TOP TEN TUESDAY : LEAST TO MOST FAVORITE ROMANCE TROPES

Happy TTT! The theme this week is a genre freebie. So I thought of listing down romance tropes in the order of my least to most favorite romance tropes. Bear in mind, this order keeps changing for me, especially the most favorite ones. I’m keeping it simple this time.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.

 

  • Abduction or Kidnap: Stockholm syndrome is not my thing.

  • Love Triangle: I abhor love triangles, especially when a character strings two people around.

  • Instant love or love at first sight: Instant attraction – Yes. Instant love – No.

  • Cohabitation Romance: Love between the roomies? The storytelling is almost always predictable.

  • Forbidden Love: Who can deny the charm of a forbidden romance? Apparently me. I don’t necessarily hate it. But I won’t pick up a book solely because of this trope.

  • Second Chance: This trope has so much potential! But lately, books with this trope has been disappointing me with the poor and predictable quality of storytelling.

  • Arranged Marriage: Mix this trope with POC characters and you’ve got me convinced!

  • Fake Relationship: It’s an overused trope. But I find such giddiness when I find a rare story that uses it in a refreshing way!

  • Friends to lovers: When executed well, this trope brings me unbridled happiness.

  • Enemies to lovers: Oh yes! Bring me all that unresolved tension.

BOOK REVIEW : The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository .
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 10th 2009.


synopsis

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women, mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends, view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.


review

I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver the other day. It was on the subject of climbing Mount Everest. A major point of the discussion was how without the Sherpa – who have little choice but to risk their lives to earn their livelihood – it would be impossible for any climber to achieve this feat.

There was a clip included of a TV presenter who asks a Sherpa whether he thinks it’s wrong what they have to go through for the sake of the climbers. After a moment’s pause, the Sherpa humbly begins to say that they consider the climbers their family during expeditions. Before he can end his answer though, the presenter hugs him as if he got the answer he wanted.

So when at the beginning of The Help, Aibileen is asked by Miss Skeeter, her employer’s friend, whether she wishes things or rather the status quo could change, that clip of the Sherpa and the presenter came to my mind. Skeeter’s intentions are good when asking the question, as probably were that of the presenter’s. But the question sounds so laughably ignorant and naive when seen from the other’s point of view, you can’t help but shake your head.

The Other. Us and them. I learned about these terms and conditioned mentality while studying anthropology in college. We all have this sense of ethnocentrism – how we feel we are the better ones. What I loved most about The Help is how this conditioning is clearly present in both the parties. Even the black characters have a sense of moral superiority over their white employers. For the women working as the help, their white employers are the other. For the white community, the former are the other.

Another admirable aspect of the writing was that not for one moment you feel there is a white savior component, even though it is about a white woman interviewing and writing about the black women working as help. But it’s not the former doing the saving. No, it is about the black women doing their own saving. It is about all these people uniting to serve their own purposes.

There is no glorification here. It does not glorify the black women serving as the help. They are humans just like us. They make mistakes and bad choices too. The employers are not vilified either. They are humans too. And that is what makes this story stand out.

Going into this book, I was afraid of it being too preachy or perhaps boring. But instead, it was engaging to the point that I was glued to the pages and completed it without taking a break. The story and the main characters spoke to me and made me root for them.

I am sure I have not said anything that has not already been said about the book. I’ll just end it by saying that books like this are makes reading worth it at the end of the day.


ratings

★★★★

ARC REVIEW : THE KISSING GAME

Author: Marie Harte
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository .
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Romance; Contemporary; Contemporary Romance.
Release Date: February 4th 2020.


synopsis


“I bet you a kiss you can’t resist me.”

Game on.

Rena Jackson is ready. She’s worked her tail off to open up her own hair salon, and she’s almost ready to quit her job at the dive bar. Rena’s also a diehard romantic, and she’s had her eye on bar regular Axel Heller for a while. He’s got that tall-dark-and-handsome thing going big time. Problem is, he’s got that buttoned-up Germanic ice man thing going as well. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Rena’s about ready to give up on Axel and find her own Mr. Right.

