McCall Smith knows how to concoct delightful fictions, but this one is undercooked.


McCall Smith (Chance Developments, 2016, etc.) adds to the overworked subgenre of Tuscan travel romance with this pallid story about a Scottish cookery writer recovering from his broken heart in Italy.

Paul has published nine wildly successful books about food and wine under the tutelage of his “freelance editor” Gloria, who may harbor but doesn’t quite express deeper than professional feelings for him. This is a contemporary novel, and Paul, whose decency and sensitivity McCall Smith frequently touts, is only supposed to be 36, but his reticence, especially concerning sex, and the mildly witty, buttoned-down dialogue make both character and time frame seem much older—think 1930s Fred Astaire sidekick. After Paul’s girlfriend, Becky, dumps him for her personal trainer (the first of many oh please! moments in a novel rife with clichés) and Paul falls apart, Gloria suggests he take a trip to Tuscany to finish up his book on the Tuscan lifestyle. Arriving in Pisa, he faces a series of unfortunate events one would think an experienced travel writer would manage more handily. Victimized by stereotypically hot-tempered, conceited, and larcenous Italians, he’s left without transportation to his destination, the small village of Montalcino, and even lands briefly in jail until the equally stereotypical, charming Italian “cavaliere” whom Paul met on the flight over bails him out and finds a vehicle for him to drive: a bulldozer. That bulldozer also more or less drives the plot, allowing Paul to meet charming American art historian Anna when he pulls her car out of a ditch and involving him, however unknowingly, in several escapades involving Montalcino villagers. Soon romantic complications set in: Paul thinks he’s in love with Anna but she has a male friend coming to visit; Becky shows up to apologize, followed for reasons that remain vague by Gloria. Montalcino, of course, is full of natural beauty, ruined buildings, salt-of-the-earth if charming connivers, and underappreciated wine.

McCall Smith knows how to concoct delightful fictions, but this one is undercooked.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87139-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable...


An unlucky woman finally gets lucky in love on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

From getting her hand stuck in a claw machine at age 6 to losing her job, Olive Torres has never felt that luck was on her side. But her fortune changes when she scores a free vacation after her identical twin sister and new brother-in-law get food poisoning at their wedding buffet and are too sick to go on their honeymoon. The only catch is that she’ll have to share the honeymoon suite with her least favorite person—Ethan Thomas, the brother of the groom. To make matters worse, Olive’s new boss and Ethan’s ex-girlfriend show up in Hawaii, forcing them both to pretend to be newlyweds so they don’t blow their cover, as their all-inclusive vacation package is nontransferable and in her sister’s name. Plus, Ethan really wants to save face in front of his ex. The story is told almost exclusively from Olive’s point of view, filtering all communication through her cynical lens until Ethan can win her over (and finally have his say in the epilogue). To get to the happily-ever-after, Ethan doesn’t have to prove to Olive that he can be a better man, only that he was never the jerk she thought he was—for instance, when she thought he was judging her for eating cheese curds, maybe he was actually thinking of asking her out. Blending witty banter with healthy adult communication, the fake newlyweds have real chemistry as they talk it out over snorkeling trips, couples massages, and a few too many tropical drinks to get to the truth—that they’re crazy about each other.

Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable as well as free.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2803-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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