Showing posts with label chick lit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chick lit. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Giveaway/Beach Read Alert! Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon

Title:   Mystic Summer
Author: Hannah McKinnon
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide,  Mystic Summer  is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.

My Review:

I haven't read a lot of beachy romances lately, but when I saw the title of Mystic Summer and realized it was set in Mystic, Connecticut, there was NO way I could turn it down!  Nothing like a hometown (well, almost hometown...I grew up in next-door Groton, but spent a fair amount of my youth hanging around Mystic) read to kick off the summer.

Even though my main attraction here was the setting, I ended up loving the story itself.  Maggie is a great protagonist--she's a smart woman, but makes a fair amount of mistakes as she navigates this uncertain time in her life.  I appreciate that she isn't a perfect character who never fumbles or questions her decisions.  She also finds herself in a rather messy love triangle, the results of which I found satisfying without being corny or predictable.  There may not be anything groundbreaking or heart-stopping to this novel, but it's got BEACH READ written all over it.  Fun characters, summer flings, high school nostalgia, and even a wedding thrown in--what else could you ask for?  I was able to read this in a few small sittings, and it was a great choice at a time in my reading life when I really needed a smartly-written, yet lighthearted novel.

As a local, I'll say that McKinnon's ability to bring out the atmosphere of the town was admirable.  I loved all the shout-outs to nearby shops and landmarks (Bank Square Books, Harp and Hound, the drawbridge, woohoo!).  However, I am morally obligated to point out a few inaccuracies, though I'll keep the list short in order to not sound TOO picky: based on where Maggie lives, she and her friends should be alumni of Fitch High (GO FALCONS!!) not Stonington High, the Naval Base is in Groton (not New London), and there is NO local resident who eats at Mystic Pizza nearly as often as Maggie and her friends do (tourist trap! haha).  Okay, I'm done.  Told you I was being picky.  ;)

Anyway, since today is the second official day of summer, I'm recommending this one for your poolside read list for sure!

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with Hannah McKinnon via Twitter and Facebook.
The publisher has made 1 copy of Mystic Summer available to be won by one of my lucky readers.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below!  US/Canada entrants only please, giveaway ends 6/28/16.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

GIVEAWAY! The Invisibles by Cecelia Galante

Title:   The Invisibles
Author: Cecelia Galante
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Thrown together by chance as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Ozzie, Monica, and Grace quickly bond over their troubled pasts and form their own family which they dub  The Invisibles . But when tragedy strikes after graduation, Nora is left to deal with the horrifying aftermath alone as the other three girls leave home and don't look back.

Fourteen years later, Nora is living a quiet, single life working in the local library. She is content to focus on her collection of "first lines" (her favorite opening lines from novels) and her dog, Alice Walker, when out-of-the-blue Ozzie calls her on her thirty-second birthday. But after all these years, Ozzie hasn't called her to wish a happy birthday. Instead, she tells Nora that Grace attempted suicide and is pleading for  The Invisibles  to convene again. Nora is torn: she is thrilled at the thought of being in touch with her friends, and yet she is hesitant at seeing these women after such a long and silent period of time. Bolstered by her friends at the library, Nora joins  The Invisibles  in Chicago for a reunion that sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will change each of their lives forever.

My Review:

Every once in a while, I need a good bit of women's fiction in my life.  You know, a book about a group of friends, who help each other through the highs and lows, and hopefully with some nice plot twists or mysteries thrown in.  (I fully credit my obsession with The Babysitter's Club in my formative years for this occasional need.)

The Invisibles was just the ticket as far as friendship-based novels go, though it went above and beyond by surprising me with an especially gut-punching conclusion.  Galante has written YA novels in the past, and her strength in that area was on display here, as her flashbacks to Nora & co's teenage years were particularly absorbing.  I was drawn into their individual histories pretty quickly, and that interest carried me into their present tales as well.

That said, I found some pieces of the novel to be terribly cliched.  The epic, spur-of-the-moment road trip to help Monica felt like some kind of overdone Hollywood plot element.  And the one that took the cake was when they found a baby bunny whose mother had been killed by a fox, and they made a frantic attempt to save it--dear God, please gag me.  Four mostly-orphaned women, trying to help the parentless bunny?  Must we beat the readers over the head with the symbolism?  It was a bit much.

