REVIEW: Mermaid Inn by Jenny Holiday

Two beach chairs side by side under an umbrella facing the waterWhy I read it:  This is one from my own TBR.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Eve Abbott has a problem–actually, make that a lot of problems. And they’re all going to get worse the moment her toes hit the sand in Matchmaker Bay. Once a blissful summer escape, now the tiny town just reminds Eve of loss. Inheriting her aunt’s beloved Mermaid Inn is the only reason Eve is coming back. She’s definitely not ready to handle nosy neighbors, extensive renovations, or the discovery that a certain heartbreaker still lives down the street…

Police Chief Sawyer Collins always does the right thing, even when it costs him everything. Like Evie. He’s spent the past ten years trying to forget her–to forget how right she felt in his arms, to forget the pain in her eyes the day she left. The last thing he expects is to see her back in town or to find that the spark between them is as strong as ever. Sawyer knows this is his only chance to prove that his feelings have always been real… before Eve turns tail and leaves for good.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  A new Jenny Holiday book is cause for celebration so I preordered this one and cracked it open almost as soon as I had it. There was a lot to like, with the signature humour which tends to really work for me and characters I cared about, as well as some delightful quirkiness for extra spice.

Eve Abbott used to spend summers in Moonflower Bay, on the banks of Lake Huron in Ontario, with her Aunt Lucille who ran the Mermaid Inn. (Yes, I know the series is called “Matchmaker Bay” – I’m getting there.) She became fast friends with young Sawyer Collins as a young teen and they gradually grew to be more over the years. By the time they were both 17 they began having sex and then when they were both 18, everything came to a screeching halt when Eve watched Sawyer make out with Jeannie Wilkerson on the Mer-Queen float in the town’s annual Labor Day Mermaid Parade. Eve left town and did not return. Thereafter’s Eve’s interactions with Aunt Lucille were limited to when she came  to where Eve was, or via phone calls or email. Eve put the rest of Moonflower Bay out of her mind and had not intended to ever go back. However, as the book begins, Aunt Lucille has died and left Eve the Inn in her will. Only, there’s a catch. Eve must not sell the Inn for a year.

Eve is a librarian in Toronto with a boatload of student debt. Selling the Inn means financial freedom for her. The Inn is however badly in need of some renovations and is hardly in the best state to be sold.

Sawyer Collins is now the Police Chief and as happens in a small town, he and Eve cross paths early and often. At first, Eve is just angry with him. That, of course, changes over time.

The lady who runs the theatre (and, I’m certain, a future series heroine), Maya Mehta, whom Eve knew a little back when she was younger, becomes a fast friend to the now 28-year-old Eve and convinces Eve to “exorcise” Sawyer from her psyche during the year she must stay in Moonflower Bay and renovate the Inn in preparation for sale.

Of course, there was a reason for Sawyer’s behaviour at the Mermaid Parade all those years ago. The reader finds out first and not very long later, so does Eve. It makes a difference and the pair decide to be “not not-friends” and then actual friends and then, because this is a romance, more.

Sawyer’s buddies are Jake and Law (future heroes no doubt) and they give him some much-needed advice even though he doesn’t always (or often) take it. I enjoyed the friendships between both groups of people. It helped to round out the characters as well as introduce the town. Maya is kind of hilarious and she has a very interesting relationship with Law so watch this space I guess.

There is also a group of older people who are always sticking their nose into other people’s business and are perennial matchmakers (hence the series name). Aunt Lucille was one of the group and the those who remain clearly have ideas for Sawyer and Eve. Sawyer is wise to their antics and feels the need to watch them closely.

They reminded him of a smaller, slower, more geriatric version of Ocean’s 11.

Peppered throughout the story were amusing listicles from Eve which helped to add humour and which often made me smile.

Wishes Eve Abbott Considered While Sawyer Collins Stared at Her Back

1. That Sawyer Collins was not, in fact, staring at her back

….

2. That she could go back in time and make “It was never serious” true.

3. That she could toss Sawyer in the lake?

4. That she could stop thinking about Sawyer Collins being all wet and shivery.

I also enjoyed the reference to romance novels as Maya give Eve advice about what to do with her Sawyer problem.

Eve spread her fingers wider. “You mean like get him out of my system?”

Maya shrugged. “Wash that man right out of your hair? Or, you know, wash that man’s beard hair out of your nether regions—ha!”

“I don’t think the ‘We’re only going to do this once, and then I’ll magically be over you’ thing actually works outside of romance novels.”

“Does it work in romance novels?”

Eve groaned. “No.”

Sawyer’s younger sister, Clara, is just turning 18 and is about to head off to college. Sawyer has basically raised her and their relationship, as well as Clara’s with Eve was pretty delightful too.

The townsfolk were a fairly diverse bunch and I appreciated that too. It wasn’t “hey look at me I’m being diverse”. Rather it was just the kind of representation one would reasonably expect in a small town as opposed to the all-white, all-straight versions common in romance fiction.

What else? Where I struggled a little with the story was the episodic nature of it. The book takes place over the course of a year and there are massive time jumps from one section to the next. For example, when Sawyer and Eve eventually start having sex, the story skips ahead five months. FIVE! (Consequently all that good stuff was off page. Boo.) I found it a little jarring and sometimes I got a bit lost, not realising it wasn’t the next day or the next week and sometimes things which felt like they would be talked about or sorted the next day or the next week were skipped altogether. It’s the kind of thing that makes my brain itch.

There were also one or two problems with the timeline when things were apparently happening but then later it was obvious they didn’t happen as agreed/planned and then that they hadn’t happened at all (most especially in relation to the “pink room of pain”).

There was also a formatting issue when the characters were texting each other. Sometimes, most often at the beginning of a text exchange, the texts would be just included with the narrative paragraph. Other times, there would be something like this:

Sawyer: Final coat of varnish on the front desk.

So it would be difficult to tell when the text exchange actually began and I had to go back and re-contextualise sometimes.

Also, I have a confession to make: I have never seen The Little Mermaid. Probably I’d have understood the story a little better if I had. Not that the book was difficult to understand but I didn’t immediately know that there is a song in the movie called “Kiss the Girl”. Those who are familiar with the Disney film will probably get a kick out of all the movie references I mostly missed. I have seen Splash! however so all was not lost.

There was a lot to like in Mermaid Inn but the stop/start of the time jumps meant that I didn’t quite relax into the story like I wanted to.

Grade: B-

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