Review of “The Marriage Clock” by Zara Raheem

Raheem, Zara. The Marriage Clock. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062877925 | 342 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

5 stars

The Marriage Clock is one of the the best books I’ve read in a while, and as Susan Elizabeth Philips promised I would in the blurb feature on the cover, I ended up gobbling this up more or less in one sitting.

I found Leila’s struggles relatable, as while I’m not South Asian or Muslim, I did recently have a tense conversation with some members about my family about why I’m not married, and mentioning the possibility of arranged marriage, which I scoffed at. I also know what it’s like to be told your expectations are too high, and that maybe I’m not giving myself a chance to meet the right person, even if the circumstances aren’t identical.

As such, I enjoyed seeing her growth as she comes to decide what she really wants, even amid some of the intense cultural expectations. And I appreciate that Raheem imbues a lot of humor into a story tackling such intense topics like double standards for men and women, a clash of cultural ideals, and the reasons both for and against arranged marriage discussed by various characters in the novel.

On that note, there are so many characters that I would love to see more of, given that they all feel so fleshed out. The main one is Tania, who is experiencing the difficulty of dating after divorcing her hand-picked husband. Given that things don’t end on as optimistic a note for her, I’d love to see her story and some commentary on the injustice in the way South Asian women in her situation are treated in their communities.

This is a wonderful debut book, approaching some very relevant topics with a lighthearted touch. I would recommend this to all fans of rom-coms or Bollywood movies.

Review of “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” by Abbi Waxman

Waxman, Abbi. The Bookish Nina Hill. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451491879 | 332 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

4 stars

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill caught my attention with its title, because as bizarrely common as they are (although perhaps a bit less so in contemporaries, I’m not sure), bookish heroines are still catnip to me. And upon reading the blurb and diving in and learning about Nina’s anxiety, and seeing how well (for the most part) it was depicted, I fell in love with her. While there are some small things I can’t relate to, or find more aspirational at this point in my life (such as working at an indie bookstore!), I loved all her little nerdy quirks, and how they extend beyond books to movies and TV shows too.

I also like that she was given a realistic arc for growth with the revelation of a father and other family she never met, and how her now-deceased father’s life choices at first make him seem a bit heartless, but over time, there’s the revelation that he shares more in common with Nina psychologically, and that he may not be the only one in the family who does so. I like that the book ends with his letter to her inspiring her to make better choices, having learned all this.

I did feel like there were some inconsistencies where the romance (or at least the sexual aspects of it) was concerned. I could understand her reluctance to commit, given the way she was raised without both her biological parents present in her life (although not without love, due to the fact that she did have a nanny), but it seemed a little odd to me that after she and Tom slept together, he was the one more eager to call themselves boyfriend/girlfriend, and while she acquiesced to him, she told someone else they weren’t really serious. It did help the overall conflict, in terms of whether her anxiety would interfere with a relationship, but, were it not for her father’s contradictory example, I would have found it completely unbelievable…and as it is, I’m still not completely sold about it.

But this is otherwise a great contemporary read, with compelling characters and lots of moments chock-full of both humor and heart. I recommend this to fans of rom-coms and bookish leads.

Review of “Marriage Vacation” by Pauline Turner Brooks

Brooks, Pauline Turner. Marriage Vacation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1982100209 | 240 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3.5 stars

I recently binged Seasons 1-5 of Younger on Hulu, and given the amount of intrigue around the separation of the character Charles Brooks from his wife, Pauline, and the book telling her perspective, I was excited to find out that the book was published in real life as a tie-in with the show. However, given how her character and their relationship was painted from Charles’ side on the show, I was also a bit skeptical.

But for what it is, it’s not bad. Though obviously the words is done by a ghostwriter, the words and storyline feel authentic to what I think Pauline’s perspective was from the brief glimpses of her we were given on the show. And as a book in its own right, it endeavors to talk about the issue of self-discovery and the idea that we might actually be the ones holding ourselves back, and not any external forces, as it appears at the outset.

However, in keeping with Pauline’s worldview for much of her arc on the show, the book culminates idealistically, which is inconsistent with the difficult marital problems addressed earlier on, exacerbated by her leaving. And as a fan of the show, knowing where Charles’ feelings actually lie at the present time, it was awkward to read such a rosy, happy ending.

This presents an interesting catch-22: the book probably won’t mean much to you if you haven’t watched Younger, but it’s much easier to be disillusioned by it if you have. That’s not to say this couldn’t work as a work independent of the show, but I feel like either way, the flaws are there in different degrees.

