The Hating Game

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sally Thorne
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Aug. 2016 (read May 2022)

This is another book that it’s been a while since I read it, but I did put together a summary of my thoughts right after which is giving me a refresher. After reading The Spanish Love Deception earlier in the year, I knew I would eventually get to The Hating Game, which seems to be the most well known book with the enemies-to-lovers/fake-dating tropes. 

I was anticipating this would be better than TSLD, and in some ways it was, but to be honest, I thought it was still a lot of the same and had some tropes that I didn’t like. The Hating Game is about two publishing companies that merged and the relationship between the two executive assistants to the CEO’s. The CEO’s do not have an amicable relationship and Lucy and Josh have been rivals since they started working together. Now they’re up for the same promotion, which further escalates their competitive nature.

I don’t want to continually compare it to TSLD, because The Hating Game was written first, so I will say that a lot of TSLD seemed like a knock-off, but that I think the “enemies” part of enemies-to-lovers was better done in The Hating Game. I understood why these 2 characters didn’t get along and I believed it. It wasn’t believable in TSLD, which just made the main character look kind of dumb. But I’ll end the comparisons there and focus on The Hating Game.

To be honest, I thought this was a mess at the beginning. I was expecting to like it and I think the story did improve later in the book, but initially I really struggled to buy into anything the author was selling. The first third of the book felt extremely disorganized and I found some scenes jarring because they felt so forced. I felt like the author had all these romantic fantasies that she wanted to write and decided to include them whether they worked with the narrative or not. For example, I found the elevator scene a bit jarring – I know it’s now a pretty iconic scene from the book, but it felt very sudden and forced to me when I first read it. 

But the most notable scene for me was the corporate paintball retreat. I didn’t think it fit with the rest of the book. It wasn’t believable to me that a corporate company would sanction paintball for a team building event and the forced proximity with Lucy and Josh was just TOO forced. The whole “big man defending the tiny woman” trope is tired and felt out of place for 2 characters that supposedly didn’t like each other. I also found the whole scene where Josh takes care of Lucy when she’s sick extremely uncomfortable and unbelievable for two co-workers. A normal reaction would be “please let me call your friend or drop you at the hospital”, not “I’ll stay at your house for 2 days and get my doctor brother to make a house call”. They have worked together as rivals for several years at this point, but now they’re suddenly all over each other, all the time. I know that’s kind of the point of the book, but none of it felt natural or organic to me. 

While we’re on the topic, I’d also like to say that I am SO tired of the big man-tiny woman trope. It’s not even that I mind that all the male protagonists are tall, but authors seem to be obsessed with beating us over the head about just HOW tall they are. TSLD and The Love Hypothesis were pretty bad for it, but The Hating Game was really the most aggressive with the trope. Josh is 6 foot 5 while Lucy is 5 foot nothing – that is a huge difference! It just made Lucy seem like a child and I feel like it would honestly be more frightening than sexy. Plus, men don’t need to be giants to be attractive. 

So what did I like about the book? Because I seem to mostly be railing against it. Once I got over the chaotic start and the characters chilled out a bit, I actually got pretty into it. I do think that Lucy and Josh had great chemistry and Thorne does a great job at building up the sexual tension. Lucy and Josh are both pretty nuanced characters with strengths and flaws. I liked the exploration of Lucy working to gain more respect at work and her passion for her field. As well as I liked the exploration of Josh’s insecurities and his relationship with his father. He wants more from his relationships and I liked that he had this depth. There was a good balance of sexual tension without waiting until the very last minute for the characters to be together (drove me nuts in TSLD).

The last thing I will say is that there were some questionable behaviours throughout the book. Both characters are certified stalkers. The “I painted my room the colour of your eyes” was a hard pass for me and Josh has some questionable possessive behaviour that I didn’t like. Sadly these ideas seem to be a bit normalized in romance novels, but as far as the genre goes this was a pretty solid 3 star read for me. I did watch the movie and I liked parts of it, but would still give the edge to the book.  

