Books, Culture

Review: ‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As soon as I read the synopsis for Emily Henry’s follow up to her wonderful adult romance bestseller Beach Read, I had the certain premonition I would fall in love with it. And call me psychic, because I was absolutely right.

The beauty of Beach Read lay in large part with Henry’s writing voice. There was a real warmth undercut with bittersweetness that made the characters and their central love story come to life in a deeply intimate and immersive way. People We Meet on Vacation takes that narrative voice and applies it to a story that I felt so deeply connected to, it was the bookish equivalent of love at first sight. 

A romance of friends turned lovers with their own doses of heartbreak and changing feelings on the way isn’t a new invention by any stretch, but Alex and Poppy’s story is so beautifully and carefully wrought that it feels utterly unique. Emily Henry has an ability to flesh out her characters, their relationships and their vulnerabilities so intimately that they feel like real people. It’s not dramatic set pieces or wild plot points that make her stories so unique, it’s this quiet, tender realism that makes you believe this story could only have happened with these characters. We believe Alex and Poppy’s love story, their years of unspoken longing or just-missed chances, because their friendship is so convincing. Henry knows her characters so well, and is masterful in her ability to make sure we know them too. The love story at the heart of this novel is one that celebrates the beauty and intimacy that comes with knowing and relearning someone inside-and-out. It’s a tricky thing to pull off organically, but Henry excels at this, and there’s a deep generosity running through the heart of her writing that brings the reader easily along with the ebbing and flowing currents of Alex and Poppy’s relationship and let’s us fall in love right alongside them.

Aside from Alex, the other great relationship in Poppy’s life is travel. The vacations they shared together are the most tangible checkpoints in the history of their friendship, different destinations intrinsically linked with different memories and phases of their lives. As with Beach Read, there’s a definite appeal to the wanderlust that has surely only grown more and more acute over the last year, and on a simple level, there’s a wistful escapism to reading about all the different places they’ve gone. The novel does more than stringing a line of exotic locations together, however — Emily Henry evokes not just traveling, but the joy and the human appeal of it. The book explores the joy of travel and of vacations that comes from human connection, from learning new people and forging new connections. It’s a simple but wonderfully effective backdrop to Alex and Poppy’s love story which is in itself an extended kind of travel. They explore and learn each other over and over again with the same joy that they do new places, although of course their journey to — and with — each other is ultimately not a vacation, but rather a search for home. 

I could wax poetic about this book in greater detail for hours, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that could delay you from pre ordering your copy right now. It’s a book that sinks right into your bones as you read it. From the first page, it makes itself right at home in your heart, and it’s there to stay. It’s another resounding victory from Emily Henry, and this book has immediately cemented itself on my ‘favourites’ shelf — and the only time it’s coming down is when I pull it out to reread again and again and again.

I was sent an eARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION releases May 11 and is available to pre-order and to add on Goodreads now.

Books

Review: ‘The Bookweaver’s Daughter’ by Malavika Kannan

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

When I came across the description for Malavika Kannan’s debut, The Bookweaver’s Daughter, requesting an ARC was a no-brainer for me. Described as a YA fantasy inspired by the mythology of India, it called out to my love of the genre and my constant search for Indian representation in literature. Not only that, but the book’s synopsis said the story took place in a land called ‘Kasmira,’ which I was certain was based on Kashmir. 

A personal note — I’m Kashmiri on my Dad’s side of the family, and I had yet to read a YA novel set in or inspired by Kashmir (if I remember correctly, the only book I’ve read at all set in the region is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). So I went into this book excited, hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. 

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Books, Culture

Review: ‘All Stirred Up’ by Brianne Moore

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

The thing with marketing a novel as a retelling is that you’re inviting comparisons to the source material. In the case of successful retellings, this is a great thing — books that can get to the heart of their inspiration and reinvent them are bound to delight readers who are fans of the original work and of the retelling alike. One of the most popular sources for retellings is Jane Austen, whose oeuvre has been mined for everything from zombie movies to Bollywood to Twilight. When done well. Austen retellings become classics in their own right — think Bridget Jones’ Diary or Clueless — but when done poorly, they suffer all the more for having such a beloved source material to pale before.

I was excited going into All Stirred Up because it’s marketed as a retelling of Persuasion, one of my favourite of Austen’s novels. Persuasion, perhaps the original “exes to lovers” angst fest, is fully of enough yearning, pining, and repression to provide excellent fodder to any love story and my friends and I have always searched obsessively for retellings that capitalise on this.

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Books, Culture

Review: ‘These Violent Delights’ by Chloe Gong

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So here’s the thing — I love Romeo and Juliet. Like, I really love Romeo and Juliet. Having done a degree in English Literature, I’ve read a fair amount of Shakespeare, and I will stand by Romeo and Juliet as my favourite of his tragedies, if not his plays overall. I know that it’s considered too “mainstream” by a lot of more academic folks, and that the internet is full of hot takes about how it’s actually a stupid story about stupid teenagers doing stupid things, and I’m the type of person who gets irrationally overprotective in response, ready to trot out a whole “in defense of” presentation at a moment’s notice. Zeffirelli and Luhrmann’s film adaptations, West Side Story, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, High School Musical — I’ve seen all the adaptations. My point is, I love this play. And what’s immediately clear, reading These Violent Delights is that Chloe Gong loves it too. 

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