Here’s Looking At You – Mhairi McFarlane

What to expect:
Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Mills & Boon moments.
Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn’t be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream. However, things weren’t always this way, and her years spent as the ‘Italian Galleon’ of an East London comprehensive are ones she’d rather forget.
So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna’s final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she’s a fool to trust him?

This is the author’s second book, following You Had Me At Hello, and although the titles don’t stick in my head, the covers are eye catching. On to the stories, which are marvellous:

Kooks for your Kindle?– Anna has a sweet, occasionally shallow sister, Aggy, who’s planning her own dream wedding with her adorable fiance Chris- unfortunately they don’t see eye to eye on the financial side of the wedding. Anna’s bestie is restaurateur Michelle, who’s big, brash and the kind of woman you want on your side in life. At work at the university Anna has colleague Patrick on her side- but how far would he go to protect her, and why? Finally James is the main man here, some of the book is told from his point of view so we get to know him quite well. He’s going through a divorce from faithless ice queen Eva less than a year after the wedding, he’s sick of his job and is growing apart from his oldest school friend. He’s a different person to the kid he was at school, and doesn’t recognise Anna when they meet again- so he’s baffled by her initial cold front.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Anna is a remarkably well adjusted adult, considering her troubling school days, but in the acceptance years of her thirties, having lost some weight and recovered her complexion, she’s more attractive than she realises. She’s found her niche as a history professor and is enjoying passing on her love of her favourite historical heroine in a museum special exhibition, which was both unusual and interesting. Anna has nothing against meeting men online, despite mostly disastrous results when she meets them in real life, a triumph of optimism over experience. Unfortunately this composed, contented woman begins to unravel when her former school bully appears in her professional life- but having the element of surprise, she has some options.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– I had occasionally wondered what a life in academia would be like and imagined it to be quite peaceful. But then you have to factor in some students I guess!

Nookie for your Nook?– Nothing scandalous, might fail the Mother-in-Law test on language. Best suited to readers from twenties to forties?

Evaluation of your eBook?– There’s a definite P&P vibe up in here; James rescues the silly sister; Anna’s mum is also quite silly while her long suffering Dad favours Anna over her sister; there’s a second man in the picture who’s up to no good and tries it on with both sisters; it’s fun to spot all the little homages. Having read this, I wanted to read it again- so I did a couple of weeks later. Anna’s a lovable character who hasn’t let her childhood traumas ruin her adulthood, she calmly got on with it, lost weight, found her passion and is getting out there on the dating scene, while retaining a delightfully sarcastic view on life. It’s as witty, clever and heartfelt as the author’s last, and I particularly loved the scenes with Anna and her wildly varied family. Get it for a smart, sad, happy, intelligent frothy read.

Frothy Ranking: 5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for only 99p.

US: On Amazon for $8.99, and Kobobooks have it for $7.39.

You Had Me At Hello- Mhairi McFarlane

Rachel, a reporter in her early thirties, has an epiphany and breaks up with her fiancé after thirteen years together. Just as most of her graduate peers are settling down (or just settling), breeding, and furnishing their houses like proper grown-ups, Rachel is starting over; even if it is in a fabulous borrowed Manchester city centre party-flat. To add to the stress, Rachel has the chance at a big reporting scoop, a work-related moral dilema, a potential new man, and a reappearance of her college best-mate Ben with his beautiful new wife. This is a very British tale with themes including the transition from studenthood to adulthood, marriage, timing, friendship, love, and having the guts to pull the plug on a long term relationship that isn’t working.

Kooks for your Kindle?– Rachel has a loyal coterie from her college days, reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ friends, but more authentic. Eccentric Mindy with Indian origins, Caroline the slightly posh married friend, and Ivor the lone male finding his way- he has a particularly hilarious scene near the end. Rachel’s introduction to Ben’s wife was well written- Rachel being the college friend with a history you don’t share, his wife unsure if they were always platonic. I suspect many of us have those old friends that have taken to adulthood more easily, and seem to have it all together with the house, career, money, and marriage. Of course all is not always as it seems.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor?– I found Rachel particularly easy to empathise and identify with. I loved the way she decisively broke up with her fiancé, with whom she was comfortable but not happy, and got on with it. I’ve been there, although at a younger age, and there will always be people who think you’ve made a bad decision without them knowing the inner workings of the relationship. Rachel is north of thirty when it happens, and is brave enough to ignore well-meant ‘clock-ticking’ warnings. It’s nice to read of an intelligent heroine who is not shopping obsessed and does not fall into ditzy scrapes of her own making.

Painting a picture for your paperback?– The whole tale is set in urban Manchester and structured with occasional flashbacks to Ben and Rachel’s friendship as students, from the day they met. This format works well to keep the reader hooked. Former students will be transported straight back to the scary first days of meeting new friends, finding your way, S.U. bars, learning to consume massive amounts of alcohol, and grotty halls of residence. The present day tale could work in any city, but fits well in Manchester, focusing on the Court house where Rachel is based as a reporter, and the ridiculously decorated loft-flat that she is house-sitting having left her fiance.

Evaluation of your eBook?– Any book that resonates so strongly with me (and throws in at least two Star Wars references to boot) is always going to rate highly on my scale, but I think others will enjoy it too. The tone of the book felt less frothy than the cover and title would suggest, it seemed more substantial (in length too): it was a pleasantly surprising, intelligent read. The first-person narrative is witty and sharp, although some of the pop-culture references will be lost on non-British readers, but it’s a heartfelt tale of love and finally realising what you want. The outcome is as it should be, and the very end is not as dramatic as the rest of the tale, but satisfying. Overall a very thoughtful page turner and an absolute bargain.

Frothy Ranking: 5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith for only 99p. Oh no! It’s gone up to £3.50. Still worth it though!

US: On Amazon I’ve seen the price vary from $1.62 to $4.74. Kobobooks have it for $7.29