Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
I’m shook. No…really. Shook. How has SmartyPants Romance challenged romancelandia? I’ve been blessed to read and review the ARCs associated with the various authors? And each book has truly been a treasure. Each one has connected us back to the folks of Penny Reid’s Green Valley, Tennessee or Chicago. Every time I read one of the books, I return to my favorite folks: the Winston Family and the Knitting Circle Ladies.
In the newest book, Shelf Awareness, Katie Ashley plops us once again in Green Valley. When I first began reading her story, I thought for sure it sounded similar to Tempest’s story in Stud Muffin. While the heroines share the common theme of infidelity, our heroine in Shelf Awareness, Finley’s infidelity comes in the form of a different package. It’s as devastating as Tempest’s; however, its ramifications don’t reach in the same way that they do in that story. Instead, what Shelf Awareness helps us understand is that we can miss the reality of our relationships when we are blinded by love or the want of love.
Finley, a newspaper editor and reporter, finds out her husband has been unfaithful to her, and there is no chance for reconciliation. She decides that she needs a change. She leaves Atlanta and plants herself in Green Valley, the town where her grandmother, GramBea, lives. With no job and a broken dream, her grandmother motivates her to remedy the job situation. With her help, Finley finds a job with the Green Valley Library in the newly-created local native American history room. Inspired by this change, Finley begins to realize a different career path for herself. In the midst of this change, she becomes attracted to an IT volunteer, Zeke, who is helping the library with its renovation and system changes. As she grows closer to Zeke, Finley realizes that her husband did not support her in the way she needed. In Zeke, she finds a friend and an eventual love interest. Unfortunately, Zeke is on sabbatical from his job in Seattle. When he returns home, will they find a future together, or is this a momentary connection?
What Shelf Awareness has in spades is humor. Laugh out loud, belly-laughing humor. This seems at odds with the content of the book. I mean, infidelity? How can that be made funny? Katie Ashley doesn’t make that funny. Instead, she creates humor in other areas to allay the sting of the story’s tension. She crafts a community of women in GramBea, Aunt Dot, and Estelle who act as sages for Finley. They also lighten the topic of the story with their antics. Ashley likens them to the Golden Girls, and these women don’t disappoint. Each moment they infiltrate the book, there is a guaranteed laugh and they steal every scene. Even more, as Finley’s journey of self-discovery and healing progresses, she challenges her grandmother to make changes in her life. This provides a lesson that wisdom can be found in the mouths of the young and old.
As hero and heroine, Zeke and Finley are well-developed. Honestly, since this book is written from Finley’s point of view, she feels more round as a character than Zeke. His own journey is interesting in this book, but we can only understand his experience from the point of view of Finley. However, he is everything you love about a hero: compassionate, thoughtful, articulate, empathic, and wise. His only alpha tendencies occur in the bedroom; instead, his nature leans toward kind and caring.
Like her Golden Girls, Finley’s character development places you on a slide rule of emotions. One minute, you will mourn for the end of her marriage and the way it transpires. The next minute, you will find yourself doubled-over laughing at her antics. There is a scene with a Ben Wa ball that made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. Yet, most important about Finley is her growth. Zeke acts as the impetus for her change. He motivates her to try new experiences, and she embraces them, even with fear or trepidation. Her divorce allows her the opportunity to develop, to grow. And this is the essence of this book. The awareness in this book is found in the need for us to self-reflect on our lives to ensure we are still growing, not stagnating. As Finley’s journey unfolds, we are reminded that life is about the journey, not the destination.
The SmartyPants Romance books provide us with such a depth and breadth of experience. That’s been my favorite part of reading them. Shelf Awareness by Katie Ashley is no different. She designed Zeke and Finley to inspire us to remember what matters: to be loved and to have fun. This is what you’ll find a lot of in this book. From a comic-con to a Golden Girls allusion to an escaping Ben Wa ball to finding one’s birth parents and that aftermath, Shelf Awareness has everything you need to be entertained and challenged.
In love and romance,