May Minireviews – Part 3

Oh look, more minireviews from the backlog!!!

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.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3*

//published 2020//

This one has been on my radar for a while because of that gorgeous cover, and also because I’m always interested in books with a Central/South American flavor to them.  This book was, I think, what you might call magical realism rather than fantasy.  It was a solid story about a group of people holed up in hiding because they people that they conquered several generations ago have now risen up and conquered them.  There’s a lot of discussion about imperialism and what it means to have a group conquer another group, and which culture is the “real” culture, etc etc.  Some of it was handled well while other bits felt a little too polemic.  While I liked the characters, I also somehow couldn’t connect to them.  There were really random scenes that felt over-the-top violent for the rest of the story, and Ibañez decided to arbitrarily kill off a character I really liked, which always annoys me.  The author also chose to put a LOT of Spanish words in her text, which did add to the flavor of the story, but there was no glossary in the back, and the context did not always make the meaning of the words obvious, which meant I frequently had to stop to look up words, which always takes me out of the story – for some reason way more than it does when all I need to do is flip to a glossary.  (I think because looking it up means I have to actually set down the book and pick up a completely different item – my phone or a computer – to find the answer, which frequently leads to other distractions.)

In the end, I did like this book, and I think some people might like it even more than me, but it just wasn’t a perfect match.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2020//

I had actually been meaning to read this book for a while, and then a member of the traveling book club chose the sequel, The Dating Game, for her pick.  Even though the second book could be read as a stand alone, I figured this was a good chance to go ahead and read this one, and I ended up really enjoying them both.  This is just the kind of fun and fluffy romance I like (although a little on the sexy side).  Layla was quirky without being obnoxious; Sam was angsty but reasonably so; and Layla’s family was absolutely hilarious while still filling realistic.  This one definitely hit the spot and I can totally see myself rereading it at some point.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2021//

I didn’t like this one quite as well, but still really enjoyed it.  My main issue with this one is that Daisy and Liam are in a fake relationship, but are CONSTANTLY talking about how it’s fake when the people they are supposed to be fooling are just in the next room, or around the corner, or what have you.  It was driving me crazy how they would basically get into a shouting match about how the whole thing is fake, and yet Daisy’s nosy family never noticed???  It just didn’t jive.  Liam also spent a little too much time hating on himself – we get it, you were a jerk.  Still, all in all it was still great fun.  A third book is scheduled to be published in November, and I’ll definitely be reading it!

Living in Norway by Solvi Dos Santos & Elisabeth Holte – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was another book that I read for the Food & Lit Club, where we “visit” one country per month with books and recipes.  May’s country was Norway, and I read this one in addition to a travel guide that I didn’t review (it was very travel guide-y).  Reading Living in Norway was like reading a PBS special. I could practically hear the soothing voiceover of a narrator the entire time.  Going season by season the authors visit different homes in Norway, discussing architecture, history, hobbies, and ways of life. I’m not sure how much this book reflects the majority of Norwegians’ lives as it seemed to focus a lot on the artsy types, but the photography was gorgeous and it was all and all an enjoyable read.  I’m fascinated by life so close to the Arctic Circle in terms of daylight and weather and loved reading how the people who live here embrace winter and the long hours of darkness.  So many of the architectural details there are because of the long winters, so it was very interesting to learn more about them.  Maybe not a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for some gentle nonfiction with a lot of photographs, this was pretty fun.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn – 3*

//published 2021//

I read Love Lettering last year and had a lot of mixed feelings about it, but decided to give Clayborn’s new book a try.  Once again, I was left with a book that had a fun concept but, for me, no follow-through.  I really liked Will and Nora, but this whole thing with Will needing to sublet the apartment felt weird and forced.  The synopsis makes it sound like Will’s going to, I don’t know, tear down the entire apartment building or something, but instead he literally just wants to make it into an Air B&B? Like I get you not wanting that to be your next-door neighbor, but it didn’t seem worth the amount of angst that was going on.  What redeemed the story were all the secondary characters – all the other apartment building folks were delightful and fun and I really enjoyed them.  This one weirdly reminded me a lot of Second First Impressions which I had read earlier in the month, and, like that one, this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, because all the conflicts felt strangely manufactured instead of natural.

Love Lettering // by Kate Clayborn

//published 2020//

Continuing my pattern of slightly-better-than-meh romcoms, Love Lettering was another book that it seemed like I should really enjoy.  Meg designs and hand-letters all sorts of things – planners, wedding invitations, inspirational wall-hangings, you name it.  She’s somewhat famous within those circles on social media, and is hoping to win a spot designing her own line of items for a company that publishes planners/to-do lists/cards/etc., although recently she just hasn’t been feeling the magic of inspiration.  But one day, a guy walks in the door of the shop where she works – a guy Meg didn’t think she would ever see again, because the last time she saw him, she was designing all the paper for his wedding.  But here he is, unmarried – and he says that part of the reason is because of the message Meg hid in the wedding program.

Part of my problem with this book was Meg herself.  She’s absurdly nonconfrontational, and it got on my nerves so hard.  I don’t like going out and getting in someone’s face, but if it’s someone that I’m close to, I want to talk things through and fix what’s going on, not continue to live with my best friend while completely ignoring the fact the fact that she’s obviously super mad at me about something FOR MONTHS.  Then there’s this whole thing with the secret messages that Meg sometimes leaves in her designs.  Little things, like only having certain letters drop in a phrase, and those letters spell out a word.  It’s just never clear as to why.  Like I can understand when it’s someone Meg knows, and this is her little passive-aggressive thing since she literally is incapable of having an even vaguely confrontational conversation with anyone, but why does she do this with total strangers, like the wedding program?  It’s never really explained in any way, and it aggravated me because it ended up just coming across as a plot device so this guy would come back into Meg’s life.

Meg spontaneously invites this guy to start taking some walks with her around the city, and it makes zero sense that (a) she invites him or (b) that he accepts.  It goes completely against both of their personalities and left me feeling rather confused.

Finally, as they get more serious about their relationship, part of the reason Meg feels like it won’t work is because Reid really wants to move out of NYC.  That’s it, end of discussion.  They literally never discuss the possibility of Meg leaving NYC despite the fact that Reid genuinely hates living in the city, and Meg freaking WORKS FROM HOME.  It’s not even that I would expect Meg to “sacrifice” her preference for Reid, it was the fact that it was never on the table.  Either Reid had to decide he was cool with living in NYC for the rest of his life, or the relationship was over.  And that didn’t feel remotely fair to Reid.

Despite all these complaints, I’ve still given the book a 3.5* rating (albeit one I rounded down rather than up on Goodreads).  That’s because I honestly did, for the most part, still enjoy the story.  When Meg isn’t being an inconsistent little wuss, she was a perfectly nice character, and a lot of the little adventures were fun.  I wouldn’t necessarily avoid Clayborn’s books in the future, but I’m not on a mission to find what else she’s written, either.