Bridget Jones’s Diary

Meet Bridget Jones—a 30-something Singleton who is certain she would have all the answers if she could:

a. lose 7 pounds

b. stop smoking

c. develop Inner Poise

“123 lbs. (how is it possible to put on 4 pounds in the middle of the night? Could flesh have somehow solidified becoming denser and heavier? Repulsive, horrifying notion), alcohol units 4 (excellent), cigarettes 21 (poor but will give up totally tomorrow), number of correct lottery numbers 2 (better, but nevertheless useless)…”

Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic. Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and — like millions of readers the world round — you’ll find yourself shouting, “Bridget Jones is me!”

Summary from goodreads

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I’m not a big New Year’s Eve person. I never have been. So, rather than going out, I have always been in the camp of people who stays home, watches movies and drinks mulled wine. NYE for me and my tribe tends to mean British rom coms from the early 2000s, specifically Love Actually followed by Bridget Jones’s Diary. So long as Hugh Grant is either fighting or dancing, we’re in.

I’ve read Bridget Jones’s Diary before, but years ago when I was still in my teens. I figured I was well overdue for a reread – especially now that I am, sort of, an adult.

Though it is an 90s as can be – at one point Bridget is battling with her VCR, and there’s a lot of discussion about calling 1471 to see if you’ve missed a phone call while you were out (landlines! Lol!) – Helen Fielding’s comic take on middle class single womanhood remains very funny in 2018. It’s kind of like Georgia Nicholson, but for adults.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a masterfully crafted satire that takes shots at everything from the self-help industry, to feminism and TV news and, most of all, dating. The book manages to be even more ridiculous than the movie – at one point, Bridget’s mother is on the run from the law – and though he isn’t in it as much as I would like, Mark Darcy somehow even more attractive. If you’re into the whole stern man thing, which I very much am.

The book chronicles Bridget stumbling through successes, failures and embarrassments (favourite moment: when Bridget runs into her recently ex-boyfriend, Daniel at an art exhibition and tries to escape by running into a portaloo that turns out to be part of the exhibit ‘I burst into the cubicle and was just about to get on with it when I realized that the toilet was actually a moulding of the inside of a toilet, vacuum-packed in plastic. Then Daniel put his head around the door. “Bridge, don’t wee on the Installation, will you?” he said, and closed the door again.’ ).

It’s a sweet, funny, cringe-worthy and relatable read that I would recommend to any women I know. Lately it’s been difficult being a female-identifying person. The news is full of stories of sexual harassment, assault and coercion, and, of course, the inevitable #MeToo backlash, that the world can feel like kind of hostile place sometimes. It was really nice, in between cocktails with friends having the is it all men though? I know it’s supposed to be not all men but it’s really starting to feel like all men conversations, to pick up a book whose only real aim was to make me laugh.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to let yourself laugh, and Bridget Jones’s Diary will certainly help you do that.

PS I also highly recommend The Edge of Reason. I haven’t read it since I was 19 and working in Caffe Nero, but I remember it clearly because one day I missed my bus to work because it was making me laugh so much. That was a fun one to explain to my boss.

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The Golem and the Jinni

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark, Kabbalastic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbours while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Marvellous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously written inventive and unforgettable tale.

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I read The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker for the reading challenge (I am so behind on reviews. You have no idea.) at the suggestion of Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer. I am so glad I took the recommendation, because I LOVED it.

This book took me utterly by surprise. I went in expecting a supernatural romance and instead I got this stunning novel of ideas wrapped in gorgeous prose and a romance that engaged me more than any I have read in a long time.

It’s a novel consumed by the question of free will: do we have it? Should we have it? What does it mean to have it? The Golem, having been made to serve others, something she would have done for the entirety of her existence were it not for the sudden death of her master –  who she was magically bound to obey without question –  is suddenly thrown into an unknown world of independence. She has free will now, something she was never supposed to have, and with it she has to build herself from the ground up. She has to reverse engineer values, beliefs and desires while trying to pass as human to the people around her. She knows she has the potential to endanger and hurt people, and so she builds her entire life around avoiding that possibility. She is the foil to the villain of the novel, who was told as a young man training for the priesthood that he was destined for hell, and so lived a life worthy of that ending, determined there was no other option.

Wecker also uses her novel as a vehicle to have a really interesting conversation about faith. The characters are a mix when it comes to faith – one is a Rabbi, and utterly sure of his beliefs, others are atheists and still others are a little mix of the two. Either they don’t believe, and they kind of wish that they did, or they do believe but are plagued with doubt.

