Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

georgie all along

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page.

But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path.

Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back.

Rating: B+

I don’t read much m/f romance these days, but I’m always up for one of Kate Clayborn’s because they’re so thoughtful and tender and honest. She writes complex, well-drawn characters who are dealing with relatable, real-life problems, and while not ‘flashy’ or full of drama, her books nonetheless pack a real emotional punch. Her newest release, Georgie, All Along seems to be a retread of the ‘protagonist returns to small home-town and finds love and a new direction in life’ trope – and, to an extent, it is – but in Ms. Clayborn’s capable hands the story transcends the trope and becomes something simultaneously deeper and refreshingly different.

Georgie Mulcahy always had a reputation for being a bit flaky and unreliable in her hometown of Darentville, Virginia. She didn’t amount to much at school and never had any real ambitions beyond it; but her ability to live completely in the ‘now’, to adapt and to think on her feet proved to be exactly suited to working as a PA to high-powered (and high-maintenance) intensely creative – and often intensely chaotic – people in the entertainment industry. For the past three years, she’s worked for Nadia, a well-known screenwriter and director, but when Nadia decides – spontaneously – to retire, Georgie is left at a loose end, coming face to face with the fact that she’s never really had a plan for what to do with her life. With Nadia’s suggestion that she can take the time to do “all the things you want to do”, Georgie decides to head back home for a little while, spend some time with her best friend and her family while she works out what she wants to do next.

Arrived in Darentville, Georgie stops at what she remembers as the general store but which she is surprised to find is now somewhat more upmarket than it used to be. In fact, the whole town seems to have undergone a transformation, the slightly shabby place she remembers giving way to new housing and shops and the signs of a flourishing tourism trade. It’s this ‘renewal’ that has drawn her best friend, Bel, back there, to a new life in a new home with her husband and their soon-to-be family (Bel is eight months pregnant). Georgie decides to buy them a couple of strawberry milkshakes – hopefully they’re as good as she remembers – only to be realise she’s left her purse in her car. Embarrassed – she’s only been back in town less than a hour and already she’s living up to people’s memories and expectations of her as a total flake – she’s checking her pockets just in case, when a guy wearing scruffy work clothes and an irritated expression, steps in to pay for the shakes so he can buy his own stuff and be on his way. The guy is pretty dismissive when she says she’ll pay him back; that, and the knowing looks on the face of the other customer – one of her former teachers – only bolsters Georgie’s determination that when she leaves town this time, she’s going to have figured herself out and worked out what she really wants.

One of the things Georgie had banked on was being able to help Bel out in some way – maybe with unpacking or getting the nursery ready – so she’s a bit disappointed to discover that Bel is on top of everything and doesn’t really need her help at all. She brightens a little when Bel takes her to a room full of boxes and bags that she realises contain a lot of stuff from when Bel was younger – and becomes excited when she finds the notebook containing their eighth grade ‘friendfic’, story after story about what they’d do once they got to high school, surprised to discover her teenaged brain teeming with ideas – albeit on a small scale – about her future. She decides to take it home with her – maybe she’ll be able to work out what happened to that girl (who had actual intentions) – and decides that if she can make some of her teenage dreams come true, she’ll be able to get closer to finding a new path for herself.

Georgie’s parents – who are retired – are away on one of their regular road-trips, so Georgie isn’t expecting company when she goes back home, but she’s in the middle of reading through the fic when she hears a key turning in the lock and the familiar creak of the door sticking before it opens to reveal the guy from the store. And his huge, lumbering dog Hank, who barrels right in.

Levi Fanning is the black sheep of his well-to-to family as well as being Darentville’s ‘bad boy’ – despite being in his thirties and the owner of a successful business. He’s also the older brother of Evan, on whom Georgie once had a massive crush, and is clearly as surprised to find Georgie in the house as she is to see him there. It turns out that her dad had offered him the use of the house for a few weeks because his own is having some badly needed repairs done – and had forgotten to tell Georgie about it. As a set up, I admit it feels a bit contrived, but once we meet Georgie’s lovingly chaotic, free-spirited parents, it becomes perfectly plausible.

Georgie and Levi embody certain romance novel stereotypes (she’s the ‘quirky’, ‘flighty’ heroine, who travels with belongings in trash bags in the back of her car and doesn’t have a Plan; he’s a grumpy, shy loner with a troubled past), and one of the things I really enjoyed about the story is the way the author shows that Georgie’s ‘flightiness’ is part of what made her so very good at her job, how her adaptability, intuitiveness and creativity are great strengths. Levi’s backstory emerges slowly, but his bad reputation is down to his going through a more than rebellious phase that continued into young adulthood which has led to his being estranged from his family. In the years since, he’s worked hard to make something of himself and to dispel that old image – but the locals have long memories and he keeps himself pretty much to himself now, keeping his head down, doing his job and kind of creeping around the edges of life, believing he doesn’t deserve anything more. By contrast, Georgie comes from a loving – if somewhat scatty – family, who always loved and supported her, giving her the space to make mistakes and be a mess – but it’s only now that she starts to see that what they were really encouraging her to be was herself.

