Review | Watermelon | Marian Keyes

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Watermelon

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A hilarious and bittersweet tale of baby-blues and fruitless men.

At twenty-nine, fun-loving, good-natured Claire has everything she ever wanted: a husband she adores, a great apartment, a good job. Then, on the day she gives birth to her first baby, James visits her in the recovery room to tell her that he’s leaving her. Claire is left with a beautiful newborn daughter, a broken heart, and a body that she can hardly bear to look at in the mirror. So, in the absence of any better offers, Claire decides to go home to her family in Dublin. To her gorgeous man-eating sister Helen, her soap-watching mother, her bewildered father. And there, sheltered by the love of her (albeit quirky) family, she gets better. A lot better. In fact, so much better that when James slithers back into her life, he’s in for a bit of a surprise.


Think Bridget Jones’ Diary meets Gilmore Girls with a dash of Kristen Wigg from Bridesmaids; that’s what you get when you enter into Claire’s head the day her daughter is born and her husband leaves her for another woman. Marian Keyes uses something akin to stream-of-consciousness writing to turn something really tragic into something also heartwarming and hilarious. I felt the plight of Claire’s broken heart while also laughing out loud at the ways she deals with it. I’m sure anyone can understand why she would spend the next month or so rotating through the motions of sleeping, drinking, feeding her baby, forgetting to bathe, and refusing to change out of her mom’s neck-to-toe nightdress—but then she climbs onto the stationary bike in said nightdress at three in the morning and I couldn’t help but smile imagining it.

Anyone who’s grown up with sisters will also love Claire’s family dynamic when she returns home to Ireland to live with her parents at the very beginning of the book, after her husband has left her and she has a newborn daughter to care for. Helen is absolutely hilarious—and awful in the best way—and I can’t wait to read the novel that is from her perspective. I’m sure we’ve all met someone that one of the characters in this novel will remind you of. Hopefully one of those people is Adam! Oh, Adam. So handsome and wonderful, and another one of the aspects that makes this novel hilarious. I related so hard to the way Claire felt around him, and the difficulty she had in trusting another man since her husband left her! I think any romance fans will love that thread of the novel.

My one and only complaint is that, when we finally do meet James (the adulterer husband), I can’t understand what Claire ever saw in him in the first place. He is downright awful! He honestly triggered so much anger and anxiety in me that I couldn’t wait for him to disappear from the novel again. This character could have been killed off and I would have thought, “Right. Good riddance.” Anyone who reads it will know what I mean. He is abusive and manipulative and everything I have worked so hard in my romantic life to avoid that I wanted to throw the book at the wall whenever this character opened his mouth. Little Kate, you are better without him!

I am now reading the next in the Walsh family series, which is Rachel’s Holiday, though I have taken a break to read a holiday story, The Afterlife of Holly Chase (Rachel’s Holiday is way better, though). What novels do you all like to read around the holidays?


Links

Goodreads     Amazon.ca     Indigo.ca

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Review | Me Before You | JoJo Moyes

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Me Before You

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They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?


This is my kind of romance: love and sappy feelings without the tendency to poor writing and editing. I recently tried to read a romance that was so cheesy and so poorly edited that I couldn’t even get fifty pages in. I had to put it down and call it a day. It seriously irked me.

Anyways, while JoJo Moyes is an excellent writer, it did take me a very long time to get into this book (about five months). The first half of the book really drags on, and there’s a hint of the romance that you know is going to happen, but nothing to heavily suggest or solidify it. Then, once you get to the middle, everything picks up. It took me five months to get through the first half, and four days to get through the last half. And boy was that last half good. It’s heavy and deep, and also very high stakes. I knew that somebody was going to get their heart broken and so it was hard to watch that unfold, but it also kept me on the edge of my seat. Needless to say, I was not at all disappointed with this novel overall and just wish it had hooked me sooner.

I loved the cast of characters. Lou’s family is complicated but also really loving and tight-knit. At the end of the novel, dynamics with her mother shift and I’m eager to read the next one to see how that plays out; this was to be expected given the moral questions that arise from assisted suicide! I also ended up really liking Will’s parents even though they are at first presented as icy and cold from Lou’s perspective. I came to see that his mom was super fragile, and his dad was sort of lost. They were also two very brave individuals, putting up with what they were. Lou and Will are complete opposites that, to be honest, I don’t think would have ever ended up together had Will not been confined to a wheelchair. They even point that out in the book. But these two characters who started out as two blocks of wood grinding uncomfortably against each other soon became complimentary. However, we don’t actually learn a lot about Will’s past except that he was ambitious and adventurous. I wonder if we’ll learn more in the sequel(s)? We do learn about something dark that happened to Lou which I absolutely did not see coming and which is one of my favourite aspects of the book; I loved how it was written into the story, how Lou came to terms with it, and how Will reacted. I think this is a really great talking piece for any book club because it shows that both Lou and Will are damaged, in arguably equal but different ways, but the effects are totally opposite; Lou shines brighter because of her experience while Will’s life has lost meaning.

