I’ve been putting off my review for Ghost Forest because I don’t have a lot to say about it, but I do still want to write a short review because I think this is a very understated book and I really loved it!
I stumbled upon it at my local indie bookstore and admit to be primarily drawn to it for the cover art, but it’s also Canadian lit, so I quickly purchased it and let it sit on my shelf for a few months before finally reading it. I guess I forgot immediately after buying that it was also written in prose, or likely I would have read it sooner since it’s a quick read.
Ghost Forest features an unnamed narrator, a young girl whose family immigrates to Canada in the 1990’s. Though most of her family settles in Vancouver, her father continues to work in Hong Kong as an “astronaut father”. The novel explores her relationship with her father over the years, as a young girl living in Canada, to a young adult also living in Hong Kong when her father becomes very sick. Over time her relationship with her father has become strained as she never really felt like he was around and she re-examines her family history as her father becomes sicker.
The writing is really beautiful and I loved how the author explored family dynamics and all the ways in which immigration and new cultures can fracture a family. While the book centers around the protagonist and her father, it also features an oral history of her other family members, including her sister, mother, and grandmother. It’s a family history, but it’s also a book about love, grief, and memory. How things became what they are and the thoughts of what might have been. Many returned to Hong Kong years later, but this family opted to stay in Canada, even though they partially relocate back to Hong Kong when the father is sick. It explores identity and belonging and is a classic immigration story that I’d recommend to any Canadian. A quick read filled with gorgeous prose!
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Author: Emily Henry Genres: Fiction, Romance Pub. Date: May 2021 (read Mar. 2022)
So many people told me to read Beach Read, but I just had a feeling this was the one for me. I’m still planning to read Beach Read, but after a slew of enemies to lovers books recently, I really wanted to read one about friends to lovers because I had a sneaking suspicion I would really like it. And I did!
This book is a lot more subtle than some of the other romances I’ve read, but it’s the one that felt the most real to me. Poppy was a more relatable character – as sexy as the enemies to lovers trope was in books like The Love Hypothesis and The Spanish Love Deception (and as compelling as those plots were) – I do really think this is the better book. Every person I’ve ever loved has been my friend first and there’s something so lovely reading about two people that genuinely like each other.
People We Meet on Vacation is about two friends, Alex and Poppy, and their relationship over the past 12 years. They’ve been friends for a long time and even though they live in different cities, they’ve always taken the time to travel together once a year… until something happens on their most recent trip and they don’t talk for 2 years. Poppy realizes she misses Alex and invites him to take one more trip with her, to which he agrees.
This book is subtle and I liked that about it. It’s not as quick paced as some of the other romance books I’ve read because the present day storyline is constantly interrupted to return to one of their past trips. This slowed the pacing down initially, but as you progress further into the book, you realize this friendship is not quite the relationship you thought it was. There is just as much romance in the development of their friendship, because it never really is just a friendship. Just-friends don’t bring this kind of complicated conflict into your other relationships and you can’t help but root for these two people to be together.
I say this is a subtle book because it is also very much about loneliness and allowing people the space to say and be who they really are. Poppy and Alex recognize that love isn’t always the most important part in a relationship. Relationships are also about making the space for your partner to communicate their needs and being willing to compromise on your life together. That two individuals still need to take the time to work on their own shit before they can be what the other person needs. I felt like this had a lot more maturity and that they had the kind of solid foundation that a successful relationship would be built on.
I also liked that both characters were well developed and flawed. I really think Alex is one of the strongest love interests. To talk about romance we must acknowledge that they are primarily written by women, for women, and so the men are often a bit more fantasy than most of the men I’ve met in real life. We read romance for the escapism of it – because we are human and we want to read emotional stories about people falling in love. But so many of the men are almost so perfect in their love for the protagonist they become caricatures. Alex felt very real, like someone I could honestly fall in love with myself. He’s quiet and a bit weird. He has anxieties and he’s afraid to put himself out there. He knows what he wants, but isn’t quite sure he deserves it and recognizes the ways in which he’s not willing to compromise.
