Tag Archives: writing

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren

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The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. The True Love Experiment. Gallery Books, 2023. 416 pp. ISBN 9781982173432 $27.99

****

Wisecracking, fearless romance novelist Felicity Chen, the best friend sidekick made of charisma, witchcraft, and bad judgment from The Soulmate Equation, has lost her mojo, and agrees to star in a reality dating show on her terms: the gents have to represent popular romance archetypes, and none of this forced proximity secluded crap, she wants her friends and family to have input and insight, just like in real life. The eight Heroes assembled represent tattooed bad boy, hot nerd, and vampire, but it’s the sexy British producer Connor–a total Cinnamon Bun–that Fizzy clicks with. It’s rewarding to see the novelist and Tinder queen thrown for a loop over feelings that she’s never experienced before. The ante is upped when the men all take River’s cutting-edge matchmaking genome sequencing test with GeneticAlly. The audience will vote on who Fizzy should end up with, and then the match results will be revealed. Will the science or heart rule?

More tension is created as Fizzy continues to fight writer’s block, Connor is actually a documentarian who doesn’t want to be producing reality television, he doesn’t do short term and she only does short term; her family doesn’t take her work seriously and she’s still perceiving pressure to settle down, get married and have a baby. And then, Fizzy is the one who makes a terrible error and has to win back her man. Some of the ground covered is that while we are influenced by our pasts, past actions do not have to define us. There’s also not so subtle commentary on continued derogatory attitude thrown at the romance genre.

Family and friends remain important in the story and character development. One of the best parts for me was the reappearance of grumpy hot nerd River, who keeps walking into rooms to her his wife or Felicity utter something outrageous…and walks right back out again. Connor’s daughter Stevie and Jess’s daughter Juno bond over hot boy band Wonderland. Felicity’s brother Peter is getting married, and since she has an agreement to not see any of the potential matches outside the show, none of the competitors can be her plus one…but Connor can, and does. The glamorous and expensive festivities that blend traditional and modern Korean customs add background and rich multicultural detail.

The dating adventures are entertaining, and the relationship between Fizzy and Connor balances both hot and sweet; the combination of funny banter, smart writing, juicy detail, and swoony romance are what we’ve come to expect from Christina Lauren, and this one does not disappoint. The drama at the live season finale and big reveal is palpable and perfectly paced and executed.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheTrueLoveExperiment from #NetGalley.

Revenge of the Librarians by Tom Gauld

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Revenge of the Librarians by Tom Gauld

Gauld, Tom. Revenge of the Librarians. Drawn and Quarterly, 2022.180 pp. ISBN 978-1770466166 $21.99
****

I run our library’s Twitter feed and can always find a date-appropriate Tom Gauld literary cartoon to schedule for on TweetDeck: celebrations of authors, genres, or reimagined book titles specific to a holiday or event. Revenge of the Librarians is a collection of his comic strips, less about librarians and more about books, including the celebration of the problem of having or buying way too many. His comics have the brilliance of XKCD with a literary theme, (instead of physics) and this collection is giggle out loud funny.

Strips are a mix of stick figure and simple caricature cartoon, interspersed with flow charts, Venn diagrams idea generators, lists related to writing and literature–even a DIY holiday card and a tiny board game: Book Festival Race (die not included). Themes emerge: editors are hard to cope with, critics stink, and authors struggle to meet deadlines. He throws shade at beach books (termed “summer holiday reads”), village murder mysteries, thrillers, fantasy novels (pick out the imposter book from the His Dark Materials series: “The Obsidian Toothpick/The Iron Teapot/The Nebulous Spatula“), popular fiction and important times alike. He delivers a healthy dose of self-deprecating snark with New on Your e-Reader, featuring” personality modes that can be set to have a tone, like demanding:

For writers, he offers encouragement to authors with motivational badges (I was brave today at the editor’s!) and sample greeting cards (with deepest sympathy on your reviews, congratulations on your seventh draft) and humorous scenes like the society of literary feuds summer party, featuring sneering indifference, mutual detestation and utter loathing alongside drinks and nibbles.

Gauld’s feminist leanings are exemplars in changing masculine to feminine (Lord of the Flies becomes Lady of the Flies) and a cartoon of author Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March changing the plot of her novel at the advice of her editor: “If the main character’s a girl, make sure she’s married by the end. Or dead.” “Or both?” asks March with a smile.

My favorite cartoons are his reimaginings of classics in a variety of ways: set in the future, with female leads, etc.. I was halfway through when my 10-year-old stole it to read, and she says her favorite illustration was a conspiracy theory themed collection of alternative titles: 8 days across the world, with a cover illustration of a flat earth, made her laugh even without ever having heard of, let alone read, Around the World in 80 Days.

