Tag Archives: chick lit

Coming Up Next…

A review of Summerland: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I’ll Follow the Sun

Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer (Atria Books, $24.99, 347 pages)

Take what you need…  Take what you want.   Figure it out, find it, do it.   That’s what he was doing.   That’s what he did.

Cathi Hanauer is one heck of a writer; she’s a woman who can write about serious things and funny things in equal proportions.   This may be because this is the way life is…  Sometimes it plays out the way we think it will, sometimes it shocks and astounds us, and sometimes things simply seem to happen at random.

In Gone, we meet Eve Adams, a mother of two and a wife, whose husband Eric has suddenly left their comfortable home in Massachusetts.   Eric, a once successful sculptor, said he would drive the ultra short-skirted babysitter home, and then simply failed to return.   Eve, the author of a decently selling reality-based diet book, finds out from the credit card statements that Eric has headed west to Arizona (his mother lives in Tucson) – and he’s apparently used the credit card to spend nights in hotels with the babysitter.

We run from our lives, from the mediocrity and the abandoned plans and dreams and the people we’re sick of, including ourselves.   But wherever we go, there we are.   And so we go back, to the people we love.   But you can’t really go back, of course.

The story is told in alternating chapters, first in Eve’s words and then in Eric’s.   As might be expected, each has a different perspective on the pressures that drove them apart.   Eve has had to become the family breadwinner since Eric seems to have lost his artistic inspirations.   Eric feels like a failure and comes to view Eve as overly harsh and judgmental – especially when compared to the babysitter Dria, who tells Eric that he’s both an artistic genius and a nice man.

…he didn’t lose himself around Eve.   If anything, he found himself through her, and lost himself when she wasn’t there to reflect it back to him: to praise his work, to admire what he did.   To love him.

Separated for many weeks, both Eve and Eric have some major decisions to make.   Eve needs to decide if she’ll ever forgive Eric once he returns, if he returns.   And Eric needs to determine if he can be the type of practical family man who can place earning a paycheck in front of his need to be creative (as he’s forced to admit that he hasn’t been a creative artist in years).

In Gone, Hanauer serves up not only an admirable family novel, but adds a couple of bonus items to the menu.   First, she does a fine job of describing the essence of Tucson, Arizona – a city she resided in while teaching writing at the University of Arizona.   (Bear down.)   Secondly, she offers a book-within-the-book, as Eve’s practical tips to dieting and nutrition will serve the average reader quite well.   The tips are both common sense-based and near-brilliant, and, if followed, may add years to one’s life.

One nice aspect about the conclusion of Gone is that the reader discovers that Eve and Eric both have new facets of themselves to reveal.   Neither is a stereotype, and each is a human being loaded with underlying strengths and weaknesses.   That’s the way life is.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Cathi Hanauer succeeds beautifully in creating a story that will make you care and keep turning the pages…”   Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion.   “It’s a compelling, big-hearted book.”   Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It’s A Beautiful Day

A Bad Day for Mercy: A Crime Novel by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 272 pages)

A Bad Day for Scandal: A Crime Novel by Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur Books – Reprint Edition, $14.99, 304 pages)

Stella Hardesty rides again!   Author Sophie Littlefield certainly has a talent for creating fresh and amusing mystery novels.   There’s a bit of down home in her main character, Stella Hardesty.   Her would-be boyfriend, Sheriff “Goat” Jones, makes a mighty fine love interest for followers of this series.   Stella’s friends and neighbors, mostly the ladies, come to her when husbands or boyfriends need a bit of attitude adjustment.

Usually, this reviewer would not read two books back-to-back that were written by the same author.   Well, breaking rules can be a whole bunch of fun.   Scandal and Mercy are the latest in the series.   They were preceded by Sorry and Pretty.   Each book can stand on its own merits; however, there’s much to be gained by starting with the first book for readers who are new to Ms. Littlefield’s writing.

“This here’s the hospital,” Chip said, as they arrived in front of an imposing clot of buildings featuring a big square limestone main structure and any number of added-on bits in a variety of architectural styles, making the whole thing look like a LEGO set designed by a drunk and hostile modernist.”

The presenting challenge might be rescuing her sister’s stepson from creditors who are seeking repayment for gambling debts, or a snotty former classmate of Stella’s who needs assistance with disposing of a dead body.   Stella does not shrink from a formidable opponent or smelly situation.   These characters are not the ones you’ll find in a British mystery – proper and polished; however, the lessons learned as the mystery is solved are every bit as meaningful and undoubtedly more poignant.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Starry Starry Night

Objects of My Affection: A Novel by Jill Smolinski (Touchstone, $24.99, 307 pages)

It is very easy to be drawn into this little story with a big message.   The narrator, Lucy Bloom, could be any single mom you know.   She cares deeply about her teenage son who has become a drug user.   As is her pattern in life, Lucy springs to action a little too late.   She sells her house to pay for his drug rehab stay in Florida.   Lucy, who wrote a book about organizing (Things Are Not People), happens to be out of work.   In a move to keep herself fed, she takes on the job of clearing the home of a hoarder.   The hoarder is approaching her 65th birthday and wants to put her home in order before the birthdate arrives.   Lucy has about eight weeks to accomplish the daunting task.

Both Lucy and the hoarder are mothers who have vastly differing views of life.   Each has a son and the sons seem to be similar in their self-centeredness.   While this novel is poignant from the perspective of each of the main characters, it also carries the message that being a mother does not mean losing yourself.   This reviewer found the message encouraging for parents.   It seems to say that realizing you own role in life as well as those around you is very important for each of us.

