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Book Review 53: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

26 Dec

It’s unlikely I can write a review that adds anything to what has already been written about this book. This is delightful young adult fiction. Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers living with and trying to survive cancer. They meet in a cancer support group. If you’re reading this book, you know there’s not going to be a happy ending. It’s simply impossible.

But unlike a run of the mill Nicholas Sparks story (I’m thinking of A Walk to Remember, specifically), this book doesn’t feel cheap. The cancer and all the pain, suffering and death that can accompany it are not some plot twist thrown in as an artificial conflict for the characters. You know about the cancer from the beginning. It’s what brings Hazel and Augustus together. The tragedies that ensure aren’t cheap; they are devastating.

It sounds crazy to say, because the cancer was omnipresent in the book (Hazel’s oxygen tank, multiple visits to the hospital, a make-a-wish foundation style trip to Europe). It was inescapable. But when Hazel and Augustus were together, you kind of forgot they had cancer. They were just regular, awkward, lovestruck teenagers trying to figure out how to make a relationship work. They had been out of the social game for so long due to their illness; their stilted interactions and attempts at flirting are impossibly endearing. They feel so normal, even though you know that the lives these kids lead are incredibly painful and exhausting and not happily normal. Continue reading

Book Review 52: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

26 Dec

I grabbed this out of the library after seeing it recommended, multiple times, on LaineyGossip. I love truly delicious, trashy novels. And this was hands down the best chick-lit/trashy novel I’ve read all year.  I hate calling it “chick-lit” because this book is more than that – it has hilarious, smart social commentary and incredible character development. But the basic story is not uncommon in chick-lit: a smart, Chinese American woman named Rachel falls in love with Singapore-born Chinese man named Nicholas Young. When Nicholas takes Rachel home for the summer to meet his family, she’s in for an enormous surprise.

Nicholas Young is rich. Beyond rich, really. He’s part of an super elite group of families who have more money than they can count. Theoretically, this book is like many of the British and US chick-lit books that came before it. Rachel is a fish out of water who triumphs over Nicholas’s snobby family in the end. But this book is just more fun than any chick-lit book I’ve read in years.

There are scheming aunts and mothers; super rich cousins who jet off to Paris and come back outfitted in millions of dollars of cotoure; lavish parties beyond anything I could even dream up; bachelorette parties on private islands; the wedding of the century; and a whole cast of friends and family who deeply love each other but are also deeply committed to their insular lifestyle. It has more drama; more conflict; more romance than any of the chick-lit I’ve read recently. I loved it. Continue reading

Book Review 45: The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

24 Oct

*I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book from the Author.*

I have a special place in my heart for Adriana Trigiani’s books. They’re warm, welcoming, family oriented and they simply make you feel good. A little romance, a little over-the-top Italian family drama, some anachronistic professions that feel quaint in the modern world – they’re simple.

This particular book is about Valentine, a shoemaker, who falls in love with Gianluca, her much older leather supplier.  It’s a nice enough story, but it felt a little artificial.  Valentine is constantly worrying – about his age, about whether they should have kids, about her ex who is still present in her life, about where to live. On the one hand, these are issues that need to be worked out before marriage. Continue reading

Book Review 41: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

23 Oct

I wish I had reviewed this book early because I found it fascinating.  Jules, Jonah, Ethan and Ash meet at a summer camp for the creative arts.  And they form a group, centered around the fact that they feel that they are the MOST. The most interesting, the most creative, the most unique of the campers.

And as time goes on, they are interesting. Ethan and Ash end up married, and wildly successful, leaving Jules behind. Jules, working as a social worker, giving up on her actress dreams, finds herself jealous of Ethan and Ash. Jonah is a successful engineer, giving up on his musical dreams.

There’s a lot of resentment among friends. As I get into my late twenties, your oldest friends change. They get married, have kids, find astonishing success, or find an astonishing lack of success. There are gaps and cracks in friendship that appear. People judge each other because they feel defensive about their own choices, or honestly jealous of others.  It puts a strain on friendships that no one talks about. Who wants to admit that they’ve outgrown their oldest friend? Or that they’ve changed so substantially that their friendship is no longer meaningful, or special?

No one. Continue reading

Book Review 39: Persuasion by Jane Austen

22 Oct

I don’t think I’m a Jane Austen person, and it’s unfortunate. These are the kinds of books I should like. They’re usually quiet, family dramas with excellent character development and classic themes.

I guess when I read a book that’s ultimately a romance, here between Anne Elliot and Captain Wenthworth, I want to feel more invested in the characters. I just wasn’t here. Anne and Capitain Wentworth barely knew each other, and they both recognized that by the standards of the time, they weren’t a “suitable” match. I’m not a “love at first sight” person, so I suppose I can’t empathize with the predicament.   Continue reading

Book Review 38: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

14 Aug

Beautiful Ruins is, ostensibly, about Hollywood. And how it seems to corrupt all it touches. The book alternates between two time periods.  First, the story begins in 1962, when a beautiful, blond American starlet in a moment of need happened upon an isolated Italian island, and its lonely, isolated hotel owner.  And then picks up again, in modern times, when an aging Hollywood producer legend is working with a young, ambitious woman who realizes her career is not heading in the direction she hoped.