At six foot six, Axel knows he intimidates most people. He’s been crushing on the gorgeous waitress for months. But the muscled mechanic is no romantic, and his heart is buried so deep, he has no idea how to show Rena what he feels. He knows he’s way out of his depth and she’s slipping away. So, he makes one crazy, desperate play…


review

If there is anything I hate in a book, it’s when the author tells us what the characters are feeling, instead of showing. And The Kissing Game had that in spades.

This book got negative points right at the beginning, when in the very first page, we find out the the hero has still not recovered from the fresh wound of his mother’s death from six months. Then we go on to find out about his feelings about the heroine through his stream of consciousness, and get introduced to more characters than I care about.

Things only continue to go downhill from there. There is no real connection between the hero and the heroine. Unless you count them thinking to themselves or talking to other characters about what they find in attractive in each other. I do not simply know who was more annoying – the hero or heroine. The hero grated on my nerves right off the bat with his arrogant attitude. The heroine was flimsy with her mind changing every minute. One moment she is dazzled by him, and in the next she wants kids and decides he’s not for her.

One main reason I requested the ARC was because of the diversity and POC element. But I felt that this element was introduced to just tick a box, nothing more. Except her skin color, I did not find a single thing about her life that could throw relevance to her heritage. The hero is German, and the author makes him use German words randomly to show for it. Also, the synopsis calls him ‘tall, DARK and handsome’. But he is in actuality a pale blonde guy. Look at the cover? Yeah.

There were too many characters in the book. The main couple talk to them more than with each other. I found out later that on that this is a companion novel of sorts to the author’s books. Maybe if I had not read this as a standalone, I would have disliked it less… On second thought, maybe not.

I had expected to dislike this book and hoped for it to surprise me. It did not. I hate it when that happens!


ratings

☆☆☆☆

ARC REVIEW: HOUSE RULES

Author: Ruby Lang
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository .
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Romance; Contemporary; Contemporary Romance.
Release Date: February 10th 2020.


synopsis

Seventeen years ago, different dreams pulled Simon Mizrahi and Lana Kuo apart. But when Lana takes a position as a chef back in Manhattan, her apartment search puts her right in her ex-husband’s path. Music teacher Simon is also hunting for a new place to live, and when Lana proposes they be platonic roomies, well…it’s not the worst idea he’s ever heard.

A sunny uptown two-bedroom sounds far more appealing than the cramped, noisy space where he’s currently struggling to work. Still, Simon has seen firsthand that Lana’s a flight risk, so he agrees on a trial basis.

Three months. With strict boundaries.

Living together again feels wonderfully nostalgic, but when the ex-couple’s lingering feelings rise to the surface, the rules go out the window.

Of course, chemistry was never their problem. But while Simon’s career feels back on solid footing, Lana is still sorting out what she wants. With their trial period soon coming to an end, they’ll have to decide if their living arrangement was merely a sexy trip down memory lane or a reunion meant to last.


review

House Rules caught me by surprise. It was a pleasant read, which I honestly had not expected it to be.

I had definitely not expected to like the set-up of how the exes would come to live together. Because, a premise like that is hard to sell. But the author does a stellar job of making the set-up convincing. And she does that in a very effective way of the characters voicing the doubts that the readers might have with the whole arrangement. Of course, the state of the New York real estate helped make it more convincing too.

I had not expected the story to play out the way it did. There were no awkward encounters. That is to say, there was plenty of awkwardness in their interactions, but no silly or used tropes that we usually find in cohabiting romances. I also enjoyed the refreshing absence of any plot-device like jealousy or a third person’s involvement.

The lack of denial was also unexpected. Both Lana and Simon are very conscious of their lingering feelings and attraction towards each other. Simon more than Lana. Both in their forties, they are mature enough to make conscious efforts to not make the arrangement uncomfortable. There is no bitterness or efforts to one-up each other.

