“Monday night. Wednesday morning. Friday lunchtime. Holland Bakker plans her journeys to work around the times the handsome Irish musician, Calvin McLoughlin, plays his guitar in the 50th Street subway station. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, Holland is destined to admire him from a distance. Then a near-tragedy causes her busker to come to her rescue, only to disappear when the police start asking questions. Keen to repay Calvin, Holland gets him an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When he aces the tryout, Calvin’s luck seems to have turned – until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he doesn’t have a visa. Impulsively, Holland offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, still keeping her infatuation secret. Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway, while their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers. Yet surrounded by theatre and actors, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?” (Synopsis from the publisher)
Title: Princess Diaries: Take Two (2001)
Author: Meg Cabot
Narrator: Anne Hathaway
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Read: 10th – 11th January 2018
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Fourteen-year-old Mia Thermopolis is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that she’s a princess – and heir to the throne of Genovia! But when she announces on national TV that her mum is pregnant by her algebra teacher and plans to marry him, a right-royal fuss results! Because now Mia’s totally out-of-control Grandmere is all set to plan the year’s biggest society wedding, with every A-list celeb invited. But will the bride and groom even turn up? And how can Mia find out the true identity of her mysterious secret admirer?” (Synopsis from the publisher)
Title: Fangirl (2013)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Read: 2nd – 4th February 2018 (original review)
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, everybody is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath it’s something more. Fandom is life. It’s what got her and her sister, Wren, through losing their mom. It’s what kept them close. And now that she’s starting college, introverted Cath isn’t sure what’s supposed to get her through. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?” (Synopsis from author’s website)
Title: Conversations with Friends (2017)
Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Read: 20th – 22nd June 2017
Genre: contemporary; adult
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Set in modern-day Dublin, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends ostensibly tells the tale of Frances and Bobbi, ex-girlfriends and spoken word poets who find themselves befriending photographer/journalist Melissa and her actor husband Nick and setting in motion a chain of events as they become embroiled with the couple’s social lives and they with theirs. If you like books that are focused on the complicated relationships people can become entangled in, despite their better judgment, then Conversations with Friends is one for you.
Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa ask each other endless questions. As their relationships unfold, in person and online, they discuss sex and friendship, art and literature, politics and gender, and, of course, one another. Twenty-one-year-old Frances is at the heart of it all, bringing us this tale of a complex ménage-à-quatre and her affair with Nick, an older married man. You can read Conversations with Friends as a romantic comedy, or you can read it as a feminist text. You can read it as a book about infidelity, about the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, or about how our minds think about our bodies. However you choose to read it, it is an unforgettable novel about the possibility of love. (Synopsis taken from publisher’s website)
Hannah Rothschild’s Bailey’s Prize shortlisted novel is done a disservice by its generic categorisation and cover (as lovely as they all are) and her story unfolds to be much, much more than a love story in the traditional sense. In fact, the novel’s heroine and protagonist is not the “main” character, unlucky-in-love chef Annie McDee, but, rather, the eponymous painting ‘The Improbability of Love’. A character in its own right, the painting is personified and given an omniscient (and witty) voice by Rothschild so it might speak for itself, quite literally, and tell its own story, a tale which is interspersed with the action of the narrative, as both the painting and the narrative slowly reveal its true provenance.
“Let me guess what you are thinking. Girl finds picture; picture turns out to be worth a fortune. Girl (finally) finds boy with a heart. Girl sells picture, makes millions, marries boy, all live happily ever after. Piss off. Yes, you heard, piss off, as the cake tin at Bernoff’s used to say (it was decorated with Renoir’s Les Parapluies, which explains quite a lot).”
After the impulsive purchase of a painting in a junk shop as a present for a man who never shows up for their dinner arrangement, Annie McDee finds herself unwittingly drawn into the art world of London, complete with its Sheiks, auctioneers, oligarchs in exile, and shady dealers. Whilst working as an unfulfilled chef for a director who doesn’t seem to actually direct any films lately, Annie ends up being seconded as a chef to the Winkleman family, art dealer royalty, and it is here that the plot thickens. Annie finds herself tiptoeing into a world that is a lot more dangerous than she could ever have realized; her junk-shop painting turns out to be a lost Antoine Watteau work, and there are many who would pay even more than a small fortune to possess it.
Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is marketed generally as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and it’s not a bad descriptor, if a little reductive. Personally though, I found Sofia much more relatable than dear old Bridget – and, believe me, I adore Ms Jones – but maybe that’s due to Sofia’s penchant for one too many chocolate Hobnobs (something I myself am partial to) despite my/our better judgement.
“I tried! I did! But what normal human being would ask another human
being to live with a cohort of mother, father, brother and sister-in-law with two children, complete with a sister and brother-in-law and three children next door,
and a hole-in-the-wall joining the two houses?
(Just writing that sentence about so many people confused me; imagine living with them.)“
Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is the diary of the eponymous Sofia Khan, a 30-year old Londoner who works in publishing and just happens to also be a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab – something which a man on the Tube takes exception to, rather loudly, earning Sofia’s brilliant comeback “Oi, terrorists don’t wear vintage shoes, you ignorant wanker!” Such a comeback displays the tone and wit of Sofia Khan but also illustrates how unafraid Ayisha Malik is of discussing the prejudices that many Muslims face, even in twenty-first century London. After regaling her publishing colleagues with a story of how her would-be fiancé expects her to move in with him, his parents, and the literal hole in the wall of their home, Sofia inadvertently becomes the spokesperson for the Muslim dating scene in London, and begins writing a book on the subject, amidst her crazy household, constant questions of when she’s getting married, and a gruff, bemused Irish neighbour.