Saturday, July 20, 2024

Review: Romantic Comedy


Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld


A TV script writer thinks she's over romance, until an unlikely love interest upends all her assumptions: a humorous, subversive and tender-hearted novel from the New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of Rodham, American Wife and Prep.

Life is (not)* a Romantic Comedy...

With a series of heartbreaks under her belt, Sally Milz - successful script writer for a legendary late-night TV comedy show - has long abandoned the search for love.

But when her friend and fellow writer begins to date a glamorous actress, he joins the growing club of interesting but average-looking men who get romantically involved with accomplished, beautiful women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch, poking fun at this 'social rule'. The reverse never happens for a woman.

Then Sally meets Noah, a pop idol with a reputation for dating models. But this isn't a romantic comedy - it's real life. Would someone like him ever date someone like her?

Curtis Sittenfeld is a terrific authors who, in my experience, never disappoints. Romantic Comedy is as unique and refreshing as all her other works, written in her unmistakable writing style. The novel is heartfelt, funny, and bitingly sharp. 

Romantic Comedy is essentially a love letter to SNL. In her acknowledgements, Sittenfeld discusses her intensive research into understanding the culture and format of the beloved late night show. Of course, for copyright reasons, Sittenfeld couldn't use the name SNL. Instead, she names her versions of the comedy show TNO (The Night Owls).

TNO is a fantastic setting for the first half of the novel. Sally Milz, our protagonist, shows off her work ethic, wit, and genius in her unconventional work environment. I always enjoy reading about women working in comedy. Not only is comedy often a man's world, it's also a tricky skill to perfect. Sally Milz is easy to like and root for, and even easier to respect. 

Unsurprisingly, Romantic Comedy is at its heart a love story. The connection between Sally and Noah feels genuine and they have terrific chemistry. Furthermore, I appreciated the very real issues they have to traverse. Sittenfeld could have easily wrote a sensationalised, dramatic version of dating a celebrity. Instead, Sittenfeld writes a relatively calm, quiet story that feels much more grounded in reality. She astutely examines the pressures and pitfalls that come with celebrity without descending into melodrama. 

A section of the novel is written solely in email format. I was hesitant when I came across this style change, but I ended up adoring this part of Romantic Comedy. The emails between Sally and Noah are sincere and warm, while also feeling intimate and honest. Moreover, they write like real people and I found myself forgetting they were fictional characters. 

Ultimately, Romantic Comedy is a story about complicated characters who fall in love. It's equal parts funny and romantic (you only need to read the title to surmise this) and I savoured every second of the reading experience. Sittenfeld has done it again.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Review: Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders...

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die

Fourth Wing is fast paced and fun, but ultimately a little disappointing. Perhaps I went into the novel with overly high expectations. After all, most of the online reviews are glowingly positive. However, Fourth Wing at times felt clunky, overly predictable, and heavy-handed on the dramatic romance. Still, I will not deny the reading experience was entertaining — I am always excited to read about dragons. 

Violet Sorrengail is occasionally a lackluster heroine. Especially at the beginning, her only traits are that she is small and fragile. And, of course, she has two men deeply in love with her (in typical love-triangle fashion). However, I do believe she has opportunities for character growth in the second novel in the series. Yarros hints at the possibility of more violent and subversive tendencies in Violet, which I believe could add more depth to her development. I also appreciate that Yarros has fashioned her as an intelligent heroine, and enables her to use cunning rather than brute force in some challenges. 

The romance also feels lackluster and undeveloped. The main male love interest often feels like an unoriginal stock character (he's just another hot guys who can fight) and, in my opinion, he falls for Violet unrealistically fast. The chemistry between them seems forced, silly, and over-exaggerated. Furthermore, their lack of communication was frustrating. Additionally, the world building at times feels shoddy and Yarros' plot twists are predictable. For instance, in one chapter readers are given relevant information just a page or two before a big reveal. The conspicuously heavy-handed placement of this key information ruins the plot twist, and this happened several times. 

However, the dragons in Fourth Wing are spectacular. Undoubtedly, the scenes with dragons are the strongest. I was interested in their characters, their background, and the world in which they inhabit. Often, the dragons are comic characters and Yarros writes humorous scenes and dialogue well. Furthermore, I enjoyed the fight scenes and the challenges that Violet faces. These scenes kept me turning pages. That said, I do hope that, in future books, Yarros addresses the copious amounts of violence in her world and further addresses the psychological effect it has on her cast of characters. 

Overall, I would recommend this novel to readers looking for an entertaining romantic fantasy novel who are willing to overlook unoriginal tropes and occasional weak writing. Fourth Wing has its flaws, but I also eagerly read every page. Sometimes, we all just need a fun book about dragons and a boarding school romance. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review: The Love of My Afterlife


The Love of My Afterlife by Kirsty Greenwood


If she wasn’t dead already, Delphie would be dying of embarrassment. She’s entered the afterlife wearing the sort of pyjamas you don’t want anyone to see and finds herself face-to-face with the most handsome man she’s ever encountered. And he’s smiling at her.

