Book of the Week: Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle


[CW: mental illness, anxiety, social anxiety]

What happens when two strangers jointly inherit a large estate that is now completely broken down? Should they completely renovate the manor house to its former glory, or should they simply sell it and split the difference? Then there is their benefactress’ will controlling them from beyond the grave, and we have a perfect storm of conflict and resentment.

Maybell Parrish is restless and unhappy in a dead-end job, constantly thwarted in succeeding in it by her coworker. Still, it’s a step-up, in her mind, from her former housekeeping job at the indoor waterpark. She’s a killer baker, and constantly daydreams of a life as a baker with her online friend as a future spouse. So when she finds out that she has inherited her great-aunt, Violet’s, mansion, Falling Stars, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, she dumps her job and walks away. While she had hoped, she would go out with a bang, her meek, people-pleasing nature only allows her to ghost her employer. 

However, she has succeeded in leaving the job that was making her unhappy, and she will be moving to the place where she had the one halcyon summer of her childhood. This is a huge step forward in her claiming her independence. She is sad that she let years go by without visiting her great-aunt who had meant so much to her during her itinerant childhood. But knowing that she now has the chance to restore Falling Stars back to its former grandeur is a way for her to honor her great-aunt’s memory. 

Wesley Koehler is a decidedly grumpy, decidedly reclusive groundskeeper of Violet’s estate. While she lived, he had persistently offered to care for her mansion and make it habitable. But the old lady had an indomitable nature and was adamant that nothing should be changed, and all he could do was offer her a place to stay in his small cottage. So when she passes away and he finds out that he has inherited Violet’s mansion, he immediately sets about planning what he will do to fix the mansion that has good bones and only needs thoughtful renovation. He also wants to build an animal sanctuary.

Plot twist! Maybell and Wesley are not the sole inheritors of Violet’s estate. Rather, they are co-owners. And there is no money left in the bank. And Violet has a list of requirements that she would like these two to fulfill. 

Maybell first “met” Jack McBride when a coworker of hers catfished her online profile and pretended to be this hot guy with whom Maybell starts to build a relationship. Jack’s profile picture? Spitting image of Wesley. Maybell is staggered when she meets Wesley. How did this incredibly hunky, gorgeous man, who features prominently in her dreams of a successful and happy future, be this unfriendly, taciturn person? And she is supposed to work with him on her aunt’s property??

How Hogle turns their inauspicious beginning around to one of easy camaraderie and warmth is where the heart of this story lies. I liked how Hogle starts the story out slow and then picks up the pace halfway through. Thus, she gives herself plenty of time to develop her protagonists, allowing the reader to clearly see when their feelings change from antagonists to something warmer. The change is subtle and by degrees, and if you stay with the development, you’re amply rewarded by Hogle’s talent for creating endearing characters, especially, Wesley. I liked the matter-of-fact maturity with which both of them face their problems. Their relationship is charming and believable, because they communicate openly, respectfully and with care for the other person’s feelings. They seek to find common ground whether it is from outward things such as decisions for their joint house project or internal things such as Wesley’s art. 

The best thing about the book is how Hogle sensitively has them explore each of their anxieties and insecurities and how they each learn to trust in their sense of self-worth and each other.

Hogle has won me over with her back-to-back lovely stories. I would recommend both of her books, You Deserve Each Other and Twice Shy, and I can’t wait to read her next story.

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