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, Culture

The 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

Well, well, well. We’ve screamed, we’ve cried, we’ve languished aimlessly around our homes in existential misery. But at long last, we’re here, merely hours away from the end of this decade of a year that has been 2020.

Since it’s been something of a transformative year for my reading, and also because this is my blog and I do what I want, this won’t be a straightforward “Best and Worst Reads.” Instead, I want to reflect not just on what I read, but on how I read. So grab a cup of tea or something stronger, and join me as I look back on a very unusual year in books. 

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Books

Tales As Old As Time: Book Recommendations for Fairytale Lovers (That Aren’t Retellings)

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram may know, there’s nothing I love so much as fairytales. Folklore, legends, myths, fairy stories — all of these are my bread and butter. I did a special paper and a dissertation on them in my final year of University because I couldn’t get enough of them. I find them so magical and entrancing, and exploring storytelling is one of my favourite ways to learn about and engage with different cultures. 

To that end, I love reading books whose inspiration are rooted in fairytales and myths. Bringing the atmosphere and aesthetic of fairytales to life with engaging stories and fleshed out characters are the recipe for books that intoxicate me from the start, and I’m completely enraptured by them. There are countless fairytale retellings out there, many of them wonderful and among my favourite books. But there are so many many of them out there that I could dedicate a hundred other posts to recommending those (and knowing me, I probably will). Also, I talk about retellings a lot, because like I said — I love them! But these recommendations are books that I adore which I don’t talk about as much. They’re gorgeously atmospheric and utterly spellbinding, and must-reads for any fellow fairy tale lovers out there.

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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

Quaranteed Great Reads: Book Recommendations for Self-Isolation

I won’t be the first to tell you that with the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living in unprecedented times with many of us living under the kind of massive lifestyle haul we may never have seen before. There’s a lot of pressure going round now about how to #hustle and stay on the #grind while we’re all staying at home, and I’m here to tell you to ignore that. Sure, it’s great to maintain a regular schedule when all the world’s gone to hell. Keeping on top of work and staying organised can be great if it makes you feel more in control and like this whole situation is more manageable. But if all you’re doing is surviving right now, that’s more than okay too! This is a global pandemic, not a few bad sick days — it’s important to remember that, strange as it may seem, staying at home is the big achievement and if you don’t do anything more than that, you’re still doing enough. It’s more than okay to while away the time curled up with a good book and your beverage of choice! To that end, here’s my non-exhaustive list of recommendations for books to get you through social distancing.

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Books

Changing the course of history

This article was originally published in Cherwell

In his novel The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley wrote that “the past is a different country; they do things differently there.” It’s a statement reflective of the allure and strangeness that comes with a retrospective gaze, reflecting the metamorphic power of time, whether in changing a person from childhood to adulthood, a city from decade to decade, or an ancient civilisation from rise to ruin.

However, obsessed our society may be with the promise of progress, of moving forward and improving, there remains in most of us an unshakeable fascination with the past.Whether in the enduring popularity of historical fiction, or in the constant appeal of nostalgia and re-watching our favourite childhood films, the cultural zeitgeist is constantly affected by a creative fixation with history.

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