And by hitting publish, I will be 100% caught up on reviews!
(4 stars) Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
I am on a Christina Lauren kick. After loving The Unhoneymooners, a friend recommended Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating — and about half a dozen other books by the writing duo. So far, I have not been disappointed!
“I learned a very important thing that day: my mom would never try to change for a man, and I wouldn’t, either.”
Hazel Bradford is “a lot” — she’s quirky, she’s goofy, she has a tendency to drink too much when she’s uncomfortable and then get naked (same, girl). She knew Josh Im in college — and threw up on his shoes after making a pass at him. They reconnect 10 years later, and Hazel becomes determined to become his best friend (since dating him is clearly off the table). They, of course, fall in love — but it takes a while and the ride there is fun.
“The world seems full of men who are initially infatuated by our eccentricities, but who ultimately expect them to be temporary.”
The quirky clumsy heroine has been seen before, of course. What sets Hazel apart, I think (and keeps her from becoming a later-seasons Phoebe Buffay), is her awareness and acceptance of her own quirkiness. She knows she’s a lot, and she knows that her personality has a tendency to attract and then annoy men. She’s (mostly) made her peace with it, but will not dim her light in order to keep a relationship (her mom did that, and it’s mentioned a few times that Hazel does not want to go down that path). I found her charming, overall, and Josh does as well.
It’s always hazardous to read an author’s backlog all at once — it becomes very easy to compare early works unfavorably to later ones, or vice versa. And you do begin to notice similarities and tropes among their characters or plot lines. Luckily, at least so far, Christina Lauren’s tendency toward quirky, smart heroines, and hunky but sensitive guys is working pretty well for me.
(4 stars) The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings #1) by Mackenzi Lee
This was just fun. A delightful romp through Europe in the 1700s, centered around progressive characters fighting against stereotypes and racists and misogynists — with the occasional snog in a broom closet.
“We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with lacquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so very loved.”
Henry “Monty” Montague has a reputation for jumping into bed with anyone, but the only person he really wants is his best friend, Percy. After pissing his father off one too many times, Monty is sent on a tour of Europe, along with his sister (Felicity), Percy and a strict chaperone. Shenanigans ensure as Monty hooks up with the wrong girl, accidentally steals something incredibly important, ditches the chaperone and takes his sister and best friend on a wild chase across Europe (pursued by pirates, of course).
“I swear, you would play the coquette with a well-upholstered sofa.”
“First, I would not. And second, how handsome is this sofa?”
The pursuit of the MacGuffin comes secondary to wonderful character development and sparkling dialogue. I really enjoyed Monty — although he spends as much time “scrubbing his hands through his hair” as Jamie Frasier does — and felt like Lee did a great job balancing his more effervescent qualities with a deeper backstory. His relationship with Percy seems genuine, and his sister makes for a great third wheel. As long as you don’t take the plot too seriously, it’s a fun read.
(3 stars) The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2) by Mackenzi Lee
This follow up to The Gentleman’s Guide was a completely different book. It focuses entirely on Monty’s sister, Felicity (who has a significant role in the first book, but is given center stage here). While The Gentleman’s Guide was a romance set against a race across Europe, the only romance in The Lady’s Guide comes from Felicity turning down a proposal in the beginning, and pursuing her true love: medicine. It’s strongly implied in the book that Felicity may be asexual, but her passion for medicine and learning burns bright.
“I do not want to know things, I want to understand things. I want to answer every question ever posed me. I want to leave no room for anyone to doubt me.”
When Felicity finds out that her old friend Joanna will be marrying Felicity’s idol, she decides to crash the wedding and ask him for a job (despite the fact that she and Joanna had a major falling out a couple of years ago). When her pirate friend Sim offers to escort her, Felicity blindly ignores Sim’s (totally suspicious) motives and agrees. Of course, nothing goes as planned and Felicity joins up with Joanna and Sim another another crazy chase across Europe for a mysterious object.
This book examines sexism, racism, and other such topics with the same progressive attitude as the first. Honestly, it’s pretty heavy-handed, but I appreciate the effort the author makes to point out the inequalities in Felicity’s world — inequalities that still exist in our world. And I like how she handled Joanna’s character. I knocked off a star for the absolutely ridiculous ending though.
(3 stars) Final Girls by Riley Sager
This was one of those books where I like the premise more than the actual storytelling, but it had a good enough ending to make up for any flaws. I am definitely ready to start the other Riley Sager book I checked out from the library!
“Final Girl is film-geek speak for the last woman standing at the end of a horror movie.”
Quincy Carpenter is known in the media as a Final Girl. As in, she was part of a horror movie-style massacre that only she survived. She shares this horrible experience with two other Final Girls, Lisa and Sam. They’ve never met in person, but they have served as a little bit of support for each other. When Lisa commits suicide, Quincy realizes she can’t keep pretending that everything is okay. And then Sam shows up on her door stop.
“That’s not your choice. It’s already been decided for you. You can’t change what’s happened. The only thing you can control is how you deal with it.”
I really liked how Sager played off of horror movie tropes to create the basis of this novel. The actual execution with a little wobbly, mostly because I feel like Quincy ignored SO MANY red flags with Sam that it was basically becoming a joke. But maybe that was the point? Either way, I was surprised by the ending and I’m looking forward to reading The Last Time I Lied.