Publisher: Harper Collins

Review: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Posted August 23, 2021 by Rowena in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlaneReviewer: Rowena
Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Point-of-View: First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 416
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Rowena's 2021 Goodreads Challenge
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four-stars

Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.
But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction...

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?

Mhairi McFarlane is an author that I appreciate. She always writes the kind of books that pull me in, sucks me dry of emotions, and leaves me with a giant smile on my face. This book was no different. From beginning to end, I was invested in what was going on and though I wouldn’t necessarily classify this book as a romance, there were enough romantic elements to keep my romance novel loving ass happy. This book wasn’t an easy read by any means and it covered a wide variety of topics that seriously had me engrossed from start to finish.

This book covered the topics of love, heartbreak, friendship, and loss in a way that kept me up late at night, reading page after page after page. This book was a little darker in tone than her other books but there was still McFarlane’s witty humor weaved throughout the story and that made me happy. I thought that McFarlane did a great job of writing full-bodied characters that I connected with whether I liked them or not and I felt Eve’s every emotion throughout the entire story. Eve does a lot of growing throughout this story and I was here for it all. At every point in this story, I was either crying along with her, cheering her on, or laughing because seeing her with her friends was pretty great. Her friendship with Ed, Justin, and Susie was such a treat for us readers and probably one of my favorite things in the entire book. Their friendship was far from perfect and there was a lot of struggles but honestly, that made me love them all the more.

This book made me cry and it made me laugh and I felt Eve’s every emotion. I was scared that because we knew going into the book that tragedy was going to strike, that the book would be a lot heavier than what I’m used to from Mhairi McFarlane, that Eve’s grief would be too much for me but I shouldn’t have worried at all because like I said earlier, McFarlane does a great job of spreading her trademark humor throughout the story so the sad parts didn’t bog the story down for me. There’s a great mix of everything inserted in this book and I’m glad that I picked this one up for review.

The romance was done well, too. Eve’s journey to self-discovery played a huge part in the book, and the love interest isn’t really revealed until well into the story, but I still enjoyed it. Seeing Eve fall in love and find her person made me happy. This was a great way to spend a few hours. I enjoyed getting to know everyone in Eve’s life, I enjoyed all of the pets, the complicated mess of everything, and seeing Eve really come into her own. This was another hit from McFarlane for me and I definitely recommend it.

4.25 out 5

four-stars


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Review: So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

Posted July 28, 2021 by Rowena in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: So We Meet Again by Suzanne ParkReviewer: Rowena
So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Rowena's 2021 Goodreads Challenge, Rowena's 2021 New to Me Challenge, Rowena's 2021 Review Pile Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars

When up-and-coming investment banker Jess Kim is passed over for a promotion, laid off in a virtual meeting, and then overhears why (“she’s already being overpaid anyway for a woman” and “Asians are worker bees, not someone who can drum up new deals”) she delivers an “eff you guys” speech and storms out of the building. Not sure what’s next, she moves back home to Tennessee with her domineering Korean mom, who tries to set her up with her pastor’s son Daniel Choi, an M&A lawyer by day and a successful video game streamer by night. Turns out he’s swoony and smart, not the awkward preacher’s kid she remembers. With his help, Jess launches a Korean cooking YouTube channel focused on easy meal prep for busy professionals.

All is going well until her mom walks on the show mid-live recording and argues about cooking technique. While she hates being berated by her mother in front of the world, it actually works in their favor—they go viral!

Soon her cooking channel becomes an actual media company and brand. When a client is suddenly interested in buying Jess out, she finds herself sitting across the table from the very investment firm she quit not so long ago. But there’s just one other problem: Daniel, the guy whose been helping her and that she’s been falling for, is the firm’s new general counsel.

So We Meet Again is the first book that I’ve read by Suzanne Park and it definitely won’t be the last. I was expecting a cutesy romance with a strong heroine and a super hot hero and that’s exactly what I got so I was happy. This was a really quick read and I read it almost in one sitting because I was all up in their business from beginning to end. I liked the pacing of this story and thought the Korean American culture was fun to experience through both Jess Kim and Daniel Choi’s families. The Korean American culture isn’t too far off from my own Samoan American culture experiences so it was nice to connect with characters in a book that I’ve read.