Book Lovers

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Emily Henry
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2022 (read May 2022)

It’s been almost 2 months now since I read this and I’m really regretting not writing a review about it then…

Emily Henry is quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me! I read People We Meet on Vacation and Beach Read earlier this year and am even debating reading some of her YA backlist. Of the 3 books I’ve read, I think Book Lovers might be my favourite! Beach Read had some definite flaws, but I really liked the friends to lovers aspect of People We Meet on Vacation. The plot of Book Lovers sounded a bit cheesy to me, but the story is so well crafted that I ended up loving it!

Nora Stephens is a literary agent for authors and has a tenuous relationship with Charlie Lastra, an editor who once passed on one of her biggest client’s bestselling book. Nora’s sister Libby convinces Nora to join her on a getaway to the small town in which her bestselling book is set, where they continually run into Charlie and learn the real reason why he passed on editing the book. But what Nora’s more curious about it why her sister really wanted them to take this trip and has a sneaking suspicion she won’t be very pleased when she uncovers the truth.

So the book has a pretty standard romance setting and plot, but what makes it stand out is the dialogue and characterization. First off, this is really a story about sisterhood, which is one of my all time favourite themes, and the romance that blooms during the sister trip is super organic and fun. Nora and Charlie have chemistry and I was really impressed with all of their banter. Emily Henry is quick witted and her dialogue is sharp. There’s no awkwardness and it’s a lot of fun to read. Like most enemies to lovers stories, Nora and Charlie are barely enemies, but I liked how quickly they become friends. There was an authenticity in easily sorting out your differences and acknowledging that your first impressions were misplaced.

I’ve said this of Henry’s other books, and it holds true in Book Lovers, that she is really great at bringing a strong dose of realism and depth to her romances. There’s always something going on in the story beyond just the romance and her characters are always realistically flawed, but in a way that is believable. Too many romances feature unrealistic men and while it’s nice to dream such a “perfect” man might exist, I like my love interests a little more nuanced.

What I liked about this one was that Nora and Charlie were very much the anti-heroes. Nora believes that she’s the high-powered, but lonely woman that always gets left behind in the city for the easy-going country girl, whereas Charlie’s the guy who always puts other people’s needs and happiness before his own. I loved that this book was basically in defense of all those women who like city life and pursue their careers over love. It’s about knowing who you are and what you’re willing to compromise.

As a side note, I’d also like to say that I loved that Nora was tall! I feel like almost all romances these days feature giant men and tiny women and I loved Henry’s exploration of height in a relationship and how little Charlie cared about it. The whole line about “there’s no such thing as a ‘too tall’ woman, only men who are too insecure to date them” had me swooning over Charlie! So I appreciate the realism since the average height for men and women is 5’9″ and 5’4″.

Then there’s a whole other element of this story that looks at Nora’s internalized guilt and responsibility. She’s taken on a lot of ownership over her sister’s happiness and this is very much about learning to let the people you love go. Letting them be responsible for their own success and happiness and being okay when your dreams don’t necessarily align with one another.

To conclude, I really liked it and read the entire thing over the span of 2 days. If you’re looking for a fun summer read, definitely pick up Book Lovers! 

The Paris Wife

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Paula McLain
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Feb. 2011 (read Jun. 2022)

This was pretty much the most disappointing read of the decade. My book club selected it for our June meeting, which just so happened to be our 100th book and 10th anniversary as a club. We were really hoping for a winner and this absolutely did not deliver. 

The Paris Wife is set in the 1920’s and features the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. They meet in Chicago and quickly fall in love and marry before moving to Paris together for Ernest to pursue writing. I admit, I didn’t know very much about the lost generation and I did find it intriguing to learn that so many classic authors were acquainted with one another. At first it seems surprising, but after thinking about it a bit, I guess it kind of makes sense that affluence would produce so many classic writers. I don’t want to be salty, but it gives me the impression that the writers who received acclaim at the time are more a product of the society they kept rather than that they were actually challenging the field. I’m sure there were lots of non-white authors writing a lot more groundbreaking material at the time that went unrecognized.

Maybe that’s unfair because I haven’t actually read anything by Ernest Hemingway. The book may have briefly inspired some interest in picking up a Hemingway, but this was so flipping boring that I can’t stand to read another page about bull fighting and shit men, so it dashed any interest I might have held. 

