Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter Book Review

Cover of Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter, which features a cartoon brunette woman sitting on a wall with her back to viewer, her arms in the air. The title is in orange above her and below her the author's name is in white with a blue background. There are confetti pieces falling from the sky
Serena Mills is on the way to her wedding when she suddenly realises she can't go through with it and asks the taxi driver to drop her at the Harvester. It's there, eating a large ice cream sundae and drinking a glass of wine, that she meets her fiance and tells him it's over. Serena has not been single since meeting her ex in university, so as she moves to London to live with her friend Lola, she must navigate this big city and the dating scene. She sets herself a challenge, one date a week for a year. Can she find love or has she just made the biggest mistake of her life?

As much as the romance does play a big part of this book, it is also a coming of age story, Serena is almost 30 yet hasn't found her groove in life. Part of this is to do with her weight, which is a big part of the story, fatphobia and how it can impact your life. As someone who is plus sized, it is refreshing to have a character who I can relate to but I did feel at times it was relied on a bit too much. It could also be triggering for some people but I do think the fact it is written from an own voices experience does help add authenticity to that element of the story and we do see Serena work through some of her own internal biases and make progress. We also see Serena grow in her friendships as well, especially with her workmate Nicole (even if she does say 'my dude' too many times!)

Romance wise, there is an overall romance plot which was a bit frustrating at times but I feel like the story had to play out that way to allow Serena herself to grow and find confidence and independence. The romance wasn't why I wanted to read the book, it was more to see Serena grow and change. 

There are a few elements which could be removed and I think the story wouldn't suffer. Overall it was a fun read. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator, I felt like she got the tone spot on for the story. I would be interested in a sequel to this, as I enjoyed the characters in the book, maybe focusing on one of the friends as the main character instead could be fun

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Book Review

Gifty is a talented and smart scientist, who studies addiction in mice in California to help fuel her understanding of the opoid addiction that has hit America (and her family) hard. One day she gets a call from the church pastor back in Alabama to say her mother is sick again with her mental health, which happened once before after Gifty's brother died from his addiction. Gifty brings her mother to live with her and as she struggles to help her mother get better, we learn through flashbacks what brought Gifty's parents from Ghana to Alabama and how their family of 4 turned into a family of 2.

The book touches upon many different topics, such as immigrants in America, race, addiction and religion. The observations were really well done but sometimes it wasn't really explored deeply. I thought most of the characters were well done, I could imagine them all and could clearly see Gifty's childhood. And I did feel for her family and their circumstances. However I felt like in the present, we don't get to see a lot of Gifty herself, despite being the narrator. She felt closed off, quite possibly by design given the story and her upbringing. But it felt hard to warm to her or even know her. The book felt quite clinical at times, which again, given the way Gifty is and also her work, does make sense. The plot jumps around a bit, the present timeline is only a week or two, whereas the past goes from before Gifty's birth to when she first goes away to college. And the flashbacks are not chronological, which I wasn't a fan of. The books talks heavily about religion and science, especially the intersection of these and I did not relate to either topic. Overall I don't think this was the book for me, I didn't look forward to picking it up and reading, which is usually a bad sign for me. A lot of care went into this novel though and it is well crafted. So I can see why people have really liked this book. I think it might resonate more with someone who has ties to spirituality and faith

Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Lovers by Emily Henry Book Review

Book Lovers by Emily Henry UK Book cover
Nora is a literary agent, who prides herself on being top of her game and getting the best for her clients, including her favourite Dusty. Previously she met editor Charlie and the two of them did not get on, with Charlie slating one of Dusty's books. It didn't help that Nora had just been dumped and arrived late at the meeting. Now a few years later, Nora's sister Libby has persuaded her to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for month as it is one of her favourite literary settings. Nora's not sure she can last a month outside her beloved New York City but she would do anything for Libby. She then keeps bumping into Charlie. Can she survive the month in this small town with her enemy or will she be running back to the city the first chance she gets?

