Book Review: My Not So Perfect Life

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Image: Goodreads

Every time I read another Sophie Kinsella novel, I think that she can’t possibly get any better, and then she simply does. And what’s even more amazing than her writing is the journey it took to hone her craft.

Before she was the pseudonymous author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, she was known as Madeleine Wickham.

If that name doesn’t ring any bells, that’s probably for the best. Wickham is the writer of 40 Love, one of the lowest rated novels on Goodreads.

But over 20 years after the publication of that flop, Kinsella is now considered the queen of chick lit. Her latest novel My Not So Perfect Life tells the story of Katie Brenner, a young marketing professional from the English countryside just trying to make it in London and live up to her Instagram feed.

While her social media posts feature fancy meals and luxe locations, her real life is much bleaker with an entry-level salary, tiny apartment, and eccentric roommates. And just when she thinks she might be getting a big break at work, she’s fired by her uber-posh boss who can’t even remember her name.

Tucking her tail between her legs, she returns to her hometown to help her family launch a glamping resort and nurse her bruised ego. That is, until Demeter books a reservation and doesn’t recognize her own staff in farmgirl clothes. What’s a burned employee to do?

What starts off as a juicy revenge tale morphs into something with much more substance. There are humor and romance, of course, but there’s also insightful commentary on  Millennial social issues, like the fear of missing out and the urge to present your ideal self online.

As someone who left a rural town to navigate a marketing career in the big city, this book was especially relatable. If you’ve ever been frustrated by professional setbacks or envious of seemingly more successful colleagues, this story is a great reminder that everyone is struggling in some way. As the cliche goes, don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel!

I highly recommend My Not So Perfect Life as the oh-so-perfect lighthearted read. If you love it and want to check out more of Sophie Kinsella’s hits, read my reviews of Wedding Night and I’ve Got Your Number.

Book Review: The Runaway Princess

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Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

When the world seems to be falling apart, it’s natural to attempt to run away from it all. For me, my escape takes the form of light-hearted chick-lit about outlandish situations and love that’s too good to be true.

Hester Browne’s The Runaway Princess doesn’t compare to her other novels, like The Little Lady Agency series and Honeymoon Hotel, but it’s a nice break from reality.

It tells the story of Amy Wilde, a gardener from a small town just trying to expand her business. When she meets Leo, a handsome man at a party who’s interested in her work, she considers him merely as a potential client.

She never imagined that he’d be Leopold Wolfsburg, prince of the fictional kingdom of Nirona and one of Europe’s most eligible royals. When their professional relationship turns romantic, she is quickly thrust into the spotlight.

Faced with paparazzi invading her privacy and strangers insulting her online, she becomes overwhelmed by the consequences of overnight fame. As their whirlwind romance propels her closer to the chapel, she must decide whether love is worth sacrificing her and her family’s well-being.

The premise of this novel was interesting, and I enjoyed the dynamics between Amy and Leo’s swarmy brother and conniving sister. For the most part, the secondary characters were well-developed and showed dimensionality, which is often missing from love stories.

But most importantly, I appreciated Amy’s strong sense of self and her dedication to her family, roommate and job regardless of her potential princess status. She makes sure to speak up when her boyfriend tries fixing problems by throwing money around and refuses to live as a kept woman. Amy is certainly not one to be swept off her feet, and her groundedness is downright refreshing.

However, at over 400 pages, The Runaway Princess is too long for its genre, and it drags in places. I was also annoyed that it attempted to heighten drama by unnecessarily withholding information: the reason behind the disappearance of Amy’s troubled sister, for example, wasn’t nearly shocking enough to warrant such mystery.

Although this wasn’t Browne’s best work, it succeeded in briefly distracting me from the clusterfuck of this new presidency. Let’s just say that it’s horrifying when it feels like 1984, not 2017. Make dystopias fiction again!

Book Review: If I Could Turn Back Time

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

In Beth Harbison’s novel If I Could Turn Back Time, Ramie Phillips is 36 years old with a lucrative career that affords her designer clothes and luxurious vacations. But as she compares herself to her pregnant friends, what fulfilled her in her twenties seems empty and superficial in her thirties, and she finds herself wistfully dreaming of a family.

After suffering a freak accident, she gets a redo at life when she wakes up as her 18-year-old self. Now is her chance…or so she thinks. Can she preserve her relationship with her high school sweetheart, stand up to the mean girls, and maybe even get her dad to give up smoking before he dies suddenly two years after graduation?

I’ve been a fan of Harbison for years, ever since I read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and its sequel Secrets of a Shoe Addict. She has a knack for writing relatable characters and meaningful relationships outside of the romantic ones. Ramie certainly fantasizes about settling down with her old boyfriend, but she understands that the greater lesson in this surreal experience is living in the moment, whether she can change what happens in it or not.

