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A Review of Holiday Reads

A year into my first full-time job and I am finally able to appreciate a holiday andthe separation from everyday life it provides. It seems no matter how much you love your job - once you are an adult your brain is programmed to think about getting to the next holiday. It’s like I just need to make it to the Christmas break and then it's only three weeks of work until annual leave and then after that it's two months until Easter and then… there’ll be a public holiday soon, surely?

And although physically and mentally I was unduly in need of a holiday, I had a desire to make sure my time was spent somewhat productively. So naturally, I decided to pack 10 books to try and read in 10 days on holiday. And when I was not reading, I decided I would dedicate time to writing my novel. It is early days on my holidays as I write this piece,I am starting this piece and I can already tell you confidently that writing as many words as possible while reading 10 books is unequivocally ambitious. I love creating and consuming but you cannot do both at once.

So this article basically follows my attempts at writing 20,000 words and reading 10 books across my holiday in Townsville.

Day Zero/One - Book Lovers by Emily Henry

I am a 25 year old independent almost-adult and yet it's 5am on the day of my flight and I cannot sleep. I had no intention of bringing Emily Henry’s Book Lovers which I had started the weekend before I went away. However, my flight was at 5pm, it was currently 5am and I had the day for annual leave. Technically, I still had an appearance to make at work to be “moral support” in a particularly interesting case. I am afraid only sociopaths go to work on their days off when they work in my industry.

I was able to finish reading Book Lovers by 7am.

Book Lovers is Emily Henry’s third novel. I have only read one of Henry’s books previously, You And Me On Vacation and I wasn’t sure if I wouldn’t return to another one of her books so soon. But here I am.

It follows Nora Stephens, an ambitious literary agent who is known by her clients and co-workers as “the shark.” She clashes with bestselling editor, Charlie Lastra, who in the first chapter refuses to work on Nora’s best client, Dusty’s, new book. Their paths cross when Nora with her fun-loving young sister take a trip to Sunshine Falls in North Carolina, where one of Dusty’s books are set. They go to Sunshine Falls for some sister bonding before Libby gives birth to her third child. However, Nora happens to run into none other than editor Charlie.

Perhaps I am a cynic because I do not enjoy romance novels. When there is little to no drama in a plot I see potential. But as far as romance novels go, I would recommend this one to my romance novel loving friends because I think it has all the things romance novel readers want. The characters, Nora and Charlie, are well fleshed out - and while I suspect Henry is trying to write characters that do not fall into tropes, I feel that attempting to thwart tropes is a trope in itself. Nevertheless, the budding romance between the two characters was enjoyable to follow although at times, I found the dialogue verging on cringe (but if cringe is an element of romance novels then there’s an abundance of it). The sex scenes were well written except I always find it awkward when writers make sure its clear to the audience that their characters are having safe sex. It was also refreshing to have perhaps a realistic narrator in the sense that Nora really cared and prioritised her career. I do wish that supporting characters such as Libby had a bit more depth instead of falling into the trap of being the little sibling who needs help and speaks in baby talk (“sissy”).

I was also blindsided but pleasantly surprised by the twist. Although I suspect it is a common twist in romance novels . And because I do not enjoy romance novels but happily finished this one I give it 3 stars. I’ll probably go read the last one of Henry’s too.

Between making an appearance at court, dropping my keys off at my parents house and juggling 10 books between carry-on and checked bags to keep my luggage underweight, I did not do any writing while reading this novel : 0 words written.

Day One/Two - Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood

I had being intrigued about this book since I spotted it as a recommendations at my local Readings before Christmas. Kenwood is a Melbourne-based YA author and Unnecessary Drama is her second book. Since it was one of the bigger sized books of the books coming on holiday, I decided it would come in my carry-on so I could hide the weight if needed from vigilant flight attendants (bringing 10 books on holiday adds significant weight to luggage).

My intrigue for this book is two-fold: (1) it is a very satisfying cover and a promising concept. I love the idea of a book based in that first year out of home dealing with being an almost adult and balancing finances, share houses and uni. (2) As someone who would one day like to crack into the YA market in Melbourne, I am always keen to see what’s out there. So Brooke is an eighteen year old who is moving out of a small town and into a share house in Melbourne. It turns out one of her new housemates is one of her nemesis’s from high school.

