Book Review: Said No One Ever by Stephanie Eding

Title: Said No One Ever
Author: Stephanie Eding
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: April 4, 2023
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A peaceful vacation turns into a roller coaster ride of family drama.

Two handsome men with competing agendas cause mix-ups and betrayal.

Sometimes you have to put your foot down to get what you really want in life.

Ellie Reed’s self-esteem can’t take any more of her family’s constant criticism and attempts to control her life. But when she rents an Airbnb on a gorgeous farm in Montana, she encounters a whole new set of family drama and finds herself the caretaker of a barn full of farm animals, caught between two handsome men competing for control of the farm, and the sudden best friend of a spunky elderly widow whose outrageous ideas just might change her destiny…

Spring has sprung.. and what better time is there to enjoy a fish-out-of-water story about a city girl staying on a Montana farm?

In Said No One Ever, Ellie’s life is a mess. Her job as a freelance medical transcriptionist is being phased out, she’s just broken up with her boyfriend of six years (a nice optometrist who’s perfect for Ellie’s family, if not for Ellie), her apartment lease is about to run out, and she has no idea what to do about any of this.

Her overbearing family constantly compares Ellie to her high-achieving older sister, and they have a plan: Ellie should become her sister Avery’s nanny (for three out-of-control littles) and live rent-free in her late grandmother’s house, where she’ll handle fixing it up while getting it ready to sell. Ellie is SO not on board with any of this, but she’s seriously lacking in options.

Needing a break, Ellie books a tiny-house Airbnb rental on a farm in Montana. She looks forward to wide-open spaces, peace and quiet, and some alone time. She gets exactly none of what she expects.

Her host, Marilyn, is picked up by an ambulance within minutes of Ellie’s arrival, before Ellie even gets a chance to meet her. Ellie is left with Marilyn’s hyperactive bulldog Hilda and a barn full of animals — and clearly, the sheep and donkey need care, but Ellie has zero clue what to do. A visit to Marilyn at the rehab/nursing home results in a list of instructions for animal care, plus a budding friendship with the older woman, who is zesty, free-spirited, and full of schemes and dreams.

The arrival of Marilyn’s grandson Warren threatens to derail Ellie’s vacation. Apparently, the family had no idea about Marilyn’s Airbnb plans and is horrified… not to mention that the tiny house Ellie is living in is actually Warren’s, and he’s supposed to be staying there for the next month.

As Ellie settles in, she becomes close to Marilyn, starts to get to know the locals, and has a very grumpy/argumentative dynamic with Warren… which clearly means there are sparks just waiting to fly!

There are plenty of shenanigans, usually caused by Marilyn and her partner-in-crime roommate Belle (the two of them delight in scandalizing the nursing home staff and flirting with the hunky young man from food service) — although some of the misadventures have to do with wandering farm animals as well. Drama is provided through Marilyn’s daughters, two hard-charging businesswomen who have no patience for the farm or their mother’s wishes, and are determined to sell, make a good profit, and move Marilyn to a nursing home closer to them in Spokane.

Now, you might think that an Airbnb guest who’s in town for just a few weeks should have no part in all this farm and family drama… and while that would undoubtedly be the case in real life, in Said No One Ever, that’s clearly not what’s going to happen! Ellie becomes completely wrapped up in the farm and Marilyn’s life, and soon she’s a pivotal player in finding a way to make sure Marilyn gets what she wants.

Although presented as a romance (which it is!), I think my favorite thing about Said No One Ever is the wonderful relationship that develops between Ellie and Marilyn. Ellie still misses her own grandmother, and in Marilyn, she finds an elderly woman to fill some of the empty spaces in her heart. Marilyn’s sense of adventure and spunk are just what Ellie needs, as she involves Ellie in quests and adventures and just plain fun.

The romance in the book is a slow burn. At first, there’s the suggestion that this will be a love triangle story (and that’s certainly what the blurb describes), but that’s actually not the case. Warren is the obvious love interest, and the other guy — the sexy neighbor with smooth come-ons and heavy-handed flirtation — is ruled out almost immediately, especially when his underhanded manipulative side becomes clear.

I really enjoyed Said No One Ever, with only a few very minor quibbles:

  • The farm antics are cute, but especially in the first third of the book, a bit too much. I didn’t need quite that much time spent on following Ellie as she learns how to feed the animals, clean their stalls, and collect eggs from the henhouse.
  • Maybe this is just me, but why would a woman staying alone, on a farm, miles from other people, with no expectation of seeing anyone, still put on makeup every day? (Again, maybe this is just me…). A few times, when there’s an unexpected visitor at the farm, Ellie hopes her mascara isn’t smudged. (If I were alone in a tiny house on a farm, I would not be putting on mascara… and probably wouldn’t even bother with a hairbrush!)
  • This is more a quibble about the trope than about the book — but only in romance novels would an out-of-towner become that enmeshed in the locals’ lives within a week of arriving. But hey, it’s fiction, and I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of a sweet, engaging read.

For those who like to know these things in advance, the steam level here is sweet. No sex scenes, nothing more intimate than kissing and descriptions of feeling attraction.

The writing is lots of fun, full of laughter and snark and quippy dialogue, not to mention the farm craziness that leaves Ellie at wit’s end:

Since arriving in Montana a single woman, her first sort-of-date involved wrangling a rooster and the second came with a garden hose and a runaway donkey. Of course it did. Her life had fallen into absolute bedlam.

That’s not to say that there aren’t more serious themes embedded in the story. I found certain elements especially moving. While Marilyn is funny and upbeat, the struggle she (along with Warren and Ellie) goes through to maintain her independence and to keep control over her own life can be very difficult to read about. While essentially an upbeat book, Said No One Ever still had me on the edge of my seat at certain parts when Marilyn’s future was on the line — which I think says a lot about how emotionally connected I’d come to feel about the characters.

Also, Ellie’s relationship with her parents and sister, while often played for laughs, is quite sad. They don’t see her for who she is or value her choices at all — so much of their interaction with her is about controlling her life, making decisions for her, and trying to convince Ellie that they, not her, know what’s best for her. Hmmm, sounds like a parallel to Marilyn’s life. I see what the author did there!

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this sweet story of love, friendship, and independence, and the gorgeous Montana setting is an absolute treat! I shouldn’t be surprised that I loved the characters and story — I felt the same way after reading the author’s previous novel, The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale. Looks like Stephanie Eding will be going on my authors-to-watch list!