“What do you think?” he pressed. “Do you believe in their God?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “The Rabbi did. And he was the wisest person I’ve ever met. So yes, maybe I do.”
“A man tells you to believe, and you believe?”
“It depends on the man. Besides, you believe the stories that you were told. Have you ever met a jinni who could grant wishes?”
“No, but that ability has all but disappeared.”
“So, it’s just stories now. And perhaps the humans did create their God. But does that make him less real? Take this arch. They created it. Now it exists.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t grant wishes. It doesn’t do anything.”
“True,” she said. “But I look at it, and I feel a certain way. Maybe that’s its purpose.”

It’s so hard to have an interesting conversation about faith. Emotions run too high, and each side feels like the other’s belief system is a threat to their own, rather than simply a different one (I will hold my hand up and say I am SO guilty of this). What I really liked about the back and forth about faith – in God or in no God – and doubt was the lack of a good/bad dichotomy. The Rabbi helped the Golem because he believed God sent her to him, while his nephew, a staunch atheist, cared for the homeless through the shelter he ran because walking the streets of New York he encountered a problem he thought he could help solve. Like the Golem said, maybe the point isn’t so much the faith itself – something people who believe would very much disagree with me about, I know, and I’m not trying to offend anyone – but how to makes you feel. And, so long as that’s love – and sadly it so often isn’t for both people who believe in God and people who don’t – then you’re basically on the right track.

In The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker has created a riveting story and a vital conversation about faith and difference that feels particularly vital in this time of conflict and wilful misunderstanding.

The Hating Game

NEMESIS (n.)

  1. an opponent of rival whom a person cannot best or overcome
  2. a person’s undoing
  3. Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She prides herself on being loved by everyone at work – except for imposing, impeccably attired Joshua Templeman.

Trapped in a shared office, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive game of one-upmanship. There;s the Staring Game, The Mirror Game, The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when a huge promotion is on offer.

If Lucy wins, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she questioning herself? Maybe she doesn’t hate him. And just maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. 

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I read The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne in one sitting the day after my 24th birthday. I haven’t done that since I finished university. It felt good.

Fellow new adults: I know that every day feels like it has to be some desperate, scrambling attempt to avoid ultimate failure, but what I realised, lying in bed at 1pm reading the final pages of The Hating Game, is that sometimes you have to relax a while on that cliff edge. Whether you do that with a ridiculously sexy book is up to you, but I thoroughly recommend it.

The Hating Game is romantic comedy at its best. Set in the world of publishing – which Nora Ephron taught us is the perfect backdrop for epic romance – we are introduced to Lucy, co-executive assistant to co-CEO Helene Pascal of Bexley & Gamin. There are basically two essential aspects of Lucy.

  1. She’s wanted to work in publishing her whole life and,
  2. She is obsessed with her co-executive assistant, Joshua.

Only a few months before, everything was going according to plan. Gamin publishing house was Lucy’s dream job – granted she wasn’t working in editorial, like she wanted, but everything was going well enough that it wouldn’t be difficult to progress sideways into editorial when the time was right.

But, with the rapid decline of the publishing industry, that time seemed to be getting farther and farther away. It all but disappeared when, in a last ditch attempt to stay open, Gamin joined with Bexley, a competing (and equally financially sunk) publisher. With Bexley came Joshua, and the hating game began.

Spoiler alert: the hating game takes a turn for the sexy.

‘Love and hate are visceral. Your stomach twists at the thought of that person. The heart in your chest beats heavy and bright, nearly visible through your flesh and clothes. Your appetite and sleep are shredded. Every interaction spikes your blood with a dangerous kind of adrenaline, and you’re on the brink of fight or flight. Your body is barely under your control. You’re consumed, and it scares you.’

To be totally honest, for the first three or so chapters of The Hating Game, I thought Lucy was nuts. When I say she is obsessed with Josh, I am not kidding. The girl lives and breathes this man. Sally Thorne manipulates the situation so that you totally believe Lucy’s only two options for dealing with Joshua are to kill him or sleep with him. Fortunately for the reader, Thorne went with the fun option.

Hate turned love (probably more accurately described as love mistaken for hate) is one of my favourite romantic tropes, and Thorne executes it perfectly. Watching Lucy and Josh circle each other keeps you turning the pages hours after you should have gotten out of bed (in my case, anyway). Josh is every inch the moody, sexy, intense but secretly caring guy that you want him to be. He challenges Lucy in all the areas that she needs it, and helps her to grow into a more assertive person. In turn, she teaches him to be less of an asshole.

All I can say is pick a difficult day, clear your schedule and read the book.

Unhooked

For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home – all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realises her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

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If you’re in the mood for sexy pirates, an island built on the concept of desire and lots of entirely gratuitous touching, then Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell is for you.

As it happened, at the time of picking the book up, I was in the mood for all such things.

Lisa Maxwell knows how to write a hot guy. Though there were issues with the book – the pointless and trope-ish best friend who we forget about for ninety percent of the narrative, our MC, Gwendolyn, who is the epitome of the special snowflake, and a good deal of instalove to boot – one thing I had to admit is that in Gwendolyn’s position – which was mostly in danger – I probably would have spent a similar amount of time thinking about whether or not one of these guys was going to hurry up and kiss me.

