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Sarah Mayberry

REVIEW:  Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry

REVIEW: Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry

Dear Ms. Mayberry:

Immediately after reading your latest, Suddenly You, I knew exactly what my review of it should say:

“Yet another well-done book by Ms. Mayberry with appealing characters and a sweet love story.”

However, DA readers expect a bit more. And while their time would be better spent reading your prose than mine, here goes.

Suddenly You Sarah MayberryThe hero of Ms. Mayberry’s latest contemporary romance is Harry Porter whom readers may have met in All They Need. I hadn’t read All They Need prior to reading Suddenly You and didn’t need to. (I’ve since then read All They Need and enjoyed it.) Harry looks fierce—he’s covered in tribal tattoos, sports rings in his ears, has bulging muscles, and wears biker boots. But, though he looks like a bad boy, he’s one of the sweetest (but not at all beta) heroes Ms. Mayberry’s created.

Harry is 30 and enjoying the hell out of his footloose life. He’s got a cool car-a 1972 HQ Monaro GTS-, a job he shows up for and then leaves without a care, a no fuss little house, good buddies, and all the women he wants—even though he only wants them for a night or two. One Friday night, as he’s headed for a night on the town, jamming to Midnight Oil and thinking about burgers and beer, he sees a broken down car on the side of the road. It’s an ugly yellow and he recognizes it as that of Pippa White, an ex-girlfriend of his best friend Steve. Harry stops to help her, even though it’s a little awkward; Pippa and Steve broke up when Pippa got pregnant and refused to get an abortion. The last time Harry saw Pippa was six months ago when, inexplicably to him, he’d stopped by the hospital when she’d had her daughter Alice. But he’s always liked Pippa and he’s a mechanic, so offering her some help with her car seems like the right thing to do.

Harry diagnoses the problem—a blown head gasket—and offers to call a tow truck for Pippa. She won’t let him; in fact, she is fairly resistant to any help from him at all. It takes all of Harry’s charm and determination to just get her to let Harry give Pippa and Alice a ride home. Harry doesn’t like leaving the car but Pippa assures him she’ll take care of it. Harry drives Pippa and Alice home and is somewhat appalled to see what a dump it is. Harry knows that Steve and Pippa parted poorly—Steve has complained bitterly about Pippa sicing the government on him to get more money out of him—but Harry is sure Steve is giving Alice and Pippa enough money to live safely and comfortably. Harry is so sure, in fact, that later that night, while partying at their favorite bar with Steve, he tells Steve about Pippa’s expensive car problem. Steve clearly doesn’t care a bit and this, Harry finds, does not sit well with him.

When, after a few days, Harry realizes Pippa still hasn’t had her car towed, he goes to tell her she really needs to or else it could get impounded. Pippa is dismayed—she tells him she thought she’d have a few weeks to deal with the problem. Suddenly, Harry realizes Pippa can’t afford to have her car fixed. He asks her bluntly what she’s going to do and she, unable to lie, tells him the truth.

She gave a short, sharp laugh. “You always were honest to a fault. Okay, you’re right, Harry. I can’t afford to fix the car right now. I’m scraping some money together but the gas bill came in and I figure we need hot water more than we need a car. So maybe the council will impound my car and I’ll have to live with that until I can figure something out.”

Pippa shrugged as though she didn’t give a damn but her cheeks were pink and her shoulders tense….

“What about Steve?” Because it seemed to him that was the next natural step, no matter the tensions between them.

“No.”

One word, very firm….

“I’ll ask him. If it’d make it easier for you to swallow.”

He didn’t know why he was making a federal case out of it. It was her car, her life. She was free to do whatever she liked. Certainly none of it was his responsibility. So why was he offering to be her mouthpiece with his best mate?

Pippa sighed. “It’s incredibly generous of you to offer, but you don’t want to do that.”

“I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t mean it.”

“I know. But it won’t make any difference. Steve won’t want to help me.”

“Look, even if Steve’s pissed with you, he’ll step up.”

“It’s nice you believe that, but since he’s gone to the trouble of falsifying the books for his business to avoid paying child support, you’ll understand if I don’t hold my breath on that one.”

He was ready to jump to his mate’s defense. No way would Steve turn his back on his responsibilities. Alice was his kid, after all. His daughter.

Something stopped him before the denial left his mouth, however.

Maybe it was the world-weary note to Pippa’s voice and the steadiness of her gaze.

