Author: Jessica Martin
Publisher: Berkley Books
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of Pages: 352
Date of Publication: June 28, 2022
My Rating: 4 Stars
Literary agent and writer Miranda Barnes rolls into her hometown of Bard’s Rest with one goal in mind: to spend the summer finally finishing her YA novel, the next installment in her bestselling fantasy series. Yet Miranda’s mother, deep in the planning stages for the centennial of the town’s beloved annual Shakespeare festival, has other ideas.
Before you can say “all’s fair in love and war,” Miranda is cornered into directing Twelfth Night—while simultaneously scrambling to finish her book, navigating a family health scare, and doing her best to avoid the guy who broke her heart on prom night.
When it comes to Adam, the veterinarian with a talent for set design and an infuriating knack for winning over Miranda’s dog, the lady doth protest too much. As any Shakespeare lover knows, the course of true love never did run smooth, and soon Miranda realizes she’ll have to decide whether to trust Adam with her heart again.
Miranda is a woman beset by problems. Her first priority is to finish writing the sequel to her YA fantasy novel. With plans on spending the summer in her hometown of Bard's Rest, she intends on investing 100% of her time in writing. However, things do not go as planned for Miranda. The quiet summer she planned on writing proves anything but.
Bard's Rest is a busy place at the moment. The town is preparing for it's annual Shakespeare festival. Miranda finds out she will be playing a huge role in the festival. In fact, she will be directing one of the plays being produced, Twelfth Night. She is not directing this play by choice. In fact, her mother has insisted that Miranda take on the responsibility, which will undoubtedly crowd in on the time that Miranda needs to be writing her novel.
Then Miranda gets news of a huge health scare that her mother is going through. Another distraction, and this brings her to dealing with her two sisters Portia and Cordelia. One more thing ... Adam, her boyfriend from high school, is the town's vet. And he is drop-dead gorgeous. Miranda and Adam did not end their teen relationship well at all, and Miranda still feels the sting of that time. The fact that she is still more than drawn to Adam now is a quandary to her.
This second chance romance is a story filled with angst, proving that love can come around a second time, even if it proves problematic along the way. This book has quite a bit of humor in it as it relies heavily on references from Shakespeare, even with how the chapters are titled.
This fun read doesn't just focus on Miranda and Adam's connecting again, but it shows how Miranda copes with so many things all at the same time, all while showing strong attention to all the matters facing her. Her relationships in this book are important to her, and she juggles everything rather well.
I loved this book. It made me smile. It made me think of a few of Shakespeare's plays. It made me happy to see how Miranda was with her family. And it made me happy that she and Adam got another chance to reignite their love.
Many thanks to Berkley Books and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.
Please enjoy the following excerpt:
The Offices of Valhalla Literary
I stared morosely at the screen, where "ELF SHOT THROUGH THE HEART AND HATHAWAY SMITH'S TO BLAME, SHE GIVES YA A BAD NAME" glared back at me in a rather shouty font. Instead of being a productive human and packing up everything I needed to work from my childhood home this summer, I'd gone down the rabbit hole on SpillThatTea.com, yet another teen social media platform where readers went to blast my latest book.
From the floor, the intern let loose a particularly fragrant dog fart.
"Who gave you duck?" I demanded, but Puck just rolled over and yawned.
I rubbed my temples, tucking a stray wave of crimson hair behind my ears, and wished for the billionth time that I'd never invented Hathaway Smith or the Elf Shot series.
Through the glass panels of my office, I spied Ian, my business partner, and Mathilde Mathison, our accountant, squaring off, their gazes set to stun mode. Like the other handful of employees of Valhalla Lit, I politely pretended not to notice the tender shoots of hipster lust blossoming before our eyes. That, and I didn't want to be collateral damage of that doomed relationship.
Catching Ian's eye, I pointed to the novelty book clock over my desk that he'd given me on my birthday. He nodded and said something to Mathilde that was no doubt both pithy and flirty and strode purposefully toward my office.
After he closed the door, I asked, "Do I have to remind you it's not a great idea to badger or bed the person who keeps our books?"
Ian sighed dreamily. "She is a force of nature."