Unfortunately, the book fell short of its potential.

I am aware that I am no longer technically in the audience of YA fiction. However, I would place the vocabulary of this novel towards the lower end of YA fiction. Which unfortunately means that perhaps for audiences for which this book may most relate (16-18 year old) it may fall a little flat. The characters were distinct and well-enough developed in personalities, although at times what they were seeking to achieve would be unclear. An example not from this book would be when a character claims to love the environment, and then does something to destroy it, without it being ironic.

Brooke is an at times intense narrator, being neurotic and all, but I think she’s also quite relatable and for that, we are okay being with her throughout the book. However, the potential for the trial and tribulations of Brooke living in a share house for the first time ever is lost in favour of following her dating life. For example, anyone out of home would know that is not a cheap endeavour. We very rarely hear Brooke speak about money, except for when she picks a restaurant for dinner with her Dad. We see her put together a charcuterie board and go to karaoke with her friends. Girl, that shit any cheap. I would have loved to see Brooke try to balance having legitimate expenses for there first time of her life with a part-time job. And then the part-time job could lead into trying to balance university life. For someone who is so fastidious, I also would have enjoyed more clashing with her housemates who either objectively or by Brooke’s standards are really messy.

In this same vein, for an economics student, Brooke talks a lot about how she wants to be a writer. Except her writing really takes a backseat throughout a lot of the novel. Regardless, I do enjoy all the scenes with the writing tutor and she gives some good advice.

The scenes with the bigger friendship group as the story develops are also enjoyable as the group has good chemistry. The romance is cringey but look - if we assume this book is written for the 12-14 year olds of the YA bracket then they are going to love a boy who loves Damon Salvatore as much as my 13 year old self would have.

I read a lot of this book on the plane but when I wasn’t reading, I was trying to write so 1700 words written.

And so my rating is 2.5 stars. My rating is also because I am 25 and outside of the age bracket. I would however, recommend it to any Type-A gal like myself who is under 15 and in that division I would give it 3.5 stars.

Day Two-Four - The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

I love John Green. I love how he treats YA readers like adults and while he endlessly uses beautiful and cheesy metaphors I don’t mind because they are awfully nostalgic. Nostalgia is the antidote to cringe. And so when I heard he had written a non-fiction book which basically analysed human creations with anecdotes and metaphors and gave them a review I was awfully excited. I was also intrigued to learn this was written in a time when Green was recovering from vertigo - something I had battled with in recent months.

I really enjoyed it. But I do acknowledge that it may not be for everyone - you probably have to (a) love John Green because it is slightly autobiographical (b) love nostalgia, metaphors and other literary devices and (c) have some interest in human history and obscure facts. I relished in learning about Velociraptors and Hayley’s Comet and Dr Pepper (the only soda which doesn’t taste like its name). The chapters were also bitesized and made it easy to pick up and down in between doing holiday things - namely eating. The reviews provided scope for reflection and I liked the unconventional use of a review to convey thoughts for the future. I give it 4 stars.

In terms of writing, I started a new chapter which was a big development because I wrote myself into a corner. But I also wanted the character to feel like they were in a corner so perhaps that’s a good thing.. 1745 words.

Day Four - Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Every now and then I read a book that is so beautifully written and endearing in its storytelling that I am afraid to finish it. Honeybee was one of these books. I had read the first 50 pages in December and loved it dearly but wanted to take my time. And in wanting to prolong the story I had to lend on my copy to my Aunt who read it twice in two weeks. Thankfully, I had it back in time for the holiday. Today was a quiet one and left plenty of opportunity to read. I started it at 7am and was done by 12pm with a brief shopping break.

Silvey is the author of best-selling novel, Jasper Jones. Like its predecessor, Honeybee is set in and around Perth. It follows fourteen year old adolescent Sam Watson and starts as he is contemplating suicide by jumping off a bridge. It is here he meets widower, Vic who is considering doing the same thing. It is here that the two begin an unlikely friendship and saving each other in more ways than one.

