Tag Archives: chick lit

A Table for Two

Restaurant Critic's Wife

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife: A Novel by Elizabeth LeBan (Lake Union, $24.95, 306 pages)

What we have here are the confessions of a restaurant critic’s wife done up as a rambling narrative. Lila falls in love with Sam Soto whose dream it is to be a newspaper food critic. I kid you not.

It all began back in New Orleans where Sam was a political reporter for the local newspaper. Lila is a high-powered hotel special events troubleshooter who loves her job. Sam captures her heart through her stomach. He cooks for Lila making yummy breakfasts and, well, you get the idea. Pretty soon they are a couple.

Sam catches his big break, but at the Philadelphia Herald. They move for Sam’s work. Lila enjoys socializing and being part of the community; however, Sam’s worldview is vastly different then hers. Alas, the life of a restaurant critic is filled with incognito dinners, no close friendships and keeping a low profile, which makes for quite a difficult lifestyle for Lila.

The frustrations and travails that follow are the heart of the story. Both Lila and Sam must face their issues and decide whether life is to be lived in secret or in the community. Only the real wife of a food critic could have written this novel. Clearly, Ms. LeBan has drawn from her own experiences to create such a believable tale. It’s impossible to determine where her life leaves off and her imagination begins to work.

Restaurant Critic's Wife back

Well recommended for foodies and folks on vacation.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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I’ll Be There

Some Women amazon

Some Women: A Novel by Emily Liebert (New American Library, $15.00, 291 pages)

“On the surface, these three women may not have much in common, but just when they each need someone to lean on, their lives are thrust together…”

She scanned the restaurant in search of Henry. Luckily, Nellie’s Tavern was an intimate spot with only a dozen or so tables, all of which were in plain sight. And, fortunately, Henry had no idea who she was or what she looked like. Thanks to the internet and a few pictures Annabel had showed her, Piper now knew that Henry was tall with dirty blond, receding hair; large oval-shaped light blue eyes, and about thirty extra pounds on his sturdy frame.

Three women, each from a different background and current circumstances meet through a shared exercise class. Annabel and Piper have been friends for only a few months, and yet, they have formed a friendship that has naturally evolved into a trusting one. Mackenzie, the perky younger gal who is new to the class, recognizes Piper from their shared workplace, Mead Media. Mackenzie’s mother-in-law is the owner.

Each of these women has issues in her life – issues of dysfunctionality that may topple the comfort and security that their home life has afforded them. Author Liebert gives her readers the inside scoop on each of her main character’s background and status. The dialogue is credible as the three women connect and share their emerging dilemmas. In many ways, this new set of friends has the freedom from emotional baggage that often accompanies long term friendships.

This is, of course, chick lit and while there are some villains, it’s not a guy-bashing story line. There’s shared responsibility among all the characters for the faults that caused the deterioration of their home life relationships. Leave it to three very smart and trusting friends to pool their resources and energy to jump in where others would fear to tread. The effort is clever and heartening. Who knows, your next best friend forever might be someone working at getting in shape right along with you during your weekly Pilates class.

Any further details would border on the necessity for a spoiler alert!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was published on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

“Chock full of compelling characters, intriguing relationships, and some of the wittiest writing I’ve read this year.” Elin Hilderbrand, The Rumor.

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An Interview with Sarah Jio

This is an interview with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah Jio, whose new book was released on November 26. Joseph Arellano

Sarah Jio

Q: There are actors who are called method actors. They like to put themselves inside the skin of the characters they play. For example, if a method actor is hired to portray a boxer, he or she will take boxing lessons and box with professionals. I tend to think of you as a method writer, one who inhabits a world before she writes about it. With this in mind, could you tell us about how you prepared to write the novel Morning Glory, which is set on a houseboat in Seattle?

A: Renting a houseboat for four months while writing this novel was the single greatest thing I could have done to put me in the right headspace to capture the essence of the floating home community. I got to soak up little details that I would have never known had I not experienced them – like how a houseboat sways ever so gently on a windy day or how a pair of Mallard ducks waddle up to the doorstep on Saturday morning and gaze in to the French doors. I will forever treasure that time on Seattle’s Lake Union writing this book.

Morning Glory 2

Q: Would you briefly summarize the plot of Morning Glory, your latest release?

A: Here is what is written on the book jacket: “New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union – home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959.

“Fleeting an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.”

Q: In your novels, women who lived at different times (and who never met) are brought together by unique circumstances. Generally the woman who lives in current times is called upon to resolve a mystery involving a woman who lived 50, 70 or 80 years before her time. It has struck me that in this way each character gets to live twice; it’s a form of time travel. Is there an experience in your life or in your family that prompted you to write about this type of situation? Did you personally solve a mystery involving someone who preceded you?

A: I just smiled reading this question, because, yes – I love the concept of time travel, and I find it so heartbreaking that it isn’t really possible (someday?). I suppose the reason I tend to like to write books in this way is it gives me a chance to look back to the past. I feel incredibly romantic about my grandparent’s generation, and I’ve often thought that I should have been born in 1920, so I could have been a young woman in the 1940s.

