If you have survived 2020 without needing the emotional equivalent of open heart surgery, you are either a) a cold blob, like one of those squishy eye masks you put in the freezer if you’re fancy, or b) a sorcerer.
If you fall into the first category, I have no interest in knowing you, and you can go away.
If you fall into the second, I want to be your friend quite desperately, so please read this and then also email me or something.
Anyway. Currently I am in a much better mental health situation than I have been in (checks notes) any point in the last seven months, except for one thing.
Now I work for approximately 10-15 hours a day, and I have forgotten how to read.
I mean, probably. I haven’t exactly had time to pick up a book and check, but I imagine being 6 books behind on my Goodreads reading challenge is as good an exhibit of evidence as any.
Anyway again. In cases of extreme mental distress, I like to take the time to reread (or, if spontaneous illiteracy is on the menu, think about) my favorite fluffy / joyful / otherwise delightful and/or pleasant reads.
So let’s use this as an excuse to talk about my favorite fluffs this year!
Note: I am excluding books I rated five stars, in case I get my sh*t together enough to write about what I’ve five starred this year. We’ll see.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Everybody knows I love Emily Henry.
Like, it’s probably gotten to the point that people who don’t know anything about me or read my reviews know that. Probably the people who do all they can to avoid my crossing their digital path (and I imagine these people MUST exist, just judging by the number of John Green fans I’ve angered) know it too.
It’s just that true.
I love her and I shout it from the rooftops on the reg.
I was very, very, veryveryvery excited to hear she was doing a rom-com, way outside her usual genre of Young Adult Magical Realism About Funny Brave Prickly Young Women Who Have Magic Or Are Magic Or Are Uniquely Capable Of Seeing Magic, And Their Funny Fun Unique Bands Of Friends.
(My favorite genre.)
In fact I think I commented a concerning all-caps something or other on her Instagram announcement to convey the sheer breadth of my excitement, an event which I’m sure was mildly to severely frightening and yet she handled with grace and poise.
With each passing day I grow more convinced I am a concerning presence on the outskirts of Emily Henry’s online life.
But I digress.
As I write this, my Goodreads review of this book contains five updates. Yes. I am currently writing my review, and yet I have already written five small reviews. Again. Excitement.
This book was NICE. It is not my favorite Emily Henry book (a very tall order), but it does act as the first step in the execution of one of my most hoped-for dreams: An Emily Henry book in every genre. Which in turn is a step toward the pinnacle of my wishes: That all books be written by Emily Henry.
A step in the right direction.
This is often more Rom than Com. There’s a lot of Character Development and Relationship Arcs and Changing Life Paths here. It is overall a more serious book than that crazy-cute cover would imply.
Which is the perfect real-life execution of one of the themes of this book: Literature is no less literature-y for being written by women, or for being written for women, or for ending happily.
Books are books and books are good.
Especially if they’re written by Emily Henry.
Bottom line: ❤
Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears.
Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…
If this book was written, published, and read by Goodreads users the world over as part of an elaborate plan to teach me empathy, let me tell you: it worked.
I am usually on one side of the negative-rating equation, giving low ratings and rant reviews to people’s favorite books that they find inexplicable, presumably dropping to their knees and shouting WHYYYYYYY?! heavenward.
But oh, how the turntables…
Because now, I am reviewing a fairly low-rated book well, and I am SO CONFUSED.
Now I understand how you all feel when you see that I gave a Harry Potter book one star. (Well not really. But I’m closer to it than I was.)
I had to read negative reviews of this book to try to figure out why people didn’t like it, because I legitimately couldn’t fathom it. And while I don’t understand the urge to comment on said opposing review and refute every point (WHY DO PEOPLE DO THAT! WRITE YOUR OWN REVIEW!), at least I can say that at one time in my life I enjoyed a book and then immediately read a negative review of it.
Which, I must say, has always seemed like an unhinged move from my perspective. Hurting your own feelings on purpose? Couldn’t be me.
Anyway. A lot of people complained about our main character, Rhi, being too abrasive/hard-headed and too inclined to jump to conclusions, but I didn’t feel that way. I thought this was a realistic portrayal of people with trust issues, a woman who has been traumatized by a past relationship. This book didn’t choose to glorify the aftermath of such manipulation. Traumatized people can be hard to love and that’s a difficult thing to reckon with, but it’s true.
Some people took issue with the romance, but I liked it too. I liked the idea of two people being like “hey we can both be difficult so let’s just deal with it together and be in love!” That’s nice.
And I loved that Rhi had a tight-knit group of family and friends and coworkers who supported her, because that, besides potentially swoon-worthy reconciliations, is my favorite part of rom-coms.
Honestly, the only issues I really had with this were the kind of teeny-tiny observations that are part of my charm (by which I mean evidence that I have gotten completely out of control).
Here are some of those minuscule things, for your reading (dis)pleasure:
- Talk shows don’t have plastic single-use water bottles. They have water in branded mugs. The plastic of the bottle would be hell on a sound editor for god’s sake.
- Though Rhi’s love interest, whose name I honestly don’t remember, is a former professional football player, I at no point got the impression that the author is any kind of expert.