I really enjoyed this book! I love that from the get go, Nora talks about romance tropes and how they always play out, it was smart and meta and worked for the profession she's in. Nora talks about how in a typical romance, she's the hard working, cold blooded lover that ends up alone by the end of the book or film, as the male lead goes to a small town to shut down the local failing Christmas tree farm/bakery/pumpkin patch but falls in love with the daughter who's the complete opposite to Nora: friendly, warm and kind. Libby has a list of these small town cliches for herself and Nora to complete while in Sunshine Falls (Wear flannel! Ride a horse! Skinny dip! Go on dates with locals!) which adds to the fun of the book.

Romance wise, it's an enemies to lovers story, complete with some small town cliches. I enjoyed the chemistry between Nora and Charlie and seeing their relationship unfold. I found this book much more satisfying than Emily Henry's previous book People We Meet on Vacation. That I found slow moving whereas the pace in this one moves along nicely, completely with some obstacles thrown in to thwart the path of true love!

Tropes wise, this hits on many of them, good and bad. There is some miscommunication, which is my least favourite trope but it wasn't the worst I've encountered and happens more between Nora and Libby. These sisters are close but have drifted apart recently, which is part of the reason why Nora agrees to the trip. The book touches on issues such as grief, self-sacrifice and the impact this can have on your life and relationships with others

I loved reading this, it was so comforting and I couldn't wait to go back and finish it, despite not wanting it to finish either. A perfect read holiday romance for summer 2022!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren Book Review

Jess is a single mother, who does her job as a statistician at local coffee shop Twiggs, alongside her author friend Fizzy. Every day at the same time, a handsome but rude man comes into the coffee shop, who the friends have nicknamed Americano due to his order. When they hear that he is setting up a dating site based on compatibility of DNA, the pair stop him one day to quiz him about it, which results in him inviting them along to his workplace. Fizzy, being a romance author, is excited about this but Jess is more skeptical. After having a particularly bad day and feeling lonely, Jess decides to do the at home testing kit and send it off. She's shocked when she gets a result (after setting her compatibility really high) and is called into the company to discuss this result. Turns out she's matched with one  of the founders of the company, Mr Americano (real name River) himself! The company is thrilled, wanting the pair to get to know each other, but Jess is unsure. How is this man, who she finds rude and stand offish, her genetic soulmate? Regardless, she and River decide to give it a shot and tentatively get to know each other. 

The book is a fascinating concept, the idea what your genes are part of the reason why you get on so well with people. This books has elements of enemies to lovers as well as fake dating trope. I loved all of Jess's friends and family: her 7 year old daughter Juno, her friend Fizzy, her grandparents who helped raise her due to her absent mother. I didn't know Jess was a single mother when I started the book, so I was a bit apprehensive about whether I would enjoy that part of the storyline but I did like it, it added another dimension to the story.As with most romance stories, towards the end there is an element that threatens the stability of the relationship and I was so pleased that it wasn't too forced or drawn out.  find too often that romance books depend on miscommunication as part of the tension and it can be really frustrating. Whereas in this book it wasn't too laboured.  I thought the book was charming and cute, I liked Jess and River together and once I got into the book I flew through it in less than 24 hours!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel Book Review

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel UK Book Cover
My mind is blown after reading this!

Sea of Tranquility spans centuries, starting in Canada in 1912 with British exile Edwin, 2020 with Mirella wanting to connect with her old friend Vincent, 2203 where author Olive is doing a book tour on Earth on the brink of a deadly pandemic and 2401 on the moon colonies. These timelines have certain strange things in common: violins, a forest, an airship station. As the book develops, we discover how these events are possibly linked, unravelling and reconnecting the strands

If this is the first Emily St. John Mandel book you are considering picking up, I would hold off! Read Station Eleven first and then The Glass Hotel. You could in theory read Sea of Tranquility on it's own, but I really think the links between the first two books and Sea of Tranquility really add to the reading experience of Sea of Tranquility. Mandel often has characters and events crop up in her other books, sometimes as massive parts of the book, sometimes in reference. And part of the reason I enjoyed this one so much was because of that. But it's not the only reason!