Or maybe it was the memory of the utterly blank, disinterested expression on Steve’s face Friday night.

Harry decides to fix Pippa’s car himself, even though he’s not sure why he’s doing so. The reader knows why he’s doing it. Harry is such a good guy—there’s just no way he’s letting Pippa and little Alice struggle when he can so easily aid them. He also tries to talk Steve into manning up and is upset when Steve says there’s no way in hell he’s helping Pippa or Alice; as far as Steve’s concerned, once Pippa decided to have a child Steve did not want, that child is all Pippa’s problem. Harry decides that if Steve isn’t going to help Pippa, he will. He begins to spend time with Pippa and Alice, fixing all the broken crap in her house. Pippa gives him dinner each time he comes over and slowly the two become more than just friends.

I’ve just realized I love this book so much I’m recapping. I’ll stop now.

Here are ten fab things about this book:

1)    Alice is adorable and yet real. She poops, she screams, she keeps Pippa up at night, and yet, she makes me want to be a grandma. It’s easy to see why, although she makes him nervous, Harry falls for Alice too.

2)    Pippa (like many of Ms. Mayberry’s heroines) has a vibrator and, when there’s not a man in her life, takes good care of herself. Her sexual self is integral to who she is. She’s not a MILF—although Harry would disagree—she’s a mom very comfortable with her sexuality. (I loved her lingerie.)

3)    Harry’s friendship with Steve—even when he thinks Steve’s being a total dick—always matters to Harry. Harry struggles mightily to work out a way to honor his friendship with Steve and have a relationship with Steve’s ex. Harry doesn’t want to have to choose between a woman and his friend—he wants to be true to both.

4)    The sex scenes are—according to me—the hottest Ms. Mayberry’s ever written. They are among the best I’ve read because they encompass all that Harry and Pippa and their relationship are. Plus they are just incendiary.

5)    Pippa and Harry don’t fall in love overnight or easily find their way to their HEA. Pippa doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes she made with Steve and she has Alice to consider. As hot as Harry is—and man is he hot—she’s thinking about more than just her love life. Harry, too, isn’t sure he wants true love. He genuinely likes his carefree life and, as enticing as Pippa is, he’s not sure giving it up will make him happy.

6)    Harry’s relationship with his father is realistic and moving. Harry’s always refused to work in his dad’s shop and he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to take the place over when his dad retires. The way his dad handles his disappointment and his love for Harry is lovely.

7)    For almost everyone in this book, money matters. Pippa works a shift job while trying to go to school and she thinks about every dollar she spends. Her mom is a retiree with a limited income. Harry’s family and friends—with the exception of his sister and her husband (the couple from All They Need)are all solidly middle class and comfortable being so. Pippa longs not for designer jeans but for enough money to pay the water bill. The people in this book seem real, grounded in the world we actually live in.

8)    Parts of this book are so funny I’m smiling about them still. Never has a tube of wood filler been so amusing.

9)    Did I mention the sex scenes? And, if so, did I say how well desire is portrayed? I think somehow lust is different from desire—the latter is more fraught with emotion. The desire in this book is sexy and real—I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to be wanted in the way Harry wants Pippa.

10)  This story is all about true love. Not sappy, fairy-tale love, but the kind of love that makes people believe life is worth living. Every relationship explored in any depth in Suddenly You is one worth having. As Pippa says, when she explains to Harry what Alice means to her,

It’s sort of…I don’t know…opened my heart. Made life less about me. And I mean that in a good way. Loving someone and wanting them to be happy is a pretty great mission to have, in my book.”

In the beginning of this review, I said Suddenly You is “Yet another well-done book by Ms. Mayberry with appealing characters and a sweet love story.” But writing this review has made me realize that’s not what I’d say.

So here’s my one sentence review of Suddenly You:

“One of Ms. Mayberry’s very best books, with moving lovers, love scenes, and love. It’s a keeper.”

I give it an A-.

Dabney

 

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REVIEW: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry

REVIEW: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry

Dear Ms. Mayberry,

It’s always a delight to read your books. Your characters are interesting, multifaceted, (reasonably) ordinary men and women; your plots are touching without being tawdry; your love stories convincing and sexy. More Than One Night isn’t my favorite of your books—I had trouble with the heroine—but was an enjoyable novel and one I’d recommend to any contemporary romance reader.

