I am so delighted to talk to you about two books that I really enjoyed, one of which is a new favorite! Already out from St. Martins is The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins and The Ex Talk by Rachel Solomon is out from Berkley on January 26th. I am so thankful for both the publishers and Netgalley for the review copies so that I can tell you all my thoughts on these two books. Let’s jump in!
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
I’ve previously read a couple books from Hawkins’ various YA series and always enjoyed her writing, but mostly I requested this book because I love Rachel Hawkins on twitter. It’s pitched as a Southern gothic mystery that is a retelling of Jane Eyre, which is not even a classic I like, so I really wasn’t sure if I would. The fact that it’s a retelling of one of my least favorite classics that I actually read the whole way through (twice) is part of why it took me so long to actually pick it up and yet, I absolutely loved it.
The book starts with Jane’s perspective, as she is walking various dogs in this fancy neighborhood, and occasionally taking valuables from her wealthy clients. When she meets Edward, Eddie, Rochester, she’s immediately intrigued and wants to know more about his wife who has been declared dead, Bea. Bea died, allegedly, in the same boating accident that killed her best friend, Blanche. Anyway, as Jane and Eddie start spending more time together, there are starting to be things that just don’t quite add up.
I am afraid to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll not mention any more plot details here. What I will say instead is that I was absolutely captivated by this. I found it a quick read and when I hit about the 60% mark, I did not want to put it down. I kind of wish we had gotten to know a couple of the characters just a little bit more and I sort of thought the ending was going in a very different direction than it wound up going, but overall, this was really fun and I loved it a lot.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
There was something so magical, for me, about this book and I really had a feeling about this book at 8% in that it would be a favorite of the year. The reason? This quote:
“Every time I imagined adulthood, it looked different from this reality. All the important people in my life have their person. I have an empty house and my supposed dream job that doesn’t always love me back.”
I’m pleased to report, now that I’m finished, that this book is absolutely a favorite of the year. I can’t really be objective about this other than to say that both Shay and I are 29 and we both feel like even though we’re doing “alright,” that we don’t quite have things totally figured out. I found her remarkably relatable, but that wasn’t all that captivated me. This book is casually inclusive. There are characters on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, immigrants, and people of color. Shay is Jewish. Dominic is Korean American. It was really, really lovely to read a contemporary romance that reflects a fuller tapestry of the world than what we sometimes see in fiction.
Something else I’ve come to realize about myself is how much I love mixed media and so these podcast excerpts were utterly delightful. I love banter in all forms, really, so I suppose that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but I really, really loved this. I loved the way this book talks about grief. I loved the friendship and the fight between Shay and Ameena. I love all the conversations with Shay and her mom and Phil, her mom’s significant other. I was so invested in this book and all of the characters. I just wish I could go out and subscribe to The Ex Talk because I want more!
And, at this point, I should probably actually stop gushing and tell you what this book is about, huh? So Shay has worked for public radio for ten years. She and her dad had this thing about public radio and he died in her senior year of high school, but she pursued this dream. Shay is a producer not a host, but one day there’s a staff meeting and she pitches this show idea about two exes hosting a dating show. Her work nemesis and her are paired to turn this show into a reality, but, of course, they’ve never dated. Dominic and Shay have a lot of work to do in order to make this convincing, but Shay would really appreciate if Dominic’s forearms were slightly less distracting.
So yeah, that’s an overview of the plot. I could go on for another several paragraphs about more things I loved, but I will attempt to wrap it up with this final thought. At one point, Shay tells Ameena, “It’s my career . . . I can’t just throw it all away for a guy.” And this got me thinking about how that’s always something that we say, but I really liked and appreciated the way that this book handles the fact that Shay’s relationship with Dominic literally impacts her job. There’s so much in this book about her relationship to her job and I really appreciated all of that commentary and, honestly, everything about the book. It was utterly brilliant and I just cannot recommend it enough.
I loved both of these books and I think if we have similar taste at all, you should definitely pick up The Ex Talk. I told Dani that it’s very much a Jenica book, by which I mean that Shay is my favorite type of character to read about. She thinks she’s a mess and she’s working on figuring out her life. Is this extremely relatable? Yes. But I love seeing people figure out what makes them happy and coming into their own. And if you have read one of these already, please let me know your thoughts!