Tag Archives: chic lit

In the White Room

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier (St. Martin’s Griffin; $14.99; 320 pages)

“…my house, my home, had become something deep and comforting to me, far beyond what I’d ever expected to find or feel in…  a world outside of ideas, of letters or literature.”

“…most men tend to live one-dimensional lives…”

Have you ever watched one of those home improvement shows where you patiently wait throughout the entire show for the big reveal at the end – and then the end is a disappointment?   That’s the way I felt about reading this book, which I wanted to like more than I did.   There was just less here than I expected to find.

This is the story of a romance between an academically minded homeowner, Joy Harkness, and a handyman-carpenter by the name of Ted Hennessey.   Joy leaves the politics of Columbia University to teach in an innovative new program at Amherst College in Massachusetts.   She has plenty of money so she buys her first real home, which is a run-down Victorian.   Naturally, it needs to be run-down in order for Teddy to enter the picture.

It was the character of Teddy Hennessey that just did not add up for me and made the read slower than it should have been.   When we first encounter Teddy, he’s the handyman who listens to The Who cassettes all day on his boom box.   That’s when he’s not reciting the poetry of Yeats, from memory no less.   Now, really, what are the chances of finding a handyman like that?   Well, virtually none in the real world.   Highly improbable to say the least.

“I’ll always be her child!” he snarled.

Oh, but then we think that maybe Teddy’s a closet intellectual who is just dying for the chance to go to college, something that Joy can help him with, right?   No, it turns out that our Teddy is afraid of going to school because then he’d have to abandon his sainted mother who has him wrapped around her finger like a 9-year-old.   So we’re left with a man-child who is simply not likeable…  Why the once-married, yet seemingly independent, Joy is attracted to this wuss is a sheer mystery.

Since the romance between Teddy and Joy (note the juvenile names) is doomed, Joy develops an attraction to her abode.   This is merely a comforting, if hardly an earth shattering, premise on which to build a novel.

“I turned and noticed, as I climbed the steps to the porch, that my house looked warm and inviting.   The rooms were lit, glowing from within; the colors they reflected were soft and inviting.   There was life in this house, and I was part of it.”

There was also a lot of crying in this book.   “Tears ran down my face and puddle around my nose before soaking the pillow.   I didn’t know why I was crying…”   “I’ve cried more this year than in the past twenty combined.”   “(I) cried until I didn’t think there could possibly be any liquid left in my body.”   I’m not sure why the otherwise solid – and growingly feminist – protagonist needs to experience such intense crying jags, another confusing factor.

One more confusing thing relates to a major scene in the book.   Joy’s married-but-separated friend Donna is savagely attacked by her former husband.   Donna’s ex uses a golf club to beat her nearly to death; pieces of her scalp are found on the club by the police.   Donna apparently has several broken bones in her face and is in critical condition.   She’s rushed to the hospital for life-saving surgery and facial reconstruction.   A number of characters in this story act commendably, taking care of Donna’s children during the time that she’s away.   Eventually, Donna returns home on Valentine’s Day and the very thing the reader wants to know goes hauntingly unanswered – what does her face look like?   (It’s as if the character departs as a human but returns as a ghost.)

On the plus side, there’s some nice humor.   “I went into the dressing room and emerged from the curtain in outfit after outfit, like a puppet in a Punch and Judy show.”   But as for the ending of this story, it simply appeared to run out of steam rather than concluding in a definitive and logical way.

Some might be attracted to this tale because of its promise of a type of late-in-life feminism, or the notion that someone can, in a sense, partner with one’s surroundings.   Both are promising and positive notions but they did not eliminate a sense of hollowness.

“I had no story, or, at least, none that I could see.   But my vantage point was, perhaps, too close to the shore to see that I had, at last, begun to swim toward my own life.”

This novel may present, for the right reader, lessons that will assist in commencing a journey of self-examination and discovery…  I was not that reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. The Season of Second Chances was released in trade paperback form on March 29, 2011.