I understand why people rave about this book.  The plot itself is intriguing – a young starlet led astray and deceived by those she trusted; an aging Hollywood tycoon who may or may not make it right; the young upstart just trying to make something of herself at her day job. There’s also something surprisingly dark about this book. To me, it felt like this book was about what happens when you give up on your dreams. Continue reading

Book Review 37: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

17 Jun

This book was delightful in many ways, and disappointing in others. My issue with this book is more an issue with the back cover summary, which induced me to pick it up. The back cover implied that this was going to be “Real World: London,” where 12 or so gods move into a London townhouse, “stop being polite, and start getting real.” I was expecting trashy reality television, with Greek gods.

This book is not that. I took Latin when I was younger, and most of our class was spent learning about the analogous Roman gods and learning very little about actual Latin. The stories are fascinating. This felt like a modern update of a classic story.

Aphrodite and Apollo are engaged in an epic battle of wills. Thousands of years of living among mortals has induced incredible boredom in most of the gods. Their powers are waning as people’s belief in the gods falls. The infighting between Aphrodite and Apollo eventually draws two innocent humans, Neil and Alice, into the world of the gods.

What I didn’t like was the fairly standard “innocent girl dragged into conflict, heroic man rescues her” plot line of Neil and Alice. It was boring in a book that had an otherwise interesting premise and set of characters. While Neil is a reluctant, nerdy hero, he’s still a hero nonetheless. His journey to rescue Alice is fun, and interesting, but it’s still such a cliche and I’ve read a thousand books and seen a thousand movies about these kinds of rescues. It’s not that I wanted Alice to rescue him, necessarily.It just that their plot line was boring. Continue reading

Book Review 32: The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

27 May

Similar to Life After LifeThe Post Birthday World also looks at alternate timelines of the protagonist’s life.  Irina McGovern takes family friend Ramsey Acton to dinner for his birthday one evening while her husband is traveling. And her choice that night sets off two alternate timelines.  In the first, she begins a torrid affair with alcoholic, reckless but passionate Ramsey.  In the second, she opts out of pursuing an affair and stays with her stable, long term partner Lawrence who shares her interests, challenges her intellectually and shares her home.

Much of what I enjoyed about this book is what I found so beautiful in Life After Life. I think everyone imagines what their life would look like if they’d made a different decision, chosen a different career,  married their first love, run off with the handsome man they met at a bar one night, never had children, etc. But when we fantasize about those things, we imagine a life infinitely better than our own. In our imaginations, when we make the other choice – the sun always shines, we never fight, we love our boss, our work is fulfilling and we never work weekends, our children with our hypothetical partner are well behaved and darling, etc. What daydreaming about the “what ifs” of life you never think about the hard times.

And there are hard times. The Post Birthday World is such an honest depiction of how the timelines would play out for Irina, including all the gritty day to day details and sadness we forget in our own imaginations, that it can be a little painful to read at times. Continue reading

Book Review 30: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

27 May

God, I loved this book. I can’t believe I didn’t read this when it came out in 2001, when I was actually in the target demographic. But Jessica Darling is such a wonderful young adult character and I love her just as much as a 26 year old as I probably would have as a 14 year old.

Jessica’s best friend Hope moves away, stranding Jessica in her New Jersey high school with the rest of their group of friends, who Jessica strongly feels are significantly inferior to Hope.  Jessica has her best guy friend, who has clear ulterior motives as he’s been in love with her since middle school. The remaining girls – one a little “slutty,” one pretty girl with impossible dreams and a boyfriend, and one follower – are just not Hope.

What I think this book captures about high school better than most is that the drama of high school isn’t the build up to a Major Event.  How many young adult books have you read that centered around prom, or homecoming, or a major sporting event, or some Very Special Event? Continue reading

Review 22: Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

13 Mar

[Spoilers abound in this post, beware]

Half of this book I hated, because it felt contrived, and didn’t add anything original to the women’s fiction genre that I truly adore.  Neelie’s husband has an affair with the chipper female co-owner of his veterinarian practice and gets her pregnant. He doesn’t even have the guts to tell Neelie himself; his mistress tells her. And then Neelie discovers that he (a) dated his mistress in vet school, which makes her feel like her marriage is null and void and (b) he had drained their accounts, mortgaged their home and basically stolen all of her money.

So, in the grand tradition of a thousand chick lit novels, Neelie must decide what to do with her marriage.  I hated this part, because Neelie was frustrating and oblivious and needed to be saved.  Ultimately, she meets a rich, handsome man who loves animals as much as she does and he saves her from the wreckage of her failed marriage and a sad tragedy in her past. Of course. I just hated that she didn’t really end up fixing her own life. Her friends, family and new lover fixed it for her.

But the other half of this book, I loved. Continue reading

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