Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld


If the library ebook had the other cover (a woman in a yellow dress sitting in what looks like an old convertible), I probably wouldn’t have borrowed it. Did I regret reading this book? No, but I didn’t exactly love it either.

Sally is a writer on a SNL-like show and Noah is the week’s host and musical guest. He’s a successful singer in his 30s. The first half of the book is a fun look into the whole live sketch comedy tv show scene. It made me think of the TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I loved at the time (although I wonder if I can rewatch because I now find Matthew Perry rather annoying).

Unfortunately, this book also wants to be a romance novel …of sorts. And that just didn’t work for me. I do love a good romance novel, preferably if it’s by a BIPOC writer. And this felt like Curtis Sittenfeld’s attempt to “improve” on the romance novel, like make it more literary or something. It probably didn’t help that I saw an article about an interview with her, something about how to make a “non-cheesy romance novel”. (The partial transcript I read didn’t actually have Sittenfeld saying she’s writing a non-cheesy romance novel, so I put that on the writer/editor for having that prejudice against romance novels in the first place).

And you know what, there are plenty of non-cheesy romance novels out there already. There are plenty of smart, funny, delightfully charming romance novels, like those by Helen Hoang, Jasmine Guillory, Talia Hibbert, Julie Tieu and many more. So I hesitate to recommend this one.

The Hookup Plan by Farrah Rochon

The Hookup Plan by Farrah Rochon, pictured on top of a crochet blanket that I’m currrently working on (pattern: the Chevronnie Blanket by Cypress Textiles).

I didn’t realize this was book 3 in Rochon’s The Boyfriend Project until I finished the book. Luckily it’s the kind of series which kinda reads like a standalone. It’s connected through three women who become best friends after they all are duped by the same man. Of course it would make more sense to start with the first book, but well, now I know and I will definitely be reading The Boyfriend Project and The Dating Playbook because this third book was a really fun read. 

It’s an enemies to lovers theme that starts at a high school reunion. Pediatric surgeon London Kelley meets her high school arch-nemesis Drew Sullivan. And they end up in bed. 

It turns out that Drew is in Austin as his company is auditing the hospital that London works at. And their one night together becomes a “mutually satisfying sexual arrangement”. The man she saw as her enemy maybe isn’t who she thought he was. Can this turn into something more? 

Fun chemistry and great banter between the two main characters. Both are very likeable too. It’s readable and not too over the top. A very satisfying romance read.

Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan

WHALE by CHEON MYEONG-KWAN, translated from the Korean by KIM CHI-YOUNG

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, Whale begins with:

“Chunhui – or Girl of Spring – was the name of the female brickmaker later celebrated as the Red Brick Queen on being discovered by the architect of the grand theater. She was born one winter in a stable to a beggar-woman, as the war was winding down. She was already seven kilos when she emerged and plumped up to more than a hundred kilos by the time she turned fourteen. Unable to speak, she grew up isolated in her own world. She learned everything about brickmaking from Mun, her stepfather. When the inferno killed eight hundred souls, Chunhui was charged with arson, imprisoned and tortured. After many long years in prison, she returned to the brickyard. She was twenty-seven.”

So it begins. But after this first chapter on Chunhui, the author takes us back in time, long before Chunhui is born, to the story of an “old crone”. The author hints, “maybe this whole story is a single tale of revenge – who really knows?”

Cheong unveils so much in the first paragraph that the rest of the story is about the journey towards Chunhui. What happened to Chunhui? Why is she a brick maker? And prison? It does take quite a while for the story to get to her, but it is a thoroughly fascinating and entertaining journey there.

While reading this book, I thought of the movie The Greatest Showman. I think because there was something circus-like, or maybe carnival-like about this story, with its many eccentric and unique characters, like the one-eyes woman with the bees and Jumbo, the elephant. But while it’s told with a playful voice, there’s so much darkness in this story. It is often brutal – rape and abuse is casually mixed into the narrative.

Unsettling and strange, Whale is a kind of modern folk tale. It is cinematic and dramatic, violent and grotesque. Its playful storytelling and cast of colourful characters draw readers in, devouring the pages at a feverish pace, until you emerge breathless. Is it from lack of sleep? Or is it from this intense, chaotic read?

Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall

PARIS DAILLENCOURT IS ABOUT TO CRUMBLE by ALEXIS HALL (pictured with a box of macarons, many of which have been eaten. Also this box is from Costco, in case you’re more interested in the macarons than what I have to say about this book. I liked the yuzu flavor btw). 

As a fan of the Great British Bake Off and other reality cooking and baking competitions, this definitely is the series for me. It starts with Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, which I quite enjoyed, as it had a fun main character and all that revolved around a GBBO-like show. 

