And now for two completely fluffy reads. Don't judge me too harshly.
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
I read Edenbrooke soon after it was released in 2012. I loved it. At the time I remember thinking, If I'm reading with no other goals except relaxation and pleasure, then this is what I want to read.
Because I enjoyed it so much the first time, I've been meaning to read it again ever since. But I always found a reason why I couldn't or shouldn't read it: my to-read list is much too long to reread; it would just be for fun, so it can wait; it's not going to elevate or improve my life in any way; I have all these other (usually self-imposed) book deadlines, so they get first priority.
But even with all those completely valid reasons, I still wanted to read it, and that should count for something, right? After all, my first and foremost reason for reading is because I enjoy it, so it makes sense that I would want to read a book I already knew was enjoyable.
So because I knew it wouldn't happen any other way, I turned it into a reading goal for 2016: Reread Edenbrooke. Simple and straightforward, and because I take my goals very seriously, I knew it would happen.
The months passed, and I kept putting it off because there was always something more pressing to read. And suddenly, it was December, and, amid the pressure to finish all of my goals, I was so irritated that I had to somehow squeeze in reading this book. I had to finish up some other goals, as well as read books for a couple of book clubs, and I absolutely did not want to read this book. It was going to be a disappointment. I knew I'd be more critical of it this time. It was going to be a big waste of reading time I did not have.
It's a testament to the Upholder in me that in spite of all of my kicking and screaming and protesting, I couldn't not read this book. It didn't matter that it was a personal goal--a personal, fun goal, no less. I had written it down. I couldn't ignore or disregard it. I had every part of my personality compelling, forcing, me to read it.
And so, I did. And oh my goodness, can you love a book more the second time? No one was more shocked than I was when I not only still liked it but absolutely adored it. I even saved the last thirty or so pages so that I could savor them, uninterrupted, during Clark's nap.
Set in Regency England, the story is ridiculously romantic. Marianne Daventry has always lived in the shadow of her twin sister, Cecily. When their mother dies in a tragic accident, their father sends Cecily to London with friends and Marianne to Bath to live with her grandmother. Marianne longs for the open air and countryside, and so, a year later, when Cecily invites her to their friends' grand estate, Edenbrooke, for the summer, Marianne doesn't have to think twice. On her way there, she meets a rude and obnoxious gentleman, Philip, at an inn (right after being held up by a highwayman), and she hopes to never see him again. But of course, she does. And, of course, she falls in love with him. It wouldn't be right if she didn't.
I'm well aware of the flaws in this book, but I have no desire to list them out because they honestly don't matter to me. I love the bantering and teasing dialogue, the characters, the setting, and seeing honor and virtue upheld. I love everything about this lovely story (except maybe the overuse of the word "odious").
And remember how I told myself it wasn't going to elevate or improve my life in any way? Well, I was wrong about that, too. In the last couple of months, I'd lost a lot of the joy of reading. I was reading because I had to, not because I wanted to. I outlined my reading schedule and followed it and didn't allow for last minute whims. But all of that disappeared the minute I cracked open this book. I fell into it headfirst, and just like that, my love of reading was rekindled. And if that's not elevating and improving my life, I don't know what is.
And now, I'm looking back at my reading goals and giving myself a giant pat on the back. I knew what I would need, and I knew the only way I'd give it to myself is if it was locked inside a goal. My 2016 reading is ending on a high note.
The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans
This next review is to prove that not all fluffy books are created equal.
Most Decembers find me reading books I normally wouldn't even consider during the rest of the year. There's something about hot chocolate and twinkly lights that always makes me want to curl up with a sappy Christmas story. After finishing Edenbrooke earlier in the month, I was done with almost all of my content-specific goals and was just trying to make that final push to complete my numbers goal (I still don't know if I'm going to make it). So a short, easy read that I could just breeze through sounded like just the thing.
The premise was interesting enough: One day Elise Dutton is approached by Nicholas Derr in the food court of the office building where they both work. He's not a complete stranger--they bumped into each other in the elevator one day and they see each other often at lunchtime--but she's never really spoken to him before. He sits down and offers a proposal for the coming holiday season: He's tired of going to social events by himself, and he thinks she might be too, so why don't they just pretend to be in a relationship for the next six weeks so they won't be so lonely? All of the conditions will be written up in a contract (the Mistletoe Promise), so all expectations will be clear and there won't be any surprises.
The thing is, you don't just agree to be in a pretend relationship with someone you couldn't actually see yourself being in a real relationship with, and pretty soon Elise and Nick begin to develop real feelings for each other, which are only complicated by the dark and tragic secrets of their pasts.
So yes, the plot itself was exactly what I expected and wanted from a Hallmark-type holiday book. And I suppose the writing was exactly what I was expecting as well, but that doesn't mean it didn't irritate me. Everything just felt so generic: the conversations, the descriptions, the settings. It felt like anyone could have written it, including me . . . and that's not a compliment.
Maybe it's because the book takes place in Salt Lake, and so many of the places mentioned (Hale Center Theater, Abravanel Hall, City Creek, Olympus Cove, Sugar House park) are places I've actually been, but if I hadn't been, his descriptions would have done absolutely nothing to make me want to visit (and I've read many books where I'm desperate to see the real thing after reading and where the descriptions are so vivid, I almost feel like I've actually been there). The whole thing just felt like it was written in a hurry (which it probably was--deadlines are real).
I also really couldn't stand all of the expensive and extravagant presents Nick kept giving to Elise. I actually liked Nick's character quite a bit, except that he seemed to love spending ridiculous amounts of money. I get that he was trying to help Elise recognize her value, but to me it seemed really superficial, almost like the only way to show a person's value is with money. And then Elise decides to give Nick a really expensive gift too and basically has to drain her savings account to pay for it, and for what? For something Nick could have purchased with a snap of his fingers. I guess it shows a certain level of sacrifice from Elise, but still, I think a sentimental gift would have gone further show her feelings. The book even ended with Nick giving her a Lladró statue of Cinderella, which was supposed to be so sweet and symbolic but just felt like one more way to spend a lot of money. It just seemed like money was a much bigger part of the story than it needed to be, and every time Nick gave her another gift and talked about how much it cost and why it was so special, I rolled my eyes a little bit more.
So yes, it left much to be desired, but did I stay up until midnight to finish it? Um, not telling . . .
And now, please share your favorite sappy Regency or Christmas books because there's no shame in admitting you read them. (Please tell me you read them, too, on occasion. )