Book Reviews · Books

Since we’re staying in, let’s discuss Fiction

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Books Collection

On the upside of this pandemic, staying home on most nights and weekends have apportioned me a greater amount of time for books, my everlasting first love. My bedside book pile has grown substantially, and so have my Amazon and Book Depository wish-lists. Hits and misses aside, several titles struck a chord with me, and are either rated 4 or 5 stars on my list.

Has Covid-19 altered your reading patterns? What are some books you absolutely loved or hated? I’ve enjoyed discussing books with friends over WhatsApp, sharing titles we love, and trawling Goodreads for recommendations. To some of us, the pandemic offers a chance at relief of overexerted attention spans, and the opportunity to slow down and look inward. Over the past year, I’ve taken the opportunity to read more books with renewed gusto.

In no particular order, here are 13 Memorable Titles I’ve read this year:

TITLEAUTHOR
Girl, Woman, OtherBernadine Evaristo
The Midnight LibraryMatt Haig
In the Dream HouseCarmen Maria Machado
The Paris DressmakerKristy Cambron
LaterStephen King
A Man Called OveFredrik Backman
Writers and LoversLily King
In Five YearsRebecca Serle
The Dinner ListRebecca Serle
It Ends with UsColleen Hoover
Beach Read Emily Henry
The Giver of StarsJojo Moyes
The Guest ListLucy Foley

How many have you read?

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Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernadine Evaristo

★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Bernadine Evaristo Girl Woman Other

This lingered on my reading list since Obama shared his favorite books of 2019. This year, I finally got a physical copy from a local bookstore.

I love how Bernadine Evaristo weaved the lives of 12 British black women from different social classes, with disparate gender preferences and economic backgrounds, into a sweeping tale told from their varying perspectives. Underlying these panoramic tales of growing up in pre-dominantly white English neighborhoods is the central theme of being ostracized, singled out and labelled for being darker skinned than everyone else. Girl, Woman, Other was quite a feat, and so deserving of the Man Booker Prize 2019.

It’s a witty read, each chapter broken into multiple digestible blocks of narrative. I kept going at it every night for 4 nights and completed it over the weekend. Glad to have picked this up. As Asians living in the 21st Century Singapore, I grew up in a multi-racial society that have fought its way through barriers to racial equality. This is a reminder to always be sensitive and open to other cultural practices, and as it demonstrates how easy it is to forget to be inclusive.

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The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Matt Haig The Midnight Library

Finished in two sittings, I’ve since listed all of Matt Haig’s books on my to-read list. Couldn’t put this down once I delved into the all of Nora’s possible lives with each choice she had made, or didn’t.

The Midnight Library is one book that resonated with me for a long time. I felt like I needed to read this at this point. And I wanted to re-read everything the moment I turned the last page. Sometimes we’re indeed too harsh on ourselves and we fail to see the good that we’re bringing to this world. And we shortchange ourselves from what could have been, if only we were just a tad more confident, and bold in our decisions.

Leaving one of many favourite lines from the book as an emphasis and a note to self:

“But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.”

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In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado

★★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Carmen Maria Machado In the Dreamhouse

Chanced upon this book at a bookstore, and fell in love with the author’s choice of an opening quote:

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” ― Zora Neale Hurston

The narrative revolves around a fictitious dream house which related to the author’s romantic years with her abusive girlfriend. This is a true story. She explores thematically difficult topics with narrative tropes, quotes, embedded classical themes, lending voice to those who’ve believed their suffering was unique and hence compelled into silence. Or have simply not been protected in the eyes of law.

Truly enjoyed the narrative style of In the Dream House by Carmen Machado, and most definitely would open my copy again for a second reading.

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The Paris Dressmaker
by Kristy Cambron

★★★★☆

Based on true accounts of how Parisiennes resisted the Nazi occupation in World War II—from fashion houses to the city streets – The Paris Dressmaker paints an incredible tale of courageous woman who risked their lives to work for the La Resistance. In particular, Lily de Laurent worked her skills as a dressmaker to infiltrate the Nazi elite. After all, she and her friend Amelie were dressmakers for the La Maison Chanel before businesses were shut due to war. The story alludes to Madame Coco Chanel’s work as a Nazi spy. I’ve been eyeing a book solely dedicated to her reimagined hidden life during the Nazi occupation based on recently unearthed wartime files (The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel).

Another woman, Sandrine Pacquet fought to preserve the arts and culture of pre-war France, bravely cataloguing works of art bound for the Führer’s Berlin, when one day she unpacks a gorgeous Chanel gown with cryptic messages sown into its seams, which may reveal why Madame Chanel closed her business and was not seen amongst the elites.