- WHY WOULD PORTLAND, OREGON HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM.
- The mechanics of the way people who are not our main characters treat each other – in terms of suddenly deciding when they will date and who and why and for how long – did not track.
But otherwise I found this to be a pleasant surprise.
Bottom line: A delight!
Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.
Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That’s when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.
When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she’s started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.
This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever… or is it?
^ Actual paparazzi photo of me reading this book.
This made me feel Grinch levels of Christmasy in the middle of summer!!!
Well, end of movie levels of Grinchness. Not the beginning. Although the beginning is basically me during the 11ish months of the year that include neither December nor this book, so honestly the comparison works.
THIS WAS JUST SO CUTE AND FUN.
Even though I read things called “YA contemporary romances” all the time, Romance is never actually what I want out of them. I want:
– COMING OF AGE
And I got the first and third one in a big way. So I am, for once, pleased. (Even if the friendships were with family members, which seems like kind of a cop-out, but whatever.)
I love big families and I love Christmas and I love food descriptions and I love hijinks, so I’m happy as a clam.
Even if the romance was meh.
Which it was.
Bottom line: A Christmas delight! (Yes, I read this in July. What about it???)
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?
• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.
Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.
But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…
This is the book equivalent of a Double Stuf Oreo. (This is not a typo – for reasons unknowable, the frosting-like contents of an Oreo are branded as “stuf.” With one F. Which somehow makes the already-gross idea of ingesting something as vaguely and euphemistically named as “stuff” even grosser.)
Anyway, it takes an already good thing (an Oreo, or a romance novel) and takes the thing that makes it good (the aforementioned Stuf, or the romance novel stuff I will discuss later), and gives you more of it.
I can’t believe it exists, I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to exist in a world in which it exists, and yet I am delighted that these things are true.
There is a lot of good stuff between these pages, just as there is a lot of good Stuf between Double Stuf Oreo cookies.
I mean, the REPRESENTATION here. The EFFORTLESSNESS of that representation.
The depiction of chronic pain, which is not happily ever after’d away, nor is it ignored when it’s not convenient to the plot!
Our protagonist, who is fat and black and both of these things are part of the fact that she is beautiful!
Our hero, who is recovering from an abusive relationship and not magically free of side effects from it!
This is just so representative of so many marginalized identities and so effortlessly good at it. It makes you wonder why more books can’t be like this.
That being said…
It took me a REALLY long time to get into this story. By “a really long time,” I mean at legitimately the 75% mark. I didn’t feel invested until there were less than a hundred pages to go, but I eventually felt semi-invested and that’s what counts!!
Yes, maybe I didn’t start rooting for this couple to get together until Drama Drove Them Apart but still. Who’s to say if that isn’t just because of what’s wrong with me as a person? The best parts of every romance are the Suffering Will They Won’t They parts. Give me season 2 Jim and Pam flirtation over season 4 Jim and Pam relationship any day.
Another good thing about this romance and a bad thing about me when it comes to romance: I am incredibly awkward and tend to cringe at any smut scene, but this was well done so thank you to the author for rescuing me from myself on this one.
I just want every book to have the cream-to-cookie ratio that this book had. (Did I lose the metaphor?)
Bottom line: This book is so miraculous it made me talk too much about Oreos and in doing so apparently lose my mind!!!
In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. Everyone in town, even her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and Evvie doesn’t correct them.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend, is wrestling with what miserable athletes living out their worst nightmares call the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future.
When he moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts—the friendships they’ve damaged, the secrets they’ve kept—but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance—up until the last out.
There are some things books just love to call themselves.
“WRENCHING,” a book’s front cover will yell, and say it’s a quote from like the Delaware Post-Tribune or the Huntington Park Journal or the Winding River Bend Rural Paper. “IMMERSIVE,” shouts a glorified neighborhood book club. “UNPUTDOWNABLE,” according to a woman with a lot of Instagram followers.
I very rarely agree with these influencers or made-up sounding publications. It is an infrequent occurrence that I put down a book and immediately begin referring to it in intense one-word statements.
I did not do anything of the kind upon finishing this book, but there are two Book Marketing’s Greatest Hits terms that I would ascribe to this book:
This was a really good read. So good it cursed my brain and now I will have to live out my days speaking like the faux-Reese Witherspoon who writes her book marketing copy, my words forever taking up precious space that could be devoted to pretty pictures or actual, you know, synopses.
But I’ll try to stop talking about all my irritations with the idea of blurbs and give actual reviewing a try.
I really miss reading this.
It was half feel-good fiction, half-romance, and while I kinda wish it’d been one or the other…I’m not that mad.
Because both halves were – sigh – A DELIGHT. (Lift your curse from me, O The Oprah Magazine!!!)
In another rare occurrence, I liked these characters a lot. I consider it a stroke of luck if I enjoy so much as a single character in any book, so finding one in which I like multiples??? Nothing short of a miracle, my dear boy.
Bottom line: In conclusion, I will henceforth be reading everything Linda Holmes writes, and also please let me live inside this book thank you.
Have you read any of these books? What’s your favorite fluffy read?