These two are authentic and honest with one another and are prepared to give each other time and space when they need it. I loved that Levi is able to really see Georgie when others – even those closest to her – aren’t always able to, and that while Georgie always calls Levi on his bullshit she’s never aggressive or unkind. She doesn’t push him for more than he’s comfortable sharing but also makes it clear why she’s calling him out and that she wants to understand and help if she can. They both make mistakes – Levi, in particular, makes some choices I wasn’t happy about – but when they do, they take responsibility for them and do their best to fix them.

This is one of those books where nothing much ‘happens’ but where there’s a lot going on under the surface. The relationships – Georgie and Bel (the revelation as to the origins of the friendfic is just brilliant), Georgie and her parents and, of course, Georgie and Levi – are all beautifully written, and the romance is poignant and charming.

Georgie, All Along is a treat of a read, a wonderful story of love and self discovery to sink into and get lost in.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance.

Rating: A-

Kate Clayborn’s Love at First is one of those books that you immediately feel has wrapped you up in a warm hug, and in which the characters and their story creep gradually and unobtrusively under your skin and wind around your heartstrings.  Ms. Clayborn is one of my few go-to contemporary romance authors, and this book demonstrates yet again exactly why that is; this is a beautifully understated but gloriously romantic love story full of poignancy and tenderness featuring fully-rounded, supremely relatable characters with ordinary, everyday lives and ordinary, everyday problems.

We first meet Will Sterling when he’s around fifteen, and his mother has taken him to meet the uncle he never knew existed.  He has no idea why they’re there, and while he’s waiting outside the apartment block for his mother, he hears a girl’s laughter coming from somewhere above him.  He looks up to the balcony and even though he can’t see her clearly (he’s short sighted and needs glasses) Will is immediately captivated.  Something about her – the swishing of her sleek ponytail, her animated gestures, the sound of her voice – calls to him and he stands watching while he can hear his mother and uncle arguing in the background.

Sixteen years later, Will is a dedicated and hard-working ER doctor when he discovers that his uncle Donny has died and left him his apartment.  Will doesn’t want it – thinking about the things he’d learned that day so many years ago, or about his long-deceased parents stirs up too many painful, unresolved emotions – but under the terms of the bequest, he can’t sell the place for a year, so he decides instead to fit it out for short-term lets until he can legally dispose of it.

Unlike Will, Eleanora – Nora – Clarke has very fond memories of the apartment building where she spent so much of her childhood, and regards the other (mostly elderly) inhabitants as family.  The only child of two archaeologists who spent most of their time away on one dig or another, Nora lived with her grandmother during the summers and has, following Nonna’s recent death, come back to Chicago to live. Moving from San Diego, adjusting to remote working and struggling to cope with grief over her Nonna’s death has led to bouts of interrupted sleep, and now, a few months later, the hour between four and five in the morning has become her ‘Golden Hour’, a time for coffee and quiet reflection before confronting the day.  She knows the habits of her neighbours well, so when, on one particular morning, she wakes to hear someone else moving around on one of the balconies, she knows it must be someone new.  She ventures outside, and looking down, sees a man standing quietly, his handsome face cast in light and shadow from the glow coming from inside… and feels suddenly that this is someone she should meet.

Will and Nora engage in a short conversation, but they don’t see each other again until a few weeks later, during the meeting of the residents Nora convenes after learning of Will’s plan to let out Donny’s – Will’s – apartment to short term renters. She’s outraged – and the other tenants are worried – at the prospect of a steady stream of strangers coming and going, hating the idea of breaking up their close-knit community – and determines to come up with ways to get Will to change his mind.  She thinks if she can get him to see the unique qualities of the building and the people in it, he will fall in love with it (and them) too, and abandon his plan.

For the first part of the book, Nora and Will are at odds, he spending a couple of weeks clearing out and renovating his apartment, she trying to slow him down, put him off and generally make things difficult for him.  It’s a bit childish, sure, but for Nora, this is the family unit she’s never really had, and losing that on top of losing her Nonna is just too much to face.  And for Will, it’s the place where his life changed forever and he all he wants to do is leave behind the memories of the hurt and disappointment he associates with it.

But even though they want completely different things, neither of them can deny the strong pull of attraction they feel towards one another.  The chemistry between them is intense yet understated, and their interactions are awkward and lovely, a mixture of unutterable tenderness and raw vulnerability as they begin to learn about and love each other, slowly helping one another to let go of the things that hurt them and are holding them back.  I loved the way the author slowly reveals their truths – to the reader and to each other – showing not only how their pasts have shaped them but also their dawning awareness that those pasts don’t define them and that they can choose another path.

Nora’s neighbours are quirky and wonderfully drawn, as is Will’s uptight but insightful boss, and I loved the found family aspect of the story, the idea that we can choose who to love and surround ourselves with by sharing our hearts and our truest selves.