Gwen’s options were two-fold.

Option one being Captain Hook, or Rowan, as he comes to be known. Maxwell has dispensed with the creepy prosthesis that was his namesake and instead given him a fancy, fairy-manufactured replacement hand that may as well be the real thing. And Gwen would know, because she spends a lot of time connected to it. He’s mysterious, potentially evil and the owner of a very sexy Irish accent (he calls Gwen ‘lass’ a lot, which you might not think would be hot but it turns out totally is). He has a dedicated crew he supposedly cares for, but doesn’t mention them much after their deaths – much like Gwen’s attitude to her typical YA bestie – I have assume this is because he is so overcome by lust he doesn’t experience his grief in a traditional manner.

Option two is Peter Pan. He is not, you will be glad to hear, a child. Instead, he is a much more appealing, forever eighteen-year-old playboy with anger issues. Like Hook, he is probably evil, but unlike Hook, has the power to make you forget all your problems so you don’t worry about your impending death, missing best friend, or the mother who spent the first sixteen years of your life trying to prevent you from ending up exactly where you now are, and instead are primarily concerned with the speed at which he is trying to get in your pants (ideally he’d get on with it as soon as possible). He’s even more blatantly sexual than Hook (who may or may not be the good bad guy in this scenario) but definitely comes second so far as fashion choices are concerned. While Hook sports a sort of Sherlock-ian coat, Pan wears skin tight, skin colour (I literally couldn’t make this up) leather trousers.

Unhooked is a nice quick read. Maxwell doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the set up of her Neverland, which I liked – excessive exposition bores me – instead choosing to thrust us into the middle of the action. This did mean that some of the bigger moments weren’t quite earned, but it was easy enough to get swept along with the pace of the narrative that I didn’t mind too much. Throughout Unhooked, Maxwell does a really great job of building up the atmosphere of Neverland – an undercurrent of uncertainty, danger and sex (or I should say, potential sex. This is YA, after all.) – that is present in every plant, human and animal/terrifying sea monster. You never want to stop reading: someone is always about the make out or drop dead.

Sometimes you just need to escape into a book where a woman with power has a bunch of sexy guys falling at her feet. Unhooked provides just that, and reading it reminded me that sometimes a book can just be fun.  And it really, really was.

The Unexpected Everything

Before the scandal, Andie had important plans. And zero of them involved walking an insane amount of dogs, being in the same house as her dad or hanging out with Clark. Now there’s a whole summer stretching out in front of Andie without a plan. And Andie always sticks to the plan.

But here’s the thing – if everything’s always mapped out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that?

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The Unexpected Everything was my first Morgan Matson. It’s a cute, romantic, heartfelt and emotional read that had me thinking Matson has been praying at the altar of Sarah Dessen for at least as long as I have.

Five years before the start of the book, Andie lost her mother to ovarian cancer. After that her father, a politician, withdrew from her and disappeared into his work. As you can imagine, these events left Andie with some pretty serious abandonment issues. They also made her into a total control freak. She plans every aspect of her life according to how it will appear on her CV. She has learned to be carefully expressionless during her father’s speeches. She’s never had a relationship than lasted longer than three weeks.

So, when her father gets embroiled in political scandal and Andie ends up losing her summer internship, she doesn’t handle it well. But those events, it turns out, are only the beginning. Once there’s a crack in her carefully constructed control, it’s not long until the whole thing comes crashing down around her.

Watching it come crashing down is the fun part.

The way Matson handled Andie’s insecurities really made the book for me. It felt very authentic to watch Andie build meaningful relationships while contemplating the loss of them. Andie lives in terror of the people that she loves leaving her, and this leads her to make some very bad decisions

When we first meet her, we see that with most people she only lives on the surface, refusing to answer meaningful questions and never asking any herself. Even with those she’s closest to she can be distant, and is immensely conflict averse. She would rather manipulate friends into lying to each other than deal with the possibility that they might fall out, and as a result, leave her.

She sometimes drives people away because she’s afraid of how they make her feel.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with her actions and actually found myself groaning ‘Andie NOOOOOOO’ out loud on at least one occasion, everything Andie did made sense to me from within her worldview.

I think characters like Andie challenge us to be compassionate readers. It’s really hard to engage with the insecurities of other people, because 99% of the time, they make absolutely no sense to us. What Matson does is challenge us to become Andie for a little while. To ask ourselves: if we had grown up like Andie did and had the experiences she has had, would we have made different choices?

Probably not.

While I enjoyed getting into Andie’s psyche, everyone else in the book, I found myself wanting more from. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Andie’s friends. I totally did. Andie has a very solid girl group who became her surrogate family after the collapse of her own. Their interactions were sweet and funny… but that was it. They all had summer jobs that seemed to relate in some way to their future plans but we never really got to see that side of them. Mostly they just talked about boys. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – talking about boys is fun – but I just wished there could have been a couple scenes where they talked about anything else.

