Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Nora Stephens, in the book industry also known as “shark”, is a successful New York agent whose life is dedicated to her job. Accordingly, relationships have not been that successful so far, but that’s ok for her. When her sister Libby asks her for a four-week stay in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the place where one of her best-selling books is located, Nora is reluctant, she cannot stay away from work so long; yet, Libby is pregnant and Nora does not want to refuse her sister’s greatest wish, she is the only family she has. Nora knows all the stories about New Yorkers coming to small towns and falling in love, she has read them all, even published some of them, therefore, she can only ironically comment the fact that on her first day, she runs into Charlie Lastra – her biggest nemesis.

Admittedly, I am not really a fan of rom-coms, no matter if they come in form of books or movies. However, I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s “Beach Read” and as there was so much talk about “Book Lovers”, I was looking forward to reading it. Of course, the bestselling author did not disappoint, quite the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed how she does not take the genre too seriously but lets her characters comment on it mockingly again and again throughout the novel.

“We know how this ends.”

Libby squeezes my arm. “You don’t know. You can’t until you try.”

“This isn’t a movie, Libby,” I say.

You do not need to find the typical tropes, Nora will find them for you and Emily Henry does not leave out a single one: the big city girl who looks down in small town life, the sister who mysteriously vanishes during daytime and does not tell what is doing or where she is going, the incidental meeting with the one man she does not want to see far away from home, the charming bookshop, cringeworthy small town activities, another attractive man – who does not like the first, of course – you name it. Even though there are no big surprises, I totally enjoyed diving into the story and seeing all the clichés unfold.

As a book lover, it was easy to fall for this one, a lot of references and hints to the industry offer the perfect setting for the two protagonists to fight their feelings which, needless to say, they cannot admit at first. Another perfect summer read by Emily Henry.

Catherine Prasifka – None of this is Serious

Catherine Prasifka – None of this is Serious

Sophie has just finished her degree in political science and falls in some kind of void between being a student and the future which is totally blurred. All her friends seem to have a plan while she is still meandering and feels left behind. She is waiting for something to happen when one evening, there is a crack in the sky. Quickly the internet is full of photos and comments that she obsessively follows. While the earth does not know what to make if this and if it should be treated like a threat, Sophie’s life goes on or rather: it doesn’t. She has been in love with Finn for a long time, but he is more interested in other women and only needs her for the time between. And then there is Rory who is attentive and nice, albeit a bit boring. Even when the sky opens, Sophie is stuck and cannot advance in her life, so she escapes into the online world.

Catherine Prasifka’s debut novel “None of this is Serious” strongly reminded me of Sally Rooney’s books, not just because it is also set in Dublin and the protagonists are at a similar point in their life, also the style of writing shows a lot of parallels. Just like her sister-in-law, she portrays a generation who is lost when they should finally start their adult life and who struggles of coping with the expectations of their families and the online community which provides them with ideals they should adhere to.

“I refresh the feed every minute and continue to consume, growing fat. I’m like a vampire, leeching off the content of other people’s lives. I’m not even really interested in anything I’m reading.”

Having finished college and waiting for the final results, Sophie has too much time she spends online following her friends but also the comments on the crack. The first thing she does after waking up is checking her twitter feed, the last thing she does before falling asleep is checking her feed. She is addicted and unable to live her real life. Online, she can hide behind the invisible wall, she feels secure when chatting with Rory or others, when meeting them in person, she becomes insecure, shy, and totally inhibited. Without booze, she is totally unable of having any normal conversation at all.

It is not only their struggle with romantic life, successful relationships are rare in her circle of friends, it is also professional life which stresses them out. Finding a job is hard, even harder to find one which would allow them to move out of their parents’ house. Being treated like children, they cannot actually grow up and thus find themselves stuck. They just have their polished social media lives which only make the others feel even worse as they cannot see behind the blinking facade.