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A Not-So-Blue Christmas

We can’t mandate happiness on the calendar…  and yet…  we try to do it anyway.   We strive to be merry and joyful.

I’m not a big fan of holiday stories so I approached this trade paperback with some trepidation.   As I walked through Target one day, the cute cover caught my eye and I noticed that the author, Sandra Harper, is a USC graduate.   Ok…   I didn’t buy it that day but I finally gave in to temptation on my next trip to Borders.

Let’s just say that this book was not as bad as I feared it would be (holiday theme and all), but not as good as I hoped it might be.   Still, it’s an easy and relaxing read and if you’re going to read a story about Christmas, why not do so in December?   Oh, and it has a great subtitle:  “It’s all relatives…”

Over the Holidays deals with three women:  the usually happily married Vanessa who faces temptation in the form of a young playwright, her artist sister Thea, and sister-in-law Patience.   It seems that each year Vanessa and her all-too-dependable spouse visit the uptight, if extroverted, Patience in the Boston area for the holidays, but this year many factors combine – including economic hardships – to change the typical plans.   Thus it turns out that Patience, her husband and their soon-to-leave-for-college daughter (U.C. Santa Cruz or USC?) travel to Los Angeles to celebrate the holidays at Vanessa’s.

Part of the fun of the story is seeing how the visitors from the east react to a Christmas in a city where many simply don’t celebrate it, at least not in traditional ways.   Patience’s brood is like a trio of aliens who’ve landed in the overly sunny and warm climate of L.A.   Then there’s the fact that Vanessa and Patience have completely different perspectives on holidays:  “I’m just not great in the holiday department…  I’m better at everyday life…” says Vanessa.   To this, Patience replies, “I’m definitely a holiday person, I like to look forward to things.   Special days.   It keeps me going.”

There’s a good deal of humor in Holidays, although it’s covered up with more than a touch of sadness.   (“Why do we pretend things are different than they really are?”)   And while it’s a fun read, it starts off quite slowly, not really moving along until the reader has hit page 80 out of 325.   There are also far too many long conversations used to tell the story, to the point where it reads like a court transcript.   Pick up the book at Target, for example, and read page 66 – it’s just people talking back and forth to each other and all in quotes.

There are also too many characters for the average reader to follow without difficulty, and a few too many crude moments/scenes (and overly adult language) that could have been left out.   But in the end, the characters learn to accept what they already have and not to mistake paradise for that home on down the road.   Yes, they learn to love what they already have; at least once they’ve reached the month of January.   As Vanessa concludes:  “I love January, so blissfully free of holidays…”   Exclamation point.

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Busy Being Fabulous: A Review of Greetings from Somewhere Else

There are films, fun films, that have a just-right attitude and tone (Four Weddings and a Funeral comes to mind), so that the time spent watching just seems to fly by.   This is the written equivalent of that type of film, a 415-page novel that reads fast and reads fun.   It’s also loaded with enough realistic people – not faux characters – that the reader wants to know the most important thing…   What happens next?

Some would probably view this as either a “woman’s book” or chick lit.   Maybe it is a Bridget Jones-style book, although I honestly wouldn’t know; the main character’s perspective never gets in the way of the all too human story.   The story is about Lainey Byrne, a Type A personality, who works like mad in a P.R. firm in Australia, often literally placing her chef boyfriend on the back burner.   A death in the family and a medical crisis make it imperative that she meet the terms of a late aunt’s will (so that the property formerly owned by the aunt can be sold).   This will require that a member of Lainey’s family live in and manage a broken-down B&B outside of Belfast, Ireland.   Lainey, who desperately needs to control everything and everyone in the world, is left with the assignment.

This is not Under the Tuscan Sun.   Instead it’s A Year Outside of Belfast in an Almost Bankrupt Bed and Breakfast!   A year in which Lainey learns valuable lessons about stepping back now and then and letting events run their course; about understanding that other people have their own instincts and sense of timing; about the fact that true love is not fantasy.

Very, very well done!

Thanks to Kathleen at Random House/Ballantine and Abby at Library Thing for supplying the review copy!

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