While I do feel like those criticisms have to be mentioned here, I hope, my dear readers, that you will still give this book a read, because as I mentioned earlier, I was a particular fan of the ending.  Nora is keeping a secret through most of the novel, and it builds up until the absolute END (truly...I think it was revealed around the 95% mark on my Kindle.  GAHHH).  For the entire book, as this secret loomed large, all I could think was, "This BETTER be worth the wait."  And for me, it was.  Galante teeters on the border between "purposely misleading the reader" (a technique that I am rather leery of) and "taking creative license with the narration", but it goes just far enough onto the "creative" side that I loved it.  A truly surprising, emotional, thought-provoking ending that will leave you wanting to re-read (and re-interpret) many previous parts of the novel.

The Invisibles is certainly a good pick if you want a bit of girl-power and friendship in your life, even with the occasional cheesy elements that are built in.  But this book delves into some weighty issues as well, and will leave you with much to ponder long after the final page.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Cecelia Galante on FacebookTwitter, and her website.

GIVEAWAY TIME!  I was shipped extra copies of the book, so 2 lucky readers (in the US/Canada) can win a copy of The Invisibles for their very own.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below.  Giveaway ends August 26!
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Monday, January 12, 2015

First 2015 book...OY VEY. The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley

Title:   The Divorce Diet
Author: Ellen Hawley
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Abigail loves her baby Rosie, her husband Thad, and food. She takes great joy and comfort in concocting culinary delights to show the depth of her love and commitment to her family. Imagine her surprise when Thad announces, this whole marriage thing just doesn't work for me. Abigail can't believe he really means what he's said, but he does. Abigail and Rosie move back in to her parents house, where she regresses into her adolescent self. She diets, finds work, and begins to discover the life she really wants, and a man who really wants her.

My Review:

A little bit of chick lit to start off the year!  I wanted something lighthearted to kick off 2015, and this new release from Ellen Hawley seemed like just the ticket.  Because it's like FOODIE chick lit!  And we all know how I feel about food books!  WOOT WOOT!  Everybody get your elastic-waist pants on and let's do this!



Peeps, this book just did not work for me.

(I know, bummer way to begin the new year!  Sigh.)

Let's start with the format.  The book begins with "Day 1", the day Thad tells Abigail he is leaving her.  Day 1 opens as Abigail decides to go on a diet.  She begins reading a diet book that she recently acquired, and tries to follow the advice within.  As such, each day/chapter in the book is formatted like the diet book, as she has a section for Snack, Exercise, Dinner, etc.  This gets increasingly fluid as the chaos in Abigail's life increases, because she never actually goes on the diet once Thad announces his intentions for divorce.  Okay, so question one: why does the book continue to keep this diet book format, even though Abigail never actually goes on a diet?  By the halfway point of the book, this format became highly annoying and pointless.  At the end, I wondered why the author chose to continue this format through the entire novel, because it felt like an idea that was cute at the beginning, but completely unconnected to Abigail's life by the end.  (In fact, when Abigail weighs herself at the end, it seems to convey that the diet was never really significant to her happiness to begin with--so again, why keep the diet book format?)

Beyond the format, I also had some issues with Abigail's narrative.  There is very little dialogue from other characters in the book.  Abigail generally gives her side of the conversation, but rarely fills in the dialogue of the people she is speaking with.  This is insanely annoying, especially at crucial moments (like when Thad breaks up with her--the whole crux of the book!!) because you never get a well-rounded look at the story.  I felt entirely disconnected from Abigail's problems for much of the novel, largely because it took me so long to understand why Thad broke it off with her.  This could have been easily explained in the very first chapter, if only the narrative was structured differently.  This was a pattern throughout the book (I felt similarly about her relationship with her parents, because you so rarely ever hear them speak), and made the connections between characters feel extremely flat and one-sided.

Final complaint (with a tiny bit of a spoiler)...I was exasperated by (or as the kids say, SMH at) one of the eventual job offers that Abigail receives.  She spends much of the novel putting together a poorly-worded resume...makes fliers for a home business that are written as if a third-grader made them...can't figure out the computer system at her waitressing job...but then suddenly, miraculously, it turns out she can write a pithy, hilarious, well-crafted cooking column for a magazine?
I know, I'm really lacing into the book here, but the GIF was too appropriate to not happen.
I cannot get behind that.  The Dude does not abide.