Likewise, Poppy is chasing after something she thinks she wants without realizing that it’s really that she’s running away from something instead. We’re sold this ideal and she thinks filling her life with travel and new people will make her happy – that it will compensate for the inadequacies she felt when she was younger. We all like to think our bullies go on to make nothing of themselves, but they are just flawed people too and we are only holding ourselves back by trying to prove ourselves to them later. If you make decisions based on the way you are perceived by someone else, you are still not living for yourself. Was it unrealistic that two friends could be so blind for so long? Maybe, but these two people wanted such drastically different things that I could believe it.
It’s also a subtly sad book that made me reflect a lot. I really wasn’t sure if we were going to get a happy ending or not. I wish the author had dedicated a bit more time to the ending because she introduced several new themes in the last 50 pages about self care and compromise, that I really would have loved to see explored further. So overall I really liked this book, perhaps even more than The Love Hypothesis. I did rate that one higher because it was so compelling and I couldn’t put it down, but I do think this is the better story. The other books I read were that fun, all-consuming love, this was gentler, but it also felt a lot more real. It’s nice to get swept up in a love story, but it’s also nice to sink into one, and that’s what I feel like I did with this one.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 Author: Maggie Shipstead Genres: Historical Fiction Pub. Date: May 2021 (read Feb. 2022 on Audible)
I feel like I have a lot to say about Great Circle, so I will do my best to capture my thoughts on this giant book, keeping in mind that it took me more than a month to read, so some of the early details are already a little fuzzy.
If you’re looking for epic historical fiction, this is definitely it. This book has been calling my name for a while, but I was a little intimidated by it’s 600+ page length. Eventually I decided to buy it on Audible because I’d been flying through my credits faster than I could earn them and thought a 26 hour audiobook would slow me down (I was right).
Great Circle is the comprehensive story of fictional pilot Marian Graves, who grew up in the midwest in the 1920’s and 1930’s, with the dream of one day becoming a pilot. Her life spans prohibition and World War II and she eventually attempts to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole. In the last leg of her journey she disappears and is never heard from again. In present day, her story inspires a movie and famous actress Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian. The book is predominantly about Marian, but it does switch back and forth from Marian’s to Hadley’s timeline.
When I say this is a comprehensive look at Marian’s life, I mean it. The book starts by introducing us to her parents before they meet and covers every aspect of her life. She loses her parents as infants and she and her twin brother Jamie grow up in Montana with their Uncle Wallace, who is an artist and an alcoholic. As her twin, Jamie also features heavily in the story and we get to watch the two of them grow up.
From the first time she sees a plane, Marian wants nothing more than to be a pilot. She quits school to save money for flying lessons and her aspirations end up taking her all over the world. I feel like I could expand so much on the plot because it’s so substantial and so much happens between her childhood and her epic journey around the world. but this is meant to be a review rather than a summary so let’s talk about what I did and didn’t like.
Most importantly, I liked Marian. She is a fascinating character. She is driven by her ambitions, which are so different from many women of the day that I couldn’t help but admire her. She wants nothing more than to be free, but is consistently limited by the constraints of her circumstance and sex. She has a limited moral compass when it comes to the means that will enable her to achieve her desires and she’s prepared to run at life with both arms wide open.
Second, I liked how much history this book covers, from World War I to prohibition, to pioneer Alaska and World War II. It is incredibly ambitious in scope and I really felt like I was living someone’s whole life. Sometimes the plot got a little carried away with too much depth about side characters, but at the same time, it made me feel totally enmeshed in Marian’s world to also be surrounded by the stories of her family.
Finally, I liked a lot of the themes explored. As a female pilot, gender is a key constraint in Marian’s life. Whereas Jamie is free to go off and pursue art and women and build the life he wants, she hits roadblocks and compromises every step in the way. But I loved that while she gives a lot of herself, she was still able to recognize some parts of her life that she would refuse to allow to be transactional. Namely that she did not want children. It’s pretty radical for a woman in the 1930’s to be opposed to having children, but I liked that she was unwilling to compromise this key part of herself and that it’s ultimately what motivates her to pursue a better fortune.