The friendships Sam forges with Vic, his new neighbour Aggie and Bella Fitzgerald are genuinely sweet and refreshing - none of the characters feel like archetypes but fully crafted individuals. And the way Silvey explains kindness and cruelty through Sam is truly effective.

My only criticism - and this may be driven by the fact I finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara earlier this month, is that I wish the story was longer. Silvey writes in a beautifully simple yet effective way and stylistically reminds me awfully of S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders. I think the story genuinely could have benefitted from its length, but it in no means substantially detracts from the novel. Sam’s story is endearing. You want the best for them, and you want to ride the highs and lows with them.

I do acknowledge Sam’s experiences are not the lived experiences of the author. And for that I also cannot comment on the portrayal, accuracy or experiences of Sam.

I note no writing was done because I basically could not put this book down.

I give Honeybee 4.5 stars and warning to all my friends they will be receiving if for their birthday or Christmas (some already have).

Day Four-Five If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha has been on my radar for a long time since it was recommended on Shameless Podcast. And so I was very excited to order it in preparation for the holiday. A stark statistic emerges from South Korea in that one in three women under the age of 30 are thought to have elected to have plastic surgery. It presents a world foreign to my own which is cut-throat and provides a sense of empathy to the four women we follow who must navigate this world which prefaces a preference for artificial beauty.

The chapters alternate between four characters who live in the same office-tell: Ara, is a mute hairdresser who is obsessed with a K-popstar and lives with trauma from an assault when she was younger. Across the hall lives Kyuri, a “salon girl”, who is well paid yet in debt from her plastic surgery and endless skin and beauty treatments. Her roommate is Miho, a natural beauty and artist who won a scholarship to study in the US which resulted in her infiltrating a wealthy Korean crowd. On the level below the girls is Wonna, a married woman who has dreamed of having a child for a longtime but is also devastated by the fact that she cannot afford a child. While not a dedicated narrator, Ara’s roommate Sujin, also features throughout the book and spends its duration recovering from a complex jaw shaping surgery.

Being introduced to the world of plastic surgery, wealth, prostitution and cosmetic surgery was simultaneously horrifying and fascinating. Being a read under 300 pages made it difficult to put it down. However, by alternating perspectives by chapter and being such a short book, Cha perhaps missed the opportunity to go into greater detail of each of the characters experiences and storylines explored. And I think in this, we were unable to connect to all of the characters and to feel their struggles in such a competitive and consumerist world.

The social commentary of the book, its subject matter and the diverse in personality characters make the book a worthy read and topic of discussion. For that I give If I Had Your Face 3.75 stars.

If you haven’t noticed I’ve read like 3 novels in 24 hours - the whole “writing business” is failing. No further words written


Day Five/Six - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is the second book of Taylor Jenkins Reid that I am reading and the expectations were high. I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of Daisy Jones and the Six and had seen The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo everywhere. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo follows the story of the elusive actress Evelyn Hugo - who has largely avoided interviews and is renowned for her acting career and seven marriages. Like Daisy Jones and the Six, this novel takes a slightly unconventional structure by dividing the chapters between Evelyn and the writer, Monique, she plucked out of obscurity to interview her.

Although it was published back in 2017, it seems to be thriving today courtesy of social media. And I can understand why. I am sorry but since it’s been 5 years, I think the statute of limitations has passed such that I can say the true love story in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is of a queer romance. The representation embodied by many of the central characters and the historical pressures they faced is really interesting.

The intrigue of why Evelyn had chosen Monique of all journalists to tell her story was a good page turner - although I dreaded the chapters that were from Monique’s perspective. She wasn’t particularly fleshed out and so I found it difficult to emphasise with her divorce or “lack of togetherness.” Evelyn by contrast was a fascinating and well developed character, clearly drawing from influences like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. While she was not necessarily likeable, these tend make the best types of characters.

While I would not describe the novel as groundbreaking, it is very enjoyable and a satisfying read in light of its representation. For that I give it 3.5 stars.

Technically, I wrote an awful lot of words while reading this book. The only thing was it was for this article - so 1745 words + 2500 words for this review.