I had a mild interest for some of the content, but I’m honestly questioning who the intended audience of this book is? Is it for Hemingway fans? Because I can’t see how anyone who likes Hemingway would finish the book feeling the same way, and anyone who was indifferent about Hemingway sure as hell won’t be anymore. Even though Hadley is at the centre of the story, it’s still not compelling. The synopsis paints the picture of an incredible bond and the ultimate betrayal, but the bond looked more like subservience to me and you could predict the betrayal a mile away. There are no likeable characters in the book, which isn’t always a problem for me, but I felt like we were supposed to like some of the characters, which is what made it more problematic.

I found nothing about their portrayal intriguing. Hemingway paints himself as a poor, struggling artist, but none of these people are poor, as evidenced by their frequent trips across the Atlantic and all around Europe. This was a boring account of a bunch of privileged, pretentious, white people. I honestly didn’t see the point. What was the theme of the book? Why did we all waste our time on this? If it’s not going to challenge my thinking in some way, it should at least be entertaining right?

To finish, the last thing I’m going to say is that the idea of my husband’s mistress climbing into bed with me and my husband and then f**king each other next to me is pretty much the most traumatizing, messed-up thing I’ve ever heard. I obviously didn’t like it and it’s probably mean to keep bulldozing it. I feel like I’m actually being harsher than I was at my book club, so I will say that the writing is good. Honestly, I feel like this could have worked really well as a biography or piece of non-fiction writing. I can see the interest in learning more about Hemingway and the lost generation, but as fiction it’s not compelling. It was too factual, with not enough emotion or liberty taken for fiction. I’d like to think that maybe the author was trying to evoke Hemingway’s sparse type of writing style, but it was my second book by her and the first one was boring too. So it’s time to move on – if you like semi-biographical fiction – this may be for you.

In the Dark we Forget

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Sandra S.G. Wong
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pub. Date: Jun. 21, 2022 (read Jun. 2022)

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with a free advance copy of In the Dark We Forget in exchange for an honest review. I don’t read a lot of mystery books, but I was really excited for this one because it’s by a Canadian author and set in the Canadian Rockies!

The premise of the book is very intriguing. A young Asian-Canadian woman wakes up in the woods with no memory of where she is or how she got there. As she starts to remember some of the details, including that her name is Cleo, we learn that her parents recently won the lottery and that they are now missing too. As the police delve deeper and find little information, we begin to question Cleo’s relationship to both her parents and their disappearance.

Sadly the premise was the most compelling part of the book. This is being sold as a mystery-thriller, but I think it would have worked a lot better as literary fiction (and to be honest, I think that’s what the author was going for as well). Wong had some great ideas in terms of theme and characters, but the plotting of the book really just didn’t work for what I felt she was trying to accomplish. This could have been a moderately interesting book about diaspora and Asian-Canadian culture if it had been further and better developed, but instead it’s a poor mystery novel that bogs itself down with poor writing.

I do really hate to rag on the book because it is a debut, but I can’t deny the writing wasn’t strong. I was expecting this to be really fast paced, but it’s actually incredibly slow and boring because the author insists on taking us on an almost totally linear trajectory, with no time jumps between scenes to move the story along. While everything before Cleo’s accident is foggy in her memory, every second after is accounted for in great detail. I felt like there was a lot of pointless filler and it really made the book drag. It took way too long for us to find out anything meaningful about Cleo. If you’re going to center a mystery around a family dynamic, you can’t waste 100 pages before even revealing who any of the characters are.

I honestly felt like barely anything happened in the entire book. The author gives up absolutely nothing in terms of the mystery element, which is why I questioned why it’s shelved as mystery. You have to give your reader some details to keep them interested and guessing, but this book presents the scenario and then does almost nothing to advance the details. It has a very ambiguous ending, which can work in a literary fiction, but I thought felt very out of place in a mystery. It’s not ambiguous in the way that it leaves me wondering which of 2 scenarios might have occurred, but ambiguous in the way that I have literally no idea what actually happened. I feel that there should be some kind of payout at the end of the book, but I didn’t even get that, so it really left me frustrated at why I had invested so much time in the book when absolutely none of the questions presented in the synopsis of the book are answered.

