Why I haven’t finished the ‘To All the Boys’ series.

To All The Boys I Loved Before is a young adult romance series, written with care by Jenny Han, and turned into a Rom-Com for Netflix. I’d highly recommend it! As someone who prefers to watch romance (and it needs to have that comedy element to it, I’m not really a ‘Notebook’ style gal) to reading it, TATBILB was a head-turner for me, and really had me questioning whether I’d sold the whole genre short.

I’d seen the film, and wanted to know if the book held up. It did! There were enough changes that I could enjoy both in their own right. Characters were developed differently, because the book had more time to weave the story, but pacing in both was good. The main characters were flawed, but not to the point where I couldn’t relate/empathise. It was a generally wholesome experience, and I wanted to read the next two books in the series.

book blog

You may remember, back in November, I did a tour of the independent bookshops in Kent. I was surprised there were so few, and even more surprised that half of them weren’t open at the time of recording (but I assumed that was due to me and my lack of forward planning. (I didn’t check their opening times…)) I’m happy to say that the shitty service I’m about to talk about has NOTHING to do with any of those independent bookshops.

Anyway…

Having decided I wanted to finish the rest of this series, I took a trip in my car to a bookstore near me which specialises in kids books and toys. I’ve seen YA in their windows before, so I thought, ‘why give my money to Amazon, when I can support an independent?’ I’ve got a Waterstones which is closer to me, so, worst case scenario – I’d pop in there on my way back from this independent.

The lady behind the counter was lovely. Yes, she could order the books in for me, it would take two-three working days. It was a Saturday, so I could expect the book by the end of the week. Not a problem.

‘Do you want me to pay now or when the books arrive?’ 

‘No, it’s fine, pay when you come back. We’ve been having trouble getting books in for people. We’ll call you when it gets here.’

In hindsight… maybe this should have been my first red flag? They took my name, my number and I was on my way. I had the rest of my Top Trumps TBR to get through, and (much to Kate Macdonald‘s chagrin) I don’t have a problem waiting between books in a series.

Sidebar: the reason I don’t have a problem is a little bit down to Cassandra Clare, and her Shadowhunter series. I really enjoyed the first four books. But then I missed a couple, and binged four more and it was too much. Unlike a tv series where my impatience gets the better of me, because I like to take my time with a book, I don’t mind waiting for the next one so I can ruminate over the last. (Sure I just googled to double-check I knew what ruminate meant… I was right though).

A week passed. Then a second. No word from the bookshop. Weird. But she’d told me they’d had a problem getting it in so maybe it wasn’t available at the moment. Netflix had released a promotional trailer for PS I Still Love You, the second book to be turned into a film from the series. It was coming out on my birthday. It could be that all the copies have already been scooped, I thought to myself. And as I’ve asked for both, they’ve not called until both are ready. I can’t read the 3rd book before the 2nd anyway…

No harm in asking. So the following Tuesday, I went down to the bookshop. I still had a month. Plenty of time to read book 2 before the film came out. I even dragged my brother and the dog along for the walk.

But when we got there, all the windows were dark. And a little note in the window said, ‘closed due to sickness.’ Fair enough. I can’t be mad about sickness. Cold and Flues were going around, and I’m not a heartless bitch. (For the most part).

I gave it another week, and tried again. During storm Dennis. Because we’re on the coast, we get a lot of wind generally anyway. But the rain was something else. I layered up, convinced the dog and my brother for a second time for a walk, and we made our way to the bookshop. It was open – THANKFULLY – and whilst my brother took the dog on a little stroll, I went inside.

‘Hi,’ I said, ‘I’ve come to find out if my books are in. PS I Still Love You and Lara Jean Forever After?’ 

‘Oh yes! We’ve been trying to call you!’ the lady said. 

This filled me with hope. Hope that was shortlived.

‘We tried to call you on the shop phone, but it kept getting to the middle number and cutting out.’ 

Guys. My dudes. Friends. Countrymen. It’s 20-fucking-20. Everyone and their dog has a mobile phone. Many have mobiles INSTEAD of landlines. I don’t have a house phone. But my mobile is currently sitting in front of me. (On silent, I’m trying to concentrate). A bad handset is ZERO reason not to call someone. Especially if calling them is going to bring money into an industry which is hard graft at the best of times.

I said nothing.

She switched on the computer (which should have been my, what, third red flag at this point?) and waited for the thing to load. I tried to make small talk.

‘It must be great working here.’ 

‘It is. I’m only here a couple of days a week but it’s great.’ 

‘I saw there was a sign saying someone was sick last week?’

‘The lady who owns this shop, her little girl had the chickenpox. Couldn’t very well bring her in!’ she laughed. 

‘Well, you’ve got my number – in case you ever need a shift covering!’ I joked. 

She didn’t laugh. 

The computer connected and she wrang up my books. I tapped my card against the machine

‘Oh. It’s declined.’

