This women’s fiction follows a wife, mother, and wannabe author as she prepares for her friend’s wedding while awaiting the birth of her second child.
For Penny, life is nearly perfect. Her husband and former professor, James, is handsome, wealthy, and utterly devoted to Penny and their tiny daughter, Scarlett. James’ brothers and their wives have also become close friends. However, Penny is dealing with two life challenges. First, her doctor has detected a heart murmur and warns that the condition could negatively affect her unborn child. Second, Penny’s novel, a fictionalized version of her and James’ love story, has been rejected by 13 literary agents. Also, young Scarlett keeps warning her parents that “the snake” is coming to hurt her mommy. As Penny endures prenatal appointments, friendship dramas, and helping her best friend, Bee, prepare for her upcoming wedding, she dismisses Scarlett’s fears as innocent ramblings of a little girl inspired by the Harry Potter movies. Bee’s wedding draws closer, bringing with it a surprise baby shower, a fraught bachelor/bachelorette weekend, and enthusiastic lovemaking between James and Penny. Feeling sicker and more tired as each day goes by, with James on a mysterious business trip to London, Penny grows paranoid and begins to question the state of her marriage and growing family. Smoak’s (James the Christmas Grouch, 2018, etc.) writing is engaging and her characters sympathetic, and Penny is a funny, observant hero: “Pregnancy glow my ass, I thought as I closed the dressing room door behind me.” The sex scenes between Penny and James are tantalizing and raw, a celebration of the beauty of pregnant women: “I like your stretch marks….They remind me of the gift you’ve given me.” Unfortunately, the tone drastically changes from romantic to frightening in the final third of the book, and the reader is thrown for a loop.
An initially fun read that abruptly shifts without warning, leading to a jarring conclusion and confusing cliffhanger.