Review of “The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae” by Stephanie Butland

Butland. Stephanie. 2018. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019.

Paperback | $17.99 | ISBN-13: 978-1250217011 | 416 pages | Women’s Fiction

I received an ARC through a Goodreads Giveaway. I have chosen to voluntarily post a review. All opinions are my own.

4 stars

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae is not something I would ordinariy pick up, but it sounded interesting, so I’m glad I got the chance to read an ARC. While I can’t say it’s made a massive impact on my personal choices regarding the subject at hand, it did give me an intimate picture of what it’s like to be the recipient of an organ, on a couple of different levels, and how it can help in shifting one’s personal worldview.

Ailsa is a compelling and relatable heroine. I too had health issues growing up that required surgery to correct, although they weren’t to the degree where I needed a transplant like she did. However, I could relate to her post-transplant arc as she begins to document her life, carefully analyzing many of her major choices. I also rooted for her as she began to be more spontaneous, not overthinking every choice, which is something that played a role in the current state of her family dynamic.

There was also a great exploration of her love life, both her past with her now deceased former lover, Lennox (mostly through flashbacks) and her current one with Sebastian, an actor and major tabloid fixture, who also happens to have gotten a transplant, in his case his cornea. The flashbacks themselves are well done, and I liked how it highlighted her growth in a relationship as she pursues one with Seb.

The one thing I did want to see a bit better handled was the issue of her weight, particularly in regards to Sebastian’s (apparently) evolving opinions about fat women. For the most part, her weight issues resulting from the steroids she’s taking are handled in a realistic way, but with all the buildup in the tabloid articles that mention her, culminating in a scandalous revelation of Seb’s past expression of opinions on fat women, I felt this is where I could have used more in terms of him atoning, aside from the implication that he’s grown from it.

But otherwise, this is a great book that tackles tough topics in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy handed. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a hard-hitting contemporary.

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 “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Lim, Roselle. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984803252 | 299 pages | Women’s Fiction/Magical Realism

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted upon finishing Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. On the one hand, I really liked the exploration of the complex family dynamics in a Chinese family, and how, through three generations of women, each was fraught with discord between mother and daughter.

And I really enjoyed Natalie’s growing understanding of her mother’s mental health, especially what it means in the context of Asian traditions, where mental health care and Western medicine in general often isn’t given much consideration, with their preference toward more holistic methods like acupuncture.

And given the book’s title, there are many inclusions of recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s recipe book, along with other lush descriptions of various dishes, leaving me salivating. While I don’t cook myself, I felt the urge to make copies of some of these for further reference, as they all sound amazing.

But the despite the lush food descriptions and the engaging family drama, complete with a climactic “I-am-your-father”-esque (but more bittersweet than dramatic) reveal, there was just something missing that kept me from fully engaging in the story. Perhaps it was the heroine…I just wasn’t fully invested in her life as a person, other than in connection with her mother and grandmother, who were far more interesting, even though they never appear in the flesh.

This one was a bit of a miss for me, but I still found it a good read to take in the elements I did enjoy. And anyone who loves multicultural family dramas with a generous helping of food porn should give this one a try as well, to see if it works better for them.

Review of “Life and Other Inconveniences” by Kristan Higgins

Higgins, Kristan. Life and Other Inconveniences. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489425 | 428 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Kristan Higgins has quickly become an author I anticipate new releases from, even if I have yet to truly delve into her backlist. And despite not knowing much about Life and Other Inconveniences beforehand, I was quickly intrigued by the layers of family drama, and upon finishing, struck by how she managed to piece it all together.

The relationship between Emma and Genevieve is the central source of conflict, and I loved how both their respective losses and how they failed to connect with each other, leading to their estrangement, was delved into.

I also appreciate that Emma is trying to provide a more stable environment for Riley, in a similar way to how Genevieve did for her, to the point of even confronting the baby’s father, Jason, and his family in the best way (shame his heartless mother is called Courtney!) And while, in the style of Higgins’ newer books, the romance is not the focus, I liked that Miller, Jason’s cousin, provides a foil for the life of privilege his cousin leads, still spoiled by his parents, and also proves to be a great partner for the more mature Emma as they are both in different stages of the hard road of single parenthood.

There are a complex set of supporting characters, a few of which also get chapters from their perspective. And I found myself surprised by some of the turns the story took when it shifted to these secondary characters, Clive (Emma’s father and Genevieve’s son) in particular. At first, he seems like the standard deadbeat dad and wastrel son who can’t compare to his perfect (presumed dead) brother, so when I found out the secret of Clive’s role in it, I found myself feeling sympathy for him, even if I did not fully forgive him.

This is a beautifully emotional book with such wonderful, well-rounded characters. I recommend this to those who like heart-wrenching contemporaries.

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 “Lost and Found Sisters” (Wildstone #1) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. Lost and Found Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062448118 | 371 pages | Women’s Fiction

4 stars

I had never read Jill Shalvis before, but had heard good things about her as an author from many of my romance reader friends. Being a bit at a loss as to where to start and wanting to start with a slightly less daunting series, I picked up Lost and Found Sisters, the first in a series that represents her foray into Women’s Fiction territory. As such, I did not expect to get a full sense of how she crafts a romance, and I did not, given that it is the weakest part of this book, in my opinion. However, she did draw me in with a compelling story with relatable characters and a fun small-town setting.

As the title suggests, the relationship between newly discovered sisters is at the heart of the novel, and I felt their building relationship was conveyed beautifully. I love the way Quinn, who has recently faced the loss of the sister she grew up with, tries to reach out to Tilly, who is initially closed off. And while Tilly is troubled by her mother’s death, I loved seeing her walls come down and come to rely on Quinn and worry about her leaving.

And while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance, I didn’t mind Mick as a character, especially the greater sense of the community perspective he brought to Wildstone, the way he really loves his mom, and (of course!) his dog, Cooper, who definitely needed more page time.

This is a nice funny book that’s perfect for the idyllic, hot summer days, and one I would recommend to fans of small-town contemporaries, be they in contemporary romance or women’s fiction.

Review of “The Library of Lost and Found” by Phaedra Patrick

Patrick, Phaedra. The Library of Lost and Found. Toronto, Ontario: Park Row Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778369356 | 348 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

The Library of Lost and Found was another book I found on happenstance through looking through the library catalog for more books about librarians, so I was sold even before I knew what it was about. But once I actually picked it up and read the blurb, I was even more intrigued, a sentiment which compounded as the story unfolded.

I love the impact books and stories play within the narrative in connecting and reconnecting people, a phenomenon I experience daily, although not in quite the same way as explored in the book. And the little fairy stories interspersed throughout provide a sense of youth and wonder to an otherwise rather serious and emotional narrative, demonstrating that we’re never too ol for fairy tales.

One of the other central themes, however, was family, and the conflicts within it, and I love how each of the family members was so well-drawn and nuanced. I felt I related a lot to Martha in the sense that she kind of tries to keep her head down, even though she is a bit overworked and underpaid, and you can kind of see why due to the glimpses of her domineering father, and how hurt she was when her grandmother Zelda, who she was closer to, apparently died, especially as Zelda was (and is, when she resurfaces in the present narrative) so full of life. But I also love that there were portions that explored Martha’s parents’ marriage and what led to the estrangement, and further revelations suggesting that her father did have more substance and more of a connection to her than she originally thought.

This is a delightful comfort read, and one I would definitely recommend to other bibliophiles, as well as to other fans of heartfelt family-centric women’s fiction.

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.