I'm done with the lacerating review, I promise.  At it's heart, this book has a good story.  I know it.  I just don't think it was given the best opportunity to shine.

Even though this book was not a win for me, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me (even though I will likely not be used for publicity purposes here, which I'd quite understandable).
Hey, don't just take my word for it.  The Divorce Diet has 4 stars on Goodreads, so there must be many that disagree with me!  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Ellen Hawley on her blog, website, and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Title: The One & Only
Author: Emily Giffin
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

My Review:

First, I must note that I adore the plot summary for this book, because it doesn't give away ANYTHING.  Lately I feel like the plot summaries I've been reading are far too detailed.  This one gives you a good feel for the book, without giving away the farm.

You may remember that I really, really, really love Emily Giffin.  Usually I know WAY in advance when her latest book is coming out, but because I most recently live in a mommy cave of oblivion, I didn't find out until a whole month AFTER its release that this book was available.  For shame, me!  Luckily my library got it to me lickity-split, because this was a novel worth devouring.

In keeping with the summary, I don't want to give any spoilers.  However, I will say that this book brought me back to my early love for Giffin's work, forged when I read her first two novels (Something Borrowed and Something Blue).  I was drawn to them because, like a lot of women's fiction, they are steeped in relationship issues, but not in a way that is predictable or mollifying.  Giffin has a way of making you build sympathy for characters who aren't always engaging in the most wholesome behaviors, which takes a lot of skill.  You don't naturally want to cheer on a liar or a cheat, amiright?  But Giffin molds her characters in a way that allows you to see them as more than the sum of their poor choices.  In fact, she makes you question if those choices were really poor at all.

Such is the case with The One & Only.  Shea (our protagonist) stumbles into some rather...complicated relationships.  And believe it or not, I found myself rooting for her to go towards the most inappropriate one of all.  I won't tell you if it comes to fruition or not, but I will say that the suspense along the way is fairly addictive.  Prepare to be glued to your book once things get rolling.

I've read a few reviews that decry Shea as a very one-sided character--nothing but football, football, and more football.  I agree that that is true, but it didn't bother me because I think it was meant to make a point.  Shea has led a pretty sheltered life, and is definitely battling some "daddy issues"...she's afraid to move out of her comfort zone.  Football is her comfort, and that was highlighted a bit heavily, but I believe it's in a way that gives you a better sense of her motives.

Overall, this was another Emily Giffin win for me.  I will say that I did not love the conclusion (we're talking the last 3-4 pages), because I feel like she decided to pull a punch at the last second and wrap up the ending a little too sweetly.  However, given that I was unable to put the book down for the previous 400-ish pages, I'd say this one gets a 99% amazing rating from me.

Any other Emily Giffin fans out there?  Will you be picking up her latest anytime soon?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Audiobook Review: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Wedding Night
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: The Dial Press
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose, but then his big question involves a trip abroad—not a trip down the aisle. Completely crushed, Lottie reconnects with an old flame, and they decide to take drastic action. No dates, no moving in together, they’ll just get married . . . right now. Her sister, Fliss, thinks Lottie is making a terrible mistake, and will do anything to stop her. But Lottie is determined to say “I do,” for better, or for worse.

My Review:

Well, I can definitely tell that audiobooks aren't my go-to format anymore!  This one took me 2 months (and 2 library renewals) to complete...ha!  I borrowed it because I had to do about 9 hours of driving in a day for my friend's bridal shower, but once I got home I still had 5 discs left to listen to.  Ah well...such is the life of no work commute!

Thankfully, this is a story that is great to listen to.  In typical Kinsella fashion, it's light-hearted and funny, and kept me well entertained for my looooong drive through upstate New York.  I know I've poked fun at fluffy, chick-lit type books in the past, but just like with any other genre, sometimes I'm just in the mood for it.  Wedding Night is a great read if you're looking for something that will keep your interest, make you laugh and not require your brain to work too hard.

One of the things I liked best about this book is that I could see it playing out in my head as a great movie.  The characters end up in those quirky, this-would-never-happen-in-real-life types of situations that seem ridiculous in the everyday, but would make for great cinematic fodder.  Yes, the ending is a tad predictable, but the journey to get there is humorous, so it made the anticlimactic conclusion worth it.

