Etta

Review: The Cul-de-Sac War (ARC)

Expected publication: November 10th 2020, 336 pages

Free-spirited Bree Leake doesn’t want to be tied down. She’s had more jobs than she can count—and the next stop on her journey is the nation’s oldest live performance theater in Abingdon, Virginia. Just when it’s time to move on again, Bree’s parents make her an offer: hold steady in Abingdon for one full year, and they will give her the one thing she’s always wanted—her grandmother’s cabin. She feels like her dreams are coming true.

But life at the theater throws her some curve balls.

And then there’s her new neighbor—Chip McBride.

Chip is the man everyone in town seems to love, yet he’s nothing but a thorn in Bree’s side. She would move heaven and earth to have him out of her life, but according to the bargain she’s struck, she cannot move out of her house. So begins Bree’s obsessive new mission: to drive Chip out of the neighborhood—and fast.

Bree isn’t the only one who’s a wee bit competitive, and as Chip registers what Bree’s up to, he’s more than willing to fight fire with fire. But as their pranks escalate, both of their fragile job ambitions start to wobble. And it doesn’t help that the line between love and hate is starting to blur.

In Melissa Ferguson’s latest rom-com, two enemies find something they never expected in one another—taking “all’s fair in love and war” to a hilarious and heartwarming new level.

We open with Bree Leake experiencing an on-stage wardrobe malfunction (a nightmare to anyone who has ever been in front of an audience). She slips out the side door to attempt to find the costume designer. Here she runs into Chip McBride who was ejected from the theater for taking a video. Chip and Bree share a moment where he saves her costume from certain disaster while he is there watching Bree’s performance in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream with his girlfriend, Ashleigh. Bree has an instant attraction to him. However, this is soon counteracted by her dislike of his driving on the way to their houses as it turns out that they are neighbors. Chip just moved in next door to renovate the older home.

Bree is 34 years-old and has moved all over the country holding all type of jobs from arcade manager to docent at an aquarium. She temporarily settles herself in her hometown to live in her grandmother’s house that she shares inheritance with while working on stage at The Barter. Her plan is to try this new career and move on if it doesn’t seem to work out. Although I enjoyed the idea of someone in their 30s still trying to find the right career path for them and it was a fresh and relatable concept, the job change to actress, especially at a prominent theatre, was difficult to wrap my head around.

As a reader, it’s hard to get behind Bree’s “career” as an actress. It seems that one day she just applied to be part of the acting crew of the Barter, one of the older classic theatres in the United States, and she was just given a role. It wasn’t realistic in the slightest unless you are the luckiest person on the planet to be a person with no background in acting get a role in a theatre company. It just seemed insulting to actors as Bree doesn’t even take her role of Mustardseed seriously as she blows it off a lot as she claims it’s not an important role, but every role big or small is essential in a production.

Chip McBride is part of the well-known McBride family of contractors. The McBride Construction Company is an institution, but Chip has decided it’s more beneficial to him to branch off on his own. As he’s just starting off with his own company, you, as a reader, get to experience the struggles that face not only a brand new business, but how to survive in a world where your competition is your family. His treatment of Russell, his 100+ pound Mastiff, didn’t sit well with me. I live in the city with giant dogs, as well, so I’m aware that close neighbors can sometimes be afraid of them so it just seemed like bad dog-parenting that Chip let his dog “attack” Bree over and over again. It just seemed unnecessary and it’s never fully addressed how they “fix” this problem between the two main characters aside from the use of an underground electric fence.

I go back and forth on how I feel about this book.  The premise sounded like a light-hearted and fun read. Although I loved the “war” between our two main characters, it just seemed to fall short on the rest of the story. The pranks go on for the majority of the book before we reach maybe the last quarter (maybe the last third) where our story finally seems to make some headway. Unfortunately, it meant the book dragged for me as it just was one thing after the other. While I was fully expecting a war, hence the title, I thought that there would be some growth in the story. The last portion of the book, the ending, and the epilogue are all heart-warming enough to almost make you forget you don’t have many pages to enjoy them as the majority of the book was focused only on the back and forth.

The “Christian Fiction” tag on some websites helps the reader understand the lack of cursing (it’s all censored – “bleep”) and also there isn’t a whole lot of “adult activities” mentioned. Although I can get behind taking out any sex scenes or anything along those lines, it was extremely distracting to read bleeps in place of curse words. I feel it would have been better to just change the words out; if you don’t want to use the word “hell,” then change it “heck.” To me, it’ll get the same point across, but won’t distract from the content as the reader is trying to understand the words through censoring.  There isn’t a lot of mention of God or going to church so depending on your opinions, this could be either a positive or a negative.

There are tons of moments thrown in that were super sweet, such as the last few window notes and the creepy children wallpaper, but it just seemed all crammed in the last portion of the novel and it would have been nicer to have them spread out a little more so the reader has more time to enjoy and process them. The relationships need a bit of work as well as Chip is with a solid girlfriend, Ashleigh, where she is already thinking of marriage and aside from Chip’s attraction to Bree, there isn’t a ton that shows trouble in paradise between Chip and Ashleigh. I wish this was explored a little more as it seemed incomplete. Bree faces this same issue with Theo as Theo obviously likes Bree and they go out with each other, but you rarely get the impression that Bree is with Theo for any other reason other than he just happened to ask her out.

Even with my criticisms, the fun moments were extremely entertaining. Each prank was humorous and light-hearted. It kept my interest and made me laugh out loud many times. The bond Bree has with her co-workers and neighbors was extremely heart-warming and were enjoyable to read about. I loved to read about how Bree’s fellow theatre workers all came together when their planned summer play was turned into a musical and how they helped each other any way that they can. It gave an amazing feel of community and how they all bonded together. The concept is refreshing and overall the novel was gratifying. There are some unfinished storylines that aren’t addressed, such as the bumper stickers, but overall everything gets wrapped up nicely to create an adorable HEA.

**Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for ARC and a chance to experience this great novel. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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