It’s going to sound weird to say, but I loved Barclay McQueen. And by love, I mean I loved the brilliance of Maggie Shipstead in creating a character that I hated so much with every fiber of my being. Barclay was the perfect foil in this story. His wealth and desire and entitlement highlighted everything that was enraging about men and sex in this era (and many era’s thereafter). Because of the structure of the timelines, you ultimately know how the story is going to end from the beginning and you know Marian must eventually rid herself of Barclay, but the satisfaction of her finally taking back control of her life is so freaking cathartic. Yet at the same time, I lamented Barclay because I felt no other character was able to drive the tension and conflict in the story quite as successfully as he did. He’s a character you love to hate and his absence was mildly disappointing in that he is what inspired such strength in Marian’s character.
Then there’s the journey around the world. There’s a lot that happens with the war in between that I didn’t find particularly compelling, but oh boy, Shipstead had me in Antarctica. Ruth was an interesting character, but I felt that she was more of a stepping stone to introduce Eddie Bloom and how I loved him! I thought Marian was going to break my heart at the end, but it was Eddie who decimated it. He was such a sweet soul and serves to highlight just how unfair the world can be, in more ways than one. We know how this is going to end from the beginning, and yet I’d never really thought to stop and consider the implications, to consider the heartbreak we are barreling towards throughout 600 pages.
So what didn’t I like? A few things, but mostly the length. I feel this has been a common refrain for me this year. I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to read waffle anymore and I admire an author who is able to be concise. In the case of this book, it wasn’t so much about length as being compelling. In some ways, I think length works for this book. Because it’s so large in scope, length contributes to the feeling of really knowing this person by spending a lot of time with them. My complaint is more that frankly, some of this was really boring. I didn’t even mind that the story starts with a saga about Marian’s parents because it was interesting enough, but we spend a lot of time with Marian learning to fly, Jamie and his art, and a whole lot of nothing about world war II. I just wanted the writing in these sections to be a little tighter. I appreciated Shipstead writing about Marian’s traumas and triumphs because they gave so much depth to her character, but I felt like she needed more secondary characters like Barclay to really drive the story. I felt like the book lost a lot of its tension once Marian goes to Alaska and it didn’t really get it back until near the end of the war.
The other part I didn’t really like was Hadley. I understand now that I’ve finished the book why Hadley was included, but I didn’t really think her necessary. Honestly, her entire story could have been cut from this book and it wouldn’t have substantially changed anything – I just would have been happier because then it would have been shorter. I wasn’t really interested in Hadley at all and her tie to Marian felt pretty irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Her story doesn’t really even focus that much on the filming of the movie and I couldn’t bring myself to care about her personal drama – Marian was a more well realized character and I was only interested in spending time in her timeline.
Overall, it’s all leaving me at a bit of a loss for how to rate the book. What I liked, I loved, and what I didn’t like, I really didn’t like. I’d kind of like to talk about the ending because it was so surprising, but at the same time, I don’t have a lot to say about it. I wanted to love Caleb, but struggled a lot with his character. Marian goes through some pretty traumatic sexual experiences and though I think in some ways, her and Caleb were both victims, I still found it difficult to overlook how he manipulated her when they were young.
The other thing that was disappointing to me (though I only fault myself for this) was the realization that Marian Graves was not a real person. For some reason I thought this was based on a true story for 95% of the book. It made it easier for me to accept some of the plot decisions because I thought the author was just following the natural trajectory of Marian’s life. Knowing now that the whole thing was fictional – it explains a lot – but I wish the author had made some different choices in the storytelling.
Anyways, I think it’s a solid 3.5 star read. I’m going to rate it up because I thought there were moments where the characterization and writing really shone and I can see why it was shortlisted for the Booker. It wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be though and I think sometimes it did get lost in its “epic” scope, but otherwise, a very compelling read.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ Author: Elena Armas Genres: Fiction, Romance Pub. Date: Feb. 2021 (read Feb. 2022)
I don’t know how long this phase will last, but I’m officially on the romance train. We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day, so I guess my timing is appropriate. I wasn’t sure what to follow up The Love Hypothesis with, but landed on The Spanish Love Deception because it also has a fake-dating trope and is super popular on Booktok. I didn’t like this as much as The Love Hypothesis, but I have to give it a shout-out because I learned after the fact that it was originally self-published! I think this is amazing and probably means the author had limited resources (like an editor?), so keep this in mind through my somewhat critical review.