Panic. I hate it. There’s money in the account, I know there is, but suddenly I’m thinking ‘shit, shit, shit, shit…’

‘I’ll try inserting it,’ (hehe) I say, trying to stay calm. 

‘No, it’s saying it’s not connecting,’ she says after a moment. 

Relief. It’s not my fault. Not my problem. Wait. Yes, it is my problem.

‘I don’t have any cash I say,’ looking at the two beautiful books in front of me.

‘I’ll try a different wifi connection. I’m so sorry about this.’ 

I’m trying not to be unreasonable. She’s doing her best. She’s being polite. But Waterstones and Amazon wouldn’t have had these issues… I grumble to myself.

‘It won’t connect. I’m so sorry about this.’ 

I used to work for my mum in a Wedding Dress Shop. Clients don’t get more unreasonable than a bride, her mother, and their entourage. If you don’t learn good sales tactics, a nice manner, you get a bad reputation and your business goes down the toilet. So, from that experience, here’s what I was expecting:

An apology. Directions to the nearest cashpoint. And a bookmark/token gift with a marginal mark-up so that the customer walks away feeling pleased with me and happy to come back. So they think that, even though I’ve messed up, it was worth coming all this way. (No matter the ACTUAL distance, if you know what I mean.)

Heres what I got:

A shrug.

The lady kind of looked at me like I was helpless. Put the books back in their bag and told me she’d keep them for when I came in again. I put my purse away and walked back out into the rain. I walked past the two cashpoints I knew where in the high street to find my brother under a canopy with a very soggy dog. And we went home.

I ranted to anyone who would listen. ‘How stupid is that?! No wonder independent bookshops keep dying!’ My dad told me he’d have ordered from Amazon the moment the shop was closed the first time. But I was still adamant I’d buy local. My next nearest independent bookshop was over an hour’s drive away (The Margate Bookshop). And I knew the books were there! They were tucked safely behind the counter. I didn’t want it to be a complete waste of time.

My birthday came and went. I had no books. The film was out. It was getting weird reviews, a real mixed bag of people wanting John Ambrose to be more book-like, and also happy Peter K (these are the two love interests if that wasn’t clear) was less book-like. But I didn’t know what the book versions of these boys were first! So I still haven’t seen the film.

My brother took the dog for a walk, knowing it would be a sensitive subject (I know, so sheltered that this is my biggest gripe over the last two months – but come the hell on!) but the bookshop was closed for lunch.

And I started feeling like a mug because, I’m constantly going on about independent bookshops. The Margate Bookshop has been shortlisted for the 2020’s Independent Bookshop of the Year Regional Shortlist. And yet this whole experience has been a complete waste of time. And as Rita Mae Brown once said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’

I went back yesterday. The shop was closed again. A little sign saying, ‘cash only’ in the window, but nothing to say when they’d be back.

And my books are in there. Waiting to be read. That’s why I haven’t finished the series. (Crying emoji.)

🖤 If you need to find me🖤

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#SWGD – Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it came down in one.

Sugar, We're Going Down banner

Day 22.

So, I know that as an adult I must take responsibility for my actions. But what I’m about to tell you is not my fault.

I was going really well. Was. And I’d had a lot of support from my readers and friends. Had.

That was until this week just gone.

I returned to my (future) home, Bath, and spent three days with my flatmate Lina. I assumed, as she was doing the ‘No Sugar September’ with me, it would be easier. We’d be able to support each other and avoid sugar.

Day 1 was a breeze. We ate homemade banana bread which had zero sugar in it. We went to the book launch of Anna Ellory’s The Rabbit Girls (click the link to see my review) and then Lina went off with her friends whilst I caught up with mine over dinner. No sugar to be seen in my meal, though I can’t guarantee the same from the whiskey I was drinking.

Day 2 was even easier. We spent all day at the Deli she worked in. We ate more banana bread, and other sugarless goodies available there. I had a really nice scotch egg with salad, without the vinaigrette. We rekindled our tradition of visiting TKMaxx and Garden centres together, just enjoying each other’s company and avoiding cake.

We did go to the cinema. Lina had popcorn, the sweet kind. But it was fine, there are half the calories in cinema popcorn than you’d find in a Kitkat. So it wasn’t a big deal.

Day 3…

So we met up with Lina’s fiance, and went to the Cosy Club for brunch. They do this awesome deal where you get a full breakfast, and a hot drink, for eight pounds. LF ordered a hot chocolate, with marshmallows and cream. It sounded really good. But I held strong. I ordered tea. And when my tea arrived, it had a cute individually wrapped sugar cube. Well, Lina had treated herself to popcorn the day before – I could have ONE cube in my tea, right? Sweetener tasted rank and I’d have to talk to someone to get some. Social Anxiety, anyone? So I dropped the cube into my tea.

Well…

I didn’t drop it in as such. My dad used to do this thing where he’d rest the sugar cube into the tea, just enough to submerge a corner. And then we’d watch the tea soak upwards into the cube and just before it hit our fingers, we’d let it go and watch the sugar sink into the tea.