Q: In Morning Glory a character states, “I know I may always ache for the past… but I want to be a bird now. I want to flap my wings through the rainstorms. I want to start my day with the earnestness of the morning glory….” Do you find yourself being both past and present oriented?

A: Absolutely, and I remember writing that passage. While I write fiction, yes, there is a lot of my heart and my own personal journey in all of my stories. It is impossible to separate the author from her characters. While they are not always me, I get to create them, and I get to choose favorites. And I often turn to my protagonists as I think about the important elements of life, or big things I’m working through.

Q: One thing I found in common among The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter and Morning Glory is that while your story conclusions are logical, they are unpredictable. Is this something that you strive for – to keep the reader guessing until the last page, or is this simply how the stories play out in the writing process?

A: Yes, I love to be sneaky like that – surprising readers with a conclusion that they didn’t see coming, or some surprising reveal at the end. Because isn’t that true of life? Often it is unpredictable and unchartered. Even the best laid plans have hiccups or surprise endings. And I love carrying this through in my books.

Q: Did anyone in our family or background use the phrase, “True love lives on….” (used by Esther Wilson in The Violets of March)?

A: No, I have never had that uttered to me by a loved one, but I believe it, and I cling to it.

Q: There are characters in your novels that are less than nice and honorable; but in general your stories tend to restore our faith in the best of human nature. Does this reflect a view on your part that while life can be mean and nasty, the better angels of our nature win out? In other words, do we see Sarah Jio’s basic optimism play out in your work?

A: Yes, we are flawed creatures – and that comes out in my books, for sure. At the end of the day, I am an optimist. We get one life, and only so many trips around the sun, and I believe in love and happy endings and beautiful sunsets that make you smile.

Q: Will most of your stories be set in the Seattle area?

A: Not all, but most. My heart is here and will always be. I naturally gravitate to setting my stories in the Northwest, but I’m interested in other locations too, so perhaps I’ll be switching things up in the next few books.

Q: I consider it as a positive that when I read Blackberry Winter, I was reminded of Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet since the two novels share a similar stage – Seattle past and present – and a journey of personal discovery. I loved both books. Have you met Ford and would you agree that the two novels are bookend-like in scope and theme?

A: I own Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (it is on my nightstand!). I have not met Jamie Ford, but enjoy following him on Facebook and Twitter and I think we’d have a lot to talk about over coffee (and anyone who is not following him on Twitter should – he’s hilarious). Readers have mentioned a similar connection in our books, and it’s a huge compliment to me, for sure.

Note: Before becoming a full-time author, Sarah Jio was the Health and Fitness writer-blogger for Glamour magazine.

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-sarah-jio-author-of-morning-glory/

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Yesterday When I Was Young

Time Flies: A Novel by Claire Cook (Touchstone, $24.99, 303 pages)

“…nobody knows you better than someone who knew you back then.”

Time Flies (nook book)

If you’re about to attend a high school or college reunion, you may want to prepare yourself by reading Claire Cook’s rollicking and engaging tale. (Cook is the author of Must Love Dogs, which was made into a film with John Cusack and Diane Lane, and Wallflower in Bloom. She began writing at the age of forty-five.)

This is the story of Melanie, a happily married woman living in a beach town in New England. She’s happy until her husband informs her that she’s being dumped for another woman. Melanie is so crushed that she refuses to work out the separation/divorce arrangements with her husband.

It appears that Melanie is going to wallow in her pain and discomfort — augmented by heavy doses of alcohol — until she gets an e-mail message from Finn Miller, a guy that she had a crush on in high school. This is the same guy who barely noticed her back in the day. Now Finn tells Melanie that he’s been having dreams about her (“…we started making out… Was I a good kisser?”) and can’t wait to see her at their upcoming high school reunion.

To get to the reunion, Melanie and her BFF B.J. decide to drive a classic Mustang through several states; this in itself is a fun ride. “After accompanying Melanie and B.J. on their hysterical road trip, readers will feel like they’ve made friends for life.” (Kirkus Reviews) B.J., a self-anointed expert, produces some funny lists of things that one should and should not do at a high-school reunion. But she and Melanie are equally unprepared for what’s about to happen once they encounter their former friends and classmates.

“I hadn’t realized just how many hopes I’d pinned on the reunion until the bubble burst. It was ridiculous, but it still left me feeling lost and rudderless.”

What does it mean that Melanie suddenly goes from having no one to three different suitors? And how is it that “know-it-all” B.J. crashes and burns during prime time? You’ll need to read this uplifting chick-lit book to find out. Suffice it to say that Claire Cook’s novel helps to explain why some must revisit the past before being ready to encounter — and accept — what life holds for them in the future.

“Reading Claire Cook might be the most fun you have all summer.” Elin Hilderbrand. True. Grab this read before the summer is over!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Charming, engagingly quirky, and full of fun. Claire Cook just gets it.” Meg Cabot

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Coming Up Next…

Time Flies (audible audio lg.)

A review of Time Flies: A Novel by Claire Cook, author of Must Love Dogs and Wallflower in Bloom.

