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.

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Audiobook and Movie Review: Me Before You

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Image via Amazon

Audiobook Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

Between starting a new job and moving in with my boyfriend, life has definitely been more hectic than usual! Thank goodness that my book club provides the accountability I desperately need–otherwise who knows how long I’d go without blogging!

Last month’s book club selection was the crazy popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. We discussed the novel at the beginning of the month, then watched the movie adaptation the week after. Instead of publishing my reviews separately, I’m combining them to better share my thoughts on reading this story and seeing it on the silver screen.

And if you happen to be living under a rock, let me offer a quick and dirty summary: Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark (played by Emilia Clarke, aka Daenerys from “Game of Thrones”), a recently unemployed English woman in her mid-20s who takes a job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man in order to financially support her working class family.

Contrary to her expectations, her client Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin, aka Finnick from “The Hunger Games”) is not an elderly invalid, but an attractive, wealthy 30-something guy who just happened to have the worst case of luck after a terrible automotive accident. Will, depressed that he can no longer live the mobile, active lifestyle he once did, has scheduled his assisted suicide in six months’ time. It’s up to Louisa to see if she can get him to change his mind. (Spoiler alert: She doesn’t.)

First, let me address what’s good about this novel. I appreciated that Louisa’s character was well-developed and that her relationships with her parents and sister were important to the overall story. Sure, Hollywood was never going to cast a plus-size actress to match her curvy physical descriptions, but the movie depicted her eccentric fashion sense which had made her so endearing in the book.

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Image via Zimbio

That being said, although most of my friends rated the book higher, I felt a bit cheated. I had seen the sappy film trailers before I started reading, so I was expecting much more romance in this romance novel. The fact that Louisa is stuck in a dead-end relationship for the majority of the story and doesn’t even kiss Will until their final trip together is a massive disappointment. Sure, this could reflect the theme that life is full of missed opportunities and unrealized potential, but ugh–what a bummer!

And while I could write thousands of words about the controversy of assisted suicide and the outrage of the disabled community over Will’s ultimate decision to end his life, I will say that the book better addressed Will’s autonomy than the film by allowing him much more time to explain his reasoning and having the support of many secondary characters. Yes, Louisa is the protagonist, which inherently limits the story’s perspective, but I applaud Moyes for opening the minds of the able-bodied in a respectful manner. I have always supported a person’s right to die with dignity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book positively impacted those on the fence about the issue.

It’s not difficult to predict Will’s choice, given that there’s a sequel called After You, but I do wish that Will could have had his own POV. By ending with the chapter of the Traynor’s legal defense, the act felt clinical and detached. Listening to the book on audio may have added to that effect as well. Watching the movie finally brought the tears out of me that were missing before, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for love stories.

Readers will feel rushed while watching the film, but Moyes’ screenwriting eliminated parts of the story that seemed anomalous in the first place: Louisa’s past sexual assault, Mr. Traynor’s affair, and the inclusion of Will’s sister. I would have much rather removed these elements in the book to make more room for some steamy, intimate moments.

All in all, despite its challenges in accurately representing the thoughts of real-life disabled people, I liked the book. It wasn’t nearly romantic enough for me, which is why I only rated it 3.5/5, but I’m glad that I got to learn what all the buzz was about. However, I’ve heard poor reviews of the sequel, so I’ll be passing on that. Thankfully, I just finished a proper romance novel with a happy ending–stay tuned for my review!

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

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Image via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting on a train listening to music and reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell–you know, minding my own business. It was a Friday evening, and everyone was excited to watch the SF Giants open their baseball season. Well, except me, because I could not literally care less about sports.

Anyway, one particularly inebriated young man sat down in the seat next to me and loudly asked into my headphones what I’m reading. Startled, I mumbled a few sentences to him while he looked at me blankly before offering me a swig from the wine bottle he was holding. I politely declined and returned to my book, realizing with full force that I just experienced the strangest PTSD of my life.

Eleanor & Park is titled after its two leading characters, who during the 1980s develop a budding teen romance while riding the bus together to and from their high school. Eleanor is the chubby new girl, ostracized immediately for her weight, her wild red hair, and her strange attire of oversized menswear.

