Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Review: How to Hack a Heartbreak

You know when you're in the mood for a certain kind of book and kind of have to hope the next one you pick up will perfectly suit your mood? That was how I was feeling the Friday before How to Hack a Heartbreak was released (which is today!). I had finished my book club pick the day before, A Discovery of Witches which is amazing if you've never read it (it was a re-read for me), and it was a long read for me because of life and the fact that it's 500+ pages of excellent, detailed fantasy. Cue me needing something fun and set in this world. Enter Kristin Rockaway's new novel. Friends, I was so into this book that I had it read in under four hours on Friday night. I had the house to myself and just dove in and barely looked up until it was done. It was so, so good!

Here's the synopsis:
Swipe right for love. Swipe left for disaster.
By day, Mel Strickland is an underemployed helpdesk tech at a startup incubator, Hatch, where she helps entitled brogrammers—"Hatchlings"—who can't even fix their own laptops, but are apparently the next wave of startup geniuses. And by night, she goes on bad dates with misbehaving dudes she's matched with on the ubiquitous dating app, Fluttr.
But after one dick pic too many, Mel has had it. Using her brilliant coding skills, she designs an app of her own, one that allows users to log harrassers and abusers in online dating space. It's called JerkAlert, and it goes viral overnight.
Mel is suddenly in way over her head. Worse still, her almost-boyfriend, the dreamy Alex Hernandez—the only non-douchey guy at Hatch—has no idea she's the brains behind the app. Soon, Mel is faced with a terrible choice: one that could destroy her career, love life, and friendships, or change her life forever.
I'll get the little negatives out of the way first. While I was 1000% invested in Mel and really liked her - I'm not sure I fully got her. No. That's not quite right. I felt like there was more to her than I was getting and I needed more. I needed more about her parents' divorce - blaming her feelings for not trusting Alex on her dad cheating but only mentioning it 2-3 times in the book and never seeing/hearing from her mom felt super weak and convenient. Of course, maybe that's because I'm a child of divorce and my dad also cheated so I always feel like it needs to be a super terrible and messy situation for a character to blame their parents for their own relationship problems. I wouldn't call myself well-adjusted - who would - but based on what I knew of Mel, I didn't feel like it was a strong enough reason for her to be acting the way she was.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was Mel's job. I know next to nothing about coding but I do know that it's not a great work environment for women and I LOVED that Rockaway did not shy away from that. I thought this book was super feminist and I. Am. Here. For. It. It touched on all sorts of things that women deal with on a day to day basis that men just don't get. She made sure that Alex wasn't perfect but he was willing to listen to Mel and her friends and worked to understand how things could look from a woman's perspective (things like ghosting and dick pics, for example). She had men who were clueless and abusive and clearly never going to change their ways. She had women who went to the extreme as well and attacked undeserving men online. It was all so realistic and perfectly woven into the overall story.

I also really liked that Mel had an amazing group of girlfriends. The four of them were super tight (though I'm not sure we ever learned how they all know each other?) and each of their personalities brought something extra special to their friendship. Time for another mini negative: I'm not sure I liked Whit, who seemed to be Mel's closest friend of the group. Her bossiness assertiveness wasn't the issue. Strong women are awesome and we all need a friend who can be strong AF when we need it. But she was pretty pushy and Mel just let her walk all over her. I may also have been a bit testy with her personality since she worked in PR just like I do and she seemed to be a stereotypical publicist that you see in rom coms that just isn't quite realistic. BUT the women were there for each other no matter what, no questions asked. They had their fights and their interactions were so honest and realistic. Made me miss my best girlfriends, that's for sure.

How to Hack a Heartbreak fits perfectly into this new wave of rom coms and contemporary fiction we're seeing - and I'm LOVING it. Kristin Rockaway has taken her experience as a woman in the IT sector and written a novel that is going to be relatable to all women, no matter their background or age. It's fun, it's smart, it's real and it will be one you won't be able to stop once you start. Trust me on that one.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: The Wedding Party

Like most rom-com lovers, I fell in love with Jasmine Guillory's characters in The Wedding Date. I was slightly less in love with The Proposal but I still found that novel to be a hell of a lot of fun to read. Cue: The Wedding Party. I was so excited to read it because I knew I'd get a thoroughly enjoyable novel from a voice that I'm so glad is being heard. This book - just published today! - lived up to my expectations and I loved it.