This book follows our protagonist, Jess Kim, who was laid off from her Wall Street job and has to move back home to Tennessee and figure out her next move. Moving back into her childhood room at her parent’s house and feeling like a failure is something that plenty of people (myself included) have experienced in their lives at one point or another so right from the jump, I was interested in seeing where Jess back at home would take us. When she runs into Daniel Choi, the boy that she used to compete with to get the best grades and just beat, he’s driving a nice ass car and seems to be winning hearts left and right still so obviously, she’d be jealous that he’s still at the top while she’s struggling at being pushed back down to the bottom.

So the romance between Daniel and Jess was cute and super fun to read about except for the times when Jess was being super extra and blaming Daniel for more than he should have been blamed for. They had a lot of cute scenes that had me grinning like a lunatic. Like when Jess and her work besties go to the Dolly Parton bar and Daniel comes with his friend and everyone disappears, leaving Daniel and Jess alone and she’s like, “So, do you want to come over and see my spreadsheet?” I laughed out loud because that is totally something that I would love to invite someone over to see.

On top of the romance, this book is about Jess starting the next chapter in her life after Wall Street. She was kind of a smartass where Daniel Choi and her parents were concerned. Those things annoyed me from time to time but I’m glad that I stuck with the book because she fixes those attitude issues and you see her actively fix them so I was glad. Instead of finding another Wall Street or financial banker job, she sets out on the entrepreneur adventure. She revives her YouTube page where she used to film foodie videos for the busy professional. She starts a food business and seeing her work through idea after idea and really build an actual company made the story even more interesting to me. I liked seeing her work and build a business that included her family.

The secondary characters were a great addition to the overall story being told. I loved her friends (even the grocery delivery girl), Daniel Choi, her parents, and even Daniel Choi’s parents. The only person that I remember that I actually hated was dumbass Wyatt. If I had a gripe with this story, it would probably be that I wished we had gotten into Daniel Choi’s head. It would have been nice to see what he was thinking at certain parts of the story but Jess was a great protagonist so I wasn’t mad about it or anything. It was more of a “I wish” kind of thing.

Overall, this was a fun story about a woman moving on with her life after a life setback. There’s a sweet romance with a great love interest and charming secondary characters that will have you cheering for everyone involved. I would definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for a light romance and enjoy Korean cuisine.

4 out of 5

four-stars


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Throwback Thursday Review: Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas

Posted May 27, 2021 by Holly in Reviews | 10 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Worth Any Price by Lisa KleypasReviewer: Holly
Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Bow Street Runners #3
Also in this series: Worth Any Price
Publisher: Harper Collins, Avon
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 388
Add It: Goodreads
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five-stars
Series Rating: five-stars

Nick Gentry is reputed to be the most skillful lover in all England. Known for solving delicate situations, he is hired to seek out Miss Charlotte Howard. He believes his mission will be easily accomplished - but that was before he met the lady in question.

For instead of a willful female, he discovers one in desperate circumstances, hiding from a man who could destroy her very soul. So Nick shockingly offers her a very different kind of proposition - one he has never offered before.

He asks her to be his bride.

And he knows that this will be much more than a union in name only. For he senses what Charlotte does not yet know - that her appetite for sensuality matches his own. But what Nick learns surprises him. For while London's most notorious lover might claim Charlotte's body, he quickly discovers it will take much more than passion to win her love

This is another novel I recently re-read. It was just as wonderful this time around. I adore Nick and Lottie.

This review was originally posted on June 24, 2009.

Worth Any Price is the 3rd book in Lisa Kleypas’ Bow Street Runners series. I read this book before I read any of the others (naturally) and Nick immediately grabbed me. Right from the beginning I adored him, and that hasn’t changed in all my years of reading romance. I recently re-read this book because of a discussion on Good Reads and I was just as impressed with it this time around.

Lottie Howard has escaped a fate worse than death: Being married to Lord Radnor, a peer of the realm who thinks he’s purchased her and now owns her lock, stock and barrel. Even though it puts her family in a bad position she knows her life will be over if she goes forward with the marriage. She finds a position as a lady’s companion to Lord Westcliff’s mother.

Which is where Nick Gentry finds her. Nick is a bow street runner who takes private commissions on occasion to supplement his income. He was hired by Lord Radnor to find Lottie and bring her back. Radnor has hired several others before Nick to find her with no luck, but Nick is the best of the best and it isn’t long before he locates Charlotte. The problem is that he seems to be completely taken with her himself.

Although he has every intention of taking her to Radnor, he surprises everyone, himself included, by offering for her instead. Although Lottie would prefer to remain single and independent, she knows she needs the protection of marriage if she’s to avoid marriage with Radnor. And if anyone is strong enough to keep her safe from Radnor, it’s Nick Gentry.

