I knew that February might be a slower month in terms of my reading, because on 31st January 2020, we moved from our family home and had three weeks before our new house was ready. Thankfully, an ARC, a Kindle and a well-used library card meant that I could keep up with reading, albeit at a slightly different pace.
I stayed at Harvey’s house for three weeks and realised quickly that sometimes you need to Be Sociable and not curl up with a book and a cup of tea for hours on end. Nevertheless, a mix of many delayed trains and spare pockets of time meant I managed to read lots — including my Blogger’s Bookshelf Book Club pick — and remain ahead of my Goodreads Reading Challenge 2020. Without further ado, here are the mini reviews…
Howards End by E.M. Forster
Howards End was one of the books I mentioned in my ‘Books I Pledge to Read in 2020’ post. I just so happened to have a spare slot in my three-book tandem read to pick this up when I was co-working with Sian in our local library a few weeks ago. I flew through this classic in a matter of days and absolutely adored it. Howards End is known as an insight into social inequality, family and class differences at the turn of the century in Britain. I couldn’t fault it for this because it truly does encapsulate of all the above in a stunningly eloquent way. E.M. Forster’s turns of phrase are beautifully thoughtful and nostalgic, as Howards End tells the story of the bourgeois Wilcox family and the cultured Schlegel sisters. The story revolves around Howards End, a country home in Hertfordshire, which ultimately three different families disagree over.
On a more personal note, Howards End is written about the author’s childhood home, Rook’s Nest, which is nestled in the centre of my hometown. My hometown has many pitfalls and faults, but the novel has somehow changed my thoughts about it and brought illuminating insights into a century-old town. What’s more, Rook’s Nest itself is situated on the road where my beloved Granny rests. So it felt like a real hug to know such a literary great grew up in a place so close to my heart. And, of course, it’s always wonderful when you read a novel set in a place that you recognise and know!
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for gifting me with an ARC of this book!
Abigail Hing Wen’s debut novel is a multi-faceted, undoubtedly glittering (parts of it at least) romance that I genuinely enjoyed. I’m on a personal mission to read as much work by authors of colour as possible; that coupled with the beautiful cover meant I needed to devour this book as soon as possible! Ever Wong is a pre-college Asian-American daughter of somewhat pushy parents. She’s sent away to a Taiwanese summer camp/programme which at first she hates, and she of course then finds pros from. It’ll be a chance to enjoy one last summer before her med school career begins. What ensues is a wild summer full of fun, life lessons, cultural exploration and an almighty love triangle.
I really enjoyed the all-Asian cast of characters in this novel. We love a flawed heroine, and what I particularly felt grateful for was the diverse cast of personalities. Not just a token Asian. We get the full spectrum, including Aboriginal Taiwanese, which certainly isn’t a minority that’s represented enough, if at all.
I also really resonated with the author’s depiction of East Asian parent-child relationships which are wrought with expectation, pressure and myriad other stresses. As a British-Chinese woman, I loved Wen’s foray into exploring identity (Ever’s) and finding connections to one’s culture — that, was executed well throughout.
I can’t comment too much on how Taiwan and Taipei was depicted, however I felt it wasn’t researched thoroughly enough? I visited in 2019 and felt lots of the references throughout already felt outdated. In parts it felt like Taipei landmarks were forcibly added into the story.
However on the whole, I found Loveboat, Taipei to be really content-heavy. Wen has tried to weave together all the makings of a YA classic: a love triangle, shocks and surprises, friendship fallouts, familial connections, loss of identity… But it felt as though a cog was missing as these elements didn’t necessarily flow well together. At times it felt like the ups and downs of Ever were never going to end; give the girl a break! And poor Xavier! He deserved better! As a result of the novel being so content-heavy, the story felt a little dragged out and the undoubtedly great topics end up feeling surface level, and pretty rushed. Ever’s path to finding her roots was beautifully told, but unfortunately many of the other plot lines felt underdeveloped.
Nonetheless, I must give Loveboat, Taipei 3.5 stars for it truly did keep me turning the pages to uncover the love triangle and I think lots of readers will really appreciate the glimpse into the life of an Asian-American or first-generation immigrant.
The Insecure Girl’s Handbook by Olivia Purvis
I’ve already shared an entire post about Liv’s The Insecure Girl’s Handbook, so I’ll try to keep this short. I think most readers of Daisybutter will enjoy Liv’s first book. It’s an easy-to-digest non-fiction handbook that is full of witticisms, hilarious and poignant anecdotes, useful advice and expert tips from six women that Liv interviews. Of course there is a fair amount that has already been said before in the realms of self-confidence, but Liv packages it up wonderfully. I first delved into it after work on a Monday evening commute and it literally took inches off my shoulders! One to read, share, and keep on your desk or bedside table for future wobbles.
Read my full review of The Insecure Girl’s Handbook here.
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
My pick for the Blogger’s Bookshelf Book Club in February was I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn. The prompt was ‘a book with a tree or leaf on the cover’, and the cover for this is absolutely breathtaking, featuring a couple strolling amongst cherry blossom trees at full bloom. And the story itself is equally as great. I used to say ‘YA isn’t really my bag’, but I’ve found myself really enjoying YA lit recently and that’s a-okay with me! Kimi Nakamura is on the cusp of going to art school and her Mum is thrilled about it. Kimi, however, is obsessed with creating Kimi Originals, bold, art-like outfits that give her friends strength. After an explosive argument with her Mum, Kimi receives a letter from her estranged grandparents, inviting her to spend spring break in Kyoto with them.
The story really begins in Japan and Kuhn’s first-person narratives of Kimi really put the gears in motion. She captures the ambience of Japan incredibly well, as well as the struggles that second- and third-generation immigrant kids go through. In parts it felt as though I were back in Japan myself! There is, of course, a magical love story that blossoms in this novel and it’s more of a B-plot, which I loved. I thoroughly enjoyed how Kuhn used the main plot of ‘finding yourself away from your parents’ wishes’ to weave in important lessons for young adults, but I found the last third super cheesy! However, that’s not to say this wasn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Also on my ‘Books I Pledge to Read in 2020’ list was Little Women, which I finally read this month! I’m yet to watch the recent film adaptation, but it was such a heartwarming read. Smartly written, funny and, moreover, real, I love this insight into the lives of four sisters who’re so different, and who grew up to be such great individuals. I’m sure lots of you have already read Little Women, so I won’t go into too much detail but I absolutely loved this classic.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Books (UK) for this generous ARC!
As somebody that grew up immersed in South Korean culture (K-pop, Korean dramas, the Hallyu wave, idol celebrities), I jumped at the chance to read and review If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. Touted an electrifying read by fellow authors, in If I Had Your Face we follow four female protagonists, struggling to survive in South Korea. Each woman has a truly complex backstory and they’re all interlinked in very distant ways. Cha’s glittering writing style unfailingly takes you deep into the soul of every character, even as the POV switches from character to character, each chapter. I can’t believe this is her debut. Whether you’re similarly enmeshed in Korean culture as I am, or you simply quite enjoy BTS’ newest releases, this is a dark, somewhat unsettling and truly compelling read. I think I read it in five sittings and I think it’ll be one that resonates with many, staying with them for years for its comments on contemporary Seoul society.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is published on 23rd April 2020 — add it your list now.
What have you been reading recently?