First off, I did like it. I think it suffered from some pacing issues at the start, but once we arrived in Spain, I could not put this book down. I think that is the main reason I’ve been drawn to romance recently, because it makes for a very quick and enjoyable read. It’s not great literature, but it requires a bit less effort to commit to. I really liked Catalina’s family and thought the portion of the novel set in Spain was really fun. It’s a slow burn (which I love) and the love interest is pretty damn sexy. If you’re here for the smut, I thought it was better than The Love Hypothesis, but was a bit overdone towards the end. I’m more about the smoldering lead up than excessive sex scenes, but you do you!
So what’s this book about? 28-year old Catalina is an engineer (I don’t recall it being stated which kind of engineer, which was pretty annoying to me, a civil engineer) in America and is returning home to Spain for her sister’s wedding. The problem is her ex, who is newly engaged, is going to be there and she doesn’t want to show up still single after so many years of heartbreak. When her work nemesis, Aaron Blackford, offers to be her date for the wedding, despite her trepidation, she feels she doesn’t have any other options and asks him to accompany her.
If the plot sounds predictable, it’s because it is, but I mean we all expect that from a contemporary romance anyways don’t we? Sorry to repeatedly compare it to The Love Hypothesis, but it’s my only other frame of reference, so I’ll say, the only other thing I thought was a bit more well done in this book was the “fake dating”. I thought that the simple explanation of not wanting to attend a wedding alone was a lot more straightforward and believable than the convoluted shenanigans Olive and Adam got up to.
So overall, it was fun. It’s not meant to be high brow literature, so take the rest of my criticisms with a grain of salt, because there are many, but they’re a bit tangential. I knew what I was getting myself into with this book.
So what didn’t I like about it? Mostly Catalina. It’s not that I didn’t like her as a person, I found her relatable and I empathized with what she had been through. But oh my goodness, I couldn’t deal with her inner monologue sometimes. Catalina is stuck in her head, ALL THE TIME. This book is almost 500 pages (another criticism, it could have been shorter), and it’s mostly because Catalina stresses and overanalyzes absolutely everything. We’re told repeatedly that she’s very smart, but the author did absolutely nothing to show us that she’s smart. She comes off as vapid and a bit of an idiot to be honest. It was somewhat endearing the way she would accidentally blurt out the most inappropriate things at times, but I just wanted to yell at her to get a grip.
I don’t think she was helped by the author’s writing style. Some parts were confusing because the author gets so inside Catalina’s head that I felt she was getting ahead of the storyline and missed describing what was actually happening. Like I would lose sense of where we were and what Catalina was doing because she was so lost in her inner monologue.
One of the other issues I had was with the pacing. We spent a lot of time in New York – more than I think we needed. I thought the majority of this book was going to be in Spain and we don’t even fly there until 50%. I liked the inclusion of the side plot with sexism at Catalina’s workplace, especially the meeting where she asked to plan a big event. I was honestly gutted by this scene and think it brought more depth to the story. But the whole thing with Aaron’s fundraiser seemed completely tangential and unnecessary to the story. I felt like Armas needed something to fulfill Catalina’s “half of the deal” and I didn’t find that it really added much to the overall book. I would have been happier with Aaron offering to be her date and not asking for anything in return.
Which brings me to my last point: Aaron Blackford. I know, everyone loves Aaron, I did too… in the second half of the book; but hear me out, he read like 2 completely different characters! First of all, I thought it was kind of creepy how insistent he was about coming to Spain with Catalina, I wanted to be like, “dude you offered and she said no, back off already!”. But mostly, I found that in the start of the book he is so stern and angry, not giving anything away about himself (even at the fundraiser), and then all of a sudden it’s like he flips a switch and is all suave, pulling moves on Catalina left, right, and center! When he came on to her in the coffee shop in New York I pretty much choked on my tea, it took me so much by surprise! I liked sexy, suave Aaron, he was a fun character, I just couldn’t reconcile the sudden personality change.
