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Nutcrackers, Puppies and Mayhem

Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher
Contemporary New Adult romance
Berkley  November 12, 2019

After a somewhat hostile meet-cute, successful event planner Hannah Mayfield and aspiring investigative political journalist Jack Nolan each find themselves caught in an ethical dilemma. Once readers embrace the core premise of premeditated deceit executed with clear intentions of making amends, Not the Girl You Marry is an otherwise entertaining and thoughtful meta contemplation about the pitfalls of dating in the 21st century.

Each character’s family circumstances and dating history act as both filters and mirrors that reveal their struggles in establishing integrity of self, and finding the people and places where they’re recognized, valued, and welcomed. As often found in mainstream romance fiction, generalized statements about men and women clank as outdated along with viewing singlehood as a fate that’s worse than death. Funny pop culture references to hipsters and Marie Kondo resonate as authentic to present-day social influences. Relatable themes about being type-cast in life according to narrow expectations shaped by ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, professional occupation, social class, and other superficial traits explore the layers of an individual’s identity.

In particular, Hannah’s deep friendship with Sasha and their candid conversations about their dating challenges reveal the tenacity of entrenched ideas about good and nice women versus bad and bitchy ones, and the trickle down effects of this limiting dichotomy. Recent news reports of registered sex offenders on dating apps, and Gabrielle Union’s being labeled as a “difficult” woman for challenging the corporate culture at America’s Got Talent make Not the Girl You Marry a timely read.

Hannah and Jack’s story offers lots of laughs and real emotional depth. All of the characters are multifaceted and nuanced. Family dynamics shift and crystalize in believable ways. Reading the author’s note provides additional emotional context for this candid homage to the heartaches and gifts of otherness.

Puppy Love & Puppy Christmas (Forever Home #1 & #2) by Lucy Gilmore
Contemporary romance
Sourcebooks Casablanca  May 28, 2019 & September 24, 2019

The Vasquez sisters mean business, as in training service dogs for humans in need. In Puppy Love, deceptively sweet Sophie has to conquer the blowback of her own childhood trauma in order to help stoic Harrison Parks overcome his ongoing emotional and medical challenges. Their courtship is awkward and poignant, funny and provocative. Sometimes the narrative pace drags under the weight of Sophie’s and Harrison’s angsty ruminations, but their brooding portrays relatable anguish associated with their circumstances. Themes of celebrating sisterhood, various familial configurations, and professional callings based in honorable public service offer irresistible emotional layers. Only the dismissive glossing over of the source of Harrison’s childhood trauma leaves a slight aftertaste of dissatisfaction.

Glimpses of pragmatic oldest sister Lila in the very good Puppy Love generate anticipation for her unconventional love story with Ford in the superb Puppy Christmas. Along with Lila, a delightful child, her nurturing father, and a dedicated puppy hook readers into cheering for them as complicated individuals and as a future loving family. Secondary characters of neighbors, coworkers, and extended family members are as distinctly rendered as the featured characters. In this second entry in the Forever Home series the author has honed the narrative pacing, and the portrayal of the many gifts of sisterhood to include a broader community of quirky, resourceful women. With a nod to a particular scene in The Truth About Cats and Dogs and other story threads that celebrate earnest oddballs and outsiders, Puppy Christmas is an utterly charming story about recognizing and valuing oneself.

The only downside to this series is that book three, Puppy Kisses, isn’t scheduled for release until June 2020.


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