This second book though, was a bit more difficult to get through. Paris isn’t as delightful as Rosaline and it turns out to be less of a romance and more of a focus on anxiety and how it can affect a relationship. 

I can relate to some of Paris’ anxiety. His constant fears of oh god what do I say to these people, his anxiety when it comes to unfamiliar places, the whole oh crap I don’t know what a knish is in a blind baking segment and so it’s going to be a disaster (oh rather, I guess I would minor-panic if I were on said baking competition). 

But there was also a lot of horrible behavior on his part that isn’t anxiety-related and the author hints that it may have to do with his upbringing (his parents are famous – a designer and a model – and also pretty much absent and unfeeling). But really, he is an anxious person who is also rather snobbish and filthy rich. 

Thankfully, the hosts of the baking show are still delightful, as are some of the contestants. Also Tariq, Paris’ love interest, is lovely. 

Much as I wanted to like this, I struggled with it. Paris got so annoying that I kept wondering why Tariq was still hanging on. Can this book be written from Tariq’s pov instead please? That would make it a more readable book.

Bright Young Things – Scarlett Thomas

Some books are just weird. This is one of them. BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS by Scarlett Thomas was a random pick to fulfill a reading challenge topic – an author with the same initials as you. 

And it was entertaining, with a frivolous premise – six 20-somethings from the UK answer a job as in the newspapers: “Bright Young Things wanted for big project”. While waiting for the interview to start, they’re apparently drugged and then wake up on a small island in the middle of who-knows-where. 

There are 3 men and 3 women, from various walks of life. There’s a house with six bedrooms, it’s stocked with food and drink. But they don’t know where they are or how to get off the island. There’s also no way of communicating with the rest of the world. 

Despite their situation (or maybe they’re resigned because of it?) they have rather ordinary conversations that have to do with pop culture. Very 1990s discussions like favorite band that are rather amusing to me, because I was a teenager in the 90s and loved the whole Britpoprock scene. 

“Thea chooses Blur. As soon as she does, Emily tries to unchoose Take That and claim them for herself. Clearly the ironic choice wasn’t the one to go for this time. They start to bicker about which album came out in which year, when they bought each one, which is the best album (The Great Escape vs 13) and who’s met Damon.” 

I mean, who has this conversation not long after finding out they’ve been drugged then dropped on an island and can’t get out? 

All those pop culture references are a bit dated now. And I wonder what a current 20-something would make of this book. In Thomas’ preface, she did say she wanted this book to be a time capsule of sorts, and how “in a sense, every good novel is a time capsule”. Reading this definitely made me think of the 90s again when life seemed a lot simpler but also a lot more angsty (teenagers 🤷‍♀️). 

Not a lot happens in this book, which is funny considering how I was drawn in by the whole “dropped on a deserted island” idea. But there were amusing conversations and it made me want to listen to some Blur and Placebo. Ooh maybe some Suede too.

Light From Uncommon Stars

This is the book that broke through my reading drought. I’ve been meandering through several books, not finishing several, this February has been an unusual one when it comes to reading. I finished 24 books in January and so far, in February, I’ve only managed 9. 

But hooray for LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS by Ryka Aoki. It has aliens! Doughnuts! More specifically, aliens refugees running a doughnut shop! They also happen to be running from an intergalactic war. There’s also a trans violinist who’s run away from an abusive home. Katrina Nguyen attracts the attention of Shizuka Satomi, a brilliant violin teacher who has made a deal with the devil and needs one last soul. 

It’s a delight. I love that this book that revolves around music is joyful and at the same time, heartbreaking. It’s weird and wonderful. All the different characters’ lives intertwine although it doesn’t sound like they even belong in the same book. But it works. It really does. 

I’m not familiar with Béla Bartók’s work but I listened to Sonata for Violin Solo after reading about it in the book. And it has this strange otherworldly feel to it and adds to the atmosphere if you listen to it while reading this book. 

“Perhaps this is why the violin fits the human soul so perfectly – only such a simple, mortal object can hold its fragility and turn it into a prayer.”

The Fever by Sonia Shah

How is malaria still around and still infecting hundreds of millions of people around the world? THE FEVER by Sonia Shah is an in-depth look into this mosquito-borne disease. It’s chock full of information, not just the science behind the attempts to rid us of malaria, but also the history. 

Some rather fascinating things that have a link to malaria include the unsuccessful attempt to establish a Scottish colony in Panama in the late 17th century. Most of the colonists died of malaria. And the colony was abandoned after just eight months. Spoiler: The immense debt from the failed expedition played a large part in Scotland’s reluctant acceptance of unification with England. 

