One of the goals I set myself for my reading this year was to expand the genres I read. One of the subjects included in this expansion~ was romance.
Now, I’ve read romance books before. Obvs. But I haven’t really read books that are particularly romance. As in, that’s their main plot point. The kind of books I’d call chick-lit, basically. This has mainly been a personal preference for long books with complicated plots (i.e: SF&F), but I thought I should branch out a bit more. After all, I didn’t actually know much about this genre before beginning to read it.
In summer, when romance books are at their most popular, I set myself a challenge to read a few. I admit, I was lured in by all the excellent summer releases I was seeing at the time but I was also (and still am – slowly!) making my way through all of Jane Austen’s writing. What makes one want to read romance more than that?
Now that I’ve
mostly read them all, I’m here to do mini reviews!
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
When I thought about reading romance, I knew this had to be one of the books, mostly because of how excellent the film is. This book is along the lines of the typical kind of book I expected to see in this genre, where the plot revolves entirely around two people in a relationship.
Synopsis: When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.
Publisher: Atlantic Books
People more articulate than me have talked about why the first all-Asian cast Hollywood movie in 25 years was such a big deal, but it was also very enjoyable to watch. I didn’t know how much I’d like the book in comparison, but I really did! I enjoyed all the differences, but also the absolutely thorough understanding the author has of the society he is writing about. The bits of Singaporean and Chinese culture that are peppered throughout, from slang to food to finances, work extremely well alongside the touchingly sweet exploration of Rachel and Nick’s relationship.
I also loved how the story didn’t just explore Rachel and Nick, but delved deeply into bits and pieces of almost every one of the side characters, such as Nick’s cousin Astrid and her marriage troubles, or Rachel’s friend Peik Lin’s family. It made the world these characters inhabit very alive, and I’m eager to read more from both this series and the author’s latest release!
Sweet Sorrow – David Nicholl
Sometimes a synopsis just captivates you, and that’s what happened for me with this book. As I mentioned in my previous post, I purchased it randomly when it was on sale and I’m glad I did. It’s exactly the kind of coming-of-age. hidden-depths, kinda-sad book I like to read as a paperback, and it’s a suitably medium length, too. Again, this is what I’d consider quite a typical romance book, and this author too is a well-known writer in the genre.
Synopsis: In 1997, Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don’t remember in the school photograph. His exams have not gone well. At home he is looking after his father, when surely it should be the other way round, and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. Then Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
I will admit that it took me a few chapters to warm up to this book. The chapters themselves are quite short, quickly switching between moods, but I found this worked. This book is written as a kind of introspective look into the past, but it doesn’t feel like that when reading, due to its first-person style. Instead, as Charlie’s thoughts meandar around Fran, his family, his schooling, his mental health and his own present (or, future), it gives the effect of slowly slotting puzzle pieces into place to build a picture. Like many bildungsroman-type books, this one has the feeling of looming disaster, in the way that you know the future isn’t the same as the present, so something clearly happens.
There are many avenues for this change: Charlie is a young, mostly poor boy who has seemingly no prospects for his future, a dad who is severely depressed, a mother who seems to have found a new family and friends that don’t really seem to be his friends. His respite from this is a theatre troupe performing Romeo and Juliet – where the title of the book comes from – and the way these summer experiences change him as a person. It’s easy to get caught up in Charlie’s life, how he experiences events and tells the story of it in starts, completely similar to a story unravelling before your eyes on a stage.
The Cactus – Sarah Haywood
This book I purchased mostly because of this reading challenge, and the synopsis made me laugh. It is another book that seems typical to the genre, and I found this when reading too. I don’t mean this as a bad thing! It was very enjoyable, both funny and sad at times, and set across the winter months, so definitely a good read for this time of year.
Synopsis: Family and colleagues find Susan Green prickly and hard to understand – but Susan makes perfect sense to herself. Age 45, she thinks her life is perfect. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a steady job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control.
Publisher: John Murray Press
I read this book pretty much in two halves, separated by a gap of a few months, but this didn’t alter my understanding of the story or enjoyment of the book at all. It is very easy to read, with a strong character voice in Susan. It’s interesting, because she says one thing, but the reader can pretty distinctly spot the truth underneath it. Susan is a character very appropriate to the title – she’s prickly, hard to please. The story is about a period of great change in her life, mostly in regards to family, as this is the only area in her life where she seems to be struggling.