Park, on the other hand, is Omaha’s token Asian guy. A lover of punk rock and comic books, he’s an outsider is in own right but left relatively unscathed compared to the ruthless bullying Eleanor suffers. At first, he’s fearful that her unpopularity is contagious, but it’s his kind heart that makes them fast more-than-friends.

Sitting on that train reading this story reminded me of all the bullying I experienced on my own high school bus–the name-calling, the things thrown at my head, the desperately looking around hoping somebody would come to my rescue–and for a moment, I felt like it was just yesterday.

Despite the pain of all those memories flooding back to me, that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell has an uncanny way of bringing the teenage years to life, which is why it’s no surprise that she’s dominating the YA genre right now.

Fortunately, I never went through the abuse and neglect that Eleanor is victim to (never have I hated a mother in literature so much), but I can imagine how much deeper my emotional scars would be today if I didn’t have a loving, supportive family. Some readers may characterize Eleanor as harsh, rude, and distant, but I see her as someone who has built up walls to protect herself.

The love between Eleanor and Park is passionate without the insta-love and heartbreaking without the melodrama. It’s a realistic tale of what happens when the person closest to you is both your problem and your solution. The book’s enigmatic ending leaves room for hope, but I’m not going to lie–this story hurts me. It hurts me because I was hurt before, and even though reading Eleanor & Park was like scrapping off old scabs and pouring salt in fresh wounds, I’m grateful for the catharsis. And on a lighter note, how refreshing it was to read about a Asian male love interest–one who loves wearing eyeliner, no less!

All in all, this was a great novel, and I want to thank my friend Marilyn for gifting it to me. I’ve got Fangirl on my bookshelf waiting for me, but I think I’ll need a breather first. I’m glad to say that I’ve finally read Rainbow Rowell, and this book definitely lives up to the hype. Highly recommended!

Movie Review: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Image via Teaser-Trailer.com

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! What better way to celebrate the holiday of love than watching an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic with the walking dead thrown in?

Last Wednesday, a small group of ladies from my book club joined me to watch “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which was directed and written by Burr Steers. I was feeling optimistic going into the theater, because I had skimmed several positive reviews and thought the casting was great.

The actors did not disappoint. Lily James made an excellent, feisty Elizabeth Bennet, Sam Riley played a brooding and badass Mr. Darcy, and Douglas Booth provided major eye candy as Mr. Bingley.

Ladies, did you even need another reason to watch this film? (Image via Wikimedia)

What surprised me the most, however, was how much was changed from Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel. I don’t want to spoil either the book or the film, but there were certain characters who were supposed to transform into zombies and never did, as well as vice versa. The movie also added the element of “vegetarian zombies,” ones that could eat animal brains to slow down the progression of the sickness.

Despite the leaps of faith you have to make with this plot, I was certainly entertained. There were elements that I missed from the book, including Elizabeth eating the hearts of ninjas and kicking the ass of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but it was clever and female-empowered. Matt Smith played a hilariously flamboyant Mr. Collins who had just as much of a crush on Mr. Darcy as the women in the audience.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” isn’t Oscar-worthy, but nobody who sees it will be expecting that high of quality. Critically speaking, it’s currently rated 6.4/10 on IMDb and a 5.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s still great fun.

I don’t know any other movie where you’ll both swoon over a love story and scream at jump-scares. If you’re a Jane Austen fan and are looking for a passionate film for Valentine’s Day that the man in your life will actually enjoy, I recommend “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” As the tagline promises, it’s “bloody lovely!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Things I Give Major Side-Eye

Image via The Broke and The Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is a free-for-all, meaning that all us book bloggers who participate in the meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish are allowed to discuss anything that’s on our minds.

Now normally I don’t get snobby about books. For the most part, I’m just happy that people make reading a priority. However, since we’re being completely honest today, there are quite a few book-related things that rub me the wrong way. So if you want to avoid receiving some major side-eye from me, make sure you avoid the ten items on this list!

1. Men who only read male authors. There’s a particular brand of hipster dude in the Bay Area who thinks he’s so enlightened because he reads literary or experimental fiction. The problem is, ALL of these books are written by men. If you’re on a date with a guy, and he prattles on about his obsession with Franzen, Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Wallace, and/or Bukowski, get up and leave immediately, because you’ve just come across a literary chauvinist.