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Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

The Next Best Thing: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner (Atria Books, $26.99, 400 pages; AudioWorks Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $39,99)

Songs Without Words: A Novel by Ann Packer (Vintage, $14.95, 384 pages; Random House Audio, Unabridged on 11 CDs, $34.95)

This review is a duet of sorts.   Both books were read in the audio format.   They explore what can happen when a young girl loses a parent or multiple parents.   Ironically, each begins on a separate coast of the U.S.; however, all the main characters end up in California, albeit Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, respectively.   As we’re often told in self-help books and philosophical literature, it’s not the incident that shapes us, but rather, the way we react to it.   Each of these tales packs a wallop of an incident.

In The Next Best Thing, we learn that young Ruthie Saunders endured the horror of an automobile crash that killed both her parents and maimed her for life.   Ruthie’s face is mangled on one side, as is her body.   She has the good fortune to be the granddaughter of a truly kind and loving woman who steps in and gives her a life filled with hope and understanding.

Although Ruthie braved numerous painful surgeries over the years and the unsympathetic stares of her classmates, she persevered.   Her scars and physical limitations are vivid and readily noticeable but her spirit is strong.   Together with her beloved grandma, Trudy, Ruthie travels from the East Coast to take on the daunting challenge of breaking into the Hollywood television writing scene.   She becomes a promising comedy writer in Hollywood and even has a boyfriend.   The story takes on a sense of urgency when Ruthie’s autobiographical sitcom script is given the green light and is produced as a television show.

For sixteen-year-old Sarabeth life had always been difficult.   Her mom had overwhelming difficulties with depression that overshadowed the family.   Luckily for Sarabeth, her best friend Liz – who lived across the street in upscale Palo Alto, California – had a loving and good-natured family that helped to balance her life.   This difficult yet somewhat stable life was destroyed when Sarabeth’s mom committed suicide.   In this case, Liz’ family took her in and provided a home when Sarabeth’s father fled to the East Coast.

Despite years of loving friendship from Liz, Sarabeth nearly wallows in self-pity and neediness despite her outward good looks.   Her choices in men run to ones who are married with children.   Her career is limited to small artsy projects and a meek existence in a somewhat-dilapidated cottage behind another house in Berkeley.   The real challenge comes when Liz’ daughter acts on her own suicidal impulses.   Liz is unable to grasp how her robotic take on life has failed her daughter.   The supportive friendship between Sarabeth and Liz falls apart.

Given the remarkable parallels, these two tales could not be more dissimilar.   Both of these authors are well-known and very successful; however, Jennifer Weiner demonstrates her ability to craft engaging, sympathetic, and dare I say,  spunky characters.   This reviewer’s attention was fully focused on Ruthie and her life while Sarabeth provoked a slight revulsion due to her clueless self-pity and lack of empathy.   Ann Packer chose to portray a pair of lifeless and clueless women whose plights evoked barely a stirring of compassion.   In fact, a song title for a review of this book could easily have been, Get Over It.

As always, the narrators contributed significantly by literally setting the tone for the listener.   Olivia Thirlby gave Ruthie in The Next Best Thing a youthful, optimistic and somewhat naive voice.   She drew this listener in and brought out feelings of caring and hope for Ruthie and Grandma Trudy.

Conversely, Cassandra Campbell’s pervasive monotone was heavy and lacked the necessary inflections that produce engagement in the listener.   To her credit, Campbell had a difficult assignment as she portrayed Sarabeth, Liz and her daughter.

The Next Best Thing is Highly Recommended, while Songs Without Words has a limited audience – folks who don’t mind devoting the time and money this difficult story requires.

Ruta Arellano

These audiobooks were purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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A Summer Place

Summerland: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Reagan Arthur Books, $26.99, 400 pages)

Life can be traumatic and daunting even on Nantucket Island, the idyllic summer vacation destination for generations of families, including the wealthy and famous like Martha Stewart.   These are the summer people who see the island as an escape from reality.   Of course on Nantucket, like any resort, there must be the year-round residents who live their lives in full on the island 30 miles from the mainland.

Elin Hilderbrand knows of what she writes.   As a resident, she knows the year-around version of island life.   Summerland is the eleventh novel based in her neck of the woods.   Two of her most recent past novels, Silver Girl and The Island have been reviewed on this site.   Both of these reviews were based on the audio versions of the books.   Each was superb; however, the magic of seeing the story in hard copy was most evident for this book.

The narrative is written from the perspective of each of the main characters, including Nantucket.   There are two generations represented here, teenagers and their parents.   This time around the human experiences up for exploration are death, loss, parenting and children.   Both generations are subjected to the fallout effects when the golden girl of her class, Penny Alistair, dies in a horrific auto crash on high school graduation night.   Her twin brother Hobby, short for Hobson, is mangled and left in a coma.   Two other juniors, Jake and Demeter escape unscathed.

The story line is believable and somewhat predictable but it is the way the characters are developed that makes this a compelling read.   Regardless of the reader’s age, adult or young adult, the very poignant lessons learned are delivered in a manner that’s achievable only by a master story teller. 

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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