They enter into a marriage of convenience, but both are surprised by the depth of passion they feel for each other. Despite their steamy, passionate nights, however, they each hold part of themselves back.

I think the thing I love most about this book is what a unique and unconventional hero Nick is. He’s only had one lover prior to Lottie (though admittedly the madame of a brothel is probably like the equivalent of like sleeping with all of London) and he is very content with his lot in life. He thrives on the rush of being a Bow Street Runner and isn’t just playacting when it comes to his past. He’s very scarred from things that happened in his youth. The only person he really allows himself to be close to is his young niece, and to some extend his sister (who’s story is told in the previous book, Lady Sophia’s Lover).

In this case it’s Lottie who is the strong one. She’s the more balanced of the two, despite her childhood under Radnor’s thumb, and she’s the one who steadies Nick, though he doesn’t realize it. I love that they were able to lean on each other – Lottie on Nick for protection and Nick on Lottie for emotional support.

Plus, the sex is totally hot. Tantric Love-making takes on a whole new meaning with Nick Gentry.

There are issues with it. I hate it ends as abruptly as it does, without giving us more of the story with Charlotte and her family. Particularly her younger sister. I think I really wanted to see her family brought low after they way they treated her, and I never got that. The problems are few and the rest of the story really makes up for them, in my opinion.

Overall this is an emotionally appealing novel about love, redemption and the strange connections formed between two polar opposites. I was sucked in from page one the first time I read this years and years ago, and that didn’t change upon this re-read.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Bow Street Runners

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

five-stars


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Review: Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath

Posted May 24, 2021 by Holly in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine HeathReviewer: Holly
Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath
Narrator: Faye Adele
Series: The Lost Lords of Pembrook #3
Also in this series: Lord of Temptation (The Lost Lords of Pembrook, #2)
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: April 28, 2013
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Point-of-View: Alternating Third Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 384
Length: 10 hours, 7 minutes
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Holly's 2020 Goodreads Challenge
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four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

Three young heirs, imprisoned by an unscrupulous uncle, escaped—to the sea, to the streets, to faraway battle—awaiting the day when they would return to reclaim their birthright...

Lord Rafe Easton may be of noble blood, but survival taught him to rely only on himself and to love no one. Yet when he sets eyes on Miss Evelyn Chambers, an earl's illegitimate daughter, he is determined to have her, if only as his mistress...

After her father's death, Evelyn Chambers never imagined she would be sold to the highest bidder, yet circumstances give her little choice but to accept the lord's indecent proposal. Rafe is wealthy, as well as ruthless. Yet his coldness belies deep passion and deeper secrets. If she must be his, Evelyn intends to lay bare everything the Lord of Pembrook is hiding. But dark discoveries threaten to destroy them both until unexpected love leads the last lost lord home...

Lord of Wicked Intentions is the third and final book in Lorraine Heath’s Lost Lords of Pembrook series. I requested the audiobook from the library, but only listened to a few chapters before I switched to reading. I liked the narrator, but I was getting impatient with the pacing. I easily fell into the story once I began reading. I actually liked this book least of the three when I first started, but it ended up my favorite of the series.

My heart broke for poor Evelyn. There were some really hard chapters to read here. Her lack of control over her own future, the way her half-brother treated her, even the way Rafe treated her…man, she had a rough go of it. I liked her innate optimism and how she tried to make the best things. I also ended up really liking Rafe. In the beginning, his constant whining was kind of annoying, but I came to feel for him as things were further revealed about his past struggles.

Their romance was also well done. I enjoyed Evelyn’s journey to independence and how focused she was on herself. She didn’t need Rafe. She wanted him, but that’s not the same thing. It was very refreshing.

Another great series from Heath.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Lost Lords of Pembrook

four-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Posted May 10, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

We had a system glitch and this didn’t post as scheduled yesterday. Let’s hear it for Sunday Spotlight on Monday!

Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlaneJust Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: Harper Collins, William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 416
Add It: Goodreads
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Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction...

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?

Excerpt

Excerpted from the book JUST LAST NIGHT by Mhairi McFarlane. Copyright © 2021 by Mhairi McFarlane. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

 

Before

“We’re going to win tonight,” Ed says. “I can feel it. I can smell it. I could slice it like a frittata. The air is thick with the odor of our imminent victory. Breathe it in, my bitches.”

He pretends to scent the air.

