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.

Culture, television

Review: ‘Bridgerton’ (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the last year or so, but specifically the last six months, a genre I’ve found myself reading more than ever before is romance. Despite my plethora of ‘ships’, it wasn’t a genre I knew much about, but I’ve taken to it with a vengeance. It’s hugely diverse — whether you like contemporary or historical or fantasy settings, whether you lean towards angst and drama or sweetness and humour, whether you like your sex scenes fading-to-black or (quite literally) laid bare in front of you, the genre covers it all. If there is a unifying trait to a genre this multifaceted, however, it’s the promise of a Happily Ever After. No matter how dark or twisty the journey is, to go into a romance novel is to go in with the promise that everything will be alright in the end. Broken hearts will heal, feelings will be requited, and the sun only sets for couples to ride off into. It’s little wonder this genre has been such a go-to in times like these, I think. The predictability and promise of beloved tropes and familiar endings is enormously comforting and dependable, even more so when nothing else in the world is.

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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: ‘The Burning God’ by R.F. Kuang

Rating: 5 out of 5.

R.F. Kuang had a tall order on her hands when it came to the task of writing the hotly anticipated conclusion to The Poppy War trilogy — both its predecessors met with rave reviews and drummed up a passionate fanbase; the consensus was already that Kuang’s second book, The Dragon Republic blew the already beloved first installment, The Poppy War, out of the water. Expectations were sky-high, fans were bouncing off the walls trying to come up with theories about the fates of Rin, Nezha, and Kitay, and the pressure could not have been higher. But because this is R.F. Kuang, and her books only go from strength to strength, she knocks it completely out of the park. 

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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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Books

Review: ‘The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue’ by V.E. Schwab

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The upcoming novel by V.E. Schwab tells the story of a girl, Adeline ‘Addie’ La Rue, who, during her youth in 18th century France, makes a deal with the Devil — she receives eternal life, but with the caveat that no one she meets will ever remember her. No one, until one day, in modern New York, she meets a boy who does. The story has something of The Age of Adaline, the flavour of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, aesthetic similarities to Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. But mostly, it is something entirely new, and profoundly special. 

Schwab is a prolific fantasy writer, and readers familiar with her œuvre of work will know some of her narrative trademarks — complicated characters, intricate systems of magic and the underlying appeal of the ‘dark side’. But by her own admission, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue probably has more ‘me’ in it than anything else I’ve written”. And this sense of intense intimacy and vulnerability is suffused throughout the entire book. Beyond feeling like the author is exposing herself to you, you feel as though it is something you have lived or are living, the complicated, at times agonising sensation that your deepest desires and fears — ones rooted so deeply that you were perhaps unaware you even have them — are unspooling on the pages in front of you.

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Books, Culture

‘The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’, Redemption Arcs, and Villains

This post contains spoilers for the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the original The Hunger Games trilogy

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

When Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Prince Zuko angsted, brooded, fought, self-destructed, learned and grew his way from the obsessive pursuit of Avatar Aang to a spot right in the heart of the ‘Gaang’ willing to risk his life for his new friends, he cemented his spot as the prodigal son of redeemed villains ever since then. Fans of characters from Sharpay Evans to Kylo Ren, from Jenny Humphrey to Draco Malfoy, of any character on the spectrum from “considered annoying by the general audience” to “has murdered several people but looked really good while doing it” have compared their faves to the seminal bad-guy-turned-good, and it’s easy to see why. The redemption arc and the sympathetic antagonist are narrative tropes that have been popular as long as literature has been around. Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s journey from enemies to friends (??) / blood-brothers (??) / lovers (??) would give most modern angsty fanfiction writers a run for their money. Milton’s Satan, with his radical spirit and unholy charisma, is the baddest of bad-boys, and the spate of Byronic heroes that populate literature from Lord Ruthven to Claude Frollo to Heathcliff have had wildly passionate fan bases since long before the internet was around to facilitate general fandom culture. 

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Uncategorized

Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

This article was originally published in Cherwell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With his take on The Personal History of David Copperfield, Armando Iannucci seems to relish the opportunity to draw out the inherent absurdism and nearly soap-operatic drama of Dickens’ novels to create a bizarrely funny and riotously entertaining film. To watch David Copperfield is to be made increasingly aware of the novel’s origin as a serialised production, with the transitions between various episodes in the protagonist’s life as exuberantly presented as the events themselves. 

The film is framed around David’s ability to “remember great characters” he encounters, and thanks to the work of a stellar cast, the audience is sure to find them equally memorable. Dev Patel is well-suited to the wide-eyed wonder of the eponymous protagonist, underpinning David’s sense of wonder and infectious zest for life with enough dry wit and genuine pathos to ground the often-convoluted story in real warmth. 

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Books

Childhood’s Clarity in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’

This article was originally published in Cherwell

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens with an epigraph from Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are: “I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”

Gaiman is no stranger to adopting a child’s perspective: his novel Coraline has become a macabre modern classic in the sphere of children’s literature, and The Graveyard Book won him the Newberry Medal.

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