Clark, Andie’s boyfriend is the typical cute nerd who just happened to start publishing books when he was fourteen. Again, I enjoyed him enough, but he didn’t especially interest me. I am not, for example, fantasising him into existence now the book is over. When I wasn’t reading, I didn’t really think about him at all. As with Andie’s friends, I feel he could have been more complex. The resolution to his problems happened on the fringes of the story. We only knew about them if Andie happened the mention them. This all meant I wasn’t as invested in his character as I would have liked to be. Even the one great revelation of his past trauma didn’t really land. Mostly because Andie didn’t really respond to it and then they never spoke of it again. Weird, no?

Probably my favourite relationship in the book was Andie and her dad. After getting suspended from his job, he and Andie have the opportunity to get to know each other again. Initially, they have an awkward time trying to establish their roles. Alex doesn’t exactly know how to be a father, and suddenly adopting the role of disciplinarian after five years of anything-but does not go down well. Andie, on the other hand, has to adapt to actually being someone’s child again. They also have to start talking about Andie’s mother, and the grief they kept them distant from each other for years. Whether you’re close or not, so much of the parent-child dynamic is about renegotiating your relationship as you grow up. Watching Andie and her dad go through this gave me the serious feels.

If you’re looking for a light summer read that’ll sneak up on you with a surprise kick to the emotional butt, The Unexpected Everything is for you.

You Know Me Well

Mark and Kate have been sitting next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. Until one fateful night, when their lives collide. Kate is running away from a chance of meeting the girl she has loved from afar, while Mark is in love with his best friend, Ryan, who may or may not love him back. They are both lost, and finding each other is the last thing on their minds.

But they don’t realise how important they will become to each other – and how, together, they will navigate the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.

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You Know Me Well, by Nina LaCour and David Levithan is a freaking joyful read. Set in San Francisco during the week of pride (and the final week of high school), the story is alternately told through the eyes of Mark and Katie.

A theme that I enjoy – and one that really isn’t addressed as often as I’d like – is that of falling in friend love. That moment when you meet someone and recognise that they are built out of the same materials as you. That’s what happens to Katie and Mark. In a moment of desperation and confusion and loneliness they come together and build life rafts out of each other’s hands.

It’s awesome.

Mark and Katie also deal with a lot of change throughout the book, in themselves, and the people around them. You Know Me Well looks at the unique and acute pain that happens when people change at different speeds. Entire relationships get turned on their heads when the issues that have made parties a little awkward for the past few months suddenly become un-ignorable. Mark watches as his mostly in the closet sometimes-boyfriend, Ryan starts dating. Katie’s friends get passive aggressive as she withdraws from them and into her relationship with Mark, not realising that the whole process is as painful for her as it is them.

They both resist the changes – Katie by running from them and Mark through flat out denial.

What they learn should be obvious: change can’t be resisted.

‘“Right,” I say. “If you find yourself in hell, keep walking. That seems to be the theme of the night.”

She says, “Could be. Or maybe, if you think you’re in hell, open your eyes. What you see may surprise you.”’

So, as much friend-love as there was in this book there was also a considerable amount of romance and heartbreak. Let’s discuss.

It should first be noted that this is a short book in which a lot happens. As such, I am willing to forgive the massive insta-love moment that occurs between Katie and Violet. But, all the same, it was a little disappointing. Violet was one of those love interests who served as a symbol for the Future, The Great Unknown that is the subject of all Katie’s fears, rather than being an actual character. I think this would have bothered me more if Katie’s story hadn’t so strongly engaged me otherwise. But her panic and confusion struck a chord with me like I haven’t experienced since I read First and Then. Katie felt real to me, even if her relationship didn’t.

As for Mark, his heart, I felt. Reading Mark and Ryan hurt. Waiting and waiting for a person to be ready, only to have them finally arrive only to speed right past you, is the ultimate heartbreak. Too often I read stories where relationships come easy, feelings are always mutual and people ultimately knowable. In reality however, this isn’t always going to be the case. Perhaps the difficulties in Mark’s relationship are the reason behind the simplicity of Katie and Violet. Pain was amply covered already.

As I mentioned, all of this takes place the week of gay pride in San Francisco. All I have to say about that is that I really want to go to pride in San Francisco because it sounds like so much fun. The book is full of characters who fade in and out – like you always meet at any celebration – and feels authentically hectic. Pride is a joyful time of everybody embracing and showing off their beautiful selves (and their beautiful loves).

‘Hiding and denying and being afraid is no way to treat love. Love demands bravery. No matter the occasion, love expects us to rise…’

I hope this one makes it onto everyone’s summer reading lists.