I was interested in reading this book as dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness, continues to plague Singapore today. Of course these are two very different illnesses and transmitted by two different species of mosquito. But no one seems to have written a book about dengue fever for the average reader. 

It’s a bit of a depressing read, when you think of how malaria continues to infect and kill people today. But it’s a very interesting and somewhat approachable book about this disease and how it’s affected the world. 

Anne of Greenville by Mariko Tamaki

I grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series and watching the original TV series. (I haven’t finished watching the new version though!). 

So it was exciting to see that Mariko Tamaki had written a reimagined modern version of this classic! I’ve loved Tamaki’s previous works like Skim, Emiko Superstar, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. 

Her version of Anne is delightful. She’s a queer half-Japanese teen with two mums. She loves disco, colorful vintage clothes, and roller skating. Her family just moved to the small town of Greenville, where she just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And ugh, the bullying she faces. My heart just goes out for her, as she struggles to be herself but also to fit in. 

I think Tamaki captures the spirit of Anne really well. She’s unique and quirky, and she has a quick temper, which causes more problems. But in this modern version, the issues that Anne faces are a lot more difficult, such as racism and homophobia. 

It must be hard to take on a reimagining of a classic story. Maybe it would be easier to say that this book is inspired by Anne of Green Gables. I loved the updated version of Anne, but the essence of the story feels different. In the original story, part of Anne’s struggles is with Marilla Cuthbert’s reluctance to take her in, as they originally wanted to adopt a boy. But Anne of Greenville was adopted at a young age by her two mums, and so the problems that this Anne faces are less with her family and more with her classmates and the residents of Greenville. 

An enjoyable read.

Everything is Ok by Debbie Tung

I am an introverted and anxious person. I overthink things, even when writing a message back to someone. Let’s not even mention having to talk on the phone with someone.

Reading Debbie Tung’s EVERYTHING IS OK, I recognized myself in some of her story. I was the shy kid. The quiet kid. I always remember the horror of being called upon in class and my mouth feeling like it’s been zipped shut and I would stand there, knowing in my head that I could say something, answer something, and the teacher would move on, but I would feel frozen and my lips wouldn’t move and it would just get worse as everyone in the class stared at me.

While I still would probably freeze up if I had to give a speech in front of a large crowd, I think I got a bit better at participating, and at talking to people, although I’m still usually the one who talks much less when in a group of people. I guess I forced myself into situations where I had to voice my opinions and talk to strangers – graduate school, working at newspapers, and at one point, saying yes to every blind date that came my way.

Tung’s book is full of little nuggets that may seem simple but are reassuring and encouraging. Like learning to accept yourself and embrace your awkwardness. And to be kind to others and to yourself.

It’s important to appreciate the small things. The husband bought a handheld coffee grinder for me last year and it’s strangely pleasing turning the handle and grinding the coffee beans, then adding it to the French press.

I also find delight in reading your posts and stories, whether you’re sharing a travel snapshot, your meal, an old photo. And especially the book posts. I love discovering new-to-me authors, and adding to my ridiculously towering (virtually, that is) the lists.

So, Everything is Ok, it really is.

Booked on a Feeling by Jayci Lee

I’m here for all the Asian romance novels, as well as romance novels that take place in bookstores. So this book brings both of that together – joy! 

It starts out strong, with lawyer Lizzy, brilliant and determined, working hard but struggling with anxiety. After passing out at work from a panic attack, she takes some time off and takes a break in a small town where she used to spend summers as a child. Her best friend Jack still lives there, where he works at his family’s brewery. He’s had a secret crush on her since he was 10. But doesn’t want to risk their friendship. 

There’s so much of it that I loved – the friends to lovers trope, the bookstore and Lizzy’s love for romance books, Jack’s family, the adorable small town setting. I also appreciate that both Lizzy and Jack had difficult decisions to make about their careers. And that they were afraid of disappointing their families and their expectations, but in very contrasting ways. Is it odd that one of my favorite things about a romance novel was the very sweet and supportive family that Jack has? It was such a contrast to Lizzy’s mum in Korea, who has high expectations and is completely overbearing. 

The romance between Lizzy and Jack was, um, ok? They’re cute together but I wasn’t quite invested in their romance. Maybe because the story lacked major conflict, some kind of painful thorn in the side that’s jabbing away until the couple finally works together to yank the damn thing out. Or you know, leave it there to fester and rot. 

Anyway, this apparently is the third book in the series, and I’m curious to see what the other two books are like. Don’t worry, it reads fine as a stand-alone as the other books are about different characters.