A smart, quick-witted take on love and friendship, perfect for readers with less starry-eyed views of romance.


Cold Calling

A mopey young Londoner pursues a friendship with an older woman in Mardell’s (Darkshines Seven, 2015, etc.) seriocomic novel with shades of Nick Hornby’s work.

Sad-sack man-child Ray English is staring down his 30th birthday, working a dead-end call-center job, and still hung up on his college girlfriend, Katie, who unceremoniously dumped him five years ago. A self-confessed “intolerable little shit,” he’s nearly exhausted the patience of his lifelong friend and roommate, Danny, who just wants him to stop stewing over the girl who kicked him to the curb. Ray is reforming his old band to perform at an acquaintance’s wedding, which may be the kick in the pants he needs to get his life in gear, but it also means a return to his hometown—and a possible encounter with Katie. Meanwhile, Ray unburdens himself to Anya Belmont, a decade-older married woman whom he happened to cold-call one night at work. The pair never meet face to face but build a friendship by telling each other stories of romantic disasters and relating their skeptical attitudes about love. This thoroughly enjoyable novel offers a clever, contemporary spin on the classic boy-meets-girl plot. Neither Ray nor Anya is particularly likable, but that just makes them more real. Like many spurned lovers, Ray puts his ex on a pedestal without realizing that his reasons for loving her, such as that “she wears good shoes” and has “perfect taste in music,” are juvenile. Wisely, Mardell balances his leading man’s occasionally tedious monologues about relationships with amusing interludes from secondary characters. Particularly welcome is Anya’s friend Eva, a reluctant, albeit wildly successful, children’s book author who hates kids: “How am I supposed to build a career on the back of children’s whims?” she moans. Yet even she turns out to be more complex than she initially seems. Everyone in this book is struggling to determine what it means to be successful in life and love, and Mardell ably captures their challenge of transitioning from youthful optimism to sober adulthood.

A smart, quick-witted take on love and friendship, perfect for readers with less starry-eyed views of romance.  

Pub Date: March 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78589-121-2

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd.

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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