Review: Wait For It by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Wait For It by Jenn McKinlayWait for It by Jenn McKinlay
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

A woman looking for a new lease on life moves to Arizona where she rents a guest house on a gorgeous property with a mysterious owner--a man who teaches her about resilience, courage, and ultimately true love, in this funny, bighearted novel about hope and healing from New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay. Stuck in a dreary Boston winter, Annabelle Martin would like nothing more than to run away from her current life. She's not even thirty years old, twice-divorced, and has just dodged a marriage proposal... from her ex-husband. When she's offered her dream job as creative director at a cutting-edge graphic design studio in Phoenix, she jumps at the opportunity to start over.
When she arrives in the Valley of the Sun, Annabelle is instantly intrigued by her anonymous landlord. Based on the cranky, handwritten notes Nick Daire leaves her, she assumes he is an old, rich curmudgeon. Annabelle is shocked when she finally meets Nick and discovers that he's her age and uses a wheelchair. Nick suffered from a stroke a year ago, and while there's no physical reason for him not to recover, he is struggling to overcome the paralyzing fear that has kept him a prisoner in his own home.
Despite her promise to herself not to get involved, Annabelle finds herself irresistibly drawn to Nick. And soon she wonders if she and Nick might help each other find the courage to embrace life, happiness, and true love.

My Review:

I could say that this is an opposites attract story – and it sort of is. I could also say it’s a story about two people who have some really serious issues learning to deal with their own shit because no one else can fix your crap for you – no matter how much they might want to. Or need to because of their own crap. And both of those things would certainly be true, but they are not the whole story. Even if perhaps they should have been.

The thing about Annabelle Martin is that she’s impulsive in the extreme. It may have something to do with her being artistic, but mostly that’s just the way she is. She’s open about pretty much everything, including her need to please the people around her – even when she hurts herself in the process.

Her impulsiveness and need to avoid conflict have led her to some pretty strange places. Two marriages and two divorces before she’s even turned 30. A friends-with-benefits relationship with her first ex-husband, along with an engagement ring that she’s just swallowed.

And a desperate need to escape that situation leading her to impulsively accept her best friend’s offer to move from Boston to Phoenix in order to become the Creative Director for her best friend’s PR firm. That’ it’s winter in Boston probably explains the rest of Annabelle’s surprising acceptance. Winters in Boston are cold. And ugly. And did I mention bloody damn cold?

Annabelle’s impulsive move, along with giving up her successful freelance design work – she must be really successful as Boston is an expensive city to live in! – runs her headlong into way more problems than she left behind.

There is something wrong at her friend’s PR firm, and possibly her friend’s marriage. And the place that same friend arranged for her to live in comes with its own set of issues in the form of Annabelle’s mysterious landlord. The one who has presented her with a 10-page list of supplemental rules for her six-month rental of the guest house on his property but who can’t be bothered to meet her in person.

Annabelle is intrigued and annoyed by turns. The rules are ridiculous and have a strong whiff of “get off my lawn”, making her think her landlord is an old curmudgeon. She’s only half right.

Escape Rating B: First, the title of this book gave me a terrible earworm. Actually, I think I picked it up for the earworm, and now I can’t get Wait for It from Hamilton out of my head. The song from the play is only applicable in bits, especially the part that goes “I am the one thing in life I can control” but I still can’t get the damn thing out of my head. Again.

Annabelle’s landlord, Nicholas Daire, is the one who is trying to control a life that went completely out of his control less than a year before, when the 35-year-old property mogul had a stroke. By the time Annabelle moves into his guest house and starts driving him crazy, he’s mostly recovered from the stroke.

Except that he’s stuck in an endless loop of panic, afraid that he’ll have another one. Panic that is so acute that it mimics another stroke. In his fear, he’s become a hermit, retiring from his business, refusing to leave the house except for doctor’s appointments, and relentlessly training his body, when it works, with the idea that he can make himself strong enough to recover completely.

And refusing to even entertain the notion that what’s causing his current problems isn’t his body – it’s his head.

Annabelle, with the help of a tiny cat she names “Sir”, throws Daire’s carefully ordered life and his ten pages of rules out the window the moment she sets foot in the guest house. He’s order, she’s chaos, and they need each other to deal with all the baggage they’ve carted along to the point where they meet. And combust.

For me it felt like there were multiple things going on in this story, any one or two of which would have made for either a terrific romance or a great bit of relationship fiction, but that all together couldn’t devote the necessary time to make the whole feel satisfying.

Annabelle’s work situation was painful but oh-so-real, as the inside candidate for the job she took does his worst to use office politics and his long-time friendship with one boss in order to trump Annabelle’s qualifications, capability and long-time friendship with the other boss. That inside candidate is a user and a douchecanoe, but like many such people in real life and fiction (honestly he’s Spender from Mass Effect Andromeda), Carter West is terrible at doing the job but very effective at keeping it by sabotaging everyone around him. Dealing with this asshole, along with getting her friend to own up to having brought her to Phoenix with ulterior motives in this direction would have made an excellent story of female friendship and empowerment and I wish we’d gotten more of that.

While Annabelle has her own issues, the story on Daire’s side is about falling into a relationship with Annabelle in order to avoid dealing with his own. That they call each other on not dealing with their shit was terrific, because they both have lots. But the romantic relationship between them felt like instalove. Something that Annabelle has been known for but Daire is infamous for keeping people at arm’s length and refusing to admit that he cares no matter how much he does. I bought that they loved each other by the end but didn’t really feel them, or particularly him, falling. Although the relationship he manages to re-establish with his sister felt hard-fought and hard-won every step of the way.