Author Jill Smolinski’s narrator, Lucy Bloom, is best summed up as self-effacing, yet not a total loser.   Lucy’s newly-found skills learned the hard way while clearing out the jam-packed house, include the value of recognizing true friendship and going after what matters most to her.   There is enough drama and suspense to keep the reader engaged and the dialogue is snappy without becoming a parody of the sensitive characters that populate this tale.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Simultaneously breezy yet thought provoking, this is a fun read that stays with you.”   Sarah Pekkanen, author of These Girls and The Opposite of Me.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

A review of Objects of My Affection: A Novel by Jill Smolinski.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Cinnamon Girl

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

How far would you go to get what you always wanted?

Party girl and music lover Kate Sanford comes closer than most to achieving her lifelong dream when she secures a job interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line.   The interview has the potential to be even more special, as it is slated for her 31st birthday.   However, when a friend invites her out (just for one drink) to celebrate the eve of her birthday, Kate downs a few too many – leading to a disaster the next morning.

Catherine McKenzie, in her debut novel, ably invites the reader into the story.   Just when Kate believes she has blown her opportunity, she gets a call to go on an undercover assignment for the company’s sister publication, Gossip Central, a celebrity rag.   Her task is to enter the same rehab facility as pop-phenom Amber Sheppard, “The Girl Next Door,” and produce an exclusive story that could lead to permanent employment at The Line.   The opportunity for a juicy expose gets even better when TGND’s equally dysfunctional boyfriend and James Bond portrayer, Connor Parks, enters the same rehab facility.

Things quickly get very complicated.   Does Kate herself actually need rehab?   When Amber befriends her, can so go through with the story?   Is there a more meaningful existence beyond living the life of a perpetual college student?   Can Kate get comfortable enough with herself that she can form a meaningful relationship with another person?

In rehab Kate falls for Connor’s bodyguard, Henry.   Their unlikely convergence and subsequent relationship/non-relationship/relationship form the basis for most of the second half of the book.   This is where the story either takes off or gets derailed, depending on your perspective.   McKenzie misses an opportunity to delve deeply into the pathos of the media entertainment industry and the addiction to celebrity of so many seemingly normal people.   The moral quandary as to whether Kate should write the story comes into play in the last fourth of the novel, but serves more as a mechanism to wrap up the story than a theme that’s explored.

The author could have opted to delve deeper into Kate’s behavior, background and possible addiction, but her family and past are dealt with in a cursory manner.   This oversight makes less credible any transformation in Kate at the conclusion of the story.   Several music references reveal Kate’s interests and help establish some measure of place and time but do not do much to advance the story or reveal much about her or the other characters.

What’s left is the love story which, by a process of elimination, appears to be the crux of the narrative.   Can Kate find true love?   The book leaves just enough loose ends to satisfy the reader, yet still leave us wondering.  

For readers who enjoy a light, breezy love story, this book clips along well and is satisfying.   For those who prefer to go a little deeper into some questions that gnaw at the human condition, the novel does  not go far enough.   This reviewer concludes that many will find this book enjoyable; a worthy debut effort by McKenzie.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Spin was released on February 7, 2012.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Long Train Runnin’

Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley (Sourcebooks Landmark, $9.99, 384 pages)

Carrie Goes Off the Map is a very enjoyable road trip novel through England.   Carrie is two weeks away from marrying her long-time boyfriend Huw, when he drops a bombshell; he is breaking up with her.   Carrie had put aside her own dreams of becoming an actress for Huw and had spent the years since graduating from college helping Huw run his family dairy farm.

Suddenly, without a purpose in life, Carrie moves in with her friend Rowena and tries to determine what her next move will be.   Rowena tries to cheer Carrie up by planning a European road trip in a vintage VW camper named Dolly.   Unfortunately, Rowena is unable to go at the last minute and has found a new companion for Carrie, the handsome Dr. Matt Landor.

Matt is back from his work in Tuman after an unfortunate accident.   Commanded to take four months off to rest and get himself together, he is not sure what he is going to do with his time off.   Matt was friends with Huw back at the University, and after meeting Carrie again at a bad moment (it’s a classic moment in the book, I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t read it yet!) he is officially intrigued.   Together they go on a tour of Southern England and learn how to move on with life.   And also learn more about each other.

I really enjoyed this book.   At one point, a barber cuts Matt’s hair and says that he looks like a modern-day Mr. Darcy.   There were indeed elements of that classic story  in this book with Carrie and Matt meeting again after so many years and having a misunderstanding that sets the two at odds at first.   Carrie was much more against Matt than he is against her.   Their delightful friction kept me entranced throughout the book.

I also enjoyed the description of the road trip in the campervan.   It sounded like a lot of fun.   Phillipa Ashley traveled in a campervan as part of her research for this  novel.

I also really liked an odd thing, that Huw was a dairy farmer.   The descriptions of the mega-farm and life on the farm reminded me a lot of life around Wisconsin, AKA Dairyland, USA.   It made me realize that things are really not that different between the United States and England.   It was funny that HUW was considered quite a catch as he was a rich farmer, which is the same as some of the farmers in my county who are millionaires.   Family farms are not the same as they used to be anywhere anymore it seems.

Overall, I found Carrie Goes Off the Map to be a delightful book with great characters, romance, and a wonderful journey.   Phillipa Ashley has become one of my new favorite contemporary romance authors.

Laura Gerold

This review by Laura Gerold was reprinted with her permission.   You can see more of her interesting and helpful book reviews at Laura’s Reviews, http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

Carrie Goes Off the Map is available as an e-book (Kindle Edition and Nook Book) download.   Phillipa Ashley is also the author of Decent Exposure: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized