May ’22—in review

This month was a lot more successful, reading-wise, than last month. I read a total of eight books, and four of them were 4 or 5 stars, making it to my Books That Work list:

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

My first Emily Henry book was People We Meet on Vacation. I then read her adult romance debut, Beach Read, and I was officially an EH superfan. I preordered Book Lovers as soon as I could, and it did not disappoint.

In my opinion, what makes her books so great are the characters. She creates characters that feel so incredibly real, I would read about them changing their oil or driving to the post office. And she writes in first person, which I typically don’t prefer to read, so that just speaks more highly to her genius.

How do they feel so real? A few reasons.

  1. They all have extremely strong GMCs—goals, motivations, and conflicts—both internal and external. Their goals are both important (characters are willing to undergo discomfort to achieve them) and urgent (on a time crunch), which allows us to buy in to their stories.
  2. Highly relatable/sympathetic: even if you aren’t a high-speed NYC literary agent like Nora Stephens, you can probably relate to her dedication to her job and/or her strong bond with her sister and/or her love of books and/or her struggle to find a true connection with someone.
  3. Amazing banter and dialogue not only break down the barriers between characters but also between characters and readers—one of the top things EH is interviewed about, I highly recommend listening to some her recent interviews especially!

Book Lovers in particular was so great because it took the tropes of a Hallmark movie and subverted them. It’s evident—even self-aware—from the opening pages, and it made for a combination really fun and seriously moving read about the type of woman who always gets left behind in these films finding her shot at love.

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews

As the title suggests, John Eyre is a Gothic romance, gender-flipped reimagining of Jane Eyre with an added dash of the supernatural. Told in dual timelines/POVs, we follow the protagonist John Eyre as he accepts a position as a tutor to two young boys at the remote Thornfield Hall in Yorkshire. John’s employer is Mrs. Bertha Rochester, an enigmatic yet alluring widow.

Mimi Matthews is known for her historical romance novels, so this slight deviation into Gothic romance was probably not much of a stretch for her. I loved that it had a very classic Gothic feel—it was full of hair-raising dread, it was spooky and eerie, but it wasn’t *scary* in the modern horror sense, even with the supernatural twist.

In Jane Eyre, the character of Mrs. Rochester originated the madwoman in the attic trope, but here, Bertha is a Byronic heroine and I am 100% here for it. It was refreshing to read a Gothic that flipped traditional gender roles for characters and created a (relatively) innocent, (somewhat) powerless male protagonist and a brooding and mysterious female love interest, especially since it’s an idea I’ve been playing around with as well.

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

After reading John Eyre, I was curious about Matthews’s historical romance, so I turned to her latest release. A dual-POV set in Victorian England, The Siren of Sussex is about a young woman who comes to London from Sussex to debut in society in the hopes of securing a husband. However, she only wants a match so that her younger sisters are taken care of, socially, after a scandal rocked their family. What Evelyn Maltravers really wants is the freedom and independence to ride—horses, that is. So she seeks out the hottest new maker of riding habits, Ahmad Malik, a half-English, half-Indian tailor, who, of course, has secrets of his own.

I’m a bit picky with historical romance, but I loved the uniqueness of this premise. I enjoyed reading about the challenges of race and class in Evelyn and Ahmad’s relationship, all while knowing—because it’s a Romance—that they would get their Happily Ever After. There was a great mix of real historical elements—the Pretty Horsebreakers, Victorian spiritualism—with the fictional romance. I do wish the spiritualism thread was more developed, because I thought it was fascinating and a good way to get Evelyn and Ahmad together, but the story overall still worked really well.

As with Book Lovers, both characters had very strong internal and external GMCs. I think the Romance genre in particular does this exceedingly well, though I’m not entirely sure why yet. I’ll have to think and analyze it some more…

Make Me Disappear by Jessica Payne

I haven’t read a thriller in a while and Jessica Payne’s debut novel was a great kick back into the genre! Noelle is done with her emotionally abusive, manipulative boyfriend, but she can’t just break up with him. She resorts to extreme methods to escape him—arranging her own kidnapping. But when it goes wrong and she finds herself truly kidnapped, she has to find a way to take back control before she ends up at the bottom of Puget Sound.

This book is lighter on character than I usually like, but it is such a good example of strong pacing, tight plotting, and page-turning chapters. I read it in two sittings because I kept telling myself “just one more chapter, just one more chapter” because they were short, concise, and almost always ended on a bit of a hook. I read a few reviews that docked it a star or two for being “unrealistic” and “far-fetched”—umm this is a thriller, people. They’re supposed to push the boundaries of human behavior. If you want realistic, pick up a work of literary fiction. If you want a twisty, propulsive thriller, definitely pick this up!

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