"What is it with you and French women? Is it the way they tie scarves? Because I'll grant you that's pretty impressive."
"That obvious?" Ian didn't even feign sheepishness. It would have looked all wrong on him anyway. A good-looking man with chestnut hair and eyes the color of shamrocks, Ian had that capable-woodsman-meets-urban-hipster vibe. And it was working for him. At least for ninety-nine percent of the female population. Ian and I were strictly in the "friends who do not take each other's clothes off" zone. "She used to be a yoga instructor before she got her CPA," Ian said wistfully. "Can you imagine how smart and bendy she must be—"
"You know how I always say you need to find some guy friends? This is one of those instances where a dude wouldn't feel obligated to punch you on account of the girl code."
"How are we looking? I haven't had a chance to go through this quarter's numbers yet." Flicking one warning finger toward him, I added, "Don't you dare make some sort of weird accounting and yoga double entendre about flexible balance sheets."
"Why must you stifle my creativity?" Ian pouted, then continued, "The books are fine. I think we can make those upgrades to our firewalls this quarter. Maybe even upgrade the hardware."
"The duct tape on your laptop is getting rather ratty," I agreed.
"Speaking of books, can we talk about yours?"
"Why are you so bad at conversational transitions?"
"Because I've spent two decades getting by on my looks and uncanny ability to quote movies from the eighties?" he offered, not the least bit chagrined.
"I'll remember that the next time I need a Lost Boys reference."
He had me there. "Fine. The beginning's not terrible, but I can't figure out how to move forward. Forget about an ending. After the last one . . ." I trailed off.
"Barnes, how many times do I have to remind you that you can't please everyone? You did the right thing. Readers are a fickle bunch. The critics loved you."
"Critics don't buy books."
Ian smirked. "You know you can do this. You'll find a way, like you always do. Because you're a good writer, and that's what good writers do. They shut out the noise and find the truth in their words."
"Easy for you to say," I mumbled. "I'm still under contract for two more books."
It must have been something he heard in my voice, because Ian's expression sobered. "We can hit pause on this. You can take some time. All the time you need. Or, hell, you can walk away from this. We'll figure it out."
We couldn't walk away, of course. Not if we wanted to keep the agency afloat. But I loved him anyway for offering.
"Hathaway Smith keeps the lights on."
"We can find other ways," Ian insisted.
I shook my head. "You're right. I need to shut out the noise. Get somewhere quiet and reconnect with the characters. I've been buried in reviews and comments and I feel like my fans are breathing down my neck. I don't understand how real writers do this."
"Umm, Barnes? You are a real writer. See, we do this thing where you write books and we sell them for a tidy profit." He flicked his fingers upward. "Lights on, remember?"
"I meant, how do writers ever write under their own names? Who can take that kind of heat? Do you have any idea how pissed my readers are about me killing off Thad? I mean, the guy was a traitor who sold his friends out. And I'm the one they want to strangle? What if a fan figures out I'm Hathaway Smith? What if they start showing up at our door?"
"We'll move out in the night and not tell anyone our forwarding address?"
I growled at Ian. At the sound of it, Puck rose and padded over to him, pressing his head against Ian's thigh in solidarity. Furry traitor.
I glared at them. "You gave him duck, didn't you?"
"What better way to spend ninety minutes in a car than with a mutt who's consumed his weight in waterfowl jerky?" Ian rubbed Puck behind the ears until my dog's tongue lolled out and his eyes rolled up in his head. "Say the word, Barnes. I'll call New York and we'll figure something out."
"I appreciate that," I assured him, "but I'll finish it while I'm home. I write my best stuff in the attic."
"Said every maladjusted writer ever," he said with a practiced eye roll. "When can you get me a draft?"
"You don't get to push me around," I said, jabbing a finger in his direction. "You're basically a glorified beta reader at this point."
Ian clutched his chest. "You wound me. Besides, I don't care what you say. Susannah's great and all, but I'm still your favorite editor. Official or not."
"Susannah's better with grammar than you are."
"Blasphemy," Ian cried. "I taught you what a gerund was, plebe."
"This is exactly why you can't red-pen my stuff anymore," I pointed out, trying to hold in my laugh. "We're supposed to be partners. Equals."