As they start to chat, everything else becomes background noise – until someone comes running out of a door, yelling something about a huge mistake, and sends the dreamy stranger back down to earth.

In a twist of fate, Delphie is offered a deal in which she can return to her previous life and reconnect with the mysterious man she’s sure is her soulmate.

The challenge? She only has ten days to find him. Ten days to make him fall for her.

The Love of My Afterlife is cute, fluffy, and chaotic. It feels like a quintessential British rom-com in novel form. While reading, I was exquisitely entertained and kept flipping pages at a voracious rate, eager to find out Delphie's fate as she navigates a singularly unique situation.

You see, Delphie is dead. Yes, you read that right. She's very much deceased (she goes by choking on her food, poor girl) but then is given a second chance at life by a sympathetic romantic in the afterlife. Delphie is allowed to return to Earth and, if she can kiss her soulmate in 10 days, she will be permitted to stay permanently. Isn't this a delightfully interesting premise? 

Of course, her task is not an easy one, and nothing goes exactly to plan. Delphie goes on numerous adventures around London to find her soulmate, and along the way makes many unlikely friends and commits a few humorous acts of deception. The liveliness of the entire cast of character and the hilarity of Delphie's hijinks make the novel entirely too readable and addictive. Moreover, the romance in this book as well is really sweet. No spoilers here, but the romance is a bit unexpected and really unfolds into a touching story. The characters are perfect for one another, and their interactions are highly amusing. 

My one complaint is that for a book with such a dark subject matter, and such high stakes, the narration is remarkably light and humorous. Sometimes, too much so; I feel that some of Delphie's problems are trivialised and her voice sometimes fails to come across as realistic considering she is in undeniably dire straits. Likewise, Delphie is sometimes a frustrating character, who cannot seem to learn to help herself and can bulldoze those around her. However, she does experience character growth through her experiences. And she is often kind and charming when she doesn't feel threatened; I especially adored her compassionate treatment of her elderly neighbour. 

Overall, The Love of My Afterlife is a resounding success. If you like cute romantic comedies with a large cast of quirky characters, I would absolutely recommend this novel. Just don't expect anything overly serious or dark. This is a light novel about friendship, making new connections, and a fun romance. Greenwood's novel is uplighting and life-affirming. 

Monday, April 29, 2024

Review: Seven Summers

Seven Summers by Paige Toon
Six summers to fall in love. One summer to change everything.

Liv and Finn meet six summers ago working in a bar on the rugged Cornish coastline, their futures full of promise. When a night of passion ends in devastating tragedy they are bound together inextricably. But Finn’s life is in LA with his band, and Liv’s is in Cornwall with her family—so they make a promise. Finn will return every year, and if they are single they will spend the summer together.

This summer Liv crosses paths with Tom—a mysterious new arrival in her hometown. As the wildflowers and heather come into bloom, they find themselves falling for one another. For the first time Liv can imagine a world where her heart isn’t broken every autumn. Now Liv must make an impossible choice. And when she discovers the shocking reason that Tom has left home, she’ll need to trust her heart even more . . .

Find Seven Summers: Goodreads/Amazon 

 After finishing two 4,000 words essays at midnight, I woke up at 2am to fly to Spain for Spring break. Unsurprisingly, I was tired, overworked, and looking for the perfect vacation read. At the Edinburgh Airport before our flight, I picked up Seven Summers.... my choice was an excellent one. 

Seven Summers, set in Cornwall over (you guessed it) seven summers, is the perfect novel with a beach setting that places aside other stereotypical tropes of the 'beach read.' Toon's novel delves into the struggles of grief, heartbreak, and adulthood. At its heart, the novel is about, family, responsibility, and growing up. Unlike other fluffy beach reads, Seven Summers is more somber and serious. 

Still, the book at parts is undeniably fun, readable, and (compared to the heavy eighteenth century fiction I have been reading lately) light. Scenes in the local pub, at parties, and along the beach are vibrant and fun. Moreover, I really enjoyed the novel's emphasis on art and music. Liv is a sculptor and the book chronicles her artistic journey, and, likewise, Finn is a musician and songwriter. 

The romance in the novel is set out interestingly with a stark contrast between past and present. The structure of Seven Summers cleverly seeks to keep readers in the dark over which man Liv ends up with until the very end. This strategy, rather than feeling like a cheap love triangle, kept me engaged while never feeling like the men were in a competition. For most of the novel, the loves are separated by time. Still, the ending ultimately surprised me.

In some ways, I felt the ending was unrealistic, and overly dismissive towards a certain key character. In other ways, I felt the ending was clever and satisfying. Perhaps it depends on how much you believe in destiny, fate, or any sort of divine prescence leading a person into another's life. That's all I will say for now, I promise there are no spoilers here. 

Seven Summers is unputdownable, sometimes devastating, but ultimately hopeful. Toon successfully immersed me into Liv's vibrant life in Cornwall. I loved reading this book while on Spring break, on trains, planes, and on the beach. For anyone looking for a slightly more serious beach read — this book is for you.