Review of “The Key to Happily Ever After” by Tif Marcelo

Marcelo, Tif. The Key to Happily Ever After. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501197581 | 314 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

2.5 stars

I really wanted to love The Key to Happily Ever After, since not only did it offer great rep for a population that is not often seen in romantic fiction, it also was a story about the relationship between sisters, which is something that really intrigued me.

And, in principle, the setup is great, The one flaw with it is not giving the middle sister, Jane, the spotlight, feeding into the “overlooked middle child” stereotype, but I did feel like there was an effort made to establish the bonds these sisters had with one another in this unique situation of running a wedding shop.

However, I wasn’t truly invested in the story or the characters where it mattered. It felt more like meandering through a sequence of events that I didn’t care about with characters that did not overly engage me. I didn’t care about these apparent romantic entanglements the sisters got involved in, or care when things went south, or feel like there was some kind of payoff to there being any kind of “happily ever after” (romantic or otherwise). I’m aware this could be more of a “me” thing than anything else, but I just didn’t feel like there was a ton going for it, aside from the brilliant cultural elements.

This is a book that I don’t think I would personally recommend to anyone, but that is just my opinion, and take it with a grain of salt. I do feel like the things it does well, as I said before, are the Filipino representation, and the basic setup for the family element, so if you are interested in those things, you may enjoy it more than I did.

Review of “The Accidental Beauty Queen” by Teri Wilson

Wilson, Teri. The Accidental Beauty Queen. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501197604 | 293 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

4 stars

The Accidental Beauty Queen was a random find while perusing my library’s catalog, looking for other books with librarian characters. Upon reading the blurb and some reviews, I was intrigued and thought it had a fun premise.

It ended up being a fun read, with a combination of a lot of fun things. While it is a little on-the-nose at times, and the author clearly wears her influences very close to her chest, from Miss Congeniality and beauty pageants to Harry Potter and Jane Austen geek-dom, to the point of borrowing elements from all of the above, some to a greater degree than others, it’s still a great read if you go in prepared for a light read and nothing particularly groundbreaking.

What I absolutely adored was seeing these two sisters grow through observing something of the other, whether it be a facet of the other’s life or their behavior. Charlotte shares the popular opinion that pageants are vapid and dumb, and is very much a stereotype of brains over beauty, but I love how she sees how much good those in the pageant circuit are doing and how hard some (like Ginny) are working to better themselves through trying to earn money for higher education through these competitions. And Ginny learns what it is to be a good person and sister through observing Charlotte.

This is an absolutely adorable book, full of humor and heart. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light-hearted romantic comedy, especially if you love book nerd culture or beauty pageants…or, as the book’s underlying message suggests, both.

Review of “The Matchmaker’s List” by Sonya Lalli

Lalli, Sonya. The Matchmaker’s List. 2017. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451490940 | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3 stars

The Matchmaker’s List was a much more disappointing read than I thought it would be, largely due to making a hash out of what is a good premise. But even so, it does still have some good qualities, most relating to the main setup of the story.

I love getting a look at the dynamics of love, dating, and marriage in different cultures, and this one did that relatively well, especially in terms of demonstrating the extended family’s involvement in an individual’s love life. The relationship between Raina and her grandmother isn’t perfect, and they don’t see eye-to-eye, but I love their slightly dysfunctional relationship all the same, especially when you see how both are affected by Raina’s flake of a mother, who the grandmother failed to rein in. Even when Raina messes up (and boy, does she), it’s obvious she’s doing it out of some form of love for her grandmother, just as the grandmother is doing what she does out of love for her.

That brings me to a discussion of the negative and problematic elements. This book unfortunately suffers from what I have started to call it “the Big Lie Syndrome,” where the plot gets out of control because our protagonist tells one lie that expands into more lies, and delays telling the truth. And what a lie it is. While I admit I wasn’t massively bothered by her lying about being gay, especially as I read on and saw what Lalli was trying to say about the conservative views among Indian immigrant families and breaking down those barriers, it still felt incredibly disingenuous to have this lie forgiven at the end, especially by actual LGBTQ characters, one of whom comes out to her at one point in the book. The grandma, I can understand, but I don’t know if I would have been so forgiving if I was in those other characters’ shoes.

I also found myself annoyed that she spent so much time mooning over a guy who clearly was only available when it was convenient for him, to the point of not even seeing a great guy right in front of her, just because she wasn’t willing to date a non-Indian. While she comes around in the end and I did feel that she had a solid arc, I questioned her intelligence when it came to her choice of an ideal romantic partner at times.

All that being said, this is still a decent book, with great ideas, even if they did get a little lost in execution. I would recommend this to those who are looking for a multicultural romantic comedy, and also don’t mind an incredibly flawed heroine.