Anyways, I don’t want to go on and on. It was a disappointing read for me, but others might like it. Go into this knowing it’s definitely not a thriller and only partially a mystery. If I’d taken a different approach I might have liked it a bit more.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub. Date: Apr. 1986 (read Jun. 2022)

Since I’ve never written a review for this one before, let’s start by saying I’ve probably read Howl’s Moving Castle a dozen times since childhood and it remains one of my all-time favourite books. No matter how many times I’ve read it, it still surprises me every time with its intricate plot and the whimsical characters always bring a smile to my face.

What I think makes this so special is that it’s both a beloved book and movie, each with its own fan base. From what I’ve read, the movie is more popular than the book (some people don’t even know it’s based on a book), but that they should be viewed as two separate pieces of art because they are quite different. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t actually seen the movie. I’m tempted, but Howl and Sophie have lived so completely in my imagination since I was a child that I decided never to watch it to forever preserve the way I envisioned this world it as a child. I’ve read a ton of Diana Wynne Jones, but Howl’s Moving Castle will always be my favourite (though I do hold a soft spot for The Lives of Christopher Chant).

So what to say about Howl. Howl’s Moving Castle is a middle grade fantasy set in the land of Ingary, where there are floating castles, vain wizards, fire demons, vengeful witches, and seven-league boots. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of 3 sisters and as such, destined to fail miserably should she ever set out to seek her fortune. However, when a nasty run-in with the Witch of the Waste lands her under a curse that turns her into an old woman, she decides it’s time to set out anyways, fortune or not. She finds herself in Howl’s castle, an evil wizard who entraps young girls and eats their hearts, and rashly enters a bargain with a fire demon to try and break her curse.

As it turns out, wizard Howl is neither evil nor a heart-eater, and we slowly get to know this vain and brash wizard as Sophie settles in at the castle with Howl, his assistant Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer. From there, the book is filled with hijinks and adventure as Sophie sets out to change the lives of everyone around her.

So let me elaborate on all the reasons why I love this book. First of all, it’s fun. Diana Wynne Jones has written some darker novels to be sure, but humour always features in her books and she is in fine form in Howl’s Moving Castle. All of her characters are spunky and find themselves in serious, yet ridiculous situations. All of the characters are over the top, but you can’t help but laugh out loud and Jones never takes herself too seriously. Howl is brash and Sophie is brazen, but they have such chemistry! 

Which brings me to my second point – it has heart. Each character in this book is expertly crafted and they all have so much characterization! Sophie is a young mousy girl, but when she is transformed into a 90 year old woman, she realizes nothing matters anymore and throws all caution to the wind. Instead of being upset about her severely shortened lifespan, she just embraces being an old lady and lives life more than she ever did as a young woman. In contrast, Howl is an avoider, but Sophie’s new found outlook holds him to account like no one has ever been able to do before. On the surface, these are two characters that don’t like each other, but if you delve just a little bit deeper, you’ll find two extremely kind hearted people in orbit of one another.

But in addition to Sophie and Howl, there’s a vibrant cast of secondary characters that will warm your heart just as much! I adore an author that can create side characters that are just as well developed, and Jones is a master. We fall in love with both Michael and Calcifer, but even Lettie, Martha, and Fanny have their own roles to play. There are no throwaway characters and no throwaway interactions.

Which brings me to my last point – this book is smart. It’s subtle, but it has a very clever plot and no ideas are wasted. It’s something that a lot of my favourite literature has in common. Jones has taken the time to understand and craft this world and this plot and while a lot of it may seem random, each scene has its own place in the story. It’s the reason I can read this book over and over again, because I honestly forget half the plot each time, even though I never forget the characters. It really is full of magic and adventure and whimsy, while also being genius at world-building. Ingary exists so completely and fully formed that I don’t feel like I’m discovering it so much as walking off the page into it, and that is the mark of a truly talented writer.

So I will continue to return to this world time and time again and I encourage you to visit it too. It is absolutely the kind of middle grade that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. A very special place in my heart!