I could relate to Lana very much. She quit a career mid-way because she realized her happiness lied elsewhere. She is pragmatic and grounded. Simon, on the other hand, is more ambitious and stubborn. The author does a good job showing us their contrasting personalities through their actions, rather than just telling it to us.

There was no drawn-out angst. The main conflict was also resolved very quickly. A little too quickly if you ask me. It only takes a conversation with an elderly for Simon to realize his mistakes. It felt almost like a cop-out. And while I like that there was not too much focus on their past, I still would have liked a more layered look into their relationship and what led to its derailment in the first place.

Overall, it’s a short and sweet read. The writing is engaging, and the story is believable, aside from the want of a little more depth. I think I’ll definitely read more of this author in the future.


ratings

★★★☆

TOP TEN TUESDAY : SPRING-SUMMER TBR

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is doing well. These are tough times. Please stay cautious and take extra care of yourself!

The topic for this week’s TTT is Spring TBR. Where I live (Bangladesh), we have six seasons, with each season having 2 months. Summer starts Mid-April here. So a Spring TBR would be too short. That’s why, I’m listing my Spring-Summer TBR here.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.


 

 

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

A romance between two fiances who have fallen out of love with each other, but cannot call off the wedding. Pranks, sabotage and rediscovering love are my favorite things in a romance. Can’t wait!

 

 

 

What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter

Internet friends turning into IRL crush?

Count me in!

 

 

 

 

The Heart Principle

The third installment of what has become my favorite series and featuring a character that I absolutely adored previously. And to add to that, it’s a the author’s take on a gender swapped Sabrina?

Can you blame me for being excited?

 

 

Someday in Paris by Olivia Lara

A story of star-crossed lovers set in Paris in the 1950s?

Tell me more.

 

 

 

 

The Trouble With Hating You by Sanji Patel

An engineer and a lawyer meeting being set up by their parents. Both people of color and Asian? Is this  the book I’ve been waiting for all my life?

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morganthaler

I have a feeling a vacation romance is just the thing I’ll need during what I expect to be a scorching Summer.

 

 

 

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Two authors of opposing genres stuck spending the summer in the same place, strike a deal to overcome their respective creative ruts.

I don’t think I can survive the potential disappointing such a brilliant idea not living up to its potential.

 

 

 

More Than Maybe Erin Hahn

So what if my ARC request for this cute YA about a music blogger, and the son of the punk rock musician got declined? (Cries in rivers)

I am still allowed to be excited for this!

 

 

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

A journey of a former Olympic gymnast finding herself. I’m hoping for a healthy dose of emotional payoff from this book.

 

 

 

 

Daughter of the Reich by Louise Fein

The daughter of a high-ranking Nazi official forced to choose between her loyalty to her country and an impossible love.

Such a compelling synopsis, and perfect for my recent interest in fiction set in World War II.

ARC REVIEW : THIS TERRIBLE BEAUTY

Author: Katrin Schumann
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository .
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction; World War II; Romance.
Release Date: March 1st 2020.


synopsis

On the windswept shores of an East German island, Bettina Heilstrom struggles to build a life from the ashes. World War II has ended, and her country is torn apart. Longing for a family, she marries Werner, an older bureaucrat who adores her. But after joining the fledgling secret police, he is drawn deep into its dark mission and becomes a dangerous man.

When Bettina falls in love with an idealistic young renegade, Werner discovers her infidelity and forces her to make a terrible choice: spend her life in prison or leave her home forever. Either way she loses both her lover and child.

Ten years later, Bettina has reinvented herself as a celebrated photographer in Chicago, but she’s never stopped yearning for the baby she left behind. Surprised by an unexpected visitor from her past, she resolves to return to her ravaged homeland to reclaim her daughter and uncover her beloved’s fate, whatever the cost.

 


review

Reading historical fiction is always enlightening, because even through fiction I get to learn some part of history that I was previously unaware or uninformed about. But sometimes they make me feel aware of my ignorance. Throughout my reading of This Terrible Beauty, my own ignorance nagged at me.

