Fully Booked: Romantic comedies that feel like a hearty meal

Can’t decide what to read next? Librarians at the Iowa City Public Library have some ideas. This month, Melody Dworak highlights great romance. Browse print books and audiobooks available for checkout at the ICPL.

Scottish author Mhairi McFarlane has become a rom-com-writing critical darling, and is hands-down my favorite author right now. (Mhairi is pronounced VAH-Ree.) Her recent books have earned accolades from all the respected review journals — Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal.

And for good reason! McFarlane launches the reader into believable dramas that you wish wouldn’t happen to anyone, while still creating sardonic comedy through her quick-witted characters. Every character she constructs is a person I wish I knew in real life. We meet the wedding photographer who vows never to be married in Mad About You, a highly competent lawyer who was dumped so her boyfriend of 18 years could sow his wild oats (If I Never Met You), and a grieving bestie who unrequitedly loves an engaged friend who strings her along (Just Last Night).

Kirkus Reviews wrote, “McFarlane’s gift is writing romantic comedy that depicts a recognizable world…without dimming the luster of shining moments of humor, love, and connection.” They called Mad About You “a very funny, very romantic story with deep emotional impact.”

I devoured each of these in their own right. Just Last Night particularly left me aching to read the gut-wrenching story again.

In that book, you don’t have to wait long for a major development to change every direction the plot could take. Our heroine, Eve, meets her three besties weekly for a pub quiz. The morning after one such night, Eve learns terrible news that changes her entire world. She is plunged into grief; her loss, immeasurable.

As the narrative unfolds, Eve learns secrets her best friends kept from her for years, changing everything she thought she knew. She is made to hold enduring love in one hand and burning betrayal in the other — and one betrayer is too dead to make amends. Survivor’s guilt is woven throughout, and the real hero turns out to be misunderstood and maligned (and a hottie with his own survivor’s tale).

Bestselling romance author Emily Henry (Book Lovers, People We Meet on Vacation) posted this Goodreads comment about the book: “I wish I’d written this, but then again, I don’t think I could stand to give up the chance to read it, having no idea what was going to happen. … I absolutely adored this. Mhairi McFarlane’s voice is like no one else’s.”

If I Never Met You and Mad About You have their own weighty dramas that help propel the novels forward. While traumatic experiences are a part of her heroines’ whole person (think: abandonment, emotional abuse, gaslighting), McFarlane leads with the symptoms and situations before suggesting any diagnosis. She satisfies the cardinal “show me, don’t tell me” rule of writing. When readers recognize those very same symptoms and situations in themselves, the earth shakes beneath them.

McFarlane’s novels are a hilarious balm in an unpredictable world.

Melody Dworak is a librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, juggling two to three books at any given time. She served on Little Village’s editorial team from 2005-2010. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 316.