In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Having read a number of rom coms by this author (which is in fact to co-writers), I knew what to expect - light, fluffy, feel good reading. The truth is I didn't love the premise of this one - Maelyn is a 26 year old woman who spends Christmas at a cabin in Utah with her immediate family and close friends with whom they have spent Christmas for decades. The holiday ends on a terrible note - she kisses Theo though she has always been in love with his older brother Andrew.
But, on the way home Maelyn's family is struck by a car (or so it would seem) and she wakes up on the plane about to relive the same vacation. She gets sent back to the start twice more (once she falls down stairs and once she is struck by a falling tree branch), before she finally shakes up her behaviour and gets things right with Andrew. As such, it is all a bit weird since she is re-living these days but no one else around her seems to be. So you have to suspend your disbelief even more than usual for a rom com - which I'm not that great at doing (or maybe just don't enjoy doing).
The underlying romance story was fairly typical and engaging enough, and there were several peripheral characters who were interesting, but the overall premise wasn't for me.
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
Unlike the last book, I quite liked the premise of this one. Julian an elderly, previously famous, artist writes in an empty notebook that he finds at Monica's cafe. He entitles it "The Authenticity Project" and in it he ponders how the world would look if everyone actually admitted the truth about themselves - his most compelling story is of his terrible loneliness. He leaves the notebook behind in the cafe hoping it will be found by someone who adds to it.
The notebook is picked up by Monica, the cafe owner. She does add to it - talking of her desire for lasting love and to be a mother. She also feels for Julian and endeavours to address his loneliness by hiring him to teach weekly art classes at the cafe. Monica leaves the notebook in a bar where it is picked up by Hazard, an addict and financial trader. He leaves his job and decides to sober up - to get away from it all he spends months in a remote part of Thailand. He takes the notebook with him and makes it his project to find a mate for Monica. He settles on an Australian tourist, Riley, who is headed to London. Before tucking the notebook in Riley's luggage he tells the truth of his addiction and his plan to help Monica.
Riley finds the notebook in his bag while on the plane to England and can't help but try to seek out Monica. So he shows up at her cafe and befriends her, without telling her the truth of how he's found her. Riley joins Julian's art class and spends more time with both him and Monica, and feels very guilty the more time passes without him admitting he did not end up at the cafe by chance. He writes all of this - and his true feelings for Monica in the notebook which he leaves in a playground where it is picked up by Alice.
Alice is a young mother struggling with her newborn baby and in her marriage. She is also an Instagram influencer who is constantly posting pictures staged to make her life look perfect. She too visits Monica's cafe after reading the notebook and befriends the whole group (which comes to include Hazard when he returns from Thailand).
While some of the book is humorous and light, and there are definite rom com moments, it also deals quite seriously with addiction, postpartum depression and the debilitating effects of loneliness.
I quite enjoyed this one.