While I didn’t fancy how chronological timelines were jumbled, the novel unveiled the final scenes like heavy curtains across a theatrical stage. The war theme hung heavy. Relationships amongst prevailing characters brought back snitches of normalcy. Whilst purely fictional, it’s a great reveal of Parisienne life during WWII. Enough to compel me to pick up future new releases by Kristy Cambron.

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Later
by Stephen King

★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Stephen King Later

Stephen King does not disappoint, he delivers a good old riveting horror story in first person, all while building a solid story on his main character and those revolving around him. I liked how King worked with multiple controversial themes in this one (but I shall not raise any spoilers).

Jamie Conklin was born with an extraordinary ability to see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. As a result, an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave. This is a supernatural story, and in Stephen King’s universe, evil wears many faces and comes in many forms.

Unlike the depth and length of ‘IT’, I liked how Later is short and sweet, but at the end I’m left wondering how Jamie truly turned out after all those years. Does he end up like Uncle Harry? Does he grow out of his unnatural ability? Hopefully King comes up with a sequel to this one, like ‘Doctor Sleep’ to his original ‘The Shining’.

As soon as he published this crime novel, I purchased the physical copy. His writing has only gotten more terrifying, and more concise over the years.

Always and truly a Stephen King fan.

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A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

★★★★

A Man Called Ove is a heartwarming tale of life’s fragilities, inevitable ups and downs, and a reminder to appreciate the littlest things in life.

I grew to love the grumpy man called Ove. Fredrik Backman has captured what the strength of human bonds can do to uplift a community and its individuals. At the start of the novel, a chatty young foreign couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door to Ove with much drama and fanfare. Ove is 59-years-old, perceived to be the bitter neighbor from hell, and really just wants to be left alone to commit suicide. He had just lost his wife – his best friend and love of his life – as well as his lifelong career. As the narrative progresses, we learn about Sonja (his wife) and Ove’s backstory, which interweaves with the present-day Ove and his interactions with the boisterous next-door family. I laughed and teared a lot in the 2 days I took to reach the final page.

Lots of lines were highlighted on my Kindle, and I especially loved this one:

“To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one’s own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That’s it, all the little secrets that make it your home.” 

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Writers and Lovers
by Lily King

★★★★☆

Books about struggling writers are my weakness. Writers and Lovers by Lily King was on my wish-list since it came out as a new release and completely lives up to the hype.

Set in 1997 Boston, the narrative follows a writer through grief, transition, romance, and letting go. I admired Casey for sticking to her writing craft despite a load of debt and bills, never compromising on her passion. At 31, she waits tables and rents a crappy flat, whilst working on a novel that’s been in progress for 6 years. Meanwhile all of her artsy friends have abandoned their creative ambitions for financial fulfilment.

Does she finally carve out a creative career? Perhaps. But the narrative emphasizes on the journey of growth, not the destination. Casey triumphs through heartbreak, disillusionment and the sudden death of a loved one. She finds fulfilment in building a life around her craft, at her own pace. This was something I needed at this point, I believe many will recognize bits of Casey in ourselves.

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In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle

★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Rebecca Serle In Five Years

In Five Years was a new release on Book Depository and no regrets on getting a physical copy with its gorgeous front cover. Definitely will be picking this back up as a bedside comfort read, or whenever I need a good cry.

The author crafted a cliffhanger right from the start. Dannie Kohan wakes up in a reality that is five years away (December 15, 2025), in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, sleeping beside a different man. Meanwhile back in 2020, she had just accepted her dream job, and a marriage proposal from her then boyfriend. She almost writes this vision off, until she meets this very same man. I was waiting for Dannie’s dream to become a reality along the way, but the amount of twists and turns gave the story so much more depth that it’s not just a chick-lit romance or typical love story. We’re introduced to the rest of the cast, her best friend Bella, her newly-minted fiancé, and the man in her vision.

Gave it a five stars because I loved all the characters in the story, although I wished the author revealed more about the man in her vision (Aaron/Greg). Hopefully this gets picked up and made into a movie! Am definitely looking forward to future releases by Rebecca Serle.

I teared up at one of my favorite lines in this:

“You mistake love. You think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn’t. It’s the only thing that does not need to become at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn’t require a future.” 

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The Dinner List
by Rebecca Serle

★★★★☆

If you could invite any five people – alive or dead – to a sit-down dinner, who would be on your list?

Based on this premise, Sabby found her best friend, three significant people from her past, including her ex-boyfriend Tobias, as well as Audrey Hepburn, at her 30th birthday dinner.

Was compelled to explore more of Rebecca Serle’s books after reading ‘In Five Years’, and this was another tear-jerker. The dinner progresses charmingly with sparkling wine, appetizers, delectable main courses, and sees the group through difficult conversations in order to bring about closure. Sabby knew she could leave no stones unturned with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Reality returns once the dinner ends, and the dead goes back to being dead.

I wished she delved deeper into the main couple (Sabby and Tobias) in the immediate present, instead of lingering on throwbacks in her storytelling. I found myself wondering about the dynamics between the couple, having been through the wringer. Nonetheless I fully recommend The Dinner List to anyone looking to read an alternative kind of romance lit, that explores true familial and romantic relationships via love, loss and redemption. This was written prior to In Five Years, and Rebecca Serle’s depth of writing is truly captivating.

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It Ends With Us
by Colleen Hoover

★★★★★

ViktoriaJean Fiction - Colleen Hoover It Ends With Us

A hardcopy of It Ends With Us was on my shelf for months before I finally cleared enough backlog to start on it. I stared at its gorgeous floral book jacket every night, wishing I could thumb through the pages right away.

This story of Lily Bloom did not disappoint. The topic of abuse was delved into with such depth that I was hooked. Took me 2 whole weekend days with my face glued to the pages to reach its final revelation (who did she end up with, or perhaps neither) and when the book ended, I love (and loathe some of) the characters that sprung alive within those pages. The narrative delivers many tear-jerking and uplifting moments, that this was literally an emotional roller coaster ride.

Watched Colleen Hoover’s Instagram live the other day, and she was a guest on Justin Baldoni’s page. Guess which book is going to be made into a series/movie?? Yes this one! I’m now super excited and looking forward to who will be acting as Ryle Kincaid and Atlas Corrigan.

Can’t contain my excitement, and this is how emotionally invested I was!

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Beach Read
by Emily Henry

★★★★☆

Was expecting Beach Read to be a rather light read based on the fun cover, but this turned out to be of the most enjoyable ‘Women’ s Fiction’ novels I’ve read this year. Emily Henry writes with wit, and her characters come alive. Banter between Gus and January were dynamic and flirty. As expected of the romance between two writers, there are emotional roller coasters. But not without eventually inspiring one another to produce works that go beyond her usual genres. This definitely struck a great balance between contemporary fiction and chick-lit.

Read this on my Kindle, and I’d highlighted so much text. Like this one:

“And that was the moment I realized: when the world felt dark and scary, love could whisk you off to go dancing; laughter could take some of the pain away; beauty could punch holes in your fear. I decided then that my life would be full of all three.”

Looking forward to reading Emily Henry’s new release: People We Meet On Vacation (when I get my hands on it)!

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The Giver of Stars
by Jojo Moyes

★★★★☆

I was a fan of Jojo Moye’s Me Before You, and The Giver of Stars certainly surpassed expectations. Set in small-town Kentucky during the Depression-era, it is based on a true story rooted in America’s past – the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

This hits a spot for books on sharing of libraries in places where books aren’t accessible. Courageous women defying social norms to deliver these books on horseback, across mountainous ranges. Commitment to changing lives of the poor and uneducated with access to texts. Education and economic opportunities were scarce for Appalachians in the 1930s. According to historical records, by 1936, packhorse librarians served 50,000 families.

Alice Wright joins as a horseback librarian to escape her marital family – her demeaning husband and overbearing father-in-law, and discovers a new family amongst the community of women horseback riders. As we read about Alice’s transformation from an outcasted immigrant (having hailed from England), to a pillar and role model of the women, I’m moved by her sheer determination. Everything about this narrative is uplifting. Jojo Moyes also proves that she can deliver romance just as well within historical fiction.

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The Guest List
by Lucy Foley

★★★★☆

This fast-paced murder mystery ties up all the different characters eventually so when the curtain falls, and the motive and intent are revealed, I could only wonder why I did not see the link sooner in the story. The Guest List tells a murder mystery beginning with a startling discovery of a dead body at a remote wedding party on an island off the coast of Ireland. We don’t learn about who died, and who killed who, until the very end.

The story progresses from different perspectives – the bride, the best man, the bridesmaid, the wedding planner – giving us nuggets of clues and clever deception. The golden couple is a handsome and charming, a rising television star, and a smart, ambitious, magazine publisher. Who had a thing against them? Many possible murder intents are revealed, but Lucy Foley hides the most important clues.

Lounged at my balcony for 2 days and couldn’t put this down, determined to solve the whodunnit. But I was wrong.

Thoroughly enjoyed this hearty murder thriller, and appreciated the minimal gore detail. Lucy Foley is truly well-deserving of Goodreads’ Choice Awards Best Mystery and Thriller of 2020!

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What’s your take? Purchased physical and Kindle copies of all these books, and all opinions here are truly my own. I’m cracking open new book spines this weekend (The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue) as well as jumping into some good non-fiction. Hope this weekend is a fulfilling one for all!

I do post regularly on Goodreads – feel free to be my friend so we can mutually stalk our reading habits.

Cheers,
XOXO
Jean

2 thoughts on “Since we’re staying in, let’s discuss Fiction

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