Who’s got their tree up already? Yep, me too.
Not only am I (Norwegian) spruced up by late November, I also have an outside middle class Las Vegas going on. A light-up reindeer, flouro presents, a bedazzled wreath and fairy bulbs light the stairs to my front door – all in a very tasteful manner, of course. But still. November.
I’m not even going to describe to you inside, but suffice to say, my electricity bill will be much higher than normal come January. I’m not even sorry – I need the joy. We all do, so bring it. I fully support all your endeavours towards entertainment. If you fancy a ten-foot blow-up Santa in your garden, I say, do you. Giving in is the only way forward.
Which brings me nicely onto this month’s reviews. For, in my submission to all things twee and generally, under normal circumstances, a tad uncool, I have succumbed to the romance novel. Not Mills and Boon, you understand. No, I’m poring over contemporary romance, a classier affair you see.
Yes, I normally avoid happily-ever-after like the plague. This reviewer is in her late 30s (I tried to hold onto mid-30s for as long as I could, but there’s no denying it now) and frankly, not sure anymore that thunderbolts strike anywhere but Florida in the summer. But here we are, with three whole romance books from my shelves (there are way more than that now, by the way), to talk about. And while there’s romance, and sex, obv, there’s also humour, complex 3D characters and real-life problems to navigate. There is also, I think it is key to point out, respect, boundaries and consent.
Consent is sexy. The steamy encounters throughout these books involve explicit permission, and condoms. Lots of condoms. A great deal of safe sex and consenting and adulting is going on here. And in this post #MeToo era, we call out the pleasant surprises when they occur.
So, if I may assume you’ve got your own hygge requirements taken care off – fairy lights fired up, a cosy blanket etc – it’s time to dive into some cute-as-a-button tales of courtship, guaranteed to make you warm, fuzzy, and at times, a little fluttery (don’t read in front of your granny). It might be frigid outside, but it certainly ain’t on my bookshelves…
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones and the Six this is not, just FYI. It’s glamourous and it’s decadent and it’s a warts and all reflection of a life well lived. When a Hollywood starlet at the end of her days finally decides to tell her story, she seeks out a struggling journalist, Monique Grant, who’s as clueless as everyone else as to why she was picked to write the memoir of the decade.
We go back and forth from Evelyn Hugo’s lounge in the not too distant past to Old Hollywood, with Monique gently teasing out Evelyn’s reflections and memories. Considering it was Evelyn who reached out in the first place, she’s definitely a tough nut to crack. As such, it takes Monique a while to get swept up in wild ride of her subject’s past, outlining the reality behind the glittering movie premiere-filled façade – think painful tales of casting couches, sexism, bitter rivalries and a list of marriages full of abuse in one form or another.
But then there’s the good bit, the love that came from nowhere. The love that shaped her life, but never made the papers, never mind any biographies. Until now. Until Monique.
This romance is breathtaking in its absolute simplicity – just two people who meet, who have an undeniable attraction and who navigate a life together as best they can. It’s pure, its wonderful and so, so real. Life isn’t a straight line for Evelyn – she has regrets aplenty and has reserved them all for Monique, who is pretty much blind-sided and agog from Evelyn’s first sentence.
Honestly, as much as I loved Daisy Jones, this was better. I have yet to encounter a person who hasn’t loved it as much as I did. It’s not schmaltzy, you won’t vomit at the saccharine display and while, yes, it’s a love story at its heart, it’s also a tale of a fascinating life. So, if you love a novel based on reflection, filled with genuinely cool twists and turns, then this is for you.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Talia Hibbert has created something incredible with the Brown sisters. This, Chloe’s journey of love and self-acceptance, marks part one. We then went onto a similarly delightful Sunday afternoon wave of gentle contentment, with Dani’s unexpected love story. Next year, Hibbert’s fan base will finally be granted the keys to the highly anticipated tale of the third Brown sister, Eve.
But anyway, back to Chloe and her getting a life. Suffering fibromyalgia and living in chronic pain, she writes a list of all the things she needs to do in order to get her life back; a life not revolving around her discomfort, limitations, medication and isolation. First point on the list is moving out of the family home. And there begins the adventure, starting with a meet cute with the superintendent of the block of flats she has moved to. She’s an uptight rich princess and he’s a tattooed oaf who rides a motorbike. But they’re drawn to each other like moths to a cliché.