What I liked most about the story, actually, was that it doesn’t make Susan change, despite her life doing so. She still remains a bit reserved, a little rigid, it’s only that her loneliness depletes and she becomes less intransigent, pretty much because of love, tbh. It’s a nice, quick read!
Ordinary People – Diana Evans
Oop, a WPF shortlister! As a true conneoiseur of that prize now, I believe the kind of books that are shortlisted for it have a vibe and this one does fit pretty well. Although I would definitely say this is a romance book, revolving around three people (two different couples), it also veers into ‘contemporary lit’ territory with expansive rumination into the deeper aspects of love and relationships.
Synopsis: Two couples find themselves at a moment of reckoning. Melissa has a new baby and doesn’t want to let it change her. Damian has lost his father and intends not to let it get to him. Michael is still in love with Melissa but can’t quite get close enough to her to stay faithful. Stephanie just wants to live a normal, happy life on the commuter belt with Damian and their three children but his bereavement is getting in the way.
This book is set in and around London, which is a very important facet of it. The story revolves around Michael, Melissa and Damian. Michael and Melissa are married. To everyone around them they seem the perfect couple: both black, beautiful, in love. Melissa’s friend refers to them like ‘chocolate’ and maybe this outside pressure is one of the things causing them to crack. Damian is a little in love with Melissa, instead of his own wife, Stephanie, who he views as the reason he no longer lives in London, and instead has a weary, routine kind of life with no poetry in it. The point of view is split between these three, but also dips into other characters and events. For example, history of Crystal Palace looms large in the background of Melissa and Michael’s home. The author touches on knife crime in London. Music is essential: Michael sets his life to the discography of John Legend, Damian is struck by Michael Jackson’s death.
This book feels like an intimate reading experience because it makes the profound out of the everyday — brings magic into ordinary lives. The author has a way of distilling characters down into short and simple sentences. For example, Damian’s activist father is consumed by this activism, “as if he did not exist before he became angry.” Or, Melissa’s attitude to suddenly being a ‘stay-at-home, work-from-home’ mother is to discover cleaning is a “life-usurping, burdensome act of servitude and futility.” Ordinary people are, after all, at the heart of this story, and their troubles with relationships, children, parents, their work, their homes: all of it comes through.
The Cruel Prince – Holly Black
Admittedly, this is kind of a cheat entry to ‘romance.’ I added it 1) because it came up categorised as a romance book when I was figuring out what I should read and 2) it fitted the added requirement of me reading fan fave YA series. Technically, the genre is more YA fantasy. However, it is also a romance book, even if it’s in that ‘comes with the territory’ way young adult novels often are.
Synopsis: One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong. But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan.
Publisher: Hot Key Books
This book surprised me. By which I mean, I really enjoyed it and I’m finishing the trilogy as soon as possible. Admittedly, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m not usually a huge fan of YA romance, finding them thin on the plot and high on the internalised misogyny. But this was a book where the plot was as richly detailed as the world building. The characters were all brilliant. Even though none of them are particularly likeable, (and, also, there are no healthy relationships in this book at all and I really hope no one is taking them as such!) the characters are, however, good, and so is the writing.
The main POV character is a human girl called Jude. She and her sisters live with a general to the High King, part of and not part of the Fairy Court. This general murdered their parents, but then took the girls in and raised them. And that kind of messed-up, love them-hate them duality peppers all the relationships in this book. I enjoyed how Jude’s first-person narration makes her an unreliable narrator in the best of ways; you, too, fall into the deceptions she tells herself, you see what she observes and may miss what she doesn’t. She is also, well, not a great person. “I think of what it means to make myself the villain of the piece” she says at one point. But it’s that introspection that makes her kind of good anyway. She tries to do good. She is simply attempting to find her place in the world she has been given.
So there they are! If you peeked at my original post, you’ll notice I haven’t read three of the books on that list: Mansfield Park, because I haven’t got around to actually carrying on with my Jane Austen read yet, and the other two because they were only out this year and I never managed to get my hands on them! No matter, I’ll just read them next year, because there will definitely be more parts to this series.
In case you didn’t guess from this whole post, I am totally a fan of the romance genre now.
Did you decide to read any new genres this year?