In the same manner that Jerry McGuire had Dorothy Boyd at “hello,” Sarah Mayberry had me with her Superromance release The Best Laid Plans. Each subsequent story have confirmed my passion for her writing, and I'm looking forward to Her Favorite Rival, her September 2013 release.
To write heartwarming books, authors have to find the perfect formula. Of course strong writing is a given, but along with that there has to be that balanced mixture of angst, and joy, laughter and tears, characterization and conflict. And in my mind, Ms. Mayberry has found that formula.
Sarah Mayberry plays readers' emotions like a maestro conductor, showcasing her characters’ strength, determination and grit as they are tested by authentic and realistic conflicts, ultimately resulting in an inspiring journey, visible character growth and a believable happy ever after.
So what are some of those authentic and realistic conflicts? Well, sometimes they are common themes to romance novels, like heartbreak from a loved one’s death, or a breakup or divorce—usually caused by betrayal, or rejection. In The Other Side of Us, Oliver Garrett learns that his six-year marriage has been a sham. He discovers a hotel receipt in his car and verifies that it is from his wife’s checking account. He confronts her and she confesses that she is having an affair with a former lover.
“How long?” The question came from his gut, inspired by pure, primitive instinct.
She closed her eyes, as though she couldn’t bear to look at him as she—finally—spoke the truth. “Since he and Lucy broke up. On and off.”
“Jesus.” Oliver took a step backward, blinking rapidly, struggling to get his head around that news.
Lucy and Nick had broken up five years ago, barely six months after Oliver and Edie had from returned from their honeymoon.
Five Years. Edie had been sleeping with her ex, screwing around behind Oliver’s back for five years.
Other times, fate has just dealt the character a bad hand. Mackenzie Williams, Oliver’s new love interest, is dealing with physical limitations, and the loss of a hard-earned career as a producer. A devastating car accident left her with multiple broken bones—ribs, pelvis, leg, hip plus a liver laceration. Now it is a year later and she still hasn’t regained her strength. She has been temporarily replaced at work, but she is afraid it is going to be permanent. The signs are there—her boss ignores her e-mails, something that never happened in the past. Each day she pushes herself to her limits, thinking the same mantra:
“I want my life back. I want my job back. I want my apartment and my shoes and my clothes. I want to have cocktails with my friends and the challenge of juggling too much in too little time. I want to be me again.”
Both Alexandra Knight from The Best Laid Plans and Gabby Wade from One Good Reason have to deal with regrets about the past. Alexandra must come to terms with the fact that she wasted her prime childbearing years with Jacob, a man who adamantly refused to talk about having a child. Their bickering over this finally ended their relationship, and they went their separate ways.
Eighteen months later in the minimart parking lot, she is staggered at the sight of him with a child—his child—named after his grandfather. Five months after they broke up, he impregnated another woman. Later that night, at her weekly racquetball game, with Ethan, a co-worker, she breaks down.
“I’m fine.” But her voice caught on the last word then tears were falling down her face.
“Shit,” she said under her breath. Of all the people to break down in front of.
“it’s okay,” Ethan said from behind her. “Whatever it is, I’m sure you can work it out.”
It was so far from the truth that she laughed harshly. “Sure I can. I can make myself younger. I can turn back time and make Jacob want to have a child with me. Hell, I can probably click my fingers and make myself pregnant.”
In One Good Reason, Gabby fell in love Tyler, but he didn’t feel the same. She convinced herself that she was fine with his friendship, and continued to work for him and even developed a close rapport with his new wife, but after a comment about her looks she realizes that she really never moved on.
She dropped her gaze to her body. Her T-shirt was old and stretched out, the fabric swamping her small breasts and bunching unattractively around her waist. Her jeans were cut for comfort rather than style, their fit loose and utilitarian. Her sneakers were old and scuffed, again chosen for comfort, over appearance.
Gabby blinked, but it didn’t change what the mirror was telling her. The voice in her head was suspiciously silent.
She looked like a boy. . .
When had she stopped caring how she looked?
When had she stopped wearing makeup and going to the hairdresser instead of trimming her own hair with nail scissors? When had she stopped buying sexy underwear and high heels and pretty clothes?
When had she ceased to think of herself as an attractive, sexual being and slipped into this sexless, safe disguise?
She didn’t know the exact date, but she could guess: the moment she’d given up on Tyler. Nearly four years, give or take. Four years of seeing him every day, convincing herself they were better friends than they had ever been lovers . . .
She laughed suddenly as a bitter irony hit her: she’d broken up with Tyler to protect herself, but he was the one who had moved on. He’d found love, while Gabby, apparently, had been marking time.
Ms. Mayberry meticulously constructs her characters, integrating their thoughts and motivations seamlessly into the conflict. As a reader, you become invested in the characters’ journey, as they finally learn to take the side mirrors off, accept the hurts and mistakes of the past and move forward. Plus, while I might not have faced the same scenarios as her characters, I have felt their emotions.
Of course each of us bring our own life experiences to our reading experience, so my favorite books by her might not be yours. But there is one thing I am sure of—one of Ms. Mayberry’s characters will speak to you, because that is one of the strengths of her wonderful story telling.
What do you love about Ms. Mayberry’s books?
Leigh Davis, Blogger