"We will never be grammatical equals," Ian sniffed.
I shrugged. He wasn't wrong. Several years ago, Ian, then a junior agent at a top literary agency in New York, had plucked my manuscript out of the slush pile. He'd offered me representation and we'd spent the next six months trading revisions on my book. The man had an eye for grammar and sentence structure, and though I'd never admit it, he'd helped make me into the semicolon- and run-on-sentence-abhorring writer I was today.
After Ian sold my book to the largest YA publisher and Elf Shot rocketed to the top of the Times bestseller list, I'd taken the train from Boston to New York to meet him in person, and it was instant like at first sight. Ian was not only the fiercest champion of my book, he was everything I never knew I wanted in a best friend: confident, honest, warm and ever the gallant, always offering to show up with a shovel and a bag of lime at any time of night, no questions asked. I'd never wished for a brother, but somehow fate saw fit to send me Ian anyway.
Somewhere between the runaway success of my first book and scrambling to crank out the sequel, One Foot in Sea (a nod to a famous Bard line), to capitalize on the momentum of the first, I'd spent New Year's Eve at Ian's microscopic but trendy studio apartment in Manhattan. After a raucous party that had included body paint artists, contortionists, scores of influencers and all of Ian's clients, we'd taken it upon ourselves as a personal challenge to finish every bottle of champagne left open after the other guests had departed in a haze of glitter and Ubers. It was there in the early hours of the new year that we decided to start our own literary agency.
Six months later, we'd opened the doors to Valhalla with the royalties from my book and Ian's commissions. He taught me everything he knew about being an agent and I fell in love with scouring the slush pile in search of that next voice. And while my introverted ass didn't always love the outward-facing aspects of my job, I'd gotten comfortable enough with it over the years, cultivating relationships with publishers.
After we opened Valhalla, Ian and I had agreed that for the sake of our friendship and business partnership, Ian shouldn't read my drafts professionally anymore. That's where Susannah, my gerund-obliterating editor out of New York, came in. As a bonus, she used less anatomically specific threats about my use of the passive voice than Ian did. So really, I'd traded up.
When Ian and I had decided to embark on this whole "Miranda is a co-owner, but also a client" thing, we hired my sister's law firm to set up some ground rules to clear away any conflicts of interest. I paid for my own overhead as a client: publicity, expenses, etc. Unorthodox? A little. Ethically gray? I'd like to think not so much. It was just easier to continue on with Ian as my agent. I trusted him completely, and it was one less person who knew Hathaway's true identity.
That had been Ian's idea too, after I'd had an epic meltdown shortly after signing my book deal. Far too late, I'd come to the realization that I'd written a slightly racy, though still teen-appropriate, elf hookup scene and that the whole world—including such notables as my third-grade teacher, my dentist and my handful of ex-boyfriends—would be able to not only read my books but comment on them. I'd wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing, until Ian calmly explained that the announcement hadn't gone out yet and I could adopt a pen name, if only I would stop hyperventilating for thirty seconds. And so Hathaway Smith was born to bear the brunt of bad Amazon reviews and fan rants.
The bad Amazon reviews had been so few and far between that I'd almost felt silly about Hathaway Smith. Then my last book dropped. While I'd always appreciated the love and devotion to the series that my readers bestowed on Elf Shot, with that came the ever-rising tide of expectation to make the next book that much more than the last—something I thought I'd achieved with Inconstant Moons, another cheeky nod to the Bard and a veiled reference to the traitorous Thad. My readers thought otherwise and made their displeasure known. And, very much like the Dane's dagger, it cut me to the quick.
But much as I might want to curl into the fetal position, never to take a risk while writing again, Elf Shot was the reason we had an agency. We now had four agents, including Ian and myself, and a client base in the fifties and rising. Valhalla was a neat, cozy operation that kept all of us well-read and relatively well-fed without having to sell organs on the black market to make rent. But maybe someday, it wouldn't need Elf Shot or Hathaway Smith anymore.
"Fine, you can read it as soon as it's finished, before I send it to Susannah. If nothing else, it will give me an excuse to limit my involvement in helping Dad build sets."