I had just two minor quibbles, which account for the A- rather than a full-on A.  Firstly, I didn’t care for the way Nora treats Will near the end; okay, so it’s a very stressful time but it still felt cold.  Also, I’m not a fan of romances where friends or family have to provide a very big nudge to get the protagonists to see what is under their respective noses; I much prefer them to work it out for themselves.

Apart from that though, Love at First is, quite simply, a delightful love story.  It’s not flashy or drama-filled; it’s a quiet, heartfelt and deeply emotional tale in which the romance builds slowly and organically, the character development is incredible yet subtle, and the regard and respect the two leads have for one another – even when they’re on opposite sides – infuse every page.  I’m sure Kate Clayborn’s many fans will need no urging to pick up this latest release, but if you’ve never read one of her books, Love at First would be a wonderful place to start.  Strongly recommended.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for her New York City clientele. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancee was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid….

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions – unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore a deepening connection between them. But the signs are there – irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late….

Rating: Narration – A-; Content: B+

Kate Clayborn arrived on the contemporary romance scene a couple of years ago and made a big splash with her Chance of a Lifetime trilogy which featured three friends who won the lottery. She’s followed up that success with Love Lettering, a gorgeous slow-burn romance featuring a pair of truly likeable characters who, while complete opposites nonetheless complement each other perfectly.

Meg Mackworth has made a name for herself as a calligrapher and hand-letterer, producing beautiful custom-made journals, planners and stationery for the small, boutique paperie owned and run by a friend. But recently, her work has gained a wider audience and she has become something of an internet celebrity; her Instagram “how to” videos get hundreds of thousands of hits, she’s more in demand than ever, and she’s about to move her business to the next level by pitching a new range of designs to a company that will produce and distribute her work far more widely. So things are going well and life is good. Except… it isn’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Best of Luck (Chance of a Lifetime #3) by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Carly Robins and Will Damron

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Winning the lottery is the biggest ticket to freedom Greer Hawthorne’s ever had. Until her best friend’s brother comes to town….

Greer Hawthorne’s winning lottery ticket doesn’t just bring her wealth, it also means her chance at a long-postponed education. She’s finally on the cusp of proving to her big, overprotective family that she’s independent – until a careless mistake jeopardizes her plan to graduate. Lucky for her, there’s someone in town who may be able to help….

Alex Averin plans to show up for his sister’s wedding, then quickly get back to his job as a world-renowned photojournalist. But when gorgeous, good-hearted Greer needs an assist with a photography project, he’s powerless to say no. Showing Greer his professional passion ignites a new one, and rouses instincts in Alex he thought he’d long set aside.

Can a ceaseless wanderer find a stopping place alongside a woman determined to set out on her own…or are Alex and Greer both pushing their luck too far?

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

Best of Luck is book three in Kate Clayborn’s A Chance of a Lifetime series, which features three best friends who win the lottery and then follows each of them as they adjust to the win and fall in love along the way. It’s a poignant, gently moving story involving two people whose lives have been far from easy and who are still struggling – to an extent – to come to terms with how their pasts have shaped them and learn how to move beyond it and shape their futures.

For Greer Hawthorne, the lottery win represented freedom. The freedom to finish her education and finally to prove to her family – and herself – that she could strike out on her own. A chronic illness that manifested in her teenage years meant she was unable to attend school, but now she’s able to live a normal life – with a few provisos. The trouble is, her mother continues to be incredibly over-protective, and nobody in her family – though they love her dearly – seems to think she can do or achieve anything on her own. Greer understands her mother’s concern for her health, but can’t help feeling irritated; she’s a grown woman and wants to move forward rather than keep looking back.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beginner’s Luck (Chance of a Lifetime #1) by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. Being a sudden millionaire doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab – and manages to work his way into her heart….

Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman – and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future – and who might be in it.

What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny – and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless…

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – B+

Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series is a trilogy about three friends who, on impulse, buy a lottery ticket and end up winning the jackpot. The books published so far – Beginner’s Luck and Luck of the Draw (the final book, Best of Luck, will be released in November) – have been highly recommended, and that, together with the combined appeal of two experienced narrators who have both received praise at AudioGals decided me on giving this one a try. I’m glad I did; Beginner’s Luck is an enjoyable, sexy romance between complex, well-defined characters who grow as individuals throughout the story; there’s a small but fully-rounded secondary cast and the various relationships – friendship and familial – are skilfully drawn.

Ekaterina – Kit – Averin is pretty happy with her life. She has a job she enjoys at the local university, good friends she loves… and although she wishes she was able to see a bit more of her older brother Alex, a globe-trotting photographer, life is good. After the lottery win, she decides to use some of her money to obtain something she’s always desperately wanted, but never really had – a home. Her mother left when Kit was a baby and her father was – is – addicted to alcohol and gambling, so her childhood wasn’t particularly stable. Alex, who is her half-brother, was only five at the time her mother left, but he took on the responsibility of caring for Kit and pretty much raised her. Now, Kit craves stability and wants to make herself a home; she falls in love with an old house in need of a lot of TLC and refurbishment and buys it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.