“Are you sure that’s not Leonard?” Justin says. “He had chili con carne for tea. Got up on the counter and had his face in the saucepan before I could stop him, the fool. He’s been farting in spicy beef flavor ever since.”

“Maybe victory smells exactly like mince and kidney beans working its way through a very small dog’s digestive system,” I say, as Susie says: “BLURGH.”

“How would we know how it smells, after all? None of us have ever been successful,” I say, directing this at Ed.

“Speak for yourself. My GP said my hemorrhoids were the most prominent he’d seen in thirty years practicing medicine.”

I guffaw. (This is a standard joke format with Ed; I assume his bum is fine.)

I reflexively reach out to pet Leonard, who has his own chair, sitting atop Justin’s coat, protecting the upholstery.

Leonard is a “Chorkie”—a Chihuahua crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier. He has beady eyes peering out from under a comical fringe of gray-white hair, spiky in the middle like he’s had Paul Weller’s Mod cut, bat ears, and a lopsided little grin, full of toothpick teeth.

He looks, as Ed says: “Like an enterprising cartoon rat doing some kind of stealthy cosplay as a canine. We’ve been infiltrated by a rodent master criminal.”

Leonard, an omnivorous eater and troublesomely impromptu urinator, is one of the loves of my life. (The rest of them are around, and also sometimes under, this table.)

“You say we’re going to win this quiz every week, Ed,” Susie says, worrying at a coaster, shredding it into a pile of soft cardboard shards. “And we are always fucked by the same five determined men in Lands’ End packable anoraks.”

“Describing my best holiday in Wales, there,” Justin says. Justin is a self-proclaimed “tiresome show-off and performative middle child” and one of the funniest men you’ll ever meet, but you absolutely do not go to him for good taste.

The quizmaster’s voice booms out, cutting through conversation, like the Voice of God:

“Question TEN. Who is Michael Owuo? Who is, Michael Owuo?

The usual seconds of post-question hush fall.

“Is he . . . the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East?” Ed whispers, faux-earnestly.

“Seriously?” Susie says.

“No,” I say, rolling my eyes, and Ed taps the pen on his lips and winks at me.

“You three do know who he is, right?” Justin says, doing a double take. “UGH. So we are the millennial cast of Last of the Summer Wine.”

“Did he play the villain in the last Bond?” I ask, and Ed says: “YES! ‘Doctor Pardon.’ What was his gimmick again?”

“He had bejeweled ear gauges,” I say. “And a walker, with tinsel wound ’round it.”

Ed laughs. I love the way he laughs: it starts in his shoulders.

“OK, who is joking, and who isn’t?” Susie says. “I mean obviously, they are,” she grimaces at myself and Ed. “Do you genuinely know who he is, Justin?”

“He’s Stormzy,” Justin hisses. “God, you can tell you lot are thirty-four.”

“You’re thirty-four, Justin,” Susie says.

“There’s thirty-four and then there’s, like, ‘Who are the Stormzys?’ thirty-four,” Justin says, pulling an “old geezer” rubbery face.

“A ‘stormzy,’ you say,” Ed says, in a creaky High Court judge voice. “Whatever a Stormzy is,” and writes “Mr. Storm Zee” on the paper.

Ed has really nice hands; I’m a sucker for nice hands. He cycles a lot and can mend things, and I am now mature enough to appreciate practical skills like that.

Susie takes the pen from Ed, scribbles his words out, and writes Stormzy correctly.

“Don’t your pupils keep you up to date with this stuff?” I ask Ed. “Hip to the jive, daddio?”

“It’s my job to teach them Dickens, not theirs to teach me grime.”

Ed is head of English at a nice county school. You know how they say some people look like police? Ed looks like a teacher—a film or television, glossy young teacher—with his unthreatening, handsome solidity, strawberry-blond, close-cropped hair. In a crisis in a situation full of strangers, Ed’s would be the kind, reliable face you’d hope to see. He’d be the guy offering his necktie as a makeshift tourniquet.

Part of the pleasure of this weekly pub appointment to lose the pub quiz, I think, is it brings out and defines all the roles in our foursome. Ed and I clowning around together, Justin refereeing, with his caustic wit, Susie playing exasperated mother.

Sometimes I stop participating in the conversation and just hum happily inside myself, enjoying our togetherness, reveling in the way we all broadcast on the same frequency. I watch us from the outside.