Ian's eyes widened. "Pardon, I must be drunk. I thought you said you were going to build sets."
"I see." He waited a beat and said, "Do you remember when you stapled your hand to the bulletin board trying to put up those respectful workplace training materials?"
"I don't recall that."
"Do you recall the time your skirt got stuck in the shredder?"
"That could have happened to anyone. What's your point?"
"That was office equipment. Stage sets imply the use of tools far beyond even your uncanny ability to avoid lasting damage to your person."
"Cut me some slack. Most tools are made with right-handed people in mind."
"I know plenty of left-handed people and none of them have a track record like yours."
I scowled. "Fine, I'm just going to design the sets. Dad will do most of the actual building."
Ian tried and failed to hide his relief.
"Oh, shut up." I jabbed a finger at him. "Or I will tell Little Miss Sun Salutation out there about the time you got your chest waxed."
He threw up his hands in the universal sign of surrender. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just think it would be easier to write your book with all ten digits." He waggled his fingers for emphasis. "Since you're leaving sooner than initially announced, does that mean I can come to town early for the festival?"
"Centennial," I corrected him. "Hundred-year anniversary of the Shakespearean Summer Festival."
"The implication being that this would be bigger and better than the normal festival. Which would imply there would be even more stuff to entertain me. I'll go pack my bag."
"Great plan. Except you're supposed to be running things around here while I'm gone," I teased. "Besides, there won't be any throngs of Bardolators yet for you to gawk at. That's more of an August thing."
"I do adore that term," he said, in reference to the locals' affectionate nickname for the tourists who descended upon our town every summer in search of all things Shakespeare.
"Fly your freak flag proud or not at all."
"You know, Barnes, if you're serious about breaking this bout of writer's block, you could find yourself a comely Bardolator, take him back to your . . ." He faltered.
"Take him back to my parents' place and have my lascivious way with him in my childhood bedroom?" I scoffed. "Also, who says 'comely'?"
"Says the woman who just dropped 'lascivious.'"
I waved him off with a vague hand gesture as I powered down my laptop. "I don't need some sweaty entanglement with a Shakespeare-obsessed tourist to finish my book."
“I’m just saying. It’s a surefire way to cure what ails you.”
“Please tell me that’s not the advice you give our clients.”
“Of course it is. A little no-strings sex to get the creative writing juices going never hurt anyone.”
“Don’t say ‘sex’ and ‘writing juices’ in the same sentence. You’re sullying the craft.”
“Purist.” Ian scoffed, studying me for a long moment. “So why are you leaving a week early, anyway?”
“Because Cordy sent me one of her maddeningly cryptic texts over the weekend telling me I needed to get home as soon as possible.”
Ian’s eyes gleamed with a gluttonous light. “Do you think she’s decided to move down here and open up a restaurant? Or, even better, she’s reconsidered the offer to be my personal chef and culinary muse?”
“You couldn’t afford her.”
“I know,” Ian sighed. “But a foodie can dream.” Sobering, he added, “Everything okay at home?”
I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Cordy’s definition of an emergency runs the gamut from ‘there’s a fluctuation in responsibly sourced cacao prices’ to ‘I burned down the bakery for the insurance money.’”
“The next time I complain about being an only child, please regale me with tales of growing up with Cordy and Portia.”
I checked my watch. “I’ve gotta jet to catch Cordy before the lunch rush. You need anything else?”
“Nah, go write your book.”
“You still okay to look in on my place?”
“Of course. I’ll kill all the plants before you return. Text me if you need anything. Now go get your Bard on,” Ian said, flashing me a cheesy double thumbs-up.
“Don’t sink the agency while I’m gone.”
“Don’t staple your fingers to the stage,” he countered. “No one likes a bleeder.”
“It’s just a flesh wound,” I called over my shoulder.
Fishing my car keys out of my pocket and tucking my laptop under my arm, I nodded my head at Puck. “Gird your loins. We’re going back to our roots.”
Excerpted from For the Love of the Bard by Jessica Martin. Copyright © 2022 by Jessica Martin. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Publishing Group. All right reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Please also enjoy my YouTube video review -