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Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner — book review

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“It’s almost religious, that belief, that faith that a piece of silk or denim or cotton jersey could disguise your flaws and amplify your assets and make you both invisible and seen, just another normal woman in the world; a woman who deserves to get what she wants.”

Beach read meets mystery in Jennifer Weiner Big Summer. Daphne Berg is a plus-sized ‘influencer’ (I have a hard time using this word unironically) who after years of being subjected to all sorts of body-shaming (from strangers on the internet to her own friends and relatives) has finally started to become more confident in her body. While in many ways she loves her ‘community’, since it encourages her and others to love themselves and their bodies, the influencer lifestyle isn’t all its cracked up to be.

“The trick of the Internet, I had learned, was not being unapologetically yourself or completely unfiltered; it was mastering the trick of appearing that way.”

The first of the novel focuses in particular on Daphne’s relationship with her body over the years by giving us some snapshots from her childhood (her grandmother is monstrous towards her). There are many painful moments in which readers become intimate with Daphne’s most innermost thoughts and fears. We’re also introduced to her former best friend. Drue is conventionally beautiful and comes from an incredibly wealthy family. Their friendship is not an easy one as Drue toys around with Daphne’s feelings, treating her as her closest confidant one moment and pretending she doesn’t exist the next. Unsurprisingly, after a particularly cruel night, Daphne finally calls out Drue on her behaviour and cuts ties with her.
Years later, when Daphne’s is a successful influencer, Drue shows up again in her life and asks her (begs her really) to be her bridesmaid. In Cape Cod, the wedding location, the novel shifts gears. (view spoiler)
While I appreciated the complexities of Daphne and Drue friendship, and the way in which Drue wasn’t painted in an entirely negative way, as well as the novel’s early discussions around body positivity, I just did not care for the mystery (which was predictable at every turn). The love interest was a very dull character indeed (did we really need him in the story?).

While for the most part I enjoyed Weiner’s prose I did find the constant descriptions of her characters’ physical appearance to be tiring. Even characters who make small cameos are described within an inch of their life (their eyes, teeth, skin, legs, arms, stomachs). While I could accept that Daphne has an eye for other people’s clothes (due to her job), the detailed, and often exaggerated, accounts of random people’s appearances added little to the story.
Still Big Summer is far more thoughtful than other ‘light’ reads.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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Beach Read by Emily Henry — book review

9780241989524.jpgRomance enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy Emily Henry’s Beach Read.
Personally, while I do enjoy romance books, I usually prefer them to be less cheesy…and while certain scenes or lines in Beach Read did make me smile, it wasn’t quite the ‘laugh-out-loud’ read I was hoping it would be.

This is yet another novel that seems to hint at an ‘enemies-to-lovers’ romance but in actuality the two leads are never truly enemies or hostile towards each other. January, our lead and narrator, has a bit of a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Augustus. While they were in college Augustus made a comment that January interpreted as disparaging both her person and her writing. Years later the two find themselves living in the same town.
January needs a place to write her novel. Not only is she financially ‘broke’, but her boyfriend recently broke up with her. January, who is still grieving the loss of her dad, has few options lefts, so she decides to move into her father’s secret home. As she tries to make sense of the secret life her father kept, she finds it hard to envision writing a story with a ‘happy ending’.
January is quite ‘shocked’ to discover that her new neighbour is Augustus, aka Gus. She is sort of envious that his books are seen as ‘highbrow’ whereas hers are dismissed as ‘women’s fiction’. The two strike up a deal: January will write a book without her trademark ‘happy ending’ while Gus will try to write a ‘happy’ book.

While I liked the premise of this book I soon found myself rolling my eyes at its cliches: Gus has an ‘inky gaze’, a ‘crooked’ smile, he is ‘tall’ and ‘dark’. January’s backstory with her father was rather superficial: she feels betrayed, that much she states early on. Other than that I found that she would often merely rehash her story (her mother had cancer, twice, her father wasn’t the man she thought he was, their marriage was far from perfect). Her relationship with people other than Gus were very feeble: she has a best friend who lives in another city so the two of them keep in touch through texts…which were often very silly and seemed to be included only to add humour. Her mother was mentioned now and again but her personality remained undisclosed. We know she had cancer and that she doesn’t want to speak about her husband’s ‘secrets’. It would have been a lot more compelling and challenging if January had actually loved her ex-boyfriend but she admits early on that she loved the idea of them rather than him…which seemed to go against the book’s proclaimed self-awareness. Given that January writes romcoms it would have been more refreshing if we were presented with a story in which there isn’t such a thing as ‘you can only have one true love’…
Gus…he was very much the epitome of the angsty love interest. At one point he says: “I am angry and messed up, and every time I try to get closer to you, it’s like all these warning bells go off”….which yeah, who says stuff like this? And how is this romantic?
Not only does Gus have an appropriately Troubled Backstory™ but he is just sooooo angsty. Just because his eyes are ‘flashing’ or he smirks a lot doesn’t negate how annoying his ‘you can’t possibly understand me/I am a walking tragedy’ thing he has going is.
Most of his lines sounded unbelievable. At one point he tells January that she is “so fucking beautiful” and “like the sun”. Like, wtf man.

Another thing that I was hoping would receive more focus was their books. January once says that if she were to swap her ‘Janes’ for ‘Johns’, her books would no longer be labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ but as ‘fiction’…which is a statement I don’t entirely agree on. There are lots of female authors who write books with female protagonists that do not fall under the ‘women’s fiction’ category. Perhaps January should have been asking herself why certain genres are seen as inferior to others, or why the ‘chick-lit’ is seen as ‘rubbishy’ whereas the popular books by male authors (such as James Patterson) are not similarly dismissed.
There a few paragraphs of January’s own writing which were really cringe-y. I could not take her ‘serious’ story seriously, it was ridiculous. Also, why perpetuate this stereotype of the writer only being able to write about their own lives?

January is immediately attracted to Gus, so there is never a slow build up from friends to lovers. During their first few scenes together her stomach is already ‘flip flopping’.
Their make out/sex scenes were…okay I guess (?). Although I’ve read far worse there was one scenes which was just yuck-y: one moment January compares herself to a ‘toddler’ sitting on Gus’ lap, the next they are making out. Most of their flirting revolves around ‘junk food’ which yeah, I am not a huge fan of this ‘bonding over our mutual love of donuts’. It just strikes me as juvenile.

For the most part I didn’t particularly hate or love this book. I do enjoy reading ‘feel good’ books (some of my faves are by Sophie Kinsella and Mhairi McFarlane) but Beach Read didn’t really work for me. I guess I was excepting a more ‘subversive’ take on the romance genre…but here there are tropes upon tropes.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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