Sarah Hogle’s Twice Shy is one dollop sweet romance about two wallflowers, one dollop ‘what-in-the-world-am-I-reading?’ Its heroine is so deeply entrenched in her own fantasy world at the age of thirty that I occasionally wanted to shake her, but Hogle’s talent kept me reading.
Maybell Parish lives with her head in the clouds, envisioning life as her own private “coffee shop AU” – a fantasy world where she is the center of the action and romance. In reality she works a messy job at the Around the Mountain Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (the home of Dollywood!) as a housekeeper. She’s quiet and shy and has learned to satisfy herself with fantasy dreams about ‘Jack McBride’, a Costa Rican man she fell in love with via a dating app – only for her best friend Gemma to reveal she had been catfishing her.
Maybell’s life changes unexpectedly just after she comes back from wiping vomit off the front of an ice machine. Her great-aunt Violet has died, and Maybell has inherited Violet’s rambling pink mansion Falling Stars in the Smokey Mountains. With nothing better going for her, she decides to quit her job and move into the house, planning on turning it into an inn.
But Maybell has no idea that the house has fallen into such disrepair – or that a handsome man who looks shockingly like her long-distance lover is waiting there for her.
‘Jack McBride’ is actually grumpy and taciturn Wesley Koehler, the mansion’s groundskeeper and, it turns out, half-owner of the property (whose picture was stolen and used by Gemma in the catfishing incident.) He’s been living in a cabin on the property for years, his shyness keeping him from making contact regularly with others, and when he learns that he and Maybell are to split the land he is less than pleased. He is, in fact, planning on clearing out the house and turning the property into an animal sanctuary.
Maybell soon receives the details of Violet’s dying wishes, and is informed that treasure might be buried somewhere on the property. Violet also does some beyond-the-grave matchmaking, suggesting that Maybell and Wesley get to know one another. They do, gradually, but to finally claim a real boyfriend, Maybell must surface from her fantasy life for once and for all.
I will give Hogle this – Maybell is an entirely different kind of heroine from the one featured in her previous book, You Deserve Each Other. But the character’s constant inability to separate fantasy from reality and her tendency to disappear into it makes her an exasperating figure. When Wesley ultimately buys into this fantasy and decides to make it a reality for it, the reader is torn between finding it romantic and sweet and wishing for Maybell to receive a wake-up call.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t find her funny or I didn’t pity her, but good lord – she spends so much of her time dreaming and in her own head that the first half of the book had me wanting to shake her and beg her to DO something when it came to Wesley. It’s explained why she’s like this – a panic disorder and social anxiety (which the author depict well), with the additional problem of her parents being neglectful and abusive a-holes – but still.
Wesley, meanwhile – under his bluntness – is secretly shy and sweet. He’s a good hero, and sometimes his romance with Maybell actually flies. The romance and the sense that they were helping each other grow were what landed this right into mid-level territory for me.
And the romance is so nice – filled as it is with understanding and warmth, in spite of Maybell’s….Maybell-ness, I couldn’t not enjoy it.
Twice Shy earns a middling grade – not quite able to make it over the narrative mountain, it’s still sugar-sweet and charming in spots.