I’m definitely trying too hard by pairing these two together, but they both have to do with family, of sorts. One has a rather interesting, yet fascinatingly dysfunctional family while the other has a delightfully sweet found family story. But, where one is a romance with characters I had a hard time believing, the other had some magic woven in, though I wish there had been more of it.
Thank You, Next by Andie J. Christopher
Title: Thank You, Next | Author: Andie J. Christopher | Publisher: Berkley | Publication Date: June 14, 2022 | Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance
Alex Turner is never The One—but always the last one an ex dates before finding love—and now she’s determined to find out why in this hilarious new rom-com.
Single divorce attorney Alex Turner is watching reality TV when she sees her latest ex’s new fiancée picking out her wedding dress. Yet again, the guy she dumped went on to marry (or at least seriously commit to) the next person he dates after her. Fed up with being the precursor to happily ever after, she decides to interview all her exes to find out why.
Up-and-coming chef Will Harkness mixes with Alex like oil and vinegar, but forced proximity growing up means their lives are forever entwined. When Will learns Alex and her friends are going on a wild romp through Los Angeles to reconnect with her ex-boyfriends, he decides to tag along. If he can discover what her exes did wrong, he can make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake with Alex.
On this nonstop journey through the streets of LA, Alex realizes the answer to her question might be the man riding shotgun…
One Sentence Summary: In an attempt to figure out why she’s the last one a guy dates before he settles down, Alex re-visits some exes, but Will, a guy she’s had a love/hate relationship for years, insists on tagging along.
Despite having read some non-glowing reviews of this book, I continued to be hooked by the description, which made it sound like this would be a cute, funny romance. Unfortunately, this was a case of the description is better than the story and one might be best served by stopping there. That isn’t to say there was nothing redeeming on these pages, but the romance was flimsy at best, Alex was overly annoying, and Will didn’t have as much presence on the page as I thought a leading man should. Though, if you adore fun loving grandmothers, Lexi is incredible and I’m glad I read this just for her.
Let’s start with the characters. First of all, I loved Lexi. She’s sparkling and fascinating and has lived a storied life. A former jazz legend and actress, she just dripped with a sparkling diva personality, but was still so down to Earth. She’s so loving and always there for Alex and Will, so it was really easy to see why they love her so much and why they tip toed around each other so much in order to keep Lexi in their lives. Alex is Lexi’s granddaughter, who was partly raised by Lexi. She’s described as a high powered divorce attorney who sounded like she really took no hostages. Unfortunately, I was sorely missing that Alex. She didn’t feel high powered or self-assured. Instead, she felt like an absolute mess with an unstable emotional state. Will, fortunately, was a little more levelheaded, but he felt bland despite being a chef about to open his own restaurant. Other than crushing on Alex and wanting to stay in Lexi’s life as her former stepson, there wasn’t much to him. Sometimes he felt overprotective and sometimes he felt like he just wanted to show Alex the door. So, in terms of their romance, it was flimsy and unrealistic. Actually, the entirety of their actual romance was crammed into the last 40% of the book, so it felt rushed, though I did like how it finally made both of them feel mature.
I’m not sure if it was just because I didn’t like the lead characters (though their friends were an absolute blast and I loved all of them and wish they had been around much more), but this book and the story just felt incredibly slow. Most of it was taken up with Alex and Will dancing around each other while Alex visits with some exes and Will doesn’t like it. I thought that, at least, would be entertaining and fun, but those encounters were mostly boring and only revealed how awful a person Alex was because she was just hung up on someone else. I had hoped the romance between Alex and Will would take off sooner to make this a little more bearable, but, instead, it was less than half the story, so I felt like I got whiplash from it because the whole of a romance (getting together, experiencing bliss, encountering the road block, resolving the issue) happened at breakneck speed.
I had tempered hopes for Thank You, Next, but even that was too much to hope for. I will say the supporting cast was incredible. I loved all the diversity, especially since this is a romance between a biracial woman and a white man. There’s also a gender neutral character and one of Alex’s friends is lesbian. Actually, the romance between those two characters felt sweet and lovely and I wish there had been more of it. But, outside of the supporting cast, the story was lackluster and sometimes felt a little idiotic and the characters were nothing like I had hoped they would be, making it even harder for me to buy into their romance.
My rating: 2 cups
Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen
Title: Other Birds | Author: Sarah Addison Allen | Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Publication Date: August 30, 2022 | Genre: Women’s Fiction, Magical Realism
Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It’s called The Dellawisp and it’s named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.