I also have to question what makes this book “fake dating”. It’s clearly only Catalina who views the exchange as fake. I’d kind of like to go back and see if Aaron ever even uses the word “fake”, because I could easily see him being like “I’ll be your date” and Catalina being an idiot and just assuming he meant “fake date” because she couldn’t conceive of a world where he would want to actually date her. I mean I get it, the dynamic of it and why readers love it, but at no point did it ever seem like it was a two-sided arrangement.
Anyways, I think I’ve gone into enough detail about this. It’s a flawed book, but whatever, go ahead and read it anyways, it’s a sexy good romp and I wouldn’t be deterred from reading it again. I can’t help but think critically about books, but it’s just meant to be a good time! Please give me your other romance recs because I don’t think I’m done yet! I’m thinking maybe People We Meet on Vacation next because I suspect “friends to lovers” is going to be more my style than “enemies to lovers”.
The Love Hypothesis is making me re-think everything I thought I knew about reading!
I like romance – I know this about myself. But I’ve always preferred it as a side plot, originally in lengthy fantasy series. Then I got fatigued with fantasy and started reading a lot of literary fiction and historical fiction and didn’t really think about romance at all. Every now and then I stumble upon a good love story (the most recent was probably The Simple Wild, which I first read in 2018) and remember how much I do enjoy them.
The market is saturated with romance books with beautiful covers these days and I see popular books shared regularly on bookstagram and booktube (and booktok), for some reason The Love Hypothesis caught my eye. It received a lot of praise and hype in a short time, and when I found out it had a STEM setting and was basically glorified Rylo fanfic (Kylo Ren and Rey, I know right?), I was definitely intrigued. I took a look at the cover (easily saw the character resemblance) and impulsively grabbed a copy at my local indie.
I got home and joked with my husband about how I’d actually bought a romance book. I told him I’d heard it was good and then proceeded to read the synopsis out loud, laughing because I had to admit, actually reading it, it didn’t sound very good (to me at least). But friends, I could not put this book down! I’m now questioning everything and wondering if I should get more into the romance scene, but the selection is a bit paralysing and the book blurbs always sound bad, so please give me your recommendations because I’m a total newbie and I have no idea what I like!
But let’s get into the book. I gave it 5 stars. Objectively, it is 100% not a 5 star book – there are many other books that I have rated less than 5 stars that were much better than this. But I can’t deny that this was pure joy and escapism and I was so happy the entire time I was reading it, so I think it deserves the 5 stars. We can enjoy things that are not works of art and make us feel just a little bit shallow. I have criticisms, I’ll talk about them – but let’s talk about why this was so great first.
Setting. The Love Hypothesis is set at Stanford University and features a bunch of grad students and faculty advisers and all the drama of the academic world. I have only ever been an undergrad, so I don’t know what it’s like to be a grad student, but I am a woman in STEM and I am married to someone who had a very long and painful grad student experience, so I could definitely still relate. It seems like both a respected and thankless field. Why on earth are our scientists and researchers paid so little and forced to work and move around for so long before gaining any semblance of normality? When my husband finally left academia, we were both relieved and have never once looked back.
Characters. Olive is an excellent character. I loved the demi rep in this book and I felt her to be an extremely relatable every-woman. Likewise, Adam is flawed, but you can’t help but love his sensitive side. The plot of this book is centered around the fake-dating trope and as corny and unrealistic as it was at times, it was also strangely well done and believable. Olive and Adam are funny and more than once I found myself laughing out loud at their witty banter. They’re smart characters that are very much grounded in reality – I say that because it’s obvious that Ali Hazelwood knows this world. She hasn’t fabricated it for the sake of a story, she knows it and as a result, her characters feel very genuine and organic.