I could totally relate to Sally Rooney’s protagonists even though I am a couple of years older. It was much harder for me to sympathise with Sophie as she is much too passive and has made herself comfortable in lamenting her situation without doing something against it. Her best friend accuses her of being selfish and arrogant, an opinion I would agree with. She is too self-involved to notice others and pathetically cries over and over again.

“None of this is Serious” is a perfectly contradictory title as the characters’ believe that nothing they do is of any consequence, thus they remain stuck and constantly hurt each other as they are not the superficial beings who can just put away everything they experience. I do believe the author well captured a generation and their feelings of a hopeless or rather no future.

Marijke Schermer – Love, If That’s What It Is

Marijke Schermer – Love, If That’s What It is

They have been married for 25 years but now, Terri fells like suffocating. She can no longer go on being the housewife in the suburbs whose daily routines have been the same for decades and who has lost all individuality. When she meets Lucas, she falls for him and leaves her husband David. Neither he nor their two daughters Ally and Karla can understand Terri’s behaviour. While Terri finds the second love – if that’s what it is since it does not actually go far beyond bodily desires – her eldest daughter finds her first love. David and Ally need more time to adjust to the new situation, but they two learn that another life is possible.

Marijke Schermer cleverly composes her novel to show quite different types of love. On the one hand, there is the reliable love that has been formed during years of marriage, where the partners know each other with all their weaknesses and have formed dependable routines. On the other hand, Terri lives an ecstatic love with Lucas which does mainly focus on bodily needs but not on getting to know the other’s character. Love within the family – which should be something you can trust on and which deeply disappoints if this is not the case – the first love with butterflies in the stomach and the love between those who have already loved, have been disappointed and not in the middle of their age, approach the concept with reluctance.

I liked the interchange of the different perspectives which are cleverly linked within the story. We often get the same moment first from one then from another character’s perspective thus outlining how they might differ in the assessment of the situation and also showing the different expectations they have.

Interestingly, I can easily understand Terri’s feeling of suffocating and wanting to break out of her life after so many years of only following routines, of feeling like having lost her self and being stuck in a dead-end. David’s perspective, too, is easy to follow. He and Terri have been a team, their family is their common endeavour, she cannot just stand up and go! For him, all was fine up to that moment and thus, he is totally surprised by his wife’s move. For the girls, the situation is hardest, family is the concept they have known and even though they have been confronted with separations and divorces this has been something that happened to others but not to them. How can they experience something like the first love when love can hurt so much?

A wonderfully written novel, right out of life which I totally enjoyed reading.

Indyana Schneider – 28 Questions

Indyana Schneider – 28 Questions

Amalia leaves her Australian home to study music in Oxford. She has only just arrived when she meets Alex, another Australia in her third year already. They befriend immediately and spend more and more time together philosophing, questioning life and sharing everything. It is an intense but perfect friendship. Yet, things become complicated when their friendship turns into love. What was easy and carefree suddenly becomes complicated, misunderstanding after misunderstanding, unexpressed and unfulfilled expectations turn the perfect friends into the worst lovers.

“(…) every so often, I come across a new piece of music and getting to know the music kind of feels like falling in love. And the idea of spending my life falling in love over and over again… who wouldn’t want that?”

The title refers to a study by psychologist Arthur Aron which postulates that a certain set of questions can lead to more intimacy and a deeper relationship between people. The protagonist of Indyana Schneider’s novel asks “28 Questions” which actually bring her closer to her first friend, then lover but they cannot help untangle the complications they have to face. It is a kind of college novel about becoming an adult, about love and about identity in an ever more complex world.

“I just don’t get how it’s possible to be such wonderful, compatible friends and so ill suited as lover.”

This is the central question. How can two people being that close, sharing the same ideas and attitudes simply be so incompatible as lovers. They are fond of each other, there are butterflies and they even match physically – but the relationship doesn’t work out. Over years, they have an on/off relationship because they can neither live with nor without each other.

