Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review: Happily Ever Madder by Stephanie McAfee

I first met Ace Jones at the beginning of last year in Stephanie McAfee's novel Diary of a Mad Fat Girl. Ace is a big girl with an even bigger mouth. She's kooky and entertaining. In this continuation of her story, there's a lot less of the slapstick and a lot more of the feeling. Not that Ace doesn't get herself into some nutty situations. She does. She wouldn't be the Ace we met and loved in the first book if she didn't, but this second novel shows her wrestling with her emotions and her future with much more seriousness than did the first. Happily Ever Madder is still light, entertaining fiction, like its predecessor but it has a tinge of real life edge to it that might mean that Ace is growing up some.

She has left Bugtussle, MS and moved down to Pelican Grove, FL to live with fiance Mason and to finally open the art gallery she has always dreamed of. In making the move, she's trying to keep a closer rein on her temper and her mouth and to be the respectable fiance that Mason needs as he works to build his legal practice. It's only because she's trying so hard to turn over a new leaf and be nice that Ace doesn't rip Lenore Kennashaw to shreds when the head of the mean girls in town (or perhaps the mean matrons) comes into Ace's newly opened gallery, acts pretentious and superior, and insults Ace's art work with no provocation. Instead Ace tries to keep a lid on her temper and ends up donating the contested piece of artwork to a charitable auction benefiting a charity where Lenore is on the board. And at least when sexy construction worker/handyman Kevin comes to pick up the artwork, it makes the impulsive donation hurt a bit less watching the mouthwatering hunk.

Lenore and her troublemaking aside, life isn't as wonderful in Pelican Grove as Ace had hoped.  She's discovering that having her own gallery is, frankly, rather boring.  Mason works ridiculous hours so she never sees him and when he is around he's still so focused on his work and its implications, Ace is bored. She is lonely, missing her Bugtussle friends. And she's dragging her feet about setting a date and making wedding plans for reasons even she doesn't understand (and those reasons certainly can't have anything to do with the zinger of lust she feels whenever she sees and talks to Kevin). She does eventually find a group of women who become friends and cohorts in crime and at that point, the novel veers back towards the zany and madcap that so characterized the first book. Ace and her friends are going to put the snooty Lenore in her place and make her regret gunning for Ace in the first place. But the fall-out from their plan is far different and more personal than Ace ever expected.

There is a more mature Ace in this book than in the previous one.  She's learning a lot about herself and her own needs. She's still feisty and appealing and regains her initially sublimated outspoken personality once she decides to be true to herself regardless of the cost. The secondary characters aren't as colorful as in Bugtussle but the book is really more a personal journey than the first one. Fun, wacky, and out of control like a rollercoaster, this is a quick, exhilarating read. Fans of the first book will enjoy another installment with Ace here and perhaps in the future too, if the open ending of this one is anything to judge by.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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