Day Six/Seven - Emotional Female by Yumiko Kadota

Next on my list is Emotional Female by Yumiko Kadota. Emotional Female is a memoir that chronicles Kadota’s dream of becoming a surgeon in the Australian Public Health System. Kadota is presented as the model student and doctor in training - she takes every opportunity she can to learn and achieve her dream of being a plastic surgeon. Yet throughout her time in the medical system she experiences sexism and discrimination - often from her colleagues and superiors. The memoir also accounts Kadotas decision to leave the industry after suffering from severe burnout and exhaustion and her subsequent recovery.

As someone with no experience or understanding of the medical world, I found it fascinating to read about the demands and responsibilities borne by doctors in training and those in the early years of their careers. I also have a new profound respect for those in the public health system and the pressures they endure. I found it captivating to be put into Kadota’s shoes and experience what a day on duty would feel like for a registrar. I really hope that Kadota’s candidness can enact change and a greater emphasis on the mental health of people working in the medical industry. As someone working in law, I tended to think reading this that my own industry had made significant leaps forward in recent years and hope that the medical industry, especially for females, is heading in the same direction.

I devoured this read and would recommend it to any working profession - I give it 4 stars.

In terms of writing, the last three days have been heavy on holiday content (yay Magnetic Island) and an ill-timed bout of bronchitis. Nevertheless, I was feeling inspired to work on some out of place chapters I’d written previously and polished them up - so I have now written approximately 4,000 words of my novel.

Day Seven - Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow came onto my radar out of no where and all at once. While it is technically Zevin’s tenth novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow has been everywhere in the mainstream, constituting a New York Times Best Seller and being declared Amazon’s book of 2022. It also resulted in a bidding war that was won by Paramount Pictures at $2 million for the rights to turn the book into a movie. The story follows two friends, Sam Masur, and Sadie Green, as they run into each other after years of separation. Meeting initially in a hospital games room and bonding over Super Mario Bros, it is the pairs love of games that reunite them again. As college students they decide to embark on creating their own video game which propels the duo into stardom.

I loved the book and devoured it in a day which is no easy feat when you see the size of it (over 400 pages and by far the biggest book I took on this trip). I myself am a fan of the nostalgic games from my childhood - from Sims to Crash Bandicoot. I still collect PS1 and PS2 games. And I think it was my appreciation of video games which partially contributed to my love of this book. I loved at times how meta it became- one chapter explored the concept of NPCS (that’s Non-Playable Characters to y’all non Sims players) and another which entirely excited in a video game. I could however, see how it may deter readers who do not come with the same experiences or appreciations. I would also say Zevin’s approach to language and writing is perhaps different from the mainstream. And such, may also deter some readers.

The main characters, Sadie and Sam, provide a compelling story. In some ways it is a love story - but never in the same way or at the same time. And at times, especially when the fame hits in, you will want to pull your hair out from some of their choices. But I think this adds an element of humanness to them. And it is their relationship with Marx that at times draws them together and humanises them and their choices. One of my genuine criticisms would be the length - I think the book could realistically shave off about 100 pages and be even more succinct and enjoyable.

I give this one 4 stars and hope I can appeal to my non-gaming friends to read it.

I did a little bit but no a lot of writing during this day. I developed an intense interest in writing about the Australian Institute of Sport and spent an awful lot of time researching it. Perhaps this was too much time because it was only for half a page of work. Such is life - 4,250 words written on holiday excluding this review.

Day Eight - Verity by Colleen Hoover

It’s my last full day of holidays and Verity by Colleen Hoover is my next pick. After reading the It Ends With Us series, I’d gotten a copy of Verity because I’d seen online it had the same page-turner quality. While I mostly enjoyed It Ends With Us, I felt conflicted about the sequel as its existence draws from fan service. I believe part of leaving books to the readers is letting them decide the legacy that prevails beyond its final pages. As I’d find out, a similar “bonus chapter” had been made for Verity.