Yet, the novel is not a classic heart-breaking love story. What binds Amalia and Alex is an intellectual love, they get closer over the questions which address core human topics, from social interaction over social categories of identity and the definition of themselves. They grow with each other, reflect upon their convictions and finally enter the real world of adulthood for which they are still not quite prepared.

A wonderfully written, intense novel about love which goes far beyond just being attracted by someone.

Pedro Mairal – The Woman from Uruguay

Pedro Mairal – The Woman from Uruguay

Lucas Pereyra has a plan to finally pay back all the money his family and friends lent him. The writer has asked to transfer the advance for his next book to an account in Uruguay where the exchange rate is simply better than in his home town of Buenos Aires. One morning, he takes off to Montevideo to collect fifteen thousand dollars. He knows that he is not allowed to cross the border with such an amount but he does not have any alternatives. And, spending a day in the Uruguayan capital allows him to see Guerra again, a woman he met at a conference some months before and whom he cannot forget. Yet, his idea does not materialise as planned, quite the contrary.

Pedro Mairal narrates the decisive day in the life of his protagonist, it is just a couple of hours which change everything, which turn a man on the winning track into somebody who is cruelly brought back down to earth. “The Woman from Uruguay” has quickly become a bestseller in Argentina and Spain and was awarded the Premio Tigre Juan in 20217, a prestigious Spanish literary award.

The novel is constructed like a classic tragedy respecting the three Aristotelian unities: the principal action takes place over a period of only a couple of hours in only one location. The dramatic structure also follows classic principles with the protagonist’s expectations of ultimately turning his life, then looking forward of meeting the woman he is in love with the climax of their encounter and then the tragic turning point after which Lucas has to bury all hope and realises what a fool he has been and that he has to cope somehow with the consequences of his stupid behaviour. He can be classified as some kind of tragic hero, on the one hand, he himself is the reason he is in the state he finds himself in the end, on the other, however, he became a victim of circumstances innocently at least to a certain extent.

I liked how the story unfolds even though the protagonist is not actually a sympathetic character. Not just the composition is convincing but also the author’s poetic writing is vivid giving insight in Lucas’ thinking. A compelling read which makes me want to read more of the author.

Cassandra Parkin – The Leftovers

Cassandra Parkin – The Leftovers

Nurse Callie is giving up her job to be better able to care for her brother. For years now, Noah has been suffering from mental illness and apart from their father, Callie is the only one he trusts and who is able to calm him when he gets in a state of emergency. To have more time, she leaves the hospital and becomes a carer for Frey, a young man who does not talk and needs strict daily routines to cope with life. Thus, Callie spends two weeks with her father and brother and the other two together with a colleague with Frey. When she returns one night from work, she receives an awful message: both her beloved ones have died in an accident and now she has to face her mother again. The woman who left them, who always hated Callie and the single person she does not want to see. It is a confrontation which is not only hurtful but which also lets lose monsters which have been kept locked up for many years.

Cassandra Parkin’s novel is a dark tale which play with the big question if the narrator is reliable or not and if what we remember is actually how things really happened or if our brain might play tricks on us. “The Leftovers” is great in making you high alert for the half-sentences, the things implied, all that is not said and questions all characters. Whom can you trust? Who is willingly misleading? Who is misled by their brains? From a point where all is clear, you enter an abyss where everything is possible.

Callie appears to be a selfless young woman who has destined her life to care for others. She is great with Frey as she has a long history of living with her brother and noticing nuances, slight changes which might be signs for dramatic events. She can well adapt to Frey’s needs and sync herself with his life which makes her perfect for the job. Yet, after some time, things slightly change and it takes some time for the reader to figure out why that is.

In the confrontation with her cool and repellent mother, childhood memories come up. Not only did her mother not show any affection towards her and clearly preferred her brother, she definitely neglected the girl. In Callie’s recollections, it all makes sense and fits together perfectly, yet, the more you get to know, the more you start to wonder if she, too, might see things that are not there just like her brother. Even though from what she tells, it all seems right and yet, doesn’t the understanding from the world of somebody suffering from paranoia normally form a consistent picture?