When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at The Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.
When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she’s thrust into the mystery of The Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust each other, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.
Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.
One Sentence Summary: When Zoey takes over her late mother’s apartment on Mallow Island, South Carolina, she sticks herself into a community afraid to gather due to another prickly resident as well as a mystery surrounding the death of that prickly resident.
I haven’t read a book by Sarah Addison Allen since Garden Spells came out. I remember how beautifully magical I found that one, so was curious about whether and how her writing might have changed. Other Birds felt more like a found family and mystery story rolled up together with just a sprinkle of magic thrown in, so I found myself disappointed that the magic I had loved in Garden Spells wasn’t as strong in Other Birds. But the story of a group of people coming together thanks to an eighteen-year-old was absolutely lovely, even if I was missing Zoey herself a bit too much throughout the story.
The characters in Other Birds really shone. I found them all to be fascinating with their own intriguing stories and secrets. Uncovering all of them felt like just half the fun. The other half was watching them slowly orbit each other before they closed the distances and formed a beautiful little family. Zoey sparkled with her kind, pure heart despite all the pains she’d experienced in her short life. She was a little ball of energy, the perfect catalyst for getting this group together. I just wish there had been more of her in the story. Instead, it felt more like Charlotte’s or Oliver’s story as I felt they had more page time. Oliver I could understand. It’s his mother who died, and he has a complicated history with her and The Dellawisp, the apartment complex they all live in. His journey back home was both a little flimsy and heartwarming, but I really loved the relationship he and Zoey formed. Charlotte almost felt like an outsider to me, keeping herself and her secrets firmly tucked away despite them haunting her every day. I thought she was interesting, but she was so much quieter and, being older, more mature than Zoey, making her not quite as interesting, though her romance with Mac was sweet even if I was expecting it. Mac just felt like such a sweet gentleman the entire book. Sure, he has his secrets, but he’s clearly there for everyone else. While I liked him, he also felt a little too two dimensional, almost as though he were holding me at a distance so I couldn’t get to know him. Frasier was fascinating. The only person of color in this community, I loved the relationships he had with everyone else and I just found him so charming. His own secrets were a lot of fun and really helped flesh out this story for me. Then there’s the reclusive Lucy who has a complicated history. Since she was such a recluse it was impossible to get to know her, but her heart comes out little by little.
And then there are the ghosts and the birds. There’s a story of what lies beyond death wrapped in these pages. Souls linger, either because they are unwilling to let go or because someone else is unwilling to let them go. It was a bit of a strange recognition of grief, but also speaks so well to how people live and love. Overall, I didn’t really feel the ghost stories added a whole lot to the story, but they were nice touches. I did really like all the birds, though, especially Zoey’s invisible bird Pigeon. The dellawisps as a whole had an interesting personality and I found myself feeling quite amused by them. I loved how prevalent they were and how the pages were just dotted with them. Pigeon’s antics were fun, but I was sad as Pigeon faded from the story, though it was a fantastic commentary on Zoey’s own character and maturation.
I adored Mallow Island and would move there in a heartbeat. Named for the marshmallows that were once mass produced there, there’s still something sweet in the air and in everything about the island. I liked that it was set far from the rest of the world, but was still easily accessible. It felt like something of a haven wrapped in sweetness. It was delightfully small town without everyone knowing everyone else, probably in large thanks to the tourist population. There were little pockets of non-touristy spots that spoke to different pasts and histories as well as closely guarded secrets not many seemed to actually be privy to. It was a lot of fun to explore the island and everything it had to offer with the characters.
Other Birds is really a very sweet story. It’s about a group of people coming together, though only one of them seems interested in solving the light mystery opened at the beginning of the book. It’s the secrets that keep the story going, and the tenuous relationships the characters start to form. I loved watching them come together with Zoey at their heart, even if I was sorely missing Zoey’s perspective. This story flowed really well, making for a light and easy read that touched on things a shade darker. I was disappointed the magic just seemed to fade as the story went on, but it was nice to see the characters who had so relied on it change and grow, allowing for the magic to fade and the magic of family, love, and friendship to take its place. It was also disappointing how jarring I found the end to be. This isn’t a long book, and I felt it really showed at the end. Things came to a close rather abruptly for me, especially since the writing was so lovely and magical, and then it just kind of ended. Overall, though, this was a light, easy read with a sweet story.
My rating: 4 cups
Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for review copies. All opinions expressed are my own.
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