More Than One Night	Sarah MayberryCharlie (Charlotte) Long, is at 32, out of the Australian army after fourteen years, and ready to begin the rest of her life. On her first night of “freedom,” she and her friend Gina open a bottle of champagne and Gina toasts Charlie, saying,

“To the rest of your life. To having a home that’s all yours. To meeting a guy who doesn’t know how to field strip a Steyr F88 rifle and who isn’t going to ship out when things start getting good. And to never, ever having to wear khaki again.”

Gina’s been out of the army for a couple of years, has a good job, a sweet little house—Charlie is staying in her spare room—and loves civilian life. Charlie too is happy to move on and yet she’s anxious.

“She’d die before she admitted it to anyone, but rather than being excited by all the choices and possibilities that lay ahead of her, she was feeling more than a little overwhelmed.”

She’s got a nice place to live, she’s building up a business as a web designer, she has a fabulous friend—we all need a Gina in our lives–, but she’s quietly terrified. She tells herself

Stop freaking out. You can do this. How hard can it be? You find an apartment. You buy some furniture. You start a life. It’s not rocket science. 

It only felt like it.

Charlie, despite having been a very successful communications engineer with the Royal Australia Corps of Sigs, doesn’t have a lot of confidence. Oh she knows there are things she does well—she’s organized, intelligent, and ethical—but she sees herself as ordinary, plain old Charlie. And when I say plain, I mean unattractive, unsexy, and, in general, uninteresting to men. She’s never been in love, most of her sexual encounters have been awkward, her mirror is not her friend. Gina’s told her she’s crazy, that Charlie is lovely. But Charlie can’t believe it—really, Charlie won’t believe it. She’s sure she’s, to use a phrase from my grandmother, not much to look at.

On Charlie’s first night back, Gina gets the chance to prove Charlie wrong. Charlie and Gina have made plans to go to one of Sydney’s hottest restaurants but Charlie, whose luggage is missing, has none of her own clothes to wear. Gina talks Charlie into borrowing an outfit of Gina’s—a mesh halter and a pair of skin-tight stretch satin black pants. Charlie squeezes into the outfit, puts on some sexy makeup, and, once at the bar, is astonished to see guy after guy checking her out. She’s so stunned, in fact, she stumbles down a stair and spills a glass of red wine all over the white-shirted chest of an absolutely gorgeous guy. When she tries to apologize, he–Rhys Walker–tells her if she lets him buy her a drink, he’ll call it even. She can barely believe this beautiful man is flirting with her—which he very clearly is—and, after finishing her meal with Gina, Charlie decides to go for it. Usually Charlie listens to the voice in her head that tells her she’s just good, old, plain Charlie.

The voice was probably right. It had saved her from making a lot of bad decisions in her life, that voice. But she didn’t want to listen tonight. She wanted more of the feeling she’d experienced when she’d caught Rhys tracking her every move with his dark, heated gaze. For that precious handful of seconds she had felt powerful and knowing and invincible and incredibly sexy.

It might be an illusion—maybe even a delusion—but she wanted more of it. Even if it meant she was setting herself up to fail spectacularly.

Charlie finds Rhys, who has spent the evening praying the gorgeous woman who dumped wine on him will reappear, and, after a few more drinks, conversation, and the obliging exit of Gina, Rhys takes Charlie to his apartment where the two have a night of incredible sex. For Charlie, it’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced.

He started to move, and within seconds she’d found his rhythm. Every clumsy sexual encounter she’d ever had, every second of self-consciousness over her body or her own needs, every doubt she’d ever experienced went out the window as she gave herself over to the moment.

Rhys too is astonished by how sizzling they are together. The two make love three times—using a condom each time—and fall asleep in one another’s arms. The sun comes up, Charlie arises, sees how gorgeous Rhys is as he sleeps, checks out her own—to her—unlovely visage in his bathroom mirror and bolts, leaving him a short note and a hundred bucks to pay for his shirt.

This action on her part—and the attitude behind it–made me crazy. And, unfortunately, it fuels the story that unfolds after that splendiferous night. Eight weeks later, Charlie’s found her own place, her work is going well, and civilian life is working out for her.  The only downside of her life is that she spends a little too much time wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t bailed on Rhys. At least that’s the only downside until she realizes—when Gina asks her why she doesn’t have a tampon Gina can borrow—she hasn’t had a period for almost three months. She buys a kit, pees on the stick, and is terrified to realize the condoms failed and she, careful, disciplined Charlie, is pregnant from a night of smokin’ sex with a total stranger. After giving an abortion some very real thought, Charlie decides to keep the baby. She tracks down Rhys, tells him he’s going to be a dad, and, the two begin a “we just spend time together because we are going to have a baby together” relationship.