Here's the synopsis:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:
1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other
After an "oops, we made a mistake" night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa's wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they're comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won't fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn't looking.
But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don't fall in love.
I like that all three of Guillory's novels (so far) are ever so slightly intertwined. The couple we met in her first book, The Wedding Date (OK one thing I don't like is that one is Date and one is Party and it's very hard to talk about them without confusing yourself), Alexa and Drew, feature in the new book. Maddie and Theo are Alexa's best friends and we get some overlap with the first story but told from Maddie and Theo's perspectives. With me so far? Carlos and Nik from The Proposal also pop up, since Carlos is best friends with Drew but since they're in a different city, they're not around as much. Each novel is able to be read as a standalone (though you might find the time jumps in this one odd if you don't know Alexa and Drew's story) but it's so much more fun when you've read all of them and fully understand the histories of the characters.

I was so sucked into this story. It's one of those ones that you can dive into in the morning and have finished by the evening. Just make sure you eat and hydrate throughout! (I drank much wine while reading this one...) It has a fast pace - for the most part, I think the beginning was a bit slower as the story got set up but it wasn't a negative - and smart, interesting characters. I like that Guillory makes sure the characters' jobs are just as important to the story as the romance. Maddie is hustling to make her own styling business work while Theo is working hard handling PR for the city's mayor. They're in their 30s (another plus) and their careers mean everything to them but I appreciated that was never an issue with their relationship. They were open to a relationship and a career (just maybe not a relationship with each other because they were dense and didn't realize they were in love with each other). I also really like that there's always a really strong family element - this time with the bond between Maddie and her mom. (Psst. Have you heard of this book yet?)

As fun as this was, I had a hard time believing that Maddie and Theo actually still thought they hated each other, while jumping each other every time they had the chance. I guess I can understand that hate and lust are both very strong emotions and might get all mixed up but I just can't wrap my head around sleeping with someone that I hated. (But maybe that's the long-term relationship talking.) I also have to remind myself that it's so easy to fix other people's problems by telling them what to do (TALK TO EACH OTHER, YOU FOOLS) but when you're in the mess you created? And not sure you want to believe what your heart is telling you? Yeah, that's tough. I did like that Maddie basically said how stupid it is that she was all, "Just tell Drew how you feel, Alexa!" like it was so easy. She then says she wants to punch Past Maddie in the head so she gets it. Points to Guillory for some tongue-in-cheek humour.

And how much fun is that cover? I had an ARC to read but I'm really kind of hoping the cover features real sparkles, at least for the title. I'm a sucker for brightly coloured covers, what can I say?

The Wedding Party is another excellent addition to this new wave of contemporary romances (THAT I AM LOVING). Jasmine Guillory has created characters and a world that I love getting to know and understand. No book is perfect but this one was such a delight to read over a summer weekend.

*An ARC of this novel was sent by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review: Star-Crossed

Star-Crossed is going to be one of those books I recommend to everyone this year. Minnie Darke's novel - and a debut one at that - was an absolute delight. It had drama, comedy, romance, and a touch of magic, in the form of astrology. Even if you're not a fan of one of those things, I think you're going to be a fan of this novel.

Here's the synopsis:
When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) randomly bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable. To Justine anyway. True, she hasn't seen Nick in thirteen years, one month and three weeks, but who's counting? She's pined after him all the same, and now that Nick lives in the same town, a struggling actor to her struggling magazine reporter, he'll surely realize his own unchanged feelings, take the reins and jump at the chance to rekindle their relationship. Right? Well, no. Nick, she learns, is an astrological devotee, and his decision-making, romantic and professional, is guided solely by the infallible horoscopes in his favourite magazine. The magazine Justine happens to work at. Perhaps the stars' guiding forces could use a little journalistic reimagining?
It's only a few tweaks to the Aquarius column, just a little push to get him to realize they're meant for one another. It's nonsense in the first place, what could possibly happen? Aquarians everywhere are about to find out, when the doctored horoscopes, ostensibly published to steer Nick and Nick alone, end up reverberating in the lives of the column's devoted readers, showing the ripple effects of what can happen when one woman takes the horoscopes, and Fate itself, into her own hands.
Spanning exactly one year, as the earth moves through all twelve stars signs, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent and affecting love story about fate, chance and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.
This novel isn't perfect, or even really close to it, but I enjoyed it so much that I have a really hard time putting my finger on what didn't work - or what did. I was so completely swept up in the story and adored every second I spent with Justine and Nick.

