I had read that author Emily Henry had suffered from terrible writer’s block when she started her 2020 novel, Beach Read. That idea eventually led to a main theme in the book where the main character fails to have any clue what her next book will be about despite a looming deadline. And, boy can I relate.
For a few months in 2021, I also suffered from writer’s block. There are a slew of things I could have blamed it on, but I just didn’t feelt motivated to write and blog. I usually procrastinated until the last possible moment before I started my reviews — which really tested the memory. And worse than that, I hadn’t even felt motivated to read. It’s not that I had read bad books that steered me away from my favorite hobby; in fact, five of the eight that I’ve finished in 2021 have received four flames. There was really no explanation; all I knew is that it was taking much longer to finish books I was enjoying than it normally would. That is, until I met Beach Read.
Just like Henry’s characters, I needed a little something to spark some motivation and creativity. That presented itself in the form of 350 pages of a fun and flirty storyline with something important to say. I read this book in one weekend, and I don’t remember the last time I felt like I just could NOT put down a book. I closed this one and felt a little bit more like myself. Now that is what I call a powerful piece of art.
I used to be a sucker for the romcom and the romdram. Is that a genre? If not, it should be. The Notebook, Titanic, 27 Dresses, P.S. I Love You, The Wedding Date, 500 Days of Summer, and SO many more filled the days of my youth. (Nora Ephron classics came later in life). I used to peruse the $5 movies at Target looking for any and every cliché romantic movie I could find. In fact, I used to go to Target on Black Friday specifically for this reason and not to buy Christmas presents for other people. I have no shame.
Somewhere along the line, though, I fell out of love with fictional tales that focused on cliché love itself. Maybe it was maturity. Maybe it was a reality check. But now, I can barely sit through five minutes of The Notebook.
*Please do not discount the gravity of this sentence. I used to watch The Notebook or Titanic (or both) every week.*
Every now and then, however — usually when the going gets tough — I crave a little cliché romance. I’m not talking chick lit; I mean pure romance and cliché. Enter: Waiting for Tom Hanks, the novel dedicated to the romcom genre that I have long since avoided. My friend Kelliann sent me this book after a rough week but warned that it was pure fluff and to not have high literary expectations; just be prepared for an escape. A welcome escape was exactly what I got, but did the fluff go too far?
I have two favorite literary qualities I seek when I read a book or article: voice and characterization. You’ve read many a post where I either praise a book for having one of these qualities (here’s one for voice and another for characterization), and you’ve certainly seen me complain about the lack of them on more than one occasion.
Voice not only keeps you engaged in a book, but it also allows you to better understand the characters, making it an integral part of characterization, which is such an important quality. Without it, readers cannot fully see who these people are and why and how that motivates their actions. When a book has strong voice and characterization, and its main characters’ experiences completely differ from your own, that’s when empathy, understanding, and — most importantly — change occur.
That was the experience I had with The Kiss Quotient, whose main character, Stella, has Asperger syndrome. Not only was this book funny and sweet, but author Helen Hoang’s portrayal of Stella was so strong that I found myself in awe of the social struggles that someone with Asperger’s endures, which I had only ever experienced from a very far distance before this book. Stella’s story — and the author’s too — is one I’ve never personally witnessed, and I’ve never read about it in a fictional setting either. Hoang puts you face to face with it. By placing me directly inside Stella’s mind, which enhanced the book’s voice, I could feel everything she felt every single day — no matter how difficult.
Yes, all three Jasmine Guillory books have T.Swift lyrics in their review title. I can’t help it these two women absolutely kill it in their respective careers.
And when I say Guillory is killing it, I mean it; she may just be sliding her way into my favorite author slot. I can say that confidently after reading three of her five novels. I knew I’d found a stellar author after reading The Proposalin 2019, and recently reading her debut, The Wedding Date, confirmed it for me. I loved it so much that I instantly threw away by #tbr list to divulge into Guillory’s next chronological novel, The Wedding Party.
I read two Guillory books in less than two weeks, and it may have been the two best literary weeks of 2020. The Wedding Party didn’t quite top her previous two books I’d read, but I still enjoyed every moment of it. And Guillory once again gave me everything I loved in her previous work: realistic characters with depth, diversity, entertainment, wit, and a whole lot of love — both literally and euphemistically.
I owe chick lit an apology. Too often this year, I’ve used the genre as a clutch and as an escape. Read something sad? Life and the world are blowing up? No worries; let’s check in with chick lit for a pick-me-up. It will surely turn things around. How did one of my favorite genres become my sidepiece when the going got tough?
Such an amazing genre deserves better, so to end 2020, I decided to make chick lit my main squeeze, starting with Paris for One. By the time I finished it, I knew I had to continue on my Tour de Fun with these light-hearted and entertaining novels by turning to one of the best in the genre: Jasmine Guillory.