I would recommend reading this and bear in mind that you have to get to the middle! It might help if you watch the movie first; I don’t know, as I haven’t seen it. But I will be now for sure!


Buy Links

Indigo.ca     Amazon.ca     B&N

Review | A Little Something Different | Sandy Hall

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A Little Something Different

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The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….


Here’s the thing: this romance is super cute and the way the story is told really is “a little something different.” But I would go so far as to say that the story is TOO cute. There’s not much substance here, to be honest. For example, two of the viewpoints come from a squirrel and a bench, and it’s kind of ridiculous in a roll-your-eyes way. Then you have the fact that all these different characters are basically the same: they talk the same ways, they think the same things, they feel the same about stuff. Even the one character, Victor, who is supposed to hate Gabe and Lea (our couple) doesn’t actually hate them. (The author tells us over and over that he does but then he’s as obsessed with them as everyone else and it makes no sense.) It’s a prime example of telling, but not showing, and it is–quite frankly–weak writing. 

I would argue that Hillary has the potential to be one of the most unique characters and yet her parts are very short, AND Sandy Hall does her a HUGE injustice by slotting her into the “blonde bimbo” trope. I mean, COME ON.

In second place is Danny (yeah for LGBTQIA!) but he has the least amount of sections (boo!), and again, he is slotted into a few stereotypical “gay college boy” tropes.

In third place is Charlotte, who starts off as a character I could like but then turns into all the other characters (they are honestly the same–take away their names and you wouldn’t know the difference). AND everyone’s obsession with this couple for sure crosses into creepy. My frustration for this book bubbleith over.

Not to mention that there’s nothing about Gabe or Lea that is particularly likeable. Not that there was anything wrong with them; I liked them both just fine. But they are tertiary character material at most. While everyone is going gaga over their supposed romance, I’m sitting here as the reader going, “But why?” Honestly, they’re so boring! And everything that happens between them is SO. BORING. Another prime example of the author going, “Oh, they’re so cute, they look great together, we love them” and providing zero actual substance for these assertions. The author was shoving this down my throat and I was choking on it going, “BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVEN’T PROVEN ANY OF THESE THINGS!”

So much potential. So do not recommend.

MRS. HOUDINI by Victoria Kelly

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3 out of 5

In her debut novel, Victoria Kelly revives Harry Houdini’s incredible mystery. The reader is transported in time between the rise of Houdini’s career alongside his wife Bess and the years after his death in which she attempted to communicate with him in the spirit world. Two parts love story and one part detective fiction, Mrs. Houdini is an interesting rendition of the couple’s life both together and apart.

Kelly’s strength lies in her writing of the intense love between Harry and Bess, and it is a great loss that she failed to explore that thread more; the portions of the plot detailing Bess’s search for the spirit of her husband felt haphazardly pieced together, lacked spark, and were logically ambiguous. I carried on reading for the love story, although I experienced discomfort in reading Kelly’s fictional portrayal of Harry’s “secret.” It felt akin to slandering the dead and I am left feeling unsure as to why Kelly chose this route. That being said, I encourage readers to pick this up for Kelly’s mostly loving depiction of the couple and am interested to read Kelly’s next work.

THE BUREAU OF HOLIDAY AFFAIRS by Andi Marquette

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4 out of 5

Marquette takes the reader on a journey through a modern interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a spunky, lesbian twist. Working towards being a CEO at Frost Enterprises, Robin, in her own words, has turned into a bit of an asshole in her climb up the corporate ladder. The Bureau of Holiday Affairs decides to pay her a visit, and Robin’s journeys into Christmas Past, Present, and Future—with a butch surfer girl, a drag queen, and none other than Mr. K. Rampus himself as guides for each—give her the chance to make things right. Her biggest opportunity presents itself in a meeting with her former lover Jill, and it is this very mature and well thought-out relationship that becomes central to the plot. With a badass and endearing narrative voice, and a surprising touch of relatability to the characters and storyline, the adventure that Marquette takes us on is exciting and full of holiday warmth. While the novel drags on a bit (I strongly believe that this should have been a novella), Marquette exudes writing savvy. The Bureau of Holiday Affairs will make you crave more of her work, and will perhaps leave a little less of the Scrooge in us all.

-Ember Book Reviews

[ARC provided by Netgalley and Book Enthusiast Promotions in exchange for an honest review.]

Check out this book on Goodreads.

 

THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill

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1.5 out of 5

[ARC provided by Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for my volunteer position as a VIP Trendsetter.]

All aboard the Destiny, a cruise ship hosting a high school music competition where the winning group receives a $25,000 cheque. Liza is the only one who knows how desperately her band needs it, and her one goal as she boards the ship is to win the prize and keep her marching band afloat.