Hence the good but not fantastic rating. Each part was good, but they didn’t quite make a whole for me. Your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlayBooks Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1) by Jenn McKinlay
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #1
Pages: 304
on July 5th 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered-and Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person.

My Review:

I discovered this series as a read-alike for the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James, and it certainly. Both feature real-seeming librarians in almost-real libraries in small towns that are just perfect. Although I did miss Diesel, the librarian’s very large cat from the Cat in the Stacks series.

But where the Cat in the Stacks series is set in Athena Mississippi, the Library Lovers mysteries hail from Briar Creek Connecticut. Let’s just that the autumns are obviously a lot blustrier in coastal Connecticut than in the landlocked parts of Mississippi.

Unlike Charlie Harris at the beginning of the Cat in the Stacks series, Library Director Lindsey Norris is the relatively new director of the small town Briar Creek Public Library. She is also female, single, unencumbered and in her mid-30s – very different from widowed, 50-something Charlie with his grown children – and Diesel.

Lindsey on the other hand, is still feeling her way professionally and personally. Briar Creek is her first posting as the library director, and it’s not a career turn she had planned on. She had been an archivist at one of the Yale University libraries when budget cuts forced her to look in other directions. She found the position in Briar Creek because her best friend from grad school is the children’s librarian there.

Being a new, first-time director has its challenges. But no one plans on having one of their staff, particularly a friend, accused of murder. It’s difficult to tell which is worse, that Beth had both the motive and the opportunity for murdering her ex, or that the local sheriff is so determined to take the easy way out and place the blame on the “woman scorned” that he isn’t even looking for any other suspects.

He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, either, and his bull-headedness is clearly driving the detective from the state Bureau of Investigation bonkers.

But with the local sheriff doing his level best to make sure Beth is found guilty, and the local press more than willing to stir up trouble just for the ratings, it’s up to Lindsey to focus her research skills on the late and not very lamented, to see if there’s someone else who might have a motive to end his existence.

The problem is that Lindsey’s research skills, as formidable as they are, barely keep her one step ahead of the killer – a step that closes faster than she expected.

Escape Rating B: I came down with the flu, and was looking for comfort reading again. As this will be posted just before I run off to the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, yet another library mystery seemed like a good fit.

Lindsey Norris does seem like “one of us”, much as Charlie Harris does. And for the same reason – her creator is also a library worker. But where I’d love to sit down and have coffee with Charlie, Lindsey reminds me much more of the “road not taken”. I often thought about becoming a library director but when I was interested I wasn’t able to make the leap, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t my calling in the profession.

Seeing what Lindsey deals with, even in a fictional and perfectly imperfect library reminds me that I was right.

This story is the introduction to the series, the characters and the town of Briar Creek, and it does put the reader firmly into the middle of the action. Lindsey, as a transplant from somewhere else, is still warming up to the little town, and vice-versa, which makes her a good point of view character for the reader.

As is often the case, the case itself, the murder at the heart of the mystery, is just a bit over the top, but the scenes of small town life and Lindsey fitting herself into it are well done. The reader can certainly see why she’s fallen in love with the place.

A lot of what happens in the Briar Creek Public Library is very true to library life, both the good and the bad. Every library, big and small, has patrons just like those in Briar Creek, the good, the bad, the loud, the demanding, the weird and the obstreperous.

The staff, while occasionally a bit too good to be true and sometimes a bit too bad or weird to be true, is also quite  true-to-life. And unfortunately that includes the nasty character of Ms. Cole, the head of the circulation department and the disapprover of everything that Lindsey, Beth and anyone not the previous (and deceased) library director. That Ms. Cole can’t let go of her resentment of change and the advent of the 21st century is unfortunately all too plausible. I’ve worked both with and for people like her in my career (and supervised a few), and saying that it is never fun is a serious understatement.

But Lindsey is the new director of the library. That makes her Ms. Cole’s boss, whether either or them likes it or not. That Lindsey, with just about six months tenure under her belt, has not figured out what to do about Ms. Cole yet is not surprising. The woman is a fixture in the library and the community – even if a frequently resented one. The problem isn’t just that Ms. Cole challenges Lindsey’s authority at every turn, although that is a problem.

What I found questionable, to the point where it threw me out of the story, is that Lindsey isn’t even thinking about what she should do about Ms. Cole. While the reality is that the answer may be very little, she’s at the point in her job where she should be at least thinking about some changes. This disturbed me because Lindsey makes it clear at one point that she is aware that part of the joy of the job from Ms. Cole’s perspective is to torment and browbeat the library shelvers, who are usually teenagers in their very first job. While life isn’t fair, and bad things happen to good people, etc., etc., etc., for Lindsey to be aware of this and not even be thinking about what to do about this aspect of Ms. Cole’s performance of her duties is problematic.
And now I’ll get down off my soapbox.

But if you like cozy mystery series like Cat in the Stacks, or other small town mystery series that feature the mainstays of the town, Books Can Be Deceiving is a lot of fun. I have the other books in the series and I’m looking forward to returning to Briar Creek the next time I need a comfort read.

Reviewer’s Note: One of the reviews listed in Goodreads for this book was written by a dear and departed friend. I knew that if she liked it, I would too. I wish I could talk about it with her, because I’d love to hear the snark that she left out of her review!