The May Book Review: From Couple’s Chicken to Supernatural Support Groups

To Have and To Hoax (Martha Waters)

As I admitted before in this post, I’ve completely fallen head over heels for the romance genre (or, more importantly, I’m much less ashamed to admit to being so). I started the month of May with finishing Martha Water’s To Have and To Hoax.

 It’s a book I had on my radar for a few months while looking into other romance books to read. I already had a few in my basket, so I put this on my TBR. This month, I finally picked it up.

The premise immediately fascinated me. Lady Violet Grey and Lord Audley James, the two leads of this story were the perfect couple when they married. But then a bad argument occurred, and we meet the couple again 5 years later who live in a frosty cohabitation under the same roof. The ice is broken when after Lord James falls off his horse and Violet rushes to his side, he tells her she really shouldn’t have been concerned. To give him a taste of his own medicine, she fakes an illness and shenanigans ensue.

The story ended up being a novel length game of chicken between the two. The lies and scenarios get more outrageous, and I loved every minute of it. It was a light, laugh out loud read with a lot of heart. It was just the thing I needed.

Evvie Drake Starts Over (Linda Holmes)

This book and I have been dancing around each other for a few years. When I was a bookseller a few years ago, it was one of the book club picks. I know that I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it didn’t seem like my cup of tea. But it ended up being May’s pick for my local book group so it feels like destiny.

 Evvie Drake Starts Over is about the titular Evvie Drake who, a year after her husband’s sudden death, is still trying to navigate her life as a widow in a town where everyone knows her. She takes in Dean Tenney, a former baseball player suffering the case of the yips (or the sudden inability to pitch after so long doing so) as a tenant in an apartment she has in her huge home. The two grow closer as the story goes on as they both find ways of healing and starting over (hence the title).

I was half-right in my initial assessment. I would’ve never picked this book up on my own and I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it wasn’t for the book group. The start of it was slow, bordering on meandering for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t a good book. It’s a very cozy read with characters that are quirky and flawed. The dialogue especially made these characters seem real and made me chuckle a few times.

This book is so unlike the books I count among my faves but I appreciate it for what it is. It’s a very cozy blanket of a book.

Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free (Sarah Weinman)

I try to read one nonfiction book every month (maybe even more when I really get in the mood). Scoundrel was last month’s.

The long subtitle tells you all you really need to know about this book but let me affix some names. In the 1960s, National Review founder, William F. Buckley Jr. begins a decades long correspondence with New Jersey death row inmate, Edgar Smith, who was convicted for the 1957 murder of Victoria Zielinski. During Smith’s time on death row, he worked to get himself a college education and expressed himself so eloquently in his letters that Buckley believed he couldn’t be responsible for the murder. After bringing him into contact with a Knopf book editor which brought on a passionate affair through letters.

This was a very bingeable history. The weaving of the correspondence in the narrative to make a cohesive story of this relationship makes it very engaging. Highly recommended if you’re into true crime!

We Are All Completely Fine (Daryl Gregory)

This is a quirky little horror novel.

A therapist brings together a group of people who endured supernatural trauma. Among their ranks is a retired monster hunter, a celebrity by way of being partially eaten by cannibals, and a maybe mass arsonist. Beneath the horror trimmings, this is a story about finding connection through similar experience. You can never predict what happens when volatile elements come together in one setting, but I loved the end result of this.

I don’t want to say too much more about this because it is a truly a book worth experiencing blind. And it’s a quick read too. No more than 200 pages.

I Thought I Was Cheated An Ending

There be spoilers, however, slight below. You’ve been warned!

I was tempted to be upset with All the Boys I’ve Loved Before when I finished it. The book just ends with no major resolution to love plot line.

After a good day of stewing, I took a step back and asked myself, ‘What was the point of the book?’ Not in a derisive way but in a general curious way. What did the author want to accomplish or what was supposed to shine through for the characters? Was the point for Lara Jean to end up with someone or was it something more than that. I reflected on how she changed over the course of the narrative and whether her main narrative still works without tying up this important knot.

Lara Jean lives in a world of fantasy. She has fanciful ideas of love and romance. She writes love letters to dispel crushes, locking her feeling away with pen and paper and a vintage hat box. But over the course of the narrative, her notions of love are complicated. When her deepest feelings are revealed to those boys of the past, they’re dredged up again. This is further complicated by her relationship with her older sister, Margot, the reality of hour relationships change and evolve, high school politics–the works! It’s through this whirlwind of events that she snags herself a ‘pretend’ boyfriend to ward off another. She gets to know her heart and the complexities therein.

The ending, in this context, makes sense. Lara Jean ends the book with a vague sadness. During the time of beginnings that is the New Year, she couldn’t explain why she was sad to her younger sister, Kitty. During the course of the narrative, Lara Jean emotionally matured. And that maturity leads to the inevitable truth that nothing ever lives up to fantasy. Doesn’t make it any less amazing or beautiful in its own way but it does disabuse you of notions of the perfect romance and happily ever after.

I used to tell myself that I just wasn’t into romance novels, movies, etc. But All the Boys I’ve Loved Before made me root for a romance that was fraught and made me sad that I didn’t get it. The book recognizes the bittersweetness of relationships, not just romantic ones. It made me crave more and that is the ultimate compliment I could give to a book, nay, any piece of media.