I first met Guillory’s writing in the summer of 2019 with her five-flame second book, The Proposal, which is actually the second of five very loosely connected books that Guillory has written. The Proposal was so much fun, made me laugh, and made my mouth salivate with all of its delicious food scenes. Not to mention the characters and their arcs had some serious depth and dealt with real-life issues rather than just romantic clichés. Oh, and it’s full of diversity. If it sounds like Guillory’s books have it all, that’s because they do, which was proven once again in her debut, The Wedding Date. And yes, somehow things got even spicier with this one.
Life is all about balance, right? Well, it definitely applies to literature. At a few points this year, I found myself emotionally affected by books I was reading. The human experience can be some deep shit, and when you’re living it every day, you don’t always want it in your literature. Here Comes the Sun, Normal People, and A Little Life have all had profound effects on my moods and emotions, and I had to quickly proceed these books with fun picks that would distract me from literary chaos and that which exists in the real world.
For the first time in years, though, I recently had to stop a book in the middle of it and find something else as a distraction. Reading two books at once isn’t really a concept my brain understands, but it was something I desperately needed in November. After Kyle and I witnessed a tragedy outside our apartment, my mental health just couldn’t endure Yaa Gyasi‘s powerful and emotional second novel Transcendent Kingdom.
So I scoured available chick lit novels at my library while halfway through Gyasi’s book. I really wanted to continue it, but I knew my heart and brain couldn’t. Eventually I landed on a Jojo Moyes novel: Paris for One. Now, I had some trepidations about this pick. I’ve only read Moyes’ Louisa Clark series, which I loved, and The Giver of Stars, which gave me “meh” lit feels. My skepticism had less to do with her so-so latest book and more to do with the fact that Me Before You almost had me in tears on the subway. Yes, I would generally consider Moyes’ novels to live in the chick lit realm, but her books certainly aren’t devoid of sadness. (News flash: Chick lit isn’t all fluff!) Was this a risk worth taking when my mental health was already teetering?
Nobody will ever forget 2020; it’s one for the history books unfortunately. Yes, things have been a garbage fire, but — with everything — there’s always a silver lining. For example, in 2020, I finally decided to go to therapy and invest in my mental health; being quarantined together has been the ultimate validation that Kyle and I are true partners and can get through anything together; and the world has even given the environment a break — albeit a small one.
With so much self-reflection, it’s impossible to not reflect on all of the positives in 2020. One bright spot is that all this time at home has given me a new appreciation for books and allowed me to see new literary themes that bibliophiles and the world over need. With Thanksgiving coming up, I wanted to express my literary gratitude to the books, the authors, and the readers who made a difference this year.
Y’all should know my love for Emily Giffin by now. I’ve never tried to hide it since I first read Something Borrowed when I was 15. In a way, I’ve grown up with Giffin’s writing, and I’ve seen a change in her books just like I’ve seen a change in myself. But there are some aspects of Giffin’s work that have never altered, and for that I am grateful.
From her first book to the her 10th, she’s showcased an incredible ability to write great and relatable characters, and she excels at telling stories that thrive in that gray area that makes literature so wonderfully complex. These same attributes are ever-present in her recent novel, The Lies That Bind, which might just be her best work yet.
Working in finance has made me slightly obsessed with the global financial crisis that started in 2008. How the hell did things get so messed up, and how did this world become so broken? Reading financial documents every year for more than four years allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of the industry and the domino effect that culminated in the crisis.
Even more so, I’m fascinated by the people who seriously lacked morals while possessing immense greed. My curiosity with the matter has led me to read many books that take place during this time, including most recently The Widow of Wall Street. According to the book’s backstory, the author, Randy Susan Meyers, has the same questions as I do.
In this current climate, though, I also needed some fun, intoxicating chick lit (perhaps of the Emily Giffin variety). My preceding read filled me with hopelessness, and I needed a change that surely The Widow of Wall Street would give me. Welp, let’s just say the novel depressed me far more than I had imagined. That’s not a bad thing by any means, and Meyers certainly piqued my interest, especially toward the end. Her writing, though, possessed incongruent pacing and unfulfilling descriptions, which didn’t do justice to the narrative. This left me not quite fulfilled and still, well, kind of sad.
In terms of literature, I haven’t had the best start to 2020. I’ve read some meh books, some I didn’t like, and also quite depressing ones. I vowed to change that about a month ago. With my birthday and a trip to San Diego on the horizon, I needed something fun.
Elizabeth Gilbert met my needs. I mean, how could she not? In her latest book, Gilbert combines two of my favorite genres with my favorite city to produce effervescent characters, stellar voice, a captivating story and plot, and wit beyond belief — and relief. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud while reading of City of Girls, and I really was smiling throughout this entire book. Now that is some high praise and exactly I what I needed.