Chloe is suffering. She’s trying, but she’s guarded. Her pain meant everyone slowly fell away as her life became more and more limited. First the friends left, then the fiancé, until the only ones who stayed were her family. She has, as a result, mucho trust issues – much like the sexy superintendent, Red, who’s also erected a wall around himself following a heartbreak and humiliation as a struggling artist. Much like Toploader and the likes, he was a one hit wonder who had a quick taste of fame and is now licking his wounds, trying to get back on his feet. You can guess what happens next….
This is as predictable as every other rom com. But the difference here is the way this shines, and then shocks you out of your reaction to the shine. The mutual care, concern, the fact neither are described as Kate Moss and Chris Hemsworth apart from in each other’s eyes, is just lovely. The honestly from them both is pretty much what you’d hope for, but in the age of Tinder and toxic masculinity, is something many of us have been programmed not to expect. Read this if you want a boost, if you’re feeling down about yourself, if you’re on your period. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and that is no bad thing.
Red, White and Royal Blue
Well, we just had an election in America. Didn’t we ever? Oh, the drama, the mess, the popcorn. It would be proper Real Housewives stuff if there weren’t millions of lives at stake.
Safer, then, to get our drama and popcorn from this sugar high of a book. A British prince, the son of an American President (female, I may add) and a playground punch in the arm that plays out in the tabloids as a bitter rivalry threatening the ‘Special Relationship’ – it’s all here. But what also features here behind the scenes, behind the tabloids, are real people, families and friendships, where fights happen over Christmas dinner, not about politics, but about dramas over boys and girls and arguments over Beyoncé vs Rihanna.
Prince Henry is an out gay man (well he’s not out out, as far as the public goes, but in real life he’s out and comfortable in his own skin). Alex – son of the president – has no clue his hatred of the prince has anything to do with the playground arm punch. But he soon learns what’s really going on in his head with the help of his family, friends-who-are-like-family; and a president Mum who always puts the phones away at dinner to check in with her kids (modelled on Obama’s dinners with Sasha and Malia, apparently). He’s attracted to Henry, and an epic internal struggle starts. Something he’s always known deep down but kept buried has no choice but to rise to the surface as he realises his feelings for Henry definitely involve wanting to snog the face off him.
It’s a love story, and a very cute one – albeit not exactly based on a realistic set of circumstances, what with presidents and royalty being involved – but at its heart, this is as real as can be. Two people battling a fierce attraction to each other, working out whether to follow their hearts or their heads. And as this as a rom com – can you guess which wins out?
Read this if you want an antidote to the election, to Brexit, to coronavirus, to everything basically. Here, in this parallel universe, the world is only a normal amount of dumpster fire, and it’s all the better for it.
The Flock Book Club in December – a Scottish retreat
What with St Andrew’s Day in a few days, you’d think I’d have timed this better. But I’m a grown ass woman who can do whatever she likes, so we’re going tartan with a trio of Scottish stories in December. Let’s hang it on the winner of the Booker, shall we?
This is 2020’s Booker Prize winner and, between that and Scotland qualifying for the Euros, it’s definitely not shite to be Scottish for a change. That’s a Trainspotting quote, BTW, in case you thought I hated my freezing cold homeland, where the national dish is sheep’s innards…
Anyway, I digress. Shuggie Bain is Douglas’ first novel (imagine winning a Booker with your debut? Ooft). We’re in Glasgow in the 1980s, Thatcherism all around. This is not skipping through a meadow of flowers with the sun beating down on your back – but it’s real and it’s a vitally important read.
Another book that pulls no punches, which is fast becoming a bit of a theme here in Scottish fiction. I’d like to think that when I die (sorry for harshing your mellow), people will say nice things about me, and in life, I try to follow the cardinal rule of ‘don’t be a dick’. But what if you don’t do the same? What if you are a dick? What if the people in your life sometimes flat out hate you? And then what if you kill yourself? What do they do then?
Christmas is Murder
This is the only Christmas book I’ll be reading this year. The queen of crime (writing, not committing. Don’t sue me Val) has gifted us a book of short stories that are as dark as a Scottish afternoon in winter and so chilling, you may need to wear your coat inside. A perfect antidote to any festive feels being rammed down your throat via yet another screening of Love Actually, this is literature for those who agree with my assertion Die Hard is the only Christmas movie worth watching. No, don’t argue. I’m right.
Blood and violence are as synonymous with Christmas as Santa and turkey. Aren’t they? Do I need therapy?
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