by Sarah Hogle
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: April 6, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Can you find real love when you've always got your head in the clouds?
Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.
Yet when she arrives, it seems her troubles have only just begun. Not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn't the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper who's as grouchy as he is gorgeous—and it turns out he has very different vision for the property's future.
Convincing the taciturn Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a task more formidable than the other dying wishes Great-Aunt Violet left behind. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath Wesley's scowls, and as the two slowly begin to let their guard down, they might learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one's comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »panic attacks, social anxiety, catfishing, claustrophobia, death of a relative (off-page), mention of a car accident (before book began, no injuries), toxic relationship with parent « Hide Spoiler
After seeing some of my favorite Twitter romance readers rave about Sarah Hogle’s first book, I couldn’t resist picking this one up, even before I read (and loved!) her debut. And wow, while it’s completely different in tone from the first, this is an emotionally satisfying rom com chockfull of tropes – forced proximity, grumpy/sunshine, slow burn, with a cinnamon roll hero.
“Somewhere far above the clouds, glittering in stars and nebulae, a neon sign spins leisurely outside a cheerful little haven where everything always goes according to plan and nothing unexpected ever happens.”
All Maybell wants is to be liked. Well, secretly, all she actually wants is to be loved, and one of the few times she’s truly felt that way was the summer she spent with her Aunt Violet. When she finds out that her aunt has died and left her the house, it’s obviously a sign for her to leave her dead-end job and move out to the middle of nowhere, right? But things aren’t at all how she expected, and besides the rundown mansion, piles of hoarded as-seen-on-TV goods and overgrown weeds, there’s Wesley, the grumpy and taciturn (and apparently incompetent) gardener. As they’re forced to work together, though, Maybell realizes there’s reasons behind why he acts the way he does, and what seemed like just another in the long string of disasters that is her life might actually be the best thing that ever happened to her.
“The essence of Maybell Parrish is painfully sensitive, and if you touched it, it would retract and try to surrender. For better or worse (and I’ve certainly tried to be anyone but myself), I am a wobbly white flag.”
Maybell was ridiculously (and hilariously) relatable. She’s a good person, but she’s a pushover, and while she’s not exactly happy with her life, she’s used to relying on her daydreams to get her through the day. Her daydream of choice is a coffee shop AU of her own life, complete with a jukebox and baked-on-premises pastries, usually fast-forwarding to the romantic declaration stage. She’s lonely, so lonely that she’ll put up with someone who’s hurt her badly just so that she can have a friend. It’s that loneliness, once she’s practically alone at her aunt’s house, that leads to her constantly reaching out to Wesley, even when she’s convinced he wants nothing to do with her. And, to be honest, it’s hard not to love Wesley, even when he’s being a grumpy boots. This book is exceptionally soft and comfy, so Wesley’s “grumpy” is mostly just taciturn, maybe bordering on rude. I mean, for goodness’ sake, he’s a vegetarian (along with another v-word) who wants to turn the house into an animal sanctuary.
“It’s because I’m a born multitasker,” I rave. “I was born under a Libra moon, probably. Strong as an ox. We Maybells see your You can’t do this and we raise you an It may take me longer, but just watch me.” I raise my glass of lemonade in a toast to myself. “We’re weeds growing out of the cracks in concrete: even when we should have been defeated long ago, you can’t keep us down.”
I’d classify this book as a rom-com, and there are definitely some plot points that are so ridiculous they make zero sense outside of a rom-com. Normally that would be something that would annoy me, but Maybell’s emotions felt so real and immediate that I was completely swept away. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to put a book down before because I was crying so many happy tears, and that happened twice with this book. There’s so many magical moments: the pendant Maybell finds, the evolution of the ballroom mural, Wesley’s Loch Ness monster explanation, the treasure hunt. Just when I thought I couldn’t love those two more together, something else would become my new favorite moment. Both Maybell and Wesley have these ideas of the people they’re supposed to be – more assertive, less anxious – and what they’re supposed to want. But it’s their relationship between the two of them, and how each of them readily accepts all the “flawed” bits, that leads to some self-realizations about who they are and who they want to be. There’s quite a bit of mental health rep in this book – both characters have work to do – and it was handled gently and well.
“At what point did my happy place stop being a dream and start being the person in front of me?”
At what point did my happy place stop being a dream and start being this book in front of me??? Overall, I adored this book, and Sarah Hogle’s officially going on my favorite author list. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!