This is one of the best books I’ve read all year! Elements of the beginning of the story are straight out of “The Holiday,” but that’s okay, I love that film. 🙂 The rest felt original to me, and even had some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.
The story follows Jenny, a British 20-something at the lowest part of her life–and that’s saying something. As per most chick lit heroines, at the exposition of the story, everything is going wrong for her. She grew up in a less than supportive family, twin sister to her outrageously beautiful and glamorous sister Zara, and daughter to a mother who did not know how to support or show her love. After mental health crises precipitated by living in Zara’s shadow, Jenny falls for her boss, Richard, whom she dates in secret. She’s sure he’s going to propose to her at the office holiday party in front of everyone–when, suddenly, he proposes to her twin sister instead. She’d been seducing him behind Jenny’s back.
Jenny retreats into the woods of Sherwood Forest, outside a small town that might as well be Star’s Hollow, where her grandmother raised her mother in seclusion. She finds that the cottage she’s inherited should be condemned… and yet, it’s also a duplex. The other side happens to be inhabited by a reclusive, gruff, and absolutely gorgeous man named Mack. (Of course.) Jenny has no money, and also can’t give references to potential employers, because she was fired from her former employer from breaking his new fiancee’s nose and having the cops called on her. (Oops.) But, the town is full of quirky characters with big hearts, willing to give her a chance. She soon becomes nanny to five kids with whom she falls in love, and joins a book club whose members quickly become the best friends she’s ever had. The mysterious Mack, unfriendly though he seems, sneaks into her half of the duplex when she’s not there to perform random acts of kindness when he sees her pitiful living situation.
In time, the book club morphs into more of an accountability group for a life challenge: to achieve each member’s chosen goal by Christmas. For Jenny, it’s to learn more about her family and to make her cottage into a home. For another member, it’s to find her absolute favorite reclusive author, who is supposed to live somewhere in Sherwood Forest. One single mom decides she wants to find love again. One married mom who might as well be single decides she wants to climb a mountain. One sweet secret agent man wants to learn to bake. One elderly woman with cancer wants to go out with a bang, experiencing every adventure she can think of.
Meanwhile, Jenny falls for Mack, but unfortunately learns he’s married–though she has no idea where his wife is. A strange man lurks to try to buy her property or scare her into selling. Jenny’s twin’s wedding looms, and she decides as part of her own self-discovery, she should go. Mack’s wife turns up after all… and she’s not what anybody expected. The story is episodic, much like “Anne of Green Gables” or “Gilmore Girls,” but it definitely leaves the reader with the feeling that what really matters is relationships–of all kinds. (And yes, there’s a Christmas theme too, woven into several key scenes.) It’s the literary equivalent of a cup of hot cocoa.
My rating: *****
Language: if there was any, I don’t remember it
Violence: none to speak of (though there was one weird attempted rape scene that never got very far and was over quickly. Could have done without that.)
Sexual content: none except the above (and again, nothing actually happened).
Political content: none