The Switch // by Beth O’Leary

//published 2020//

Last year I read and enjoyed O’Leary’s first novel, The Flatshare.  So it was with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I picked up her second book, The Switch.

Leena loves her job, but ever since her sister died a year or so before she has been on a downhill slide, struggling with depression and anger.  When she has a bit of a nervous breakdown at work, her boss tells her that she has to take two months off to R&R… yes, you heard that right, two months paid leave with no repercussions… to which Leena basically says, “Oh no, please, anything but that!  How will I ever survive if I have to have a two month vacation doing whatever I want and still getting paid for it!  My life is soooooo harrrrdddd.”  Yeah, I didn’t hit it off with Leena right away, in case you couldn’t tell.

After a bit of this and that, Leena pops up to Yorkshire to visit her grandma, Eileen.  Eileen is feeling a bit lonely ever since her 70-year-old husband ran off with their dance instructor (yeah, I thought that seemed a little unbelievable if I’m honest) and wishes that she could have a second chance at love.  However, that just doesn’t seem all that likely in her small village where she already knows everything about everyone.

Leena comes up with a brilliant idea: she’ll stay in Yorkshire and take on all of Eileen’s responsibilities, and Eileen can stay in Leena’s London flat and do some online dating where the pool of eligible men is much larger.  And so the switch takes place…

There was honestly a lot to like about this book, and I gave it an easy 4*.  I got off to a rocky start with Leena, and really never did find her particularly likable.  She and I are completely different personalities, and I would never have handled any of my problems in remotely the way she did, so that was definitely a big part of my issue with the book.  In particular, Leena blames her mom for Leena’s sister’s death because her mom agreed that the sister could “stop her treatment.”  At first I thought that this was going to be at least somewhat understandable – maybe Leena’s sister committed suicide or something after stopping therapy?  But no, literally her sister died of cancer, and Leena is mad at her mom because her mom didn’t try to convince Leena’s sister to try this experimental treatment that would have been super expensive and would have involved going to the U.S.  To me, the level of rage that Leena has been nursing about this for over a year was just absurd, and even though eventually she forgives her mom and they start to move forward, I just couldn’t really like Leena all that well.  She always seemed rather spoiled and whiny.

Eileen on the other hand was fantastic.  Intelligent, interesting, likable – she works hard and engages with people around her.  In London, not only does she find a boyfriend, she sets up an entire club that starts meeting for games and puzzles in the common area of Leena’s apartment building.  Funny and full of wisdom, Eileen is what sold me on this story.

All the secondary characters are great.  There’s an entire clan of elderly people in Eileen’s village that add so much humor and warmth to the story.  I appreciated that “small town life” wasn’t presented as the worst thing ever or the best thing ever, but simply a way that some people choose to live, and the same with city life.  Eileen and Leena could appreciate the advantages and disadvantages to their life choices, and I liked that a lot.  Leena ends up surprised at how busy her grandma actually is – she has loads of responsibilities around the village and beyond, and I liked the way that Leena came to appreciate that her grandma was contributing to the community in a lot of ways.

My biggest issue with this book was one I run into a lot with romcoms – the almost-cheating love triangle.  Leena has a boyfriend that she’s been dating steadily for a few years, but has a crush on a guy she meets while staying at Eileen’s.  Nothing really “happens” but I didn’t like the way it all played out, especially since Leena literally goes from the boyfriend to the new guy in just a couple of days, despite the fact that the boyfriend has been “her rock” for years… it just felt extremely unnatural and made it difficult for me to ship Leena with the new guy.  The whole story would have read significantly better if the boyfriend had been jettisoned way earlier in the story, or even before the story began.  Why did we even need that boyfriend?  He was completely pointless!

Still, all in all I did enjoy this story, which was definitely more about healing and moving forward than it was about romance.  There are a lot of secondary storylines about grief, being true to yourself, finding your place (which doesn’t always look the way other people think it should), taking risks, forgiveness, and being content.  While I didn’t love Leena, the overall story was warm, welcoming, and humorous.  I look forward to seeing what O’Leary writes next.

September Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Oh wow, it’s the end of September and I haven’t posted a SINGLE REVIEW!  Ha!  September is always a busy month for me, plus this year we also went on an epic western roadtrip (almost 4300 miles in nine days, woot!) so things have been a leeeetle bit crazy.  Still, plenty of reading has been accomplished!!

I really don’t want to do minireviews of some of these books, as I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I am suuuper behind on reviews!  So, as always, the star rating is a more accurate representation of my feelings on the book rather than the length of the review!

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – 4*

//published 2019//

Oh my gosh, this book was SO adorable.  Basically, Leon needs some extra money.  He works nights, so he decides to sublet his flat for the times that he isn’t there.  The flatmate will get the apartment nights and weekends.  Tiffy needs a place to stay, so even though the concept is a bit irregular, she rolls with it.  Through a series of events, which O’Leary paces perfectly, Tiffy and Leon don’t actually meet for quite a long while.  But roommates really do need to communicate, even if they never see each other – and so the sticky notes begin.

I just really enjoyed this book.  It was lighthearted and fun, and the romance was adorable.  The chapters that were from Leon’s perspective were a little strange to read at first because of the way his steam-of-thought rolls, but after I adjusted I got into it.  I really loved the way their relationship developed over time.  I thought the drama with Tiffy’s ex was a little bit much, and it was hard to figure out how much of it was real, how much of it was just in Tiffy’s head, and how much of it was actually worse than Tiffy thought it was, since all we had was Tiffy’s perspective on the situation.  Still, overall this was thoroughly enjoyable.

Special thanks to reviews by Stephanie, Bibliobeth, and From First Page to Last, which inspired me to give this book a try!!

Those People by Louise Candlish – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a thriller that kept me completely gripped throughout with its excellent pacing, but felt like it just kind of ran out of gas and stuttered to an end rather than having the tight conclusion I was hoping to see.  I loved the format at the beginning of the book – an excerpt of a police interview from one of the characters, and then a chapter headed “[x] Weeks Ago” – it really made the build-up to the tragedy tense.  The reader knows there is a tragedy, that there is at least one death, knows at least one of the characters who is involved in the tragedy – but the details are vague and unfold slowly.

The ending isn’t unreasonable by any means, it just felt a little loose.  I was also a little big confused – a minor character ties in, and I didn’t really understand why, or what he had to do with anything, or why he would be the one suggesting the specific means of causing the accident.  That may also have been part of the reason I was left feeling mildly disappointed by the conclusion.

But overall excellent, taut writing.  This is my first book by Candlish, but I have a couple of her other books on my list, and will definitely be finding them!  For this one, reviews by Stephanie and Jennifer led me to read it, so thank you!!

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill – 4.5*

//published 2017//

A while back I bought the most adorable card game ever, where players are raising tiny tea dragons.  I bought it solely based on the artwork (although luckily it turned out to be a fun game to play, also).  Last month, I found out that the card game is based on a BOOK and I had to read it as soon as I could get my grabby hands on a copy.

The artwork is STUNNING.  I could seriously look at the pictures in this book all day long.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that all the friendships are actually gay relationships – I still just really feel like it devalues friendship a lot; like this could be about two lonely girls becoming friends, but instead now they are MORE, and the implication seems to be that friendship wouldn’t have been enough.  But it’s still a very gentle part of the story, and the overall artwork is just soooo beautiful.  Apparently there is a sequel being published this fall, and I’m on the waiting list at the library.

Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1931//

Swallows & Amazons was my favorite read in June, and the sequel was my favorite read in August (even if I’m just getting around to reviewing it).  This book was everything I could possibly want from a sequel and more.  I don’t really have words to explain why I love these books so hard, but I cannot WAIT to read Peter Duck.

The Girl on the Boat by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1922//

Is it possible to go wrong with Wodehouse?  Not in my experience.  Who else can pull off a line like this?  “At this, she melted perceptibly. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.“