Meg Cabot’s hurricane prep checklist for women living in the Florida Keys:
Flashlight and batteries, check.
Plenty of pet food, check.
Wisecracking guy with electric blue eyes who loves dogs, knows his way around a chainsaw and has a penchant for loosely buttoned linen shirts that expose his taut, tan belly above his low-slung cargo shorts.
No Judgments, the latest rom-com novel for adults by mega-bestselling author Cabot, takes a stormy path to love. But you know the woman who wrote The Princess Diaries series (and a dozen other series adding up to more than 80 novels for middle-grade, YA and adult readers) will deliver a happy ending, along with engaging characters, lively dialogue and plenty of plot twists.
The narrator of No Judgments, Sabrina Beckham, has left her old life behind. At 25, she’s mourning her father’s death, tired of dealing with her overbearing famous mom (the star of the TV show Justice With Judge Justine) and disgusted with her ex-boyfriend after a cruel betrayal.
So she drops out of law school and flees New York, dyes her blond hair pink, starts calling herself Bree and gets a job waiting tables at the Mermaid, a restaurant on her new home, Little Bridge Island, a (fictional) spot in the Florida Keys.
She chose Little Bridge because she remembers it fondly from family vacations (that her mother hated). She’s settled in with new friends and her toothless but lovable rescue cat, Gary. So at home does she feel that when massive Hurricane Marilyn is forecast to strike the island directly, she decides to stay.
Her mom, her ex and even some of the locals beg her to evacuate. Most irritating is the teasing she gets from Drew Hartwell, nephew of her bosses at the Mermaid. According to gossip, he’s the local ladies’ man, way too sure of himself. She hates the way he calls her “Fresh Water,” and even more she hates the way she keeps finding herself looking into those bay-blue eyes. “I was on a dating hiatus,” she tells us firmly. “I wasn’t sure when, or if, my lady parts would ever be open again for business.”
Cue the hurricane, and the hurricane party at the beautiful house owned by Bree’s bosses, who offer her refuge after Drew points out her apartment will probably flood. At the party, Drew punches a drunk — for kicking a dog. If you’re going to punch a drunk, that’s a winning reason to do it. Maybe Bree is feeling a little more warmly toward Drew, or she would be if he were still there instead of heading into the teeth of the hurricane to ride it out in the house he’s building right on the beach.
The storm destroys the only bridge between the island and the mainland, and Bree soon finds herself on an impromptu rescue mission, caring for all the pets that evacuating islanders left at home, thinking they’d be back in a day or two. Guess who makes himself indispensable?
The descriptions in No Judgments of storm preparations, the hurricane itself and the dumbfounding aftermath all have the ring of authenticity. And no wonder: Cabot has a home in Key West and rode out Hurricane Irma there in 2017. She based Bree’s pet rescue operation on one undertaken by a young Key West woman then.
Cabot’s affection for the Keys is clear, too. She captures the beauty of the islands and sea and the sometimes fractious relationships between the locals and the snowbirds and tourists on whom many of them rely to make a living.
So take Cabot’s advice. If you choose to ride out the next storm, have that checklist handy. And if you evacuate, don’t you dare leave your critters behind.
By Meg Cabot
William Morrow, 384 pages, $26.99
Meet the author
Meg Cabot will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 9 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. tampabay.com/expos/festival-of-reading/