Rhys, who is a likable perfect hero—I think these are rare– is wonderful after his initial shock at Charlie’s news. Rhys is like Gina—I can’t imagine the woman who wouldn’t want him in her life. He’s gorgeous, funny, sensitive, sexy, compassionate, and—this is how you know he’s almost too good to be true—a great listener. As he goes with Charlie to her doctors’ appointments, has lunch with her, takes walks with her, he’s struck again and again by how much he likes her and is attracted to her. Sure, she’s not the sex-goddess he met at the bar:

“Looking at her now, it was almost impossible to believe that it had been the same woman. Not that she wasn’t attractive and sexy in a far more subtle way in her current outfit, but there was definitely a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on as far as her appearance went.”

He, like Charlie, wonders what would have happened between the two if she hadn’t run out on him that morning. Rhys comes from a large, close, argumentative, loving family. All of his siblings are married and Rhys would like to be too. He’s excited about the baby, his family loves Charlie, and, when he’s with her, he feels a pull of desire he’s sure she shares. And so, he makes the occasional, very subtle overture and, every time, gets shut down. Why? Because Charlie’s so freaking hung on hers and his looks. He’s gorgeous, she’s not. Girls like her don’t belong with guys like him. By the last third of the book, Charlie was seriously ticking me off. As Gina asks, at the very least, “You don’t think being attracted to the father of your baby would be making the best of a bad situation?”

What bothered me even more though, than Charlie’s “we can’t be together because you are a golden god and I’m not” is that Charlie’s issues about her looks aren’t really about her looks. They’re really about her childhood and the lack of love she received from her inattentive, impossible to please, recently dead father. Charlie’s mother died giving birth to Charlie and, no matter what Charlie did—including joining the army—her father never gave Charlie his approval or his affection. Charlie, despite Gina’s friendship, despite Rhys’ care, doesn’t believe she deserves relational happiness. She’s sure she’ll always be alone and were she to let down her defenses and give her heart away, it would be returned to her unwanted and broken. This psychological problem has resonance—Charlie whinging that’s she’s not hot enough to hold onto a hunk like Rhys does not. And the former—Charlie feeling undeserving of love—doesn’t easily explain her issues about her looks. It didn’t work for me that Charlie’s fear of rejection played itself out in her insistence, despite input from people she cares for and respects, that she’s incapable of being physically attractive.

It’s a flaw in the book and one that irked me greatly. But, so much else about the book is wonderful, I forgave the flaw. I prized so much about More Than One Night. I adored that Charlie was in the military and speaks at length about her experiences there. It was a wondrous thing to read a book where the unmarried, working heroine gives abortion some serious thought. Charlie’s and Gina’s friendship is not only a great one, it feels vibrantly true. The love scenes are wonderfully sexy. Rhys’s family is also beautifully portrayed. He and his siblings have issues—Rhys is the successful capitalist in a family of do-good liberals—and they argue in ways that ring absolutely true. I loved the Walkers, loved their argumentative dinners, loved their nosy prying into Rhys’ life. They, like all the other characters in this book, are written as wonderfully real. They talk about their kids, their jobs, whose turn it is to take out the trash—you have such a knack for writing the everyday life.

I venerate the way you write. Your prose is fluid, descriptive, and insightful. When Rhys decides he believes Charlie when she tells him she’s sure it’s his baby, he thinks,

He believed her. He didn’t know why—he didn’t know her from a bar of soap—but he believed she was speaking the truth.

This phrase—“he didn’t know her from a bar of soap”—is perfect and, like so many of your sentences, gets the point across with clarity and innovative but simple imagery. Writing clean, crisp, engaging prose is not an easy thing to do and you, in book after book, do it splendidly. Thank you.

I think perhaps the best thing about More Than One Night is that Charlie does, on her own, take a leap of faith. She decides she’s more than plain, old Charlie. She makes a sad peace with the legacy from her father and decides to live her life on her terms, not his. By the book’s end, Charlie’s happiness is hers, hard-won and true. Seeing her trust herself was lovely. I finished the book, thinking, yet again, how much I enjoy your books.

This enjoyable–not perfect, but enjoyable–book gets a B/B+ from me.

Sincerely,

 

Dabney

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