It would be easy to make this time-travel story full of cliches, making a career-oriented woman realize that she should have cast aside her ambitions and become a stay-at-home mom instead. What’s interesting is that Ramie gets the opportunity to walk down two very different paths to see which better suits her as an individual.

In a world in which everyone displays their highlight reel on social media, we may believe that we should have done things differently. Without disparaging any particular life choice, Harbison explores whether the grass is truly greener on the other side. I have never felt inclined to become a domestic goddess, but the idea of “what if?” has the reader pondering what she’d do in Ramie’s shoes.

Rather than ask whether women can have it all, Harbison asks the better question: do they even want it all to begin with? If I Could Turn Back Time explores serious themes like nostalgia, regret and the loss of a parent in a way that’s more playful than painful. It’s a great read to begin the new year as we reminisce about the past and look forward to the future.

Book Review: Honeymoon Hotel

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

After being bombarded with never-ending blockbuster sequels and remakes, it’s no wonder that I’m getting more and more frustrated with Hollywood’s complete lack of originality. For the most part, the film industry cares jack-shit about women, which is why I would rather escape the bro-movie madness into some good chick-lit.

If entertainment is going to be formulaic, I might as well go with the formula I prefer: ambitious girl meets manic pixie dream boy and falls in love after a rousing bout of sexual tension.

In Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne, Rosie is the events manager at the uber-posh Bonneville Hotel in London. After working her ass off for years, she’s finally so close to a major promotion that she can taste it. That is, until her boss’ son Joe comes in to help run her department, and the nepotistic red flags start popping up to threaten her career goal.

I became a fan of Hester Browne’s after reading The Little Lady Agency series. On a whim, I missed her writing, so I purchased this book along with The Runaway Princess. She excels at creating strong female protagonists who have great jobs and friendships and don’t exist just for the men in their lives.

I enjoyed that Rosie and Joe change each other for the better. Rosie learns to ease up on planning weddings down to the nitty-gritty details and remember that love, not centerpieces, should be the focal point of getting married. On the flip side, Joe learns to respect the hard work it takes to plan an event and that running away from your problems never solves them.

Honeymoon Hotel is a great reminder that you can’t get what you want, whether it’s true love or a dream career, if you remain stuck in dead-end relationships and jobs. It’s lighthearted fun and would make a great movie one day—if romances ever manage to break through the monotony of action flicks and make it to the silver screen again.

Book Review: When in Doubt, Add Butter

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Rating: 3 out of 5

As the summer comes to a close, I like to soak up the sun with some good chick-lit: something cheerful, funny, and easy to read while laying by the pool.

Beth Harbison writes good chick-lit. I’ve already read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Secrets of a Shoe Addict, so when I saw When in Doubt, Add Butter on sale, I picked it up without a thought.

This 2012 novel stars private chef Gemma Craig (no relation to Jenny Craig), who is struggling to make ends meet in Washington, D.C., while cooking for a different client each weekday. She works for an eclectic group of people, including a Russian psychic, a morbidly obese online poker player, and the uppity Van Houghtens who are ‘allergic’ to everything.

Then there’s the elusive Mr. Tuesday, nicknamed that by Gemma who has never actually seen the workaholic lawyer, but finds herself inexplicably attracted to him. What will happen when their paths finally cross–in the most surprising of ways?

I’ll admit that while I enjoyed this book, I could have been content if it remained a story about love and cooking. Unfortunately, Harbison throws in a few plot details that cost her a couple stars in my opinion.

One thing that I really don’t like is a bait-and-switch. When Gemma reveals that she became pregnant as a teenager and gave the baby up for adoption, I was immediately turned off. This is something that I believe should have been included in the book summary, especially since it’s mentioned so early in the story.

My blog followers should be well aware by now that I’m not a fan of kids. I’m childfree in life, and I prefer my reading to be as well. I love reading about love, but there’s nothing that makes me roll my eyes harder than when a romance novel ends with marriage and a baby carriage. It’s cliche as hell, and it promotes the stereotype that all women are dying to get hitched and knocked up.

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not insulting the women who do value these things. There are more than enough books out there to support this domestic vision. But I’m also not going to hide the fact that I actively avoid chick-lit or romance novels with main characters dealing with issues related to having or raising children. Personal preferences are exactly that–personal.

My point is that I would have appreciated a heads up that I was getting into a book filled with guilt and angst over giving a child up for adoption (not to mention, another kid-related plot twist further into the novel).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adoption–or abortion or raising a child as a single mom, for that matter. But if you’re going to write about any of them, include them in the book summary, for goodness’ sake! Plenty of people will still read your book, just not me. This failure to divulge soured an otherwise lighthearted tale about bonding over butter, which is all I ever wanted.

