April 2023 Book Reviews

Today we have a rare Tuesday blog post! Due to our trip to New Orleans, I didn’t blog at all last week and so the month started without my usual book review post. I’m remedying that right now! Let’s dive in to the three books I read last month:

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

With a thriving hand-lettering business and an exciting opportunity to advance her career even farther, Meg should be at the top of her game. Unfortunately, she’s suffering from a bad case of creative block and needs new inspiration fast. Enter Reid, a brilliant, pattern-noticing former client of Meg’s who shows up a year after his failed wedding with a question for Meg: how did she know the marriage was doomed and why did she hide a word of warning in their wedding program? Meg is shocked that he discovered her secret talent but now that he knows . . . he might be the right person to help her with her creative block. She asks him to tour NYC looking for inspiration in hand lettered signs and he agrees. Soon they are exploring the city together and getting to know one another in ways they didn’t anticipate, and the signs they find just might be pointing them towards one another.

I chose this book because a few months ago I read Love at First by this author and really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for another win but this one didn’t quite live up to same standard I had from the other book. On the plus side, I really liked Meg and Reid’s relationship. Their dynamic felt pretty genuine and there are some sweet, romantic moments that make their slow burn relationship easy to root for. That being said, the whole concept of Meg seeing in letters and Reid seeing in numbers is a central part of the book but it felt a little forced. Would a brilliant numbers guy really agree to play a letter scavenger hunt game with someone who is essentially a stranger? I got tired of all the lettering details as Meg works and thinks. We are in Meg’s head so much and there are a lot of bits where she “sees” in lettering (example: “You don’t like New York?” “I hate New York.” It almost makes me recoil, the way he’s said this. Bold, sans serif. No caps, but italics for the hate.) Asides like that happen frequently throughout the book and they just didn’t quite work for me. It was just too much time in her head and too much lettering content for me. It wasn’t a complete miss, I did enjoy the relationship and I could let go of some of the less believable parts, so overall I would give it a B rating (and also an R rating for a couple steamy open door scenes).

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Imagine Chip and Joanna Gaines, who gained tremendous popularity as a married couple doing home renovations on HGTV, actually can’t stand each other. All the lovey-dovey married life moments you see, all the books you read, all the interviews they do – it’s all for show. Literally. All for a show. And now imagine that Joanna isn’t actually designing most of what you see, but her underappreciated assistant is. That is pretty much the premise of this book. Melissa and Rusty Tripp are renovation + design gurus who actually have a lot of problems in their married life, despite working to promote their new book on marriage. Carey has been Melissa’s assistant for years and desperately needs the health insurance that comes with the job; James was told his new position as Rusty’s assistant would put his engineering degree to use but so far, it hasn’t panned out that way. Carey and James are tasked with traveling with Melissa and Rusty on their new book tour to make sure they appear to be the happily married couple they’re portraying to the public. While they don’t appear to have anything in common initially, Carey and James find that working together towards the shared goal of a successful book tour reveals they actually are pretty compatible after all.

I’ve read a decent amount of Christina Lauren (an author duo) over the years; usually I enjoy their books but unfortunately, this one ranks near the bottom for me. Melissa and Rusty are pretty unlikeable and their behavior throughout the book is incredibly frustrating to read. I felt like so much time was spent on the main conflict of making the book tour successful and we focused too much on the Melissa/Rusty drama – bottom line is, not enough space was given to Carey and James. While I liked them as characters, I didn’t have a ton of investment in them as a couple; their relationship was rushed and underdeveloped. Maybe I also had a bad taste in my mouth because I actually am a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines and so I didn’t like reading about a similar famous couple who was so fraudulent. Overall, this book didn’t meet the expectations I had for a Christina Lauren novel and I just didn’t love the characters much so this one was a miss for me. And for those who are interested, I’d give it a PG-13, leaning R rating for some language and steam, although it’s less than some of their other books.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Martha Friel just turned forty, and by the end of the first chapter, her husband has left her. Because, as the front jacket explains: “There’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, and every kind of drug later, she still doesn’t know what’s wrong, why she spends her days unable to get out of bed and alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks.” The rest of the book follows this summary from Goodreads: “By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want.”

Martha knows she is self-sabotaging. She knows she is hurting other people. And yet, she finds it impossible to stop herself. She has regrets, but cannot control her emotions and outbursts. Sometimes she feels good and happy and enjoys life. Other times, she cannot even bring herself to get out of bed. As a character, she’s both likeable and unlikeable. You empathize with her and also get very frustrated by her. You’re proud of her and disappointed in her. And isn’t that just like real life? We are all complex, we all have highs and lows, and we all have redeeming qualities and things we wish we could take back. With Martha, this is taken to the next level because of her battle with an undiagnosed mental illness. This book seemed to realistically portray what it might be like to not only live with a mental illness, but to love someone who struggles with one. The effects of mental illness reach many many people. It’s difficult to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter was so heavy and it’s both sad and difficult to read at times, but I do think it’s incredibly well written and absolutely worth reading. I read it for my book club and we had an excellent discussion afterwards; it’s definitely one you’ll want to process with someone if you can. If this has the potential to be a hard topic for you, you may want to read the trigger warnings for the book first, but overall, I do recommend this one!

As the weather warms up, my book reading mood is feeling sunnier too. I think May is going to be full of lighter reads and I’m excited for that – if you have any great recs please send them my way. And as always, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately!

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