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REVIEW:  The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran

REVIEW: The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran

Dear Ms. Cochran,

One of our readers, Emily, recommended “The Return of Jonah Gray” to me when I’d reviewed another book which features an Internal Revenue Service heroine. After reading the first two chapters of your book at Amazon, I was hooked on the heroine and her sense of humor (must just be the IRS as a whole that doesn’t have one). After reading the whole book, I’m hooked on Sasha Gardner and, surprisingly for a hero who doesn’t actually show up in person until near the end of the book, Jonah Gray. I might have even made up a fictional persona to get to know him more too.

“Despite being attractive, intelligent and friendly, Sasha Gardner knows no man wants a phone call from her. Because Sasha is a tax auditor for the IRS.
Every job has its downside. Auditing may interfere with her social life, but it’s orderly. It makes sense. And she’s very, very good at it. But when unexpected complaints draw her into the tax return of a man she’s never met, nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Using the information in Jonah Gray’s return, Sasha begins to assemble his life story: a rising career as a respected financial reporter, a house in a posh seaside village, weekends sailing the coast-it all reads like a life Sasha herself had dreamed of living, down to the guy’s itemized deductions. So why had he left it behind to cover school-board meetings in a one-newspaper town?

What begins as a welcome distraction soon becomes a search for answers. Sasha knows it’s ridiculous-she’s never even laid eyes on him-but she wouldn’t be the first woman to fall for a man who looks good on paper.”

Return-of-Jonah-GrayBy August, Sasha generally has a stack of files of tax returns building up on her desk so when she starts getting irate phone calls from total strangers – all knocking her profession and urging her to show a little compassion for someone named Jonah Gray, she hasn’t the slightest idea whom they’re all referring to. Only that this Jonah Gray has got a lot of friends and they’re all mad at her. Once she fishes his return out of the heaps awaiting her attention, she starts to delve into it and discovers a lot about him – knowing what to look for can unlock a person’s entire life to an IRS auditor. But something makes Sasha dig deeper and soon she’s almost obsessed – not creepy obsessed but focused obsessed. Here’s a man who had a job with a prestigious newspaper, a nice home in a tony area in NoCal, a sailboat just like her family used to have (and that she’d loved) when she was a teenager and for some reason he’s given it all up to move to tiny, rural Stockton, write newspaper articles on spray painted cows and run a gardening blog. What gives?

Learning more about him and trying to discover why his return was flagged for an audit also revives her flagging interest in her job. Up til now, she’d been one of the best auditors there but lately she can’t summon enough interest to care. And then the bomb really drops on her when her father’s cancer recurs and it quickly becomes obvious this time it’s terminal. Add to this a possible romance with an OCD archivist at her office and Sasha’s plate is full. But there’s just something about Jonah Gray, whose voice wraps around her like a warm blanket and whose blog followers describe him as “one of the good ones” that won’t let Sasha put him out of her mind.

At times I did worry that Sasha was getting a touch beyond interested in Jonah – not that I might not too since he sounds delicious as well as kind, concerned and like the type of person who’d give you the shirt off his back. What the hell was his first, thankfully now departed, wife thinking? As all his bloggers – whose plants he’s helped to save or whom he’s gotten to accept that eventually all plants go to heaven – say, he’s a keeper.

But a romance in which the heroine and her eventual hero don’t meet until less than ten pages from the end? I mean this is taking chick lit standards to the extreme. Yet, it works. Between the phone calls, and the letters and the blog posts and the journalist’s articles of Jonah’s that Sasha reads, he’s almost as much a presence as she is. And he’s far more interesting than Jeff the compulsive archivist who never did seem to “get” the type of humor that Sasha and Jonah share.

As much as I was impatient to finally see Jonah get some page time with Sasha, I became sucked into her private life and the family issues and dynamics that have shaped Sasha and which were at times eerily paralleled in Jonah’s life – the parents he had trouble sometimes getting along with, the aging father with health problems, the missteps in his love life, the way plants kept cropping up – you did a good job keeping me interested in it all and winding the threads of their lives together in a way that shows how ultimately compatible they’ll be once they finally meet. I also like the way that Sasha’s family isn’t perfect and at times struggles to deal with what’s going on and each other. It made it all seem more real. Sasha’s best friend Martina is a hoot too and it’s nice that she and Sasha’s newly rediscovered half brother look to have a future.

The book definitely has its sad moments but life has those too and it makes the book so much more realistic and readable. The easy flow of your writing and the story kept me reading and gently floating along as it all unfolded. I love books where I look up and realize I’ve just sucked down 75 pages in an effortless gulp and then am eager to dive right back in for more. No, I wouldn’t want to get a letter saying Sasha was about to audit my tax return but I did enjoy spending time with her as she (maybe) finds her Mr. Perfect.

