Reading Three Adult Contemporary Books with Grief Storylines: Just Last Night, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, and Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

I don’t know if it’s just me, but every now and again, I like to lean into the sad books. I don’t cope well with grief IRL so sometimes I like to try and read books with a grief plot line largely in hopes that they will somehow teach me some sort of coping skill or remind me that despite the fact that the universe is cruel, there is life still left for those of us still here. Anyway, when I realized Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane was a grief book, I decided it made sense to pair my ARC review of it with two books that had been hanging out on my shelf for quite a long time and just read three grief books pretty close together. Those other two books are The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, which inexplicably was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Romance Award, and Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim. Lydia Bird is the only one that made me actually cry, but I think all three books could work for the right audience. (It would help if they were correctly marketed, but I digress.)

Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Just Last Night is a British contemporary with a romantic side plot that makes it likely to get miscategorized as a romance novel even though it really isn’t one. It is a well done book about losing your best friend and trying to figure out how to move on from such a horrific loss and falling in love during the healing journey.

I think it’s important to be really upfront that this is a grief novel because that truly is the impetus for the story. There’s a prologue in the “After” but then you jump back for “Before” so it’s clear but not clear at first what’s coming. Anyway, basically, the book is about a group of friends, Ed, Justin, Eve, and Susie. They’re at a trivia night like normal on a Thursday and things sort of go from there. I thought it was interesting how long it takes to get to “the Event” (the death), but it also made sense. You need time to get attached to one of the characters. The other thing you need to know is that Eve has been in love with Ed for more than a decade and it is… a lot. Once the event happens, Eve’s grieving but also realizing that she maybe didn’t know everything about the best friend that died and dealing with the funeral and the dead person’s family.

I actually have a lot I want to say about this book, but it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, so the tl;dr if you don’t want spoilers is this: This book is good and interesting, but you’ll need to like books with a little bit of mess in them. It doesn’t overly pull on your heart strings, but it does say some poignant things about grief that I thought were really apt. The messy friendship dynamics were so interesting and this book had really incisive things to say about sort of being on the hook. Oh, and this book is funny despite the heavy content, but a lot of it is humor that could either totally work or really not work depending on the reader. Justin makes a lot of crass jokes.

(Here’s a link to my Goodreads review if you’d like to see the spoilers.)

Anyway, I had an ARC of this book from Netgalley and William Morrow so thanks so much to them, but I did listen to most of this book. Well, I went back and forth between the two. I do recommend the audio though. I thought it was well done.

CW: death of a friend, car accident, mention of physical child abuse, dementia, mention of parental abandonment, alcohol use, mentions of drug use

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

I went on for way too long about Just Last Night so I’ll try to be more concise here! In The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Lydia has lost her fiancé to a car accident on her birthday. Like, the hits just kept coming, honestly. Lydia is not doing well, to put it mildly. Also, if the leave time from your job can be as generous as it is in this book in the U.K., I need to pack up and move ASAP because wow, her bereavement leave was nice. Anyway, Lydia finally gives in and takes a pill to help her sleep and has a very vivid dream where her fiancé, Freddie, is still alive. The book sort of flips back and forth between the Awake (Real) world and her Dream world and it’s really fascinating.

The themes in this book really center around putting yourself back together and figuring out what you want and who you are after the loss of someone you’ve been with for more than a decade. I loved watching Lydia make choices that were chaotic and messy sometimes but really made sense to me. She felt like a real person. I also really appreciated her friendship with Jonas and how that was impacted by Freddie’s death because Jonas was Freddie’s best friend.

It’s not a perfect book for me, but I was really glad I read it. The further away from it I get, the more I liked it, actually, which is pretty unusual. (Please note, this book does have an HEA but is not at all a romance. There is not a central romance here.)

CWs: death of a loved one, miscarriage, alcohol use, use of sleeping pills

Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune involves Natalie Tan returning to her China Town (San Francisco, I think) neighborhood after the death of her mother and discovering her grandmother’s restaurant is now hers. Natalie and her mother had been estranged for years because Natalie wanted to pursue being a chef, but there’s a letter when Natalie returns home from her mother essentially giving Natalie her blessing. This book involves magical realism and there’s a prophecy that Natalie has to fulfill so that there will be an overall neighborhood revitalization because the once thriving neighborhood has really started deteriorating.

While I really liked the sense of community in this book, I never really got on with the writing style and I rotated back and forth between the audiobook and the physical copy not enjoying either of them particularly. That said, I think if you can get on with the writing style, this book definitely has the potential to be more enjoyed by others than it did me! I will also say, the recipes in here sounded delicious and I considered keeping my physical copy of this gorgeous book for those alone, but talked myself out of it. If you do pick it up, I hope you get on with it more than I did!

CWs: death of a parent, absent father, financial struggles, fire

I know two of these books have been out for quite some time and Just Last Night is already available. Have you read any of these books? Would you want to?


4 responses to “Reading Three Adult Contemporary Books with Grief Storylines: Just Last Night, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, and Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune”

  1. “I don’t cope well with grief IRL so sometimes I like to try and read books with a grief plot line largely in hopes that they will somehow teach me some sort of coping skill or remind me that despite the fact that the universe is cruel, there is life still left for those of us still here.” YES THIS! Exactly why I gravitate towards angstier and sadder reads (with a HEA).

    I’ve been curious about Mihari’s books but I don’t know if they would be for me? The premises sound interesting but I’m not sure why I can’t get myself to pick them up. I might try this one if I can find the audio on Libby.

    I like the cover of the Lydia Bird cover. It’s very pretty. I also really like the sound of Lydia! Wasn’t this one a GR finalist?

    I tried Natalie Tan and didn’t mesh with the writing either so I DNFed, so I’m not surprised you didn’t vibe with it all that much either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you get where I’m coming from on that!

      Mhairi is interesting in that I love her writing style and am intrigued by the romance, but I really don’t think I would describe either of the ones I’ve read from her as romances. I think I preferred If I Never Met You from a romance perspective actually. It’s hard to say! But I would give her a shot.

      Lydia Bird WAS a goodreads finalist and I remain mad about it. This book is so not a romance. It ends well, but like, what the heck??? Not a romance!!! (The space between when those were announced and when I read it was crucial. Lol)

      I’m so glad it wasn’t just me. I really hate when I don’t mesh well with a book. I always feel guilty.


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