Verity is about a financially struggling writer, Lowen Ashleigh, who is offered the job of a lifetime; finishing the series of the esteemed Verity Crawford who was in a car accident that left her unable to fulfil her contract. As Lowen sorts through Verity’s office she comes across an unpublished autobiography written by Verity that contains some unspeakable and disturbing admissions. In the process of writing and reading this manuscript, Lowen starts to fall for Verity’s husband Jeremy.

Hoover is not technical in her writing but she knows how to get you hooked. Apart from a brief intermission where I went to the gym, I could not put this book down. Verity’s admissions had me desperate for more, and I felt scared at times for Lowen. And the twists at the end got me good. If you like Gone Girl then I think this would be a similarly satisfying read.

My criticisms would be that as this is my second round of a Hoover book/series, I can see problematic male characters tend to dominant the pages (Atlas is an exception). Sometimes I wish the female protagonists would show more agency. But also I’ve been there (who hasn’t?). I recently learned that Colleen Hoover has never had her heartbroken and I find that to be a really fascinating fact when reading her novels.

I give Verity 3.75 stars. It’s a good holiday read if pure romance is not your thing. I am also take it or leave it on the bonus chapter but think anyone who reads Verity will want to read it for what becomes an obvious reason.

My laptop had a meltdown so we are finishing our novel writing on having written approximately 5000 words on holiday.

Special Mentions Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Final Girls by Riley Sager

Special mentions to the following two books I ran out of time to read on holiday but read as soon as I could when I was home:

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid makes a reappearance with her 2021 book Malibu Rising. I didn’t realise when I ordered this one that it had connections to Daisy Jones and The Six and the Seven Husbands of Everlyn Hugo. Set in the same universe of historical Hollywood, these three books appear to be weaved together by the character of Mick Riva. He was Evelyn Hugo’s third and briefest husband, and as a singer, made a cameo in Daisy Jones and The Six. In Malibu Rising, he is the deadbeat Dad of four siblings who were raised by his first wife June. The four siblings, began to throw an end of Summer party and by 1983, they are all almost famous in their own right and the party is held in the eldest, Nina’s Malibu Mansion.

I found the main four siblings to be quite fleshed out with the exception of the second eldest, Jay, who at time perhaps thought a little too much like his Dad. Particular standouts were Hud, the third eldest and half sibling of the others, who was endearingly gentle; and Kat, the youngest trying to establish herself in light of her famous model and caretaking older sister, Nina.

My main criticism would be that the second part of the book, which focuses exclusively on the party, is poorly executed. There are lots of bite sized chapters introducing us to party guests that I personally didn’t really care about. The consequence of the short insights into these background characters results in almost stereotypical and shallow introductions. I also think the late introduction of Casey is wholly unnecessary and perhaps detracts from some of the most important scenes in the book.

In the sense of a holiday read it was an easy turn pager but my least favourite Taylor Jenkins Reid novel read - so 2.75 stars.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

I purchased this book with 1. No idea who Riley Sager is and 2. Purely on its title which I hoped meant it would be getting seriously Meta. The Final Girl is a trope which emerged in the 90’s which refers to the female sole survivor in horror films who is often “morally superior” to her decimated companions. Whether the Final Girl gets to kill the killer herself or is saved by someone else is a matter of the movie. Once I actually sat down with the book and looked into the author I learned Riley Sager was a pen name and the third name he had published books under. In the literary world this is what we call a red flag.

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, one of the most recently anointed “final girl” after being the sole survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacres 10 years prior. Her life is basically torn apart when fellow “final girl”, Lisa, has supposedly committed suicide. Sam, the other “final girl” who has been absent from the media since surviving her encounter with the “Sack Man” that gave her her namesake, unexpectedly turns up in Quincy’s life to see how she is coping being a “final girl.” When it’s revealed that Lisa was actually murdered, Quincy embarks on a deep dive to work out who is responsible, and whether she is next.

It took me quite some time to get into the book. There was an awful amount of baking in the first half. But once things started unraveling I was keen to devour it. I haven’t read a lot in the genre so I found the clues and red herrings to be pleasing. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to the night at Pine Cottage in the lead up to the big reveal at the end.

I would give it 3 stars.

I have been on a roll with my writing and have done roughly 4,500 words in between reading these two books. Yay, achieving.

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