~Jayne

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Reading/Watching/Baking List by Jayne for March and early April

Reading/Watching/Baking List by Jayne for March and early April

My goodness, it’s been a long time since I wrote my last “what I’ve been reading/watching” post. I know I’ve been bad, bad, bad about this. So with no more excuses, here goes.

Reading

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud by Rowan Coleman

I’m not sure what the author was aiming for here. I started this thinking it would be a Chick Lit book with a heroine who is plus sized. The heroine is overweight but it’s because she eats too much, not because she’s large boned. I was getting the feeling that by the end of the book, she would slim down. I have no problems with that but this seemed like it would be the weight version of those books with an unattractive woman who merely needs to get contacts, let her hair loose and get a clothes makeover in order to dazzle. Also, by the 100 page mark the hero (yes, I skipped to the end and peeked) had appeared only once. I debated continuing – the heroine’s boss was a delightful bitch who stole every scene she was in – but it was just too depressing at this point what with the heroine whinging on about her weight and her problems and getting dumped on by everyone. DNF

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The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

This is a book which Jane sent me unsolicited so I had no expectations going into it. For me historical fiction is usually either spectacular or a clunking bomb. This one turned out to be a winner. The period details seemed correct, interesting and dropped into the narrative with a delicate touch. The characters are intriguing and I quickly came to care about them and their fates. This is a book I didn’t want to end. Full review posted this morning.

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The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran

Jonah Gray doesn’t actually go anywhere in this book. His “return” is his tax return as investigated by IRS agent Sasha Gardner. There’s a lot more to the book besides tax codes and deductions as Sasha has a lot going on in her life besides waiting to audit Jonah. Some is funny, some is bittersweet but I found myself riveted to the book and the bold chances Cochran takes with the plot. Full review to follow.

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Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

I’m only one chapter into this one and already I can tell it’s going to be very different from the usual Moore offering. Before I go any further, I think I need to brush up on my late 19th century artists especially Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec so that I can catch more of the subtle jokes that Moore has supposedly included.

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Master and God by Lindsey Davis

Davis is a long time favorite author of mine who’s written the wonderful Falco historical mysteries set during the Flavian dynasty in ancient Rome. With this book, she’s doing something slightly different from those and – I believe – more like her book “Course of Honour.” The story follows the lives of two people during the reigns of Titus and then Domitian – the second and third Emperors of a dynasty of only three. Gaius is a Praetorian Guard while Lucilla is a hairdresser to the powerful at court. Between them, they manage to be in on most of the important happenings going on and perhaps might find a romance at the end of it all. I’m only a third of the way in but so far it’s fascinating.

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Watching

Gavin and Stacey – a UK comedy about a young Englishman who corresponds with a young Welsh woman for 6 months before they finally meet and begin a romance in person. They hit it off so well, that by the end of the first season they’re already married. I watched this first season while it was still streamable from Netflix and now need to move the next seasons up in the queue. A surprise delight is Alison Steadman in the role of Gavin’s mum. New to me are Ruth Jones as Nessa and James Corden as Smithy – Gavin’s and Stacey’s BFFs who say they hate each other yet end up hot smexing each other every time they’re in the same city.

Burke and Hare – It has Simon Pegg plus Andie Serkis and is directed by John Landis. How could it go wrong? That’s what I’m asking. How on earth could this have been as bad as it was during the 30 minutes I suffered through? Not only was it not funny, it was unfunny meaning for me it tried and painfully failed.

Nurse Jackie – a dramedy about a NYC nurse played by Edie Falco. Jackie is a wisecracking old battle axe of a nurse who’s seen it all and isn’t impressed by hotshot young doctors. She’s a great mentor to new nurse Zoey, a loving mother to her two daughters, a true friend to Dr. O’Hara of the Jimmy Choos, a loving wife to her husband Kevin and has been sleeping with Eddie the ER pharmacist while popping pills on the side. Jackie’s got issues. Season three just became available at Netflix and I can’t wait to see how the intervention goes.

Chariots of Fire – I can’t believe I’d never watched this one either but honestly I hadn’t. And after finally seeing it, all I can say is that tastes certainly differ. This won an Oscar? Really? Because it about put me to sleep. File it under “would probably have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it back in the day.”

Baking

What else have I been up to? Making biscuits, that’s what. I’m a Southerner born and bred yet I blush to admit that I’d never once attempted making biscuits from scratch. That’s what older female relatives, church homecomings and Biscuitville are for. Nevertheless, after our post on Australianisms I decided to give it a go. Armed with a bag of White Lily all purpose flour and Alton Brown’s recipe I finally made my first batch of biscuits. They might not be the prettiest biscuits ever baked but mah Gawd they are good.