A great read I can only recommend but you should be aware that some contents might feel like triggers for a highly sensitive reader.

Julia Dahl – The Missing Hours

When Claudia wakes up, she cannot remember the past hours. When she looks in the mirror, she hardly can recognise the girl she sees. Obviously, something really bad has happened, her body can tell it, she, however, does not know what it is. She is afraid that somebody at her dorm might see her in that state, luckily it is spring break and most of her fellow students at NYU are gone, just one boy seems to be there. When Trevor sees her, he knows that the girl needs help, yet, the girl is Claudia Castro, super rich and an Instagram famous artist. But that doesn’t count, when somebody is in need, you help. And that’s what Trevor does – not knowing in what a mess all this is going to end.

“The Missing Hours” is a dark novel about the one of the nastiest crimes imaginable. Julia Dahl opens the plot with the big question about what might have happened, once this is answered, the next question follows: why? But then it becomes much more interesting to observe what the experience does to Claudia. She has been assaulted, that much is obvious, and quite often, there are only two options: either the victim withdraws completely blaming herself for what has been done to her or she fights her assailant. The author interestingly chooses to go both ways turning the novel into an intense and gripping read.

The plot is mainly driven by emotion – (unrequited) love, hatred, vindictiveness, but also despair and loneliness. The characters go through challenging times and emotions that they are unable to control, too young and unexperienced they make choices which turn out to be totally wrong, but in their state of being blinded by their feelings, the cannot respond in any other way. It is easy to understand what they do and why they do it, even if you know that nothing good can come from it.

On the other hand, the novel also raises the question about who is there when you are in need. Quite normally, it should be your family, but things are complicated with Claudia’s parents and her sister is about to give birth and surely has other things to care about. Sometimes a stranger can be your saviour, not being too close might be the best for a complicated situation.

What I really liked about the novel is how the protagonist’s conflicting thoughts are conveyed. She feels ashamed, blamed herself, is worried about what might people think of her even though she obviously is the victim. She is educated, knows exactly what to do in such a case and yet, decides not to do what is recommended. As a reader, you can see why she acts in that way and is nevertheless struggling with her choice.

A fast paced thriller which has a lot more depth than one might have expected.

Nick Spalding – You Again?

Nick Spalding – You Again?

It was an offer they could not let go by: one week on the Maldives for an unbeatable price, the perfect island for a couple. Joel has been there before, for the honeymoon with his ex-wife Amy, but now he is with Cara and wants to relive the happy time on the sandy beach. Yet, when they arrive at the airport, he spots Amy with her new boyfriend Ray. This can only be a coincidence. But it isn’t. Amy, too, has seen the offer and wanted to go there again. Thus, the two of them find each other on the same plane heading to the same destination after two years of hateful ignorance. Trapped on a small island, they cannot get out of each other’s way and therefore, quite some complicated days lie ahead of the former couple.

Nick Spalding’s novel fulfilled all my expectations of a hilariously funny summer read: a great surrounding with beautiful nature, characters who easy fall prey to their own shortcomings and over and over again find themselves victim of their own doings – but in a comical and not too hurtful way.

Even though it is clear from the start what is going to happen, I enjoyed following the alternating accounts of Joel and Amy offering their respective views which are filled with unattended to emotions. Underneath the hatred, you sense that there is still something that binds them and that makes them matter to each other. If it wasn’t, they could easily ignore the ex-partner. Both of them are totally predictable and too much caught in their maelstrom of negative emotions to stand above what happened in the past. Yet, just the fact that they know each other so well allows them to play really foul tricks.

It is totally hilarious to see how they get worked up in trying to outplay each other. A light and entertaining read, perfect for the summer holiday on the beach.

