Monday, January 2, 2023

Book Review: Regrets Only

By Jami Denison

I have a confession to make: You know those awful PTA moms in the wealthy suburbs? The ones featured in books like Big Little Lies and so many others, the catty ones who are always backstabbing each other, cheating with each other’s husbands and sometimes killing each other? I was one of those moms. And no, nobody died or even attempted a coup in order to dethrone the PTA president. We were all nice women who had given up careers and loved volunteering at our kids’ schools and cheering on the sidelines at their soccer games. I did the newsletter and helped out with the book fair.  (Okay, there was this one mom…)

In any case, I still love these books, even though the plots and settings are starting to feel a bit cliched. In her latest book, Regrets Only, Kieran Scott has given the “PTA moms gone wild” subgenre a unique heroine that keeps her novel from feeling cookie-cutter. The result is a fun, if slightly uneven, murder mystery to help kick off the winter semester and give basketball moms something to read on the bleachers.

Disgraced TV writer Paige Lancaster has left LA with her daughter Izzy and moved back in with her mother after losing her job on one of TV’s most popular female detective series. Having grown up firmly middle class—her father was the police chief in their Connecticut town—Paige is stunned to learn her high school boyfriend, John, is now a wealthy hedge fund owner living in one of the mansions on the hill. Even worse, he’s married to the feared and loved PBA (Parent Booster Association) president, the beautiful Ainsley. Paige’s klutzy parenting quickly earns her the side-eye around town. Then, when Ainsley misinterprets a hug between John and Paige, the night ends with Ainsley dead at the bottom of an outdoor staircase. Did she fall, or was she murdered? A cute cop asks Paige to help investigate, but what if he decides she pushed Ainsley? 

Regrets Only vacillates between comedy and suspense, but Scott keeps her tone consistent. I loved Paige as a protagonist—she’s funny, a bit of a mess, and trying to do her best for her daughter. When Scott finally reveals the incident that made Paige leave LA in disgrace, her actions are completely understandable (and it’s not surprising she was humiliated). At the same time, she has a propensity to physically react that makes her believable as a murder suspect.

Paige isn’t the only point-of-view character, though. Lanie, who was in line to become PBA president after Ainsley stepped down, and Nina, who suspects the PBA treasurer is embezzling funds, get their own chapters as well. All points-of-view are third person, told so closely that it feels like first person. Lanie’s marriage is in trouble, and she’s worried her husband Michael is having an affair with Ainsley. Nina is nearly obsessed with the PBA’s bank account, and her motivation never becomes clear. But when she challenges Lanie for the PBA presidency after Ainsley’s death, and asks Paige to become her campaign manager, the character becomes more dimensional.

Throughout most of the book Paige’s character is so much more engaging and developed than the other two women that their points of view seemed a bit forced, as if the author was trying to follow a Big Little Lies model that didn’t necessarily work best for the book. Paige has so much going for her—her relationship with her mother and daughter, the sparks with the high-school boyfriend, more sparks with the cute cop, her detective skills, etc. – that she could easily be the lead in a series had Scott decided to end the book on a different note. 

The ending, however, reveals much about Lanie, Nina, and even Ainsley. While I found the ultimate revelation about the murder and Ainsley’s back story to be a bit hollow, I also found myself wishing I had gotten to know Ainsley better. A book about a PTA mom who had led the life she had before she died would have been a nice addition to the subgenre. 

There is no shortage of “PTA Moms Gone Murderous” books these days, and as long as publishers keep putting them out, I’ll keep reading them. And as for that one mom? She knows who she is. She knows what she did. 

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kieran Scott:

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