From the Stacks: Romance takes backseat in witty novel

I picked up my first book by Scottish author Mhairi McFarlane because, while ostensibly a romance, the synopsis made clear it wasn't going to follow a straightforward romance formula. I've found this to be the case with her subsequent books, and it's certainly true for "Mad About You."

This could be disappointing for readers who pick up the book based on its cover thinking they've found a traditional romance. The romance is a secondary storyline here. McFarlane instead spends much of the book exploring the growth of the main character as she comes to understand she can no longer hide from the lingering effects of a traumatic relationship from her 20s. The impacts of the emotional abuse she went through are showing up in her present day life and must finally be acknowledged and dealt with in order for her to heal and be emotionally healthy.

That's not to say that the expected happily-ever-after ending and the sexy potential love interest aren't here because they most definitely are -- as is lots of McFarlane's trademark British humor and secondary characters who are witty and sharp but fleshed out with their own issues and obstacles to overcome.

"Mad About You" introduces us to 34-year-old Harriet Hatley, a much sought after wedding photographer who finds the idea of marriage for herself completely unthinkable. When her wealthy boyfriend Jon, who's well aware of Harriet's feelings regarding marriage, proposes anyway -- in a very public and awkward way -- Harriet feels she has no choice but to say yes to save them both from humiliation.

The minute she gets him alone, she returns the ring and breaks up with him. This leaves Harriet with a big problem because she lives in Jon's house and needs to find a new place ASAP. This leads to a living arrangement she hadn't planned on, with gorgeous landlord Cal Clarke, who has his own complicated relationship history and broken engagement to contend with.

As roommates, Harriet and Cal get off to a very rocky start when they realize they have a previously unknown connection to each other via a wedding that didn't happen. As Harriet begins to examine her past relationships and faces up to the psychological abuse she suffered through, Cal turns out to be thoughtful and supportive and not at all the person she assumed he must be. An unexpected spark is lit between them.

The ending of "Mad About You" is epically satisfying as Harriet and her friends devise and execute a plan to publicly expose a gaslighting abuser and deliver the comeuppance he so richly deserves. This allows Harriet to finally let go of the guilt and shame she's been carrying around, which in turn makes room for the healthy relationship on her near horizon.

McFarlane will always be on my reading list for her ability to clarify complicated and, admittedly tough, issues with humor and heart.

Lisa Sanning is adult services librarian at Missouri River Regional Library.