. . . didn’t she marry the singer from the Mumfords? I’d rather be a Sister Wife. (Susie)

. . . this cherry Stolichnaya that Hester brought back from duty-free, it’s amazing, tastes like baby medicine. Or so babies tell me. (Ed)

. . . he was a right grumpy carrot top. I said to him, do you know why gingerism is the last acceptable prejudice? Because it’s acceptable. (Justin, of course)

“Shhhhh,” I say, as I can see the quizmaster adjusting his readers, as he squints at a piece of paper.

“Question ELEVEN. The word ‘CHRONOPHAGE’ is an Ancient Greek word for what is now an idiomatic expression in English. But what does it mean? Clue: your mobile phone may do this. That does not mean you can check your phones, hahaha!”

The quizmaster blows air out of his nostrils in a windy gust, directly into the bulb, and you can hear his spit.

The looks on the faces of our hiking anorak nemeses suggest they’re considerably more confident about this than they were about Mr. Stormzy.

“Chrono means time . . . ,” Ed whispers. “Chronograph watches.”

“Chronological.” Susie nods. “In order of timing.”

“Phage,” I say. “Hmmm. Coprophagic is eating poo. Fairly sure the copro’s poo, so the phagic must be eating.”

“Eve!” Susie barks, with a potato chip halfway into her mouth. “How do you even know that?”

“I’ve lived a full life.”

“I’ve been around for most of it so I know that isn’t true. A quarter full, at best.”

“. . . Eating time?” Justin hisses. “It must mean eating time. Your phone does that. Boom. Write it down.”

Ed obliges.

We come to The Gladstone every Thursday. I would say without fail, but we are thirty-somethings with lives and jobs and other friends and—some of us—partners, so there are some fails. But we’re here more often than not.

“Question TWELVE, before we take a short break. What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? I’ll give you a clue. It involves a mistake.”

We stare blankly at each other. Packable Anoraks are frantic-whispering instead of writing or looking sneaky-smug, which means they’re not sure either.

“Is it choice of first wife? As in they’ve all had more than one?” Ed says.

“We don’t call people we divorce mistakes now,” Susie says.

“My mum does,” I say.

“Remember when our religion teacher said, ‘People are too quick to divorce nowadays,’ and you said, ‘I think they’re too slow,’ and you got a detention for it?” Susie says and I guffaw.

“Ah, there she is,” Ed says, as the door slaps open and his girlfriend, Hester, appears, her nose wrinkling in distaste at the slight stench of “armpit.”

My heart sinks a notch, but I ignore that it has done this and paste on a strong, welcoming smile.

To be fair, The Gladdy does have a bit of an aroma sometimes, what with the sticky floor, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a dartboard-and-devoted-regulars pub.

I love it, year-round, with its scrappy concrete beer garden with flower planters on the fire escape. I think they are supposed to simulate “verdant urban oasis” in a yard full of lager and smokers. But it’s at its best in autumn and winter. Frosted-leaf mulch and dark skies with bright stars on the other side of the steamed-up panes. Serious hygge to be had, on this side of the window.

Well, mostly.

Hester moved to Nottingham for Ed, a fact she likes to relitigate about once a month.

She looks like a colorized picture has walked into a black and white, kitchen sink realism film: skin the color of ripe peaches and shimmering champagne-blond hair. She’s like a human Bellini.

Her balled fists are thrust in her coat pockets, a Barbour with a fawn cord collar, as if she’s smashed into a saloon in a Western and going to draw two guns.

It’s not that I don’t like Hester . . .

“Are you all drunk by now, then?” she says, bullishly. She glances at me. “Eve looks drunk.”

Oh, why do I bother. It’s absolutely that I don’t like Hester.

 

“And once again for the cheap seats! What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? It involves a mistake. A mistake. An error. OK, back soon.”

“Hemingway was in a plane crash, were any of the others?” I whisper.

“Bit of a stretch to call a plane crash ‘a mistake’ though?” Ed whispers back and I shrug, nodding in concession.

“And Rudyard Kipling’s a bit too yesteryear for planes, isn’t he?” Justin says. “Not exactly doing his Instagram Story with a Prosecco claw holding a flute aloft in the airport bar.”

He mimes trying to photograph his pint glass, and Susie snorts.

“They were wrongly given awards that had to be taken back,” Hester says, dragging her coat off her shoulders. “Where’s the pen?”

Justin makes a skeptical face and Ed tries to look persuadably neutral as he hands it over. His sense of humor doesn’t evaporate, exactly, around Hester, but he goes more no absolutely of course I didn’t mean that formal.