For those who are looking for great chick-lit/romance without all the baby mama drama, check out the stand-alone novels of Sophie Kinsella and the U.S. Attorney series by Julie James.

 

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When I read a book like P.S. I Still Love You, I’m reminded of why I feel conflicted about reading YA that is not wrapped in the dystopian or supernatural. With no layer of escapism, all that you’re left with is teenage drama–and let’s just say that I had enough of that to last a lifetime.

For those like me who were nerdy and unpopular, who valued good grades and good books over football games and house parties, high school was definitely not ‘the best four years of your life.’ In fact, if anyone does happen to spew that nonsense at me, I immediately distrust them. Someone could build a time machine and offer me $100 million to relive my high school experience, and I would still laugh in his face without a millisecond of hesitation.

So when Jenny Han’s sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before opens with the aftermath of Lara Jean Song’s class ski trip, in which someone secretly filmed her steamy hot tub make-out session with her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky and then put it online for all to see, it struck a nerve, and I felt a deep empathy for her.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to suffer through your teenage years in the digital age. My generation was the last to know what the world was like pre-social media, considering that Myspace and Facebook had only started gaining popularity when I was in high school. I was bullied mercilessly without the assistance of cyberspace, so I’m filled with horror when I think about just how much worse the torment can be nowadays.

It is extremely difficult for me to set aside my biases and review this book objectively. Every step of the way, I see myself in Lara Jean’s shoes. I give Han credit for making Lara Jean seem so young; there were many times that I felt that her character was way too naive, but I realize that I can only sense this after years of disillusionment. I have to remind myself that I too was equally sheltered and gullible, until my horrible peers shredded my innocence and my ability to believe the good in others.

My less-than-enjoyable high school years also made me despise Peter with the fire of a thousand suns. His decision to emotionally support his ex-girlfriend instead of Lara Jean, thereby making her look like an utter fool to the entire school, eerily mirrored my own relationship drama and left a bitter taste in my mouth. Boys who care so much about making everyone happy and not picking sides are cowards who will not stand by you when you need it the most. In other words, Switzerlands don’t win wars.

That being said, this book is wonderfully written and kept me turning the pages. I thought it cute to incorporate Lara Jean’s volunteering at a nursing home, and I’m still a fan of the Song family dynamics, which have now extended into the dad’s dating life. I also really loved the reunion between Lara Jean and John Ambrose, who is a shining light among the sea of loser guys who go to this school.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was woefully disappointed in Lara Jean’s choice at the end of the book, and I hope that Han writes another sequel just so her protagonist can grow up and learn from her god-awful relationship mistakes. I’m happy to read more about Lara Jean’s teenage years, even if it means coming to terms with my own in the process.

Audiobook Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a book that I couldn’t resist after reading so much great feedback from other book bloggers. Jenny Han was a new author to me, and I’m glad that I was introduced to her work.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a young adult fiction novel that follows Lara Jean Song, a high school-aged middle child. Her older sister Margot just broke up with her boyfriend Josh and is studying abroad in Scotland. Her younger sister Kitty is obsessed with convincing their dad to get her a puppy. And Lara Jean finds herself in the most mortifying of predicaments.

It turns out that her habit of writing love letters to the boys she was once in love with has epically backfired, because somehow the letters get mailed. And one of those boys just happens to be Josh.

To save face, Lara Jean impulsively decides to pretend to date her old middle school crush, Peter Kavinsky, who also received a letter. Peter agrees to fake-date her to make his ex-girlfriend jealous, which adds even more drama because nobody crosses the queen bee and gets away with it.

This was a great audiobook, because Han imitates a teen girl very well with her short, simple sentences and conversational tone. However, as much as I loved the fact that Lara Jean was half-Korean (seriously, why aren’t there more protagonists of color in literature?!), you could obviously tell that the narrator was unfamiliar with certain terms, like incorrectly pronouncing the Japanese manga that she reads as “main-gah” instead of “mahn-gah.” A small quibble, but I couldn’t help but cringe during these moments.

Other than that, I enjoyed this story because it was so relatable. Lara Jean, inexperienced in relationships, must learn to adapt when her once-unrequited loves start to show interest in her. She must also navigate her changing family life, dealing with her older sister so far away from home. With their father raising three girls alone after their mother’s death, Lara Jean has to step up to be a role model to her younger sister.

I was a bit disappointed by the conclusion, since the story took too many turns toward the end that I couldn’t predict where it would stop. Once it did, I felt that I would have outlined it differently. However, I learned that Han has a final sequel planned for April 2015 called PS: I Still Love You, so hopefully the plot comes together better in the second half.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a fun, lighthearted read that will make you empathize with your teen self and nostalgic for your own coming of age.