A huge mishap involving an out-of-bounds bowling alley and a stray bowling ball throws the entire competition in jeopardy, and Liza finds herself putting all the blame on the school’s quarterback, Russ, on the trip as a form of detention. Serving as the band’s—and thereby Liza’s—lackey, Russ only causes more harm than good in Liza’s eyes. To top it all off, Liza is sharing the cruise not only with her arch nemesis Demi, but with her crush and son of the band director, Lenny. She can’t afford any distractions, but one little kiss wouldn’t hurt…

It’s rare that I finish a novel and ask myself what on earth just happened, but that’s what I did upon finishing this. The Trouble with Destiny lacks the charm of Morrill’s Meant to Be and is a severe let-down in terms of plot, character building, and writing style.

Let me start off by saying that the opening was good but very long; there is not much action until about a quarter of the way in. That being said, the plot is predictable, and the writing and pace are both flat. There is way too much going on and not enough space devoted to properly developing relationships or the varying storylines in order to make the outcomes believable. For example, there was zero chemistry established between Liza and Russ. Therefore the shift in Liza’s characterization and tone, particularly towards Russ, is so sudden that I was experiencing whiplash. It takes about a paragraph for Liza’s entire personality to change, with no decent reason or warning.

Additionally, as someone with seven years of concert band experience, the band setup seemed very unrealistic to me. For example, the sheet music for Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars isn’t that difficult for a band with experience and skill (I’ve played both pieces in band at the senior level), so it seems unlikely that they would win a competition using such simple music. With this in mind, it is quizzical to me why someone headed for Juilliard would be wasting their time with a band that plays such lower-calibre pieces.

Overall, The Trouble with Destiny is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Definitely steer clear of this one, but bear in mind that Morrill has done better. I look forward to seeing her next novel and hope it demonstrates the quirky skill that I know she has.

-Ember Book Reviews

Check out this book on Goodreads.

Sex in YA: An Ode to Authors

I love YA. Of all the books written in the various age groups, I find YA to be one of the most diverse groupings of novels that you can find. Even though I’m in my twenties, I still prefer YA to Adult novels, but as I get older, I do have one complaint that has been plaguing me since I was about, oh, sixteen.

In my past reviews, I’ve hinted that I love when an author actually describes a sex scene, however briefly or detailed. Now, of course I only mean when the timing is appropriate and it advances or contributes to the plot in some way. This isn’t Game of Thrones the TV show, here. But I strongly feel that a descriptive sex scene between characters can help to strengthen the growth of characters and their relationships, much like in real life. It’s so frustrating to me when a YA author builds up the steaminess in a novel to an all-time high only to skip over the sex part even though it’s strongly suggested that it happened. It’s almost like if books were given ratings, they’re trying to keep it at PG-13, and it’s super annoying, for a few reasons.

1: As I said, a descriptive sex scene helps to develop character and can strengthen the relationship between characters. I think knowing what happened during that really intimate, vulnerable moment is key from a reader’s perspective, because I want to know that both characters were respectful and caring with each other, and when it’s skipped over, I have no way of knowing that.

2: I’ve noticed that in a lot of older YA books (where the characters are sixteen or older), the steaminess will be really loaded on but none of the actual sex is seen. This relates to my PG-13 comment. First of all, the characters are older. They know about sex. Most likely, the older readers know about sex. When you make the book really steamy and sometimes even talk about the character getting turned on but leave out the sex, it’s like you’re saying we can only handle it to a certain extent. That we, as readers around the same age as the characters, can handle the foreplay but not what’s happening behind closed doors. I think it sends extremely mixed messages to the audience, and it often leaves me feeling confused, left out, and like the book wasn’t fully whole. My feelings on this are that either the author thinks we can handle sex or thinks that we can’t, but they need to decide one way or the other before writing the book. It’s like if you write a book but end it right before the climax (no pun intended). I mean, really? As a reader, I feel really condescended to.

3: It also really annoys me because the writers of YA are adults. They are adults who know about sex, might have even had sex, and have a bunch of life experience behind them. All this considered, their book is a platform where they can share that life experience and help to shape the viewpoints of their readers. When it comes to sex, descriptive sex scenes can help teenagers to form healthy ideas about sex, consent, and come to understand themselves better through that. I mean, we start getting taught sex-ed at ten years old, so why can’t we read about it at sixteen?

My complaint is that there isn’t enough descriptive sex (like I said, however brief or detailed) in older YA novels and the previous are my three reasons to support that complaint. Basically, at the end of the day, it just feels really condescending, especially considering the authors are adults. I mean, come on. You’re an adult writing for teenagers. You’ve been a teenager. Surely you know that we know about sex and aren’t afraid to read about it. And for those that are (likely a very few percentage), they can just not read that part. It’s really that simple.

Feel free to share any of your thoughts on this subject. I know it can be touchy for some, and I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve said in this post. Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo