Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Aloha to Mhairi McFarlane and HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU - Book Review


HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU is the first of three Brit Chick Lit books I received from Harper Collins for summer reading ...

A laugh-out-loud romantic (mis)adventure from the internationally bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane.

Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Harlequin romance moments.

Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn’t be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream. However, things weren’t always this way, and her years spent as the butt of schoolyard jokes are ones she’d rather forget.

So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna’s final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she’s a fool to trust him?

Hilarious and poignant, ‘Here’s Looking At You’ will have you laughing one minute and crying the next.

Empress Theodora and attendants
(mosaic from Basilica of San Vitale, 6th century)
Public Domain (link)

It is hard to convince a high-school student that he will encounter a lot of problems more difficult than those of algebra and geometry. E. W. Howe

During high school, Aureliana Alessi was more concerned with bullying - she was an easy target as an overweight teen with unruly hair.   The "popular" kids humiliated her during the year end "Mock Rock" talent show.  Aurelianna survived, grew up, and became Dr. Anna Alessi, a history professor at a London university.  She is also a respected scholar of Theodora, a controversial feminist from the Byzantine Empire. In fact, Theodora becomes Anna's figurative mentor as she embraces life after school.  She lost her teen weight, loves her teaching job, but finds herself unlucky in love via Internet dating.  Still, Anna believes she will meet "the one" that will inspire a funny anecdote at their future wedding.

After another unsuccessful date, Anna receives an invitation to her high school reunion (the perverted date and her school memories are like a bad pennies - they keep popping up).  She is encouraged by her friends (and Theodora's bravado) to put the past to rest by showing her classmate the woman she has become.   But no one recognizes Anna, including James, her tormentor at Mock Rock.   She walks away from the reunion, assuming she'll never see any of her classmates again.  Yet fate intervenes when she comes face to face with James at the British Museum - his company will be developing an app for Theodora's exhibition.  As they work together, Anna discovers the man behind a facade of a seemingly perfect life.  In turn, Anna comes to terms with the horrible memories of school bullying, unsuccessful attempts at Internet dating, and loving herself before loving others. 

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU combines themes from Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, John Hughes' SIXTEEN CANDLES, and Nora Ephron's WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. McFarlane delivers characters that readers can grasp - Anna's insecurities are our insecurities.  Her loyal friends are our loyal friends.  Anna's Internet dating is our Internet dating.   McFarlane also incorporates lighthearted humor and witty banter that American Anglophiles appreciate from British writers.  McFarlane tackles timely issues like school bullying, body image, and the precarious balance between what we want versus what we need (I hear Mick Jagger singing YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT).

I commend McFarland for creating an unsympathetic character in James.  He is a mean "hot" guy in high school ... and he is a jaded "hot" adult when he meets Anna again.   James uses the "hot" facade to lick his wounds after his wife walks out on their marriage.   His unhappiness is compounded by the circus atmosphere at work.  Anna is a breath of fresh air to the soulless material world that is crashing down on James (cut to Madonna's MATERIAL WORLD).   Anna inspires James to dig into his psyche to find his own happiness.     

But several elements hold me back from giving five stars to this novel.  The 400 pages stretches out the plot; yet I could not put this book down.  McFarlane sprinkles heavy doses of British slang from pop culture that even I, an American Anglophile with a British mom, could not understand.  So I skimmed over those parts.  McFarlane included sophomoric jokes about a cat's bodily functions.  Still, the cat offered comedic relief in this charming novel.      

Perhaps what I liked most about HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU is that Anna finds the strength in herself to be herself.   HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU will make my list of top 14 "memorable books" from 2014.

Recommended read for those who enjoy Brit Chick Lit.   I received a print copy from Harpers Collins for an honest review.  

When Harry Met Sally... (1989) Poster

I am giving away an "Anna" prize - sample of English tea*, leather bookmark from Historic Scotland**, and my print copy of HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU - to one randomly selected commenter.  To enter the giveaway,

1.  Leave a comment about high school - can you share a happy memory?   I moved from Miami to Clearwater during 10th grade.   My neighbor recruited me to join the track team. Although I placed last in all my events (880 run, shot put, and discus) at every meet, I still received a Varsity Letter!

2.  Comments are open through Saturday, June 21, 10 pm in Baltimore.

3.  I'll post the winner on Sunday, June 22.


Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City

*Anna's colleague repeatedly brings her a cup of tea - Britain's salve for world peace.

**In honor of Anna's historical expertise ... and Mhairi's birthplace.

Learn more about Mhairi and her books at



  1. My happiest memory was graduating.

  2. I went to a brand new HS. My class was the first one to graduate after spending all four years there. I made good friends there and we're still friends so many years later.

    Marcy Shuler

  3. I met one of my best friends there. We were in the same homeroom for the four years we were there.

  4. I had a great time in high school. I am still good friends with several people from high a few decades now since we graduated.

  5. High School was pretty great for me too. Having incredible friends makes everything better.

  6. High school wasn't terrible for me, but I did have one teacher who kept calling me by my oldest sister's name...geez, she's five years older...

  7. High school was pretty good for me....I loved history and and I'm still good friends with 3 of my friends.

  8. My best memory of high school was I started the cooking class, I loved it! Had my own stove there and pots and pans. and loved the Betty Crocker old cookbook which you can get on any of the book stores on line. I loved to cook and still have my old book. At the end of 12th grade my teacher gave me it as a present as the school were getting new ones. I'm going to pass it down to my girls next.

  9. My happiest memory of High School was the new friendships that were made and those that were carried over from grade school. What a wonderful time of life. We are no longer children, yet the feeling of freedom is still there. Nothing is ever the same after graduation. ;o)

  10. Just hanging out w/ my two best friends that I still have :) Thanks for sharing!

  11. I met my husband to be in high school. He was the new kid that had traveled the world (air force brat lol) and I had never left my hometown. Opposites attract lol. It will be 45 yrs. this Sat.

  12. I moved a lot when I was in high school but in each one I was in a Choir class and loved it so much. Best class in school.

  13. I enjoyed high school. I had some amazing friends and I was chosen to be a majorette, which I loved.

  14. hanging out with friends

  15. I can't really remember a 'happy' memory from high school. I do remember there were only 29 in the graduating class - obviously a rural area!

  16. I got my varsity letter from being the scorekeeper for the track team. My friend had talked me into it but it was interesting.

  17. I only loved the last three years. Here in Germany the kids stay from 5th to 10th grade together and from 11th to 13th grade there is a completely new mixed group. That was the happiest in my school life. The rest was pure hell.