Of course, I do love a good second chance story so that likely had a lot to do with how much I swooned over this book!

Both Nick and Justine are having some life troubles, mostly in their professional lives but their romantic lives aren't so hot either. Running into each other after so many years apart had them reevaluating what it was they wanted to be when they grew up.

Darke separated her novel by astrological sign with "cusp" chapters between. I know some readers had trouble with the chapters between the main action but I enjoyed it. I liked the nod to astrology and how it showed that Justine's creative license with the horoscopes were impacting more than just Nick. These characters didn't always directly cross paths with Nick and Justine but that didn't make them unimportant. I think it showed that every person and every action can have an impact on the rest of the community, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.

This has absolutely nothing to do with much of anything but I loved that this book was set in Australia. I don't actively seek out books set in that (wonderful) country because I make a conscious effort to read a lot of Canadian authors but I really should try to read more Australian authors. In case you're new here (welcome!), I've visited Australia twice and, as much as I love my country, would move there in a heartbeat. (I can avoid snakes there. I can't avoid -30 degree temperatures and tons of snow here.) I hope publishers take a chance on more books that aren't set in the US because I'm honestly kind of tired of reading books with American settings, especially by Canadian authors, because that's *apparently* what sells. Harrumph. But that's a rant for another day. The takeaway: the setting in this book is delightful and I loved it.

I really, really liked Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke and thought it was such a fun, sweet story. This is one you can pick up as a gift for a woman in your life (say, yourself?) or maybe even suggest to your book club (how fun would an astrology themed meeting be?).

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Doubleday Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Review: Don't You Forget About Me

Somehow I had never read a Mhairi McFarlane book before picking up Don't You Forget About Me. And after reading it? I'm definitely going to be checking out her backlist. I even have a head-start as I own You Had Me At Hello. (So there's no excuse for me never having read her before.) This book was pretty much everything I look for in a rom-com and I absolutely loved reading it.

Here's the synopsis:
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to rise again…
If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.
Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered – barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up with a business and a dog along the way.
Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years…
I love a good second chance romance novel. I don't know what it is about that trope I love so much but love it I do. And when it's done well? It makes for the best reading experience. McFarlane does really, really great things with this trope. See, the reunion between Georgina and Lucas does not go well. From Georgina's perspective, it's quite embarrassing (which is the story of her life, I think). Here's her first love, someone she tried to get over because of pretty crap circumstances, and he...doesn't remember her? I, like I'm sure every other reader, was pretty certain that Lucas did remember her and was just pretending not to. But why? What happened all those years ago?

It's that question that takes a wee bit too long to be revealed. Normally I don't mind that there are secrets and such that keep being revealed over the course of the novel. But, in this case, I knew there had to have been a major reason that Lucas and Georgina broke up. Was it the same reason that has led Georgina to think she's not good enough for anything but menial, dead-end jobs or terrible boyfriends? Instead of having total relief at the revelation at the end of the book, I kind of found myself thinking, "about damn time I knew the whole truth." This isn't a deal-breaker by any means but it was a weird irritant that kept this book from being 5 stars.

What I did love about this book was how real it was. Georgina is not perfect. Not even close. It might be because she's a white, British woman but I would say she's like a more modern (and, dare I say it, better) Bridget Jones. Maybe I just think she's better because I was too young to fully identify with Bridget when I first read the book. I'm 32, just two years younger than Georgina, and I was in high school when I read Bridget Jones's Diary. Anyway, like Bridget or not, McFarlane has totally embraced this new wave of rom-coms (WHICH I LOVE) and has given us a character who has flaws and has no real interest fitting into some preconceived notion of what a thirty year old woman should be. And, for that, I love her. (Her being both Georgina and McFarlane.)

If you're a rom-com lover - or even just a fan of really great contemporary novels - you are going to want to pick up Don't You Forget About Me. I thoroughly enjoyed Mhairi McFarlane's latest novel and think you will too. Now, time to check out her other books!

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*