This is what I did ^.

And LF noticed.

‘What did you just do?’

‘It’s one sugar cube,’ I replied, immediately guilty. 

‘No, what did you do with the sugar cube?’ 

I explained.

‘Can I have a go?’ 

LF didn’t want another sugar cube in his hot chocolate, it was already sweet enough, so he asked if he could put the cube in my tea. I liked LF, but I’d only spoken to him once before.

It felt rude to say no – that’s the excuse I’m going with.

He dunked the cube in, watched the tea rise, and dropped it in.

Well, Lina was not going to be left out. She did, bless her, ask first, before copying me and LF and dunking her cube into my tea.

Three sugars. Three. In one cup of tea. I couldn’t taste anything else. I kept topping up my cup with more tea, and it was still sugar-infused two cups later. My tongue began to tingle. I’d missed that. My whole mouth felt sweet.

We finished our Brunch and the waitress came over.

‘Would you like to see the dessert menu?’

‘Yes.’ I didn’t even hesitate. 

LF waited right up until my spoon sunk into the warm chocolate brownie I’d ordered before asking,

‘So hows the whole ‘no sugar thing’ going?’ 

‘You’re a bad influence,’ I replied. ‘I blame this entirely on you.’ 

Storytime – James Bond.

James Bond 

The tack room smelt of saddle wax and damp. A bizarre mixture of plastic and leather, oats and hay. A scent a thousand teenage girls carried with them, until they don’t. Riding lessons had been cancelled, so the other girls and I huddled inside, happy we at least had a counter to climb on and a mini fridge to raid. A small heater clicked in its corner as it attempted to heat the cold concrete, and we waited for our parents.

I was the youngest. Too short to climb up onto the counter, too chubby to try. Relegated to the floor. The cold seeped through my jodhpurs, and I still had my helmet on. It was heavy and warm on my head. Plus, the strap was fiddly.

I felt buried in my own silence. Redundant. The older girls were talking about boys. Who they fancied, when they would see them next, whilst I looked up at these girls wondering if I’d be invited to join in. One of the nicer girls noticed I was watching, and out of some misguided kindness extended the question to me.

‘Is there a boy you fancy?’

I’d had time to think about it, so my response was immediate.

‘James Bond.’ I said. ‘I love James Bond.’

There was silence. Tight lips tucked in on themselves.

‘Which one?’ a blonde girl broke.

Too young to understand, I persisted, ‘James Bond. All of them.’

Hyena like, pack-cackling rippled through the tack room, and I realised too late I’d made a mistake.

‘Do you mean Pierce Brosnan?’ a third girl pressed. She didn’t have kind eyes or a nice temper. She was baiting me. I was smart enough to know that much. If one of the nicer girls had asked, I’d have been more honest. I’d have explained the difference between traditional Bond over the newer, flashier Bond with his out of control gadgets and unnecessary explosions.

But I buckled under the eyes of this older girl. I nodded. Feeling like a coward. Not brave enough to admit Sean Connery was better.

*

A few years later, the scent of saddle wax had been replaced by salt watered air and evening cold. The faux shipwreck, climbing wall and wooden towers of Folkestone’s coastal park were haloed by the orange fluorescents of metal streetlights. Strange shades were cast by the palm trees, as our playground attempted its best impression of being anything other than a fishing town.

I’d been abandoned by my friends who were smoking weed in the top tower of the wooden castle. A boy with curly hair had offered me a toke and I’d politely refused.

He and I sat in the little children’s boats that rocked, his feet touched the floor whilst mine did not. He thought he was a bad boy because he’d done a bit of shop lifting, skipped school and smoked weed. He’d had sex too, which he was clearly proud of. He also walked his niece to school, played rugby religiously and offered me his hoodie when I shivered. I refused that too. I was determined to be warm in my rugby training jacket with South East Girls printed in barbie pink across my back. I didn’t want to look needy.

Our friends heckled us from the tower. Making smoochie noises and laughing. He gave them the middle finger back, like a bad boy. And I laughed.

When the shouting died down, and fresh smoke billowed out of the tower. The tall boy relaxed his body into a slouch. I relaxed too. I liked this boy; he was funny and nice and that was all it took for me to like someone. He’d told me that he fancied someone in our group, and a small part of me hoped that now we were alone he’d tell me who it was. Not so I could mock, or shriek or sympathise. Just my common curiosity.

‘Is there someone you fancy?’ he asked, watching me in the haze of orange and black.

Less than a second passed before I answered. His game was clear to me, because it was the same as mine. I decided to reward his curiosity with the truth. Not the whole truth, I knew James Bond was not going to be the right answer. But I would tell this tall, curly haired rugby player exactly how I felt.

I shrugged. Looked him dead in the eye so he knew I was being honest and said,

‘Nah. Boys are stupid.’