I really don’t think it’s QuarantineBrain™, but if you try and say it’s peri-menopause brain, I will come over and beat you with an old shoe. It is the most satisfying CandyRead I’ve had in days, perhaps weeks. Almost as if I’ve been trapped in my house, unable to hit the vending machine at work for a Twix bar (I’m exaggerating; the hospital would never put chocolate bars in it’s vending machines. I have to get them from the Leukemia Fundraiser bucket).
The premise is simple: our heroine, Jacinta, has recently, somewhat relievedly, become divorced after sending her only son off to college. Casting about for what to do next, she temporarily moves into her parent’s place, only to discover they’ve become even more eccentric. When a job offer at a mysterious mansion comes through her bestie, she leaps at it, even though it’s in rural, wine-tasting country where she doesn’t know anyone. She finds herself feeling connected to the mansion, although the three geriatric weirdo caretakers that come with it can be a bit much. Although little does our heroine know just how weird their history is:
“They’d crush skulls and blast… See, that was the thing. It had been so long, she couldn’t even remember all the violence she used to enact. What exactly would she blast once she’d dealt with the skulls? They’d be dead, case closed. Anything more would be overkill. Might as well pop a beer and have a victory chat instead.”
The narrator’s voice feels entertaining, if a bit daffy and perhaps a little bit self-involved with the state of the midlife flesh. Not that I have the same thoughts, mind you. But she’s quite funny with the commentary, which I totally haven’t said either:
“Soon I’d get my diet under control—no more binging cookies right before bed—and then I’d be a rock star. I could do this! Okay, not as many cookies before bed. A lady had to live.”
If you don’t mind it feeling at times a bit …over-connected to ‘Clean Sweep‘ with a woman and a magical house, you’ll probably love it. There’s a ton of humor, the heroine has a delightful sense of herself, and the world-building is acceptable, with just enough difference from the Andrews’ series to be palatable (in particular, I like that it avoids the sci-fi angle).
The romantic interest is well done. Our heroine is self-confident and not angling to jump into a relationship, as is the possible romantic partner. Because it’s so back-burner, I’d hesitate to call this a paranormal romance, though clearly that’s part of the story-line. But it’s solidly done, with mature talking-out and sharing instead of stomping off and drama.
“Look, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’ve given you all the information I have. You seem like a smart lady and this is your life. You’ll do what you need to. I just ask that you remember the town. The people here are good people. They deserve a fair shake, like you do.”
I can’t tell you how rare that feels in a book with romance–I think almost all of the ones I’ve read recently had the classic misunderstanding/run-away situation, so it’s all the more refreshing when it doesn’t. I also appreciate the moments when Jessie notes that she needs to handle situations herself, not depend on others to get her out. It’s a fine balance of individualism and team.
There are more than a couple of midlife runners here, but not so many that they became annoying. Mostly Jessie likes her middle-aged self, and doesn’t want to trade it in for a younger version, even when that might be a possibility, which makes the joking tolerable. Although I had to chuckle at the last one:
“Then ran around them. Then hopped up and down. And tinkled myself a little. “Damn it!” I balled up my fists. “I forgot to ask about not peeing myself in everyday situations! That’s crap. That should’ve been a given.”
Just you wait, ladies. And men, don’t snicker. Mother Nature gave you prostates.