Title IX. It’s been a while since I watched the documentary, The Hunting Ground, which is all about Title IX, so I’m a little fuzzy, but it’s basically the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination and harrassment in educational environments, such as universities. At first the joking about Title IX made me a little uncomfortable, but I like that Hazelwood decides to tackle sexism in academia. This is something that exists at all levels of post-secondary education, but I’ve predominantly thought of it in terms of cases like Brock Turner, where young undergrads get taken advantage of at campus parties. This tackles the inherent sexism that is built into the old-boys club of academia.
It is not easy to be a woman in STEM. There are amazing women like Anh out there that are working to make STEM more accessible to more diverse backgrounds of people, but they are always at a disadvantage and the system is still always working against them at every level. One of the stats that has always made me saddest in my own profession (engineering), is that while the number of female graduates is up in certain disciplines, it doesn’t carry through to the profession and many women leave within the first 5 years of their career. It also doesn’t speak to the diversity of women entering the profession. Hazelwood brings depth to the story with this plotline and it made it more meaningful than just another romance.
It’s a fun and sexy book. It’s predictable, but for me, it had the perfect amount of banter, slow burn, and spice. Not unlike Olive, I’m not really into hook-ups, but spending time with people I trust, and I loved how their friendship developed, it felt natural and authentic. We really get to know both of the characters. It definitely has some spice (I know that’s important for a lot of readers), but in moderation, which is how I personally prefer it. The story builds up to a natural climax, in more ways than one 😉 without being overly indulgent (Sarah J Maas, I’m looking at you). It was cute.
So what didn’t I like? Mostly minor things that I can overlook, but I still think it’s important to acknowledge some of the shortcomings. As I said, this story got it’s start as Reylo fanfic. I don’t really have a problem with that, I’m a bit of a Reylo fan myself and it’s what enticed me to pick up the book, so I don’t fault Hazelwood for that. After reading it, I don’t actually think this is Reylo fanfic, it’s not the vibe I got from the story. The vibe I did get is that Adam Carleson IS Adam Driver. His appearance is described on many occasions and he is Adam Driver right down to his dimples. I wish she had at least given him another name besides Adam to make it a little bit less obvious.
Which brings me to my next point that Olive is not Rey. In fact, Olive’s appearance is barely described anywhere in the novel. We gather that she is 5’8″ and pale with freckles, but beyond being described as slim, I can’t recall ever getting a description of her hair, face, or eyes. I think she’s written more as a stand-in character, for both the author and any woman that finds Adam Driver dreamy (ahem, me included, lol). I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it just made her a bit forgettable to me. Which I didn’t want because she is a strong character and I don’t want her to be a Bella or Ana type stand-in. A minor criticism, but I just wanted the characters to be Olive and Adam unto themselves, not Adam Driver and any stand-in white girl.
My last complaint involves getting into some spoilers, so don’t read ahead unless you’ve already read the book.
My last complaint is about how the real Title IX incident is dealt with. It’s upsetting when Tom comes on to Olive. I thought he was a little over-the-top villainous in that I thought Tom would probably be smart enough to be a bit more subtle with his intentions until a more opportune moment, but I can’t deny the truth in the interaction. I didn’t fault Olive for not wanting to pursue anything or report him. Women are rarely believed and get pulled through the mud for it. At the time, she had no other prospects for her work and potentially would tank her career if she reported him. But once she decided she was going to do something about it, I was disappointed that she let Adam speak for her.
Other people rarely intervene on behalf of sexual harassment victims. Sure it happens and how wonderful to have a powerful ally, but I would have loved to see smart and plucky Olive take Tom Benton down all on her own – be her own saviour. Adam could have supported her, but together her and Anh could easily have made it happen too and it would have given her a lot more agency as a kick-ass female scientist. But I can overlook this shortcoming as well because it is exhausting to always have the burden fall on minorities. It’s why we need more allies. So I can accept that Olive could have gotten Tom fired on her own, but that it’s also great that she didn’t have to.
To conclude, the fact that I’m able to write a review this long about a 300 page romance novel is telling. I did love it and I’m not really sure where I’ll go from here. I may try and seek out some more romance novels, or I may just move on and remember this one fondly, only time will tell!