Back again for another installation of Just Trust Me Picks!
Title: How the Penguins Saved Veronica
Author: Hazel Prior
Publish Date: June 16, 2020
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Eighty-five-year-old
Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a
worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary
about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists
she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after
arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby
penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica's closed
heart starts to open.
Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about."
My Two Cents:
In "How the Penguins Saved Veronica," Veronica is not exactly happy. She is in her mid-eighties and she knows the end is coming near. She has no friends except for her housekeeper, who probably mostly stays around because she gets paid. She has no family (or so she thinks) until she find out that her late son, whom she gave up for adoption, has a son who is now an adult. So Veronica decides she MUST meet him, which sets off of a chain of events that will start with disappointment and end with wonder, love, and the realization that even the grumpy Veronica can find joy!
Oh, this book was such a perfect way to start out 2021 when things still feel very much on fire. I LOVE the trope of a very grumpy character finding joy and that things really aren't that bad (these days, I sometimes feel like one of those grumpy characters). I thought this book was initially going to just be about Veronica meeting her grandson, Patrick, but this book is so much more and yes, there are really penguins. Veronica is the perfect grump: everything must be just so, she does things on her own time, and never seems to think about how others may feel. I loved how we slowly get to find out what turned her into the grump she has been for her entire life. Everything seems to fall into place. The secondary characters like Patrick and Terry, one of the penguin scientists, make for a well-rounded cast.
The best part of the book really starts after Veronica learns about the penguins in Antarctica and decides she MUST go see them. A scientific project in such a desolate place is not the greatest place to visit and definitely not a good place for a holiday. She is enchanted and I loved how we get to see Veronica almost turn giddy seeing the penguins (I cannot blame her one bit).
This is a very warm-hearted book! I loved this sweet story and it's perfect for when you are just looking for a good escape!
Title: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: September 2018
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Hazel Camille Bradford
knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the
challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them
running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in
a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest
Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.
Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?"
My Two Cents:
"Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating" is an adorable friends-to-lovers story from the writing duo behind Christina Lauren (which are becoming some of my favorite books when I'm looking for a good romance that will leave me sighing happily). Josh and Hazel have been friends for a long time but they have never dated, it seems totally unthinkable that they would even consider it. Can really good friends ever make it as more-than-just-friends?
With as rough as 2020 was on my reading, one genre that I had considerable success with getting into was romance. With everything going on in the world, the happy endings that romances have brought me considerable joy in a year that made it so hard to focus on reading and Christina Lauren books are some of my favorites!
Hazel is a joy! She is an inexhaustible elementary school teacher with a bunch of pets (which this animal lover really liked). Josh is much more serious and while he loves Hazel, he doesn't quite get all of her chaos but he knows it comes with the territory and eventually he's more than happy to be entangled by Hurricane Hazel. I love all of the little touches that the author adds to the characters so that readers fall for them as well!
Like so many characters from other Christina Lauren books, Josh and Hazel both feel really real. The chemistry between them is palpable and even if it isn't surprising where they eventually get to with their relationship, you are cheering so hard for them the entire way. I also really loved how the authors capture such great banter between both of them: they are friends for a reason and that is clear in the way they tease each other and keep each other on their toes.
This book was a perfect pick for chasing away some of the 2020 blues!
Title: Letters to the Lost
Author: Iona Grey
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: May 25, 2015
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "I promised to love
you forever, in a time when I didn't know if I'd live to see the start
of another week. Now it looks like forever is finally running out. I
never stopped loving you. I tried, for the sake of my own sanity, but I
never even got close, and I never stopped hoping either.
Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.
In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel."
My Two Cents:
"Letters to the Lost" is a story told in two times: the first time is during the height of World War II and the second time is much more recent. As the story unfolds, we see how the characters in both the past and more recent time twist together. The World War II story line was much more captivating to me: a hidden love story of lovers torn apart is one of my favorite tropes and so I was so interested to see what happened between Stella and Dan and how they were first brought together so forcefully only to be torn apart.
The story unfolded fairly slowly for me at first but I read this book as a group read and it was the group that kept me going until my interest took off a little more later on in the book. The more present day story felt very much like simply a vehicle for the past story until the very end when light is shed on what happened to Stella and Dan. Jess and the other characters in the more present day story did not seem to be as well developed as the characters in the past story, which made them not nearly as interesting and those parts of the books go rather slow.
The detail in the WWII sections of the book were really great. I loved the descriptions of what the characters were doing and thinking as the world was going through such chaos around them. I loved the juxtaposition of the chaos of war and the enduring human feeling of love between Stella and Dan. It's these descriptions that make this book particularly bittersweet.
Overall, this book was good but I wanted to be more engaged with the present day story and I wanted the book to feel more balanced. Because of the ending, the present day story needed to be there but I wanted some more punch. The descriptions made this book a great treat for the historical fiction lover in me.
I know I'm not going to be the first one to say this but I am so ready for 2020 to leave. While there have been some high points like being able to spend more time at home and lie low (something that I recognize is a privilege as well a gift for my typically over-scheduled self), there have been a lot of low points. While not the most important low light, my reading has been down the drain, my friends. Pre-pandemic, I imagined that having extra time at home would equal more reading and throughout the past year, it did not always mean that. With the state of the world and everything going on between the pandemic and all of the other news that was made this year, it was so easy to get locked into doom scrolling on my phone. Finally in November (really after the election), I was able to get back to reading but still not as much as I used to read pre-pandemic (who would have ever guessed that I would miss my commute???). The upside of all this is that I still managed to read some pretty great books this year!
In no particular order, here are the ones at the top of my list:
What were some of your favorite reads this year?