This book made me feel old.
Plot: Maybell has been tossed around all her life. From a precarious childhood to an adulthood where she disappears into the shadows, she’s never really been able to find a home. Then her great-aunt, a woman she hasn’t seen or spoken to in 20 years, passes away, leaving her a mansion that she once spent a summer at. One hiccup, she’s actually left her half the estate – the other half going to her landscaper and personal assistant Wesley. Both are made to think they got everything before the bomb is dropped once they’re already invested, but neither wants to sell. Shenanigans ensue.
If you liked Hogle’s first book, you will likely like this one. If you did not like the first book, you will likely dislike this one too. This review will be a bit spoilery because there is no way to talk about the issues without the plot, so reader beware.
This book made me feel like an old, stick in the mud party pooper. Maybell is supposed to be this relentless sunshine character. Despite her terrible childhood, she still believes in love and happy endings. This optimism carries her through a lot of very bad situations, always trying to see the good in people. Only that isn’t really who she is. It’s who she thinks she is, but when you look at what is shown versus what is told, a different story emerges, and not one I think is deliberately placed there. She says she always tries to see the best in people, even when they’ve wronged her. Only she absolutely loathes every single person around her. She has not a single kind word to say about anybody. She hates her job and everyone there. For all her supposed belligerent optimism, she has never sought to improve herself in the decade or more that she’s been adulting on her own and seems to resent the people around her for her own lack of drive.
In fact, this is an even bigger inconsistency with her characterisation. Her childhood was spent following her mom’s boyfriends from bed to couch to armchair. She missed huge chunks of school because she never stayed anywhere long, and presumably a parent not concerned about their kid having a bed to sleep in isn’t filling out school paperwork. Once on her own, she gets a job as a housekeeper for a resort where she stays for the next decade in the same job. She complains about never getting a promotion, but this is the same woman who later in the book thinks she’s cleaning a bathtub with bleach (it’s a disinfectant, that’s not the same thing!), so she should be counting her blessings that she wasn’t fired, not complaining about a lack of promotions for a person who can’t do a job well after a decade. In the latter part of the book, she magically develops hotel management skills out of nowhere because there’s no happy ending without her being actually competent at the thing she wanted to do, but that is not the same woman that started the book. That woman didn’t have any formal education, did not mention any informal education, and had no functioning relationships with her colleagues from which to learn. She spent her days daydreaming cheesy rom coms in her head. That does not help one develop an understanding of the tax laws small business owners need to be mindful of, which she suddenly knows! Also she somehow managed to get an 11,000 sqft mansion that was so full of various knickknacks at the start of the book that it was unsafe to be in cleaned up (or at least disinfected) and passing inspection in like 6 months, doing much of the work alone and by her own acknowledgement very slowly. Sure. That happened.
Wesley is less uneven, but he’s not free of this selective characterisation. He suffers from an anxiety condition. Fine. Only sometimes it’s so bad he avoids all human interaction, but when the plot requires that he be a swoony boyfriend, he’s suddenly completely okay with complete strangers moving in with him. How exactly is he ever going to survive living in a hotel constantly full of strangers? Why he will survive it, because he loves Maybell, and the power of her vagina has cured him of his anxiety. For a book that seems to care a lot about representing anxiety conditions compassionately, there sure seems to be a lot of hand waiving about it when it’s convenient. Not only do I not understand what he likes about Maybell outside of the fact that she is a human female of approximately his own age that is forced by a will to spend time around him and does so by ignorantly mocking everything he cares about.
On top of the fact that these characters are internally incoherent, making their HEA nonsensical, it also doesn’t seem earned on the interaction. The relevant portions of the book from meet-cute to love declarations is two months. The first month is spent with no conversation outside of a couple of arguments (she thinks an animal sanctuary is a stupid idea – what is wrong with her? How could Wesley even touch her after that?). In the second month, apropos of nothing, they move on to polite acquittances through a couple paper texts (they pass short notes to each other briefly). Two weeks later (two weeks they barely talk some more), they go hiking and by the next day they’re a couple. Then they don’t talk again for like a week, have a really nice date, and that’s pretty much the end. This is not a relationship. This is two lonely people who have, the the first time in their lives, found a person that is attractive to them and the feeling is reciprocated after a handful of conversations. This is less interaction than historical regency romances. What they are is children with a crush. I can absolutely see this relationship going for 50 years, but only because they are so frightened of being alone they’d rather stay with the devil they knew and let the resentment fester like a fine compost bin.
Oh and there’s an entirely unnecessary catfishing side plot?
This book made me feel grumpy and old and cynical. Hogle’s writing style is fresh and funny and readable and it is the only reason I’ve now read two of her books. It’s not enough for me to pick up her next one.