Majority of this novel is set in the post-world war II Germany, a part of history I had no idea about. The story is told on alternate timelines. In 1960s, Bettina has become a distinguished photo journalist in Chicago. When her sister’s ex-husband visits her, she is forced to revisit memories of her time in East Germany, which was still under the control of the German Democratic Republic.

We see through her eyes the harrowing experience of war, and being left to fend for herself in her father’s fisherman’s cottage after he dies. It is loneliness that compels her to marry a man she does not love, and also later cheat on him.

I could connect to Bettina, even in her mistakes and wrong decisions. Her helplessness and fears are portrayed with a depth that can’t be ignored. She married a man believing he was kind, and wanting to be a mother. But when after years of marriage, she cannot conceive and Werner starts to get deeply involved with the secret police and their misdeeds, life becomes even more suffocating for her.

Affairs are not my cup of tea. But the author sets a compelling stage for Betting to fall for Peter, the pastor’s son, an idealistic man who has had to fight his own demons. Her escalating fear of leaving Werner, who had started to grow more dominant over her while amassing power through his position .

The author does a commendable job in portraying the dangerous ambience of East Germany, with the government’s frightening grip on every facet of living. The characters are also very real. Even Werner, maybe a villain at first impression, forces you to sympathize with him more than once.

Bettina’s journey was believable and compelling. We see her grow from a lonely girl to a helpless wife and mother to an independent woman.

One thing I did not like about the story was how it ended. Not the ending, mind you. But the manner of the ending. The epilogue left the possibility of a sequel, something I wouldn’t mind.


ratings

★★★★☆

 

 

 

WEBTOON REVIEW : CHEESE IN THE TRAP

Author: Sun Kki
Links
: LINE (You can read the webtoon here) |  Goodreads
Publisher: Naver
Genre: Young Adult; Contemporary; Romance; Webtoon; Manhwa; Graphic Novel;


synopsis

 


Having returned to college after a year long break, Hong Sul, a hard-working over-achiever, inadvertently got on the wrong side of a suspiciously perfect senior named Yoo Jung.

From then on her life took a turn for the worse and Sul was almost certain it was all Yoo Jung’s doing.

So why is he suddenly acting so friendly a year later?

 


review

So I’m on a reading spree of Webtoons and Mangas these days. So, for those who don’t know – Webtoons are digital graphic novels/comics in Korea. Sort of like Mangas (Japanese graphic novels/comics) and Manhwas (Korean graphic novels/comics), except you read it online. Interestingly, for reasons beyond my grasp, the volumes are called seasons and chapters are episodes. The webtoon has a total of 4 seasons, and 301 episodes.

A little backstory at first. Cheese in the Trap is perhaps the most popular webtoon till now. So popular in fact that it has both a movie and a drama adaptation. But none of them are as good as the webtoon. The drama aired back when the webtoon had not been completed, and although it had a promising start, it went haywire at the end. (The ending was so horrible that the  backlash was also of massive proportions. I watched the drama and the backlash was truly justified.)

Story

Junior year starts off on a weird note for Seol. A department senior she is wary of is suddenly being very friendly and wants to hang out with her. Jung Yoo is the popular senior that everyone wants to be close with. He’s handsome, rich and polite. A model student, he also happens to be the top of the department, and consequently the original contender for a scholarship that ultimately Seol got. He’s the one person girls want and guys want to be. He’s also extremely generous, always being the one paying for drinks and dinners.

But Seol has seen a side of him unlike anybody else. We see through flashbacks, their first meeting which got them off on a wrong foot, the eventual mishaps that keep happening to Seol. From stalkers to sabotage by jealous classmates, nothing went smooth for Seol in her sophomore year, so much so that she wanted to take a gap-year. While Seol has no evidence that Jung was behind it, her instincts tell her that it was him. Are her instincts right or is it just paranoia?