The prose is exquisite, the way ESJM writes is stunning. In the opening chapters, Edwin has travelled from England to Canada and winds up in Victoria, where there is a big ex-pat community 'The trouble with Victoria, in Edwin's eyes, is that it's too much like England without actually being England. It's a far-distant simulation of England, a watercolour superimposed unconvincingly on the landscape'.

Olive's chapters were particularly resonating, with ESJM stating that it was auto-fiction: a dystopian sci-fi author, who wrote a best selling book about a pandemic finds themselves on the brink of a pandemic in real life. Reading those chapters struck a fear in me, a return to March 2020 which at times seems so much longer than 2 years ago. I have no doubt that some of those paragraphs will haunt me the way certain parts of Station Eleven (which I read in 2015) still haunts me to this day.

It's not just the prose I loved, but also the plot. The book is definitely sci-fi (if the colonies on the Moon didn't give that away!), but it's pretty accessible if you shy away from hard sci-fi. Some parts will melt your brain a bit, even writing this review I'm thinking of points and being blown away by it all again! By the end of the book, I was literally gasping out loud as things tied together. A thought provoking, beautifully written novel, I cannot wait to see what Emily St. John Mandel will do next!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Crying in H Mart by Michell Zauner Book Review

Crying in H Mart has received a lot of attention and hype online and there's a good reason for this. In Michelle Zauner's memoir, she tells us what it was like growing up as the only Asian American in her school, her often strained relationship with her mother (which was more relaxed the summers they spent in Seoul at Michelle's grandmother's house) and life since her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when Michelle was 25 years old.

 Zauner is unflinching at times when discussing her mother's illness and the devastating effects on her family, the book is so raw and brutally honest. It shows the difficulties of being a carer for someone who is sick and the states you nurse them through. There is also tenderness and love, as well as humour to lift the mood at times. The title of the book stems from the H Mart shops in America, a brand of Korean supermarkets. Zauner speaks a lot about Korean food, the role it played in her life growing up and as an adult, to her mother's relationship to it during her illness, as well as how Zauner has used it after her mother died as a way to help process her grief, stay connected to that side of her culture and find comfort. A tough read at times but an interesting one

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry Book Review

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry book cover, which features bright vector art of a woman on a unicorn float in a pool with a man sitting on the side of the pool with his feet in the water. The background has mountains and palm trees
Poppy and Alex have been best friends ever since college. Despite being polar opposites of each other (Poppy is free spirited, loves adventure and travels for a living. Alex is more stable, has a job as a teacher and knows he wants to settle down in life), the two really get each other and are probably the most relaxed and honest versions of themselves when they are together. Every year they've gone on some epic summer trip, except they haven't spoken in 2 years after falling out. When Poppy gets a chance to plan another trip for them to Palm Springs, she's hoping it's just what they need to heal their friendship. Or maybe she should just start being honest that her feelings for Alex are more than just friendship?

This is a cute opposites attract, friends-to-lovers story. I liked seeing their friendship evolves over time and adapt to their new lives and new partners. We get the present storyline of them in Palm Springs where the first days are a holiday and the last few days are dedicated to the wedding of Alex's brother. We also get flashbacks from when they met and each holiday they had over the years. The flashbacks are what make this a fun summer read, as you get to explore these new locations with the Poppy and Alex and as there's not a lot of travelling being done at the moment, it's pure escapism. Vancouver Island, New Orleans, Nashville, Italy, San Francisco to name a few of the locations.

I was rooting for Poppy and Alex throughout the novel, it's hard not to. But I did find the book to be a bit slow moving at times. Part of the reason for this is the number of flashbacks. They met 11 years ago and we see a snippet from nearly all of those summers. While it's interesting to see their friendship and see how their feelings over the years change, to actually reach the point of them acting on this happens after we're at 2/3s off the way through the book. Which is a bit late for me, as there's not a lot of time to see them enjoy this realisation. I think if you don't mind a longer build up, you may enjoy this book more than I did. Overall I did like the book, it was a fun summer read, it's perfect to read lying in the sun!
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