Emma Brodie – Songs in Ursa Major

Emma Brodie – Songs in Ursa Major

The annual Folk Fest is the biggest event on Bayleen Island in 1969. The atmosphere is pulsating while the audience is waiting for Jesse Reid, latest superstar with his guitar and extraordinary voice. On his way to the show, he has an accident which unexpectedly bring the local band Breakers on stage. It only takes minutes for Jane Quinn, their singer and songwriter, to win the people over with her charismatic performance. It is the birth of a star, the Breakers are invited record an album and to tour with Jesse’s band. Quite naturally, the two musicians fall for each other, but it is not an easy love, neither Jesse nor Jane is the carefree new star, they suffer from bad experiences and the demons that haunt them. Additionally, Jane fights with the music industry’s sexism and a feeling of being considered just Jesse’s accessory. For some time, they ignore all this, but closing their eyes does not prevent them forever from having to face some truths.

Emma Brodie’s novel perfectly captures the vibes of the time. Her protagonists are highly gifted musicians who live for the music and the moment. “Songs in Ursa Major” is an emotionally overwhelming novel which draws you in its world immediately. Especially Jane is a vividly drawn character whom you come to love immediately despite the stubbornness which comes with her musical genius and perfectionism. She is a role model of a strong-minded feminist who sticks to her ideals and is even willing to sacrifice her career and love in order not to give in to the industry’s conception of a female singer.

The thin line between genius and madness had often been mentioned in connection with creative artists. This also holds true for both, Jesse and Jane, who are far from being mentally stable. Together, they can push each other even further in their genius while heading at the abyss at the same time. Following their creative process translating into songs is a wonderful journey which triggers the emotions in the same way listening to music would.

The villains of the music industry with their unconcealed misogyny make you angry at times but seeing how cleverly Jane can also win some fights can make some amends here. As authentic as this aspect is Jane’s emotional state and the way she tries to cope with her family’s situation and her very personal heritage of creativity and madness alike.

A brilliantly written, intense novel perfect for the summer festival season which brings you back to the time of iconic musicians.

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Joan flees New York to California after he lover Victor shot himself publicly in front of her. With little money left, she finds a small place to stay and she also finds the woman she was looking for. Alice, whom she had tracked online over all those years. She thinks back to what her life had to offer so far, her mother who was unable to love her, her father whom she admired childishly. Both have long been gone. Joan can run, but somehow her bad luck follows her, she seems prone to attracting all kind of evil and so it does not take too long until it comes back to her.

Lisa Taddeo made her debut with “Three women“ which I already liked a lot. In her latest novel, too, complicated relationships between men and women are central to the story’s development. The narrator herself is unable to love unconditionally, she needs to have the upper hand over her lovers, yet, this presumed precaution measure fires back and somehow she is stuck in the role of the kid who is longing for being loved. She is addressing her account of the events to somebody, yet it takes until the end for the reader to understand whom she tells about her life.

From a psychological point of view, Taddeo has created quite interesting characters. Violence and love are constantly opposed and they seem not to able to exist without each other. Joan’s grandmother has been raped, a dramatic experience of violence, yet, we do never learn about what this did to the woman. On the other hand, Joan’s mother does not seem to be a direct victim, yet, she reacts quite strongly and refuses her daughter the love she craves for. The women in her family are no good role models, yet, her father, too, does not provide a good example of how to behave, especially at critical moments in his life. As a consequence, Joan is unable to lead a relationship at eye level and feels the need to protect herself from the things that might happen.

Thus, as a grown up, Joan replicates what she has seen as a kid and ignores the effect this might have on others, only when she is confronted with a kind of mirror, her genuine feelings offer her another way.

“Animal” is all but an easy read, yet, it offers a lot of food for thought and raises important questions concerning central human emotions and behaviour. I am not an expert, however, I would classify Joan’s thinking with all those flashbacks as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which is highly likely from her family’s history. In this respect, the author very successfully displays the impact of traumatic events on untreated children.