Narration

The narration of the story does wonders in making it even more compelling. Initially, we only see Seol’s point of view. The juxtaposition of the present timeline and her past is very fascinating. At first, we only see things from her perspective. It’s also interesting because we see Jung being the good Samaritan to Seol in the present time, but then we see his cold side in the past. We are left as confused as Seol. But then we see the same flashbacks from the perspective of other characters and the narrative totally changes. It’s even more fascinating in the later stages of the story when we slowly start to see things from Jung’s eyes.

Characters

The characters are the USP of the story. I have never read such complex, layered set of characters together. Characters that start off as minor or insignificant later turn out to become pivotal to the story. And there are many of them. A number of characters from Jung and Seol’s department play major parts.

The main characters are Seol, Jung and Inho. Make no mistake, this is no love triangle. Inho and his sister Inha are two orphans who were taken in by Jung’s father when they were young. Although, they were friends, somethings happened to sour them. Now, Inho and Jung can’t bear each other’s presence. And Inha has become a gold-digger of sorts, leeching off others.


Inho starts getting close to Seol after he returns to the city and sees her closeness with Jung. He’s childish, short-tempered and impulsive. But he has a good heart. His friendship with Seol was one of my favorite things to read. He has his demons, a broken that put a stop to his hopes of being a pianist. But he’s loyal to fault and protective of Seol.

Seol is an interesting protagonist. When we start off, she’s quiet, reticent and unassertive. She easily lets others walk over her. She also has been neglected by her parents in favor of a younger brother. She is smart, determined, observant and hard-working. But as the story progresses, we see her become assertive and and feisty if not a little manipulative thanks to Jung’s influence.

Jung is the most complex character I’ve ever read. He’s a mystery for 90% of the story. One moment, he makes you go ‘Aww’, and the next moment he creeps you out. You will love him but also be wary of him. I thought for a long time that he might be a sociopath. But as the story progressed, it became even more difficult to catalogue him into a box.

 


The characters that I genuinely adored are Bora and Eun Taek, who are the besties of Seol. They are better friends to her than she is to them. The best part about this webtoon is that the characters are all people we see around us. Even Inha who gives an initial impression of being a manipulative gold digger, has layers and layers of complexity. The depth in the delineation of all the characters – major and minor – makes it one of the best work of fiction I’ve read.

 

Setting

Although the story is set on Korea, it’s as relatable as it can get. Anyone who’s gone to college will be able to connect with the characters and the scenarios. Be it the group assignments, the part-time jobs, the competition or the obnoxious senior who always leeches off others’ hard work or the nerd who feels bitter and unappreciated. We’ve all seen it. While Seol gets a little too much of her end of the short stick, it never for a moment feels over the top.

Romance


The evolution of Jung and Seol’s relationship starts from an uncomfortable friendship, to awkward dating phase to a slower and deeper understanding of each other. I won’t deny that there were some instances that I felt that there were toxic elements in their relationship. But those were sort of addressed.  And I liked that while their relationship is a major storyline, it is not always at the forefront. It always comes down to the growth of Seol, Jung, Inho and all the other characters. I also like that there was no tangible love triangle, even though there were shipping wars.

A special mention for Eun Taek and Bora, who have the most adorable romance!

Art

Art is an important component of any graphic fiction. The art is beautiful here too. While it can be a little cartoonist with the expressions at first, but it gets better as the webtoon progresses. The maturity of the characters is visible through the art too as much as the story. I also like how each character has its own features. I’ve read mangas where most characters are drawn with same features, just different hairstyles. But every character has their own unique style. And I appreciated that.

Ending

There are so many arcs in the story which make you want to pull your hair in frustration. But they always culminate on a satisfying note. The ending of the whole story was also very satisfying. Almost every character gets a satisfying resolution.

Hello! Still with me?

I won’t be surprised if you skimmed through my review. It’s LONG, I know. But we’re talking about a 300-episode long webtoon here! All I can say is whoever starts it will have a hard time leaving it incomplete. It’s addictive as hell. Strongly recommended.


ratings

★★