2. Non-fiction readers who don’t value fiction. On the flip side, there’s another type of reader (unsurprisingly, also often male), who thinks he’s above reading fiction entirely. He’ll bore you with the latest WWII war read or Steve Jobs biography, and if you attempt to bring up that fantasy novel you’re interested in, he’ll brush you off patronizingly by saying he’s more concerned with reality than fairy tales. He’s a total square with no imagination, so don’t bother trying to convince him that fiction makes people more empathetic and intelligent. He’s too dumb to care.

3. Readers who look down on romance/erotica. Once again, men are typically at fault for this snobbery, but plenty of women also believe that the romance and erotica genres are inferior to those of “substance.” I am not ashamed to admit that not only do I read romance/erotica, I write it as well. I came across this type of reader in my creative writing workshops in college, and although they were fortunately shut down by the peers who came to my defense, the experience was an eye-opener to the literary discrimination that romance novelists face from many readers.

4. Writers who look down on romance/erotica. Newsflash: Romances make a boatload of money. It’s the 2nd most popular genre behind thriller and makes over $1.1 billion annually, accounting for about 20% of all book sales. The publisher Harlequin alone sells more than 3 books PER SECOND worldwide. So get off your high horse, because there are millions of people around the world who love this genre, and thousands of novelists are profiting from it. You can be a starving artist if you want, but if desiring my cut makes me too “commercial” of a writer, then I’ll just go cry into my sweet, sweet cash.

Oh, and as for the writers who say they’re writing “love stories,” not “romance,” I give you double side-eye. That’s right, I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks!

5. People who think Fifty Shades of Grey is good erotica. That being said, just because I enjoy the occasional racy romp, that doesn’t mean that I have no standards. Writing good erotica involves more than inserting Tab A into Slot B, and it certainly involves more than writing terrible Twilight fan-fiction and changing the characters’ names. See, if you remove the shame from reading erotica, then you can open up the discussion to what makes good erotica. So let’s do our part and start talking! Recommendations are always welcome!

6. People who don’t respect LOTR. It’s a well-known fact that I’m a die-hard fan of The Lord of the Rings. I’m positive that if you are as well, then you’re most likely an awesome person who I would get along with. On the other hand, if you think LOTR is dull, then you probably are too. Call me harsh or judgmental if you want, but #sorrynotsorry.

7. Readers who prefer electronic over print. This is likely an unpopular opinion given the mass adoption of tablets and e-readers, but I guess that I’m too old-school. I’m already on a computer all day at work, so when I’m home, I prefer to give my eyes a break from the screen. I understand how convenient e-readers are when traveling, but I would argue that reading should be a sensory experience. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a library or local bookstore, holding an old book in your hands, thumbing through its pages and taking in its intoxicating scent. But maybe that’s just me?

8. Book bloggers who don’t read the classics. Let me preface this item by saying that I’m not hating on book bloggers who have a favorite contemporary genre. Most of the blogs that I follow focus on YA because they’re managed by high school and college students. I love YA as well, but I believe that if you pigeon-hole yourself as a blogger, then you’re missing valuable opportunities to widen your subscriber base. Love The Hunger Games? Check out Lord of the Flies. Big fan of Divergent? Why not try Brave New World? Stretch your literary comfort zone by reading the classics, and you might find your new favorite novel!

9. People who only read books being made into movies. I often say that Hollywood has run out of original ideas, and you only have to look at the blockbuster list of sequels and reboots for evidence. I’m not hating on books that get made into films, and would in fact be overjoyed if a book I end up publishing gets its own adaptation, but if you’re only reading novels to see them on the silver screen, then you’re not exposing yourself to overlooked but equally talented authors. Sure, I may be reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with my book club right now in anticipation of the film release next month, but those selections are few and far between.

10. People who don’t read anything, period. As I stated in the beginning of my blog post, at the end of the day, I’m just happy if people are reading. Fiction or non-fiction, male authors or female authors, romance or realism, pretty please–for the love of all that’s holy–just pick up any book and read it. Turn off Netflix for once, and let your brain create the pictures for you. And don’t give me any crap about your crammed calendar: You’re never too busy to read (or at least, listen to audiobooks!). Almost a quarter of the population hasn’t read a single book, probably since high school when they were forced to, and that fact is awfully depressing. Don’t be that person.

What other bookish things would you give major side-eye? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Book Review: When in Doubt, Add Butter

Image via Goodreads

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.