I bought myself the hardcover edition of #RevengeOfTheLibrarians from a gift certificate, and it has an old-fashioned sleeve and date due card on the inside flap, which made a handy bookmark. Cue the nostalgia.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

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The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Poston, Ashley. The Dead Romantics. Berkley, 2022. 368 pp. ISBN 9780593336489 $17.00

*****

Ghost writer Florence is beyond deadline for the last of four contracted books, and has a new editor to content with; she has to explain to Benji Andor that she cannot write a romance novel when she no longer believes in romance. Her ex, also a writer, horribly betrayed her by taking stories she told him and loosely fictionalizing them into his next bestseller-and she’s getting zero credit. The stories are about the ghosts she sees. Like her father, a mortician, they appear and often want her help, though she’s mostly been ignoring them since leaving home. The new editor shows up at an open mic night, and so does Florence’s ex–and she kisses Benji, then abandons him when she get a call from home to come home–her father has died. Imagine her surprise when Benjo shows up the next day at her door at the Day family funeral home: as a ghost.

There is so much to love about this delightful novel, and it’s one of the best books I read this year. I don’t want to give away the brilliant plot twists. My favorite books balance angst, awkwardness, and the stars aligning. The Dead Romantics has all that and is gothy and still sweet, atmospheric, and unique. It’s about coming home, resolving relationships, and finding love.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheDeadRomantics from #NetGalley, and loved it so much I bought my own copy which I made my kids wrap up and put under our Christmas tree (happy Hanukkah/Merry Christmas to me!).

Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot

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Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot

Elliot, Amanda. Best Served Hot. Berkley, 2022. 386 pp. ISBN 978-0593335734 $17.00

****

Two restaurant critics go about their reviews in very different ways: Julie is a built from scratch go-getter with 50,000 followers on social media, pays for all her meals, and takes a photo of everything she eats, favoring ethnic food and hole in the wall spots. Bennett is an ivy-leaguer fan of fine dining who takes longhand notes at his expensed meals–and he’s just landed a coveted column at the New York Scroll that Julie applied for and didn’t get. When their competitive natures collide at a food festival and their argument goes viral, the newspaper’s marketing team decides a little friendly competition is in order, and in hopes of boosting both their print subscribers and followers, offers to pair them together and send them to joint review a bunch of eateries. They agree, with reservations, and develop a grudging respect for one another as they break bread at a number of establishments. A particular fine and funny moment is when they challenge one another to a cook-off, decide to make burgers, and the comedy of errors ends at ShackBurgers.

Far from a superficial book about food, Best Served Hot explores themes of class, wealth and privilege, social media and image, job satisfaction. I also felt a little thrill when Bennett references Thomas Keller’s Per Se loss of a michelin star and review downgrade from 2 to 4 stars–and I knew when it occurred, and why; and I chuckled when I realized I had read Pete Well’s scathing takedown of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar. There is an art to timely allusions that make the reader feel smart when they get them (as opposed to alienated or worse, stupid, when they don’t), and Elliot hits the right note.

As in Sadie on a Plate, the food is front and center, and it’s the lush descriptions of what they eat that will make your heart pound and elicit your envy, admiration, and longing: “The bread was earthy and chewy, crunchy on the bottom and meltingly soft on top, and rather than rubbing the bread with tomato as in a traditional pan con tomate (yes, I’d done my research), the raw tomato had been shredded and mashed and spread on top, a cool, sweet, tangy contrast to the bread. A hint of garlic spoke up in the back of my throat; anchovies whispered somewhere underneath, the salt and the brine making everything else taste sweeter.” If that isn’t a metaphor for the individual features of their complex relationship Julie and Bennett have that creates a perfect whole, I don’t know what is.

The sex was more descriptive that in Elliot’s previous book (the single flaw I found was Julie’s boasting about her anatomy’s allowing for the capability of multiple orgasms and Bennett not pursuing that particular challenge).

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #BestServedHot from #NetGalley.

Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella

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Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella

Kinsella, Sophie. Love Your Life. Dial Press, 2020. ISBN 978-0593132852 432 pp. $

**

Writer Ava gives up on dating apps and meets someone at a writing retreat where all of their identities are anonymous and she is free to be adventurous. Can their relationship sustain the real world?

I just didn’t buy that Ava would fight so hard for a relationship with someone so grossly different and incompatible, and since the sex is off the page, I don’t believe the great sex was enough to salvage the relationship. The best parts were the dynamic between Matt and his roommates and the quirky people at the writer’s retreat, and Harold the dog.