a new start, she buys a run-down cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, where she spent many happy holidays with her grandparents. At first she feels lost and alone, wondering if she has made a huge mistake, when a chance encounter leads her to adopt a rescue dog called Harry. On their daily walks they meet Valentine who has shut himself away since his wife developed Alzheimer’s and had to go into a home, and eight-year-old Stanley who sees the world outside his gate as a noisy and scary place. Harry is the catalyst that enables them to engage with the wider world again. Liv may have rescued Harry, but Harry helps everyone else.

After a bit of a slow start, where I was not immediately gripped, the story picked up and I read the rest in one sitting. One Good Thing features a cast of well drawn and believable characters, and a photogenic setting in the vividly evoked Yorkshire countryside. There is a subtle balance between the sad and touching moments, and the fun and hilarity, but it is never overly sentimental. I particularly enjoyed the chaos of the house renovations, the day trip to Whitby, and the various outings Liv takes with Maya trying to help her prepare for her exams.

Having enjoyed a lot of Alexandra Potter’s earlier books, I thought I’d give One Good Thing a try. This is a more mature work where the sole focus of the narrative is not on a romantic relationship, but features a cast of characters who are all suffering in one way or another and just need ‘one good thing’ to help set them on the path to enjoying life again. Although I am more of a cat person, I thought Harry was wonderful, absolutely ‘man’s best friend’. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.