Oh yeah, rolling through these June reviews now!!
Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw – 4*
This one was for the traveling book club, but also happened to be a book that I own and was planning to read anyway. This book had a few things that made it feel odd – for instance, it’s set in modern times, but because they are so isolated and the power is out the entire time, it feels like it should be set in a much older time period, which mean that every time something modern came up (“Why don’t we have cell signal?!”) it felt oddly disorienting. It’s fantasy, but more what I would consider magical realism, where it’s a natural part of the world. The overall tone is very melancholy, and sometimes the writing was more flowery and not enough plot, but I still liked it as a one-time read and may even pick it up again sometime.
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – 4.5*
It had been quite a while since I had revisited this one, and it was lovely to read through it again at roughly a chapter a day with a group on Litsy. I splurged and bought this absolutely gorgeous Chiltern edition… which I love so much that I actually bought the rest of Austen’s books in the same editions! (I told you I’ve been out of control on book buying lately!) Just as an aside, the Chilterns are the perfect size, they lay flat while you’re reading them, have gilt edges, and somewhat glossy pages. They’re just SO pleasurable to read!
The book itself – what can be said that hasn’t already been said? Austen’s humor is so subtle and wry. I love how gentle she is – she makes fun of people, but it never feels cruel. Her writing is more of a celebration of how we’re all a little bit ridiculous sometimes. This time around I was really struck by how Mrs. Jennings is presented as a somewhat obnoxious character in the beginning, but the more time the sisters spend with her, the more they – and the reader – come to realize that while she is a bit over-the-top, she’s also incredibly kindhearted and generous. There were several times in this story where Austen gives the reader an initial impression of a character, only to gently, slowly reveal different aspects of that person until you couldn’t help but feel differently about them.
Sense & Sensibility is frequently listed as the “boring” Austen, but I have a soft spot for it, as it’s the first of her books that I ever read. I greatly enjoyed reading it again, and see myself revisiting this irresistible edition again.
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – 4.5*
Finally!! This book was EXACTLY what I had been looking for in my romcoms. While it’s technically YA, it has that absolutely delightful humor and just-short-of-ridiculousness that makes romcoms so much fun. This story is about two seniors in a private school in NYC, both of whom come from restaurant families. Pepper lives with her mom, who is now the CEO (or something like that) of their restaurant chain, but Pepper misses the days when it was just one building out in the country, small enough that they all felt like they were a part of it. Even though the company has expanded like crazy, Pepper’s mom still leans on Pepper to do all sorts of random things, especially helping their social media person run the social media – Pepper has a natural flair for coming up with clever little slogans and tweets.
Meanwhile, Jack’s family also owns a restaurant right there in NYC. Jack loves it there, but isn’t sure if that’s what he wants to do with his life. He feels like he’s always in the shadow of his twin brother, who gets better grades and is more popular than Jack. When Pepper’s mom’s company steals the recipe for the special grilled cheese sandwich that Jack’s grandma invented, the two high schoolers get involved in a semi-ridiculous Twitter war. Through a series of events, they’re also getting to know each other in real life.
The whole story is, like I said, a little ridiculous, but so much fun. It had all the snark that I had been looking for, and is all about the friendship/romance that is building between them without pages and pages of them thinking highly-sexualized thoughts about each other, which tragically most modern romcoms (and even some YA) seem to find necessary these days. I was absolutely in love with both of these characters and shipped them so hard.
Downsides – I wished there was more resolution with the situation between Jack and his brother, and I also thought that Pepper’s mom was just too much. She acted pretty immature and annoying the entire time, and that never really changed. But for the most part, this book was genuinely great fun, and if you’re looking for something lighthearted and humorous, I highly recommend this one.
Death in the Air by Agatha Christie – 4*
This Poirot mystery wasn’t my all-time favorite, but it still had plenty of the usual Christie humor and a decent conclusion to the mystery. This one is usually published as Death in the Clouds, but mine is Air, and I’m not sure why. Usually those are differences between US and UK publishing, but this time it just seems to be that it was briefly called Death in the Air for no real reason. Mysteries of publishing.
The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*
I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t quite embrace it wholeheartedly. The main issue that I had with this one was that it’s billed as a fluffy romcom, but actually deals with a lot of really serious themes and issues. In many ways, I felt like I was reading two books. There would be a section where the two main characters are joking around and having a good time, and then the next scene is dealing with the realities of our messed up foster care system. I really felt like Ferguson would have written a better book if she had focused on the foster care/adoption theme, because she handled that really well. It’s super complicated and difficult to find a balance between giving parents a chance to get their lives together so they can keep their children, and recognizing when it’s basically hopeless and the children need to find a more secure environment. There is also the difficulty of keeping sibling groups together, especially when one of the children is older – the list goes on. Ferguson addressed a lot of these realities in such a sensitive, thoughtful way – which is what made the “romcom” aspects feel especially jarring.
The other thing was that in order to make the situation work, the main characters had to have just met/not been dating long, because obviously if something as huge as “I might be adopting these kids” came up in an actual relationship, your partner is the first person you would talk with about it. But having them be almost-strangers just added to the “what even” aspect of the romance, making it difficult for me to believe that these two would have even bothered continuing to date when they each thought the other wasn’t going to be interested in the children that were such a huge part of their lives.
The synopsis seems to imply that the children that the main characters end up with are temporary – I was expecting more of a “oh my gosh my sister just decided to take a trip to Jamaica” scenario, not “my sister is on drugs and just dumped her kids here and I think I’m going to end up keeping them forever.” Temporary, fluffy reasons for ending up with unexpected children would have made the “I don’t want the other person to find out about this” funny and lighthearted. Instead, because the reasons that the kids were staying with each of these people were so serious and so probably permanent, trying to keep that information from the other person felt very dishonest and unnecessary.
And so another book that was worth a one-time read, but that overall wasn’t for me. I really appreciated the way that this book handled the themes of foster care and adoption, and also liked that sex wasn’t the only thing the two main characters wanted to get out of each other, but in the end the juxtaposition of campy romcom mixed with the incredibly serious foster care themes just didn’t jive for me.