Hester’s late joining tonight as she’s been out with friends at a tapas restaurant, and understandably, given the number of babies that the rest of the circle have between them, they wind things up by nine p.m. Hester only joins us at The Gladdy quiz intermittently, anyway. “Sometimes it gets wearying, with all your in-jokes,” she says. Even though she’s known us all for so long as Ed’s girlfriend, I am not sure how there’s an “in” she’s outside of.

“Are you sure?” Susie says.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Hester says. Qualifying: “. . . Well, have you got anything better?”

“Sure, sure—or four-Proseccos-deep-and-we-haven’t-got-anything-better-yet, sure?” Susie persists, smiling in a “Wicked Queen with a red apple” sort of way.

She dares with Hester in ways I absolutely do not dare. Susie dares with most people. Most people don’t dare back.

Susie has long, thick blond-brown hair she wears in a horse-mane-length ponytail, or loose and bunched up into a scarf like she’s Streisand in a seventies film. She has a full mouth with an emphatic pout to her top lip, which looks as if it’s being pulled upward by her tilted nose, which I think is a thing called “retroussé.”

“What award did Marcus Garvey get?” Justin says.

“Rear of the Year?” I say, and Ed hoots. Hester’s fuming, I know.

“OK, ignore me then!” Hester says. “Pardon me for trying to participate, guys.”

“No, no! It’s good! I think you’re right,” Ed says, hastily. “None of us have anything better. Write it down.”

I always respect Ed for leaping chivalrously to Hester’s defense, while wishing it was for someone who better deserved it. Hester scribbles while Justin, Susie, and I try not to meet each other’s eyes.

“More drinks I think, what’s everyone having?” Justin says and gets up to go to the bar.

I go to the loo and, after I flush, I see I have a text from Susie. (Not a WhatsApp, because it would risk appearing in full on a lock screen. Canny.)

When I open it, I see it’s been sent to myself and Justin. I know how they’re triangulating the signal, next door—Justin nonchalantly studying his handset while waiting to be served, Susie slightly angled away from the couple, feigning picking up her messages.

 

Susie: WHY IS SHE SUCH A BOSSY ARSEHOLE THOUGH

Justin: She can get away with anything due to the fabulous breasts, darling

Susie: I have great tits and you don’t see it affecting my personality. That answer is SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG. And why is Ed such a wimp about it. Oh yes write that bollocks down, my precious little poison dumpling. ARGH

Justin: Again, boobs

Eve: The poisoned dumplings

Susie: I swear she knows it’s the wrong answer and is doing it to fuck with us

 

I lean against the pleasantly chilly wall in the loo and type, grinning.

Having been in stone-cold love with Hester’s other half for the best part of two decades means I never know how much of my dislike is plain old envy. Susie and Justin continually—and inadvertently, because they absolutely don’t know—reassure me I’d have disliked her anyway. I often play Nice Cop in regards to Hester, to further throw everyone off the scent.

 

Eve: You wait, she’ll be right and that’ll show us

Susie: She’s not right, she doesn’t even know who Marcus Garvey was, you could see that when Justin challenged her

Justin: She probably thinks he won Best Video 2007 at the Grammys

Susie: Lol. And I’d just point out that Eve’s suggestion got shot down and she didn’t get the hump

Eve: Does this say anything bad about my breasts

Susie: Only that they’re not a carbon offsetting scheme for being a horror

Justin: Sigh. Let us get drunk.

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About Mhairi McFarlane

Author headshot

Mhairi was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1976. She went to school in Nottingham, studied English Literature at Manchester University and then returned to Nottingham to delight its citizens with her journalism. After roles as trainee reporter, reporter, feature writer and columnist, she realised she’d climbed to the very top of the mountain at the Nottingham Post and at age 31 decided to write a novel. Some very skint years followed, during which she thought she might’ve made a huge mistake.

Her debut novel, the romantic comedy You Had Me At Hello, was an instant hit upon being published in December 2012. It’s since become HarperCollins’ best selling ebook to date, has been translated into 16 languages and is being developed as a major feature film, with Mhairi writing the screenplay. The follow up, Here’s Looking At You, was published in December 2013 and made the Sunday Times Bestseller list.

Mhairi’s first hardback title for HarperFiction, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is published on November 6th 2014.

She’s currently working on her fourth novel, adapting You Had Me At Hello for screen and developing a comedy-drama script for television.


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