Only downside here has to do with the audio format.  For the most part, I enjoyed the voices of the two narrators (especially the woman who plays Fliss, she was a hoot).  However, they were TERRIBLE at doing men's voices.  The woman playing Lottie had to voice her husband, Ben, and she made him sound like a decrepit old man (even though he was, I assume, in his mid-thirties).  And the woman playing Fliss had to voice Ben's friend Lorcan, who is described in the text as having a very deep voice (think the guy who narrates movie previews).  Yeah...that was NOT the way his voice was portrayed at all.  So those two things were a little off-putting in the audio version, but otherwise it was a good listen.

Overall: over-the-top chick-lit is not my go-to genre, but when I'm craving it, I want it to be silly and humorous enough to make me truly LOL.  Wedding Night fits the bill!

Readers, what was the last book you read that made you laugh-out-loud for real?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

Title:  One Hundred Names
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Journalist Kitty Logan's career is being destroyed by scandal - and now she faces losing the woman who guided and taught her everything she knew. At her terminally ill friend's bedside, Kitty asks - what is the one story she always wanted to write? The answer lies in a file buried in Constance's office: a list of one hundred names. There is no synopsis, nothing to explain what the story is or who these people are. The list is simply a mystery. But before Kitty can talk to her friend, it is too late. With everything to prove, Kitty is assigned the most important task of her life: to write the story her mentor never had the opportunity to. Kitty not only has to track down and meet the people on the list, but find out what connects them. And, in the process of hearing ordinary people's stories, she starts to understand her own.

My Review:

Despite her impressive repertoire of novels, I've only read one other of Cecelia Ahern's books (PS, I Love You).  It was many years ago, but I remember being very emotionally moved by it (and, bonus: it was better than the movie version (but when is it not?)).  Since then, I've had a ton of her books on my TBR list, so I figured now was a great time to jump into one of her newest releases with One Hundred Names.

I was unsure of how to feel about Kitty (our journalistic protagonist) for much of the novel.  I wanted so badly to like her--she's down on her luck, trying to track down this story for her recently-deceased friend, all while attempting to rebuild her trashed career.  However, she also has this predatory streak about her that annoyed the bejesus out of me at times.  She's so intent on finding the big, scandalous story that she sometimes makes her interviewees feel terrible about themselves in the process.

However, my warm-fuzzy feelings about Kitty won out.  In the end, I felt that she was truly a decent person who was simply overtaken by the media's need for bigger, better, and more.  Her moments of overly-voracious story hunting eventually served to turn her into a more human, relateable character.

Of course, this made the moral of the story feel rather obvious to me, but I am happy to report that there is much more to the conclusion than that.  (I originally thought I had the ending all figured out before the halfway point--which as we all know, can be a GIANT LETDOWN.  I was overjoyed when I realized that was not the case.)  While the reveal about the origin of the 100 names is not scandalous or jaw-dropping, it is incredibly uplifting, and that makes it worth the wait.  Plus, there are a few details tantalizingly left hanging, which doesn't always make me a happy reader--but in this case, it was done well, and I was happy indeed.

One Hundred Names is the epitome of a "feel good" novel, but one with some real substance behind it.  Between this and PS, I Love You, I think Cecelia Ahern is definitely leaving her mark on me!

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Cecelia Ahern on her website and Facebook.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman

Title:  Driving Lessons
Author: Zoe Fishman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Sarah and her husband trade in a crowded commute, cramped apartment, and high stress New York City jobs for life the slow lane in Farmwood, VA, the pressure is on to have a baby. At thirty-six Sarah knows it's time to get started, but the urgency motivating her to reach this pinnacle of self-fulfillment looms large. Meanwhile, her best friend Mona, a single and successful editor who's always wanted children, is diagnosed with cervical cancer. At the same time, Sarah's younger and seemingly perfect sister-in-law has just given birth to her son, Franklin. When Sarah uproots her new life with her husband in Virginia to return to New York and care for Mona, the three women will help each other navigate their new realities.

My Review:

Ah, women's fiction.  Lord knows it's been one of my preferred genres for a long time.  Especially when it's also borderline "mommy fiction", like Driving Lessons.  I love it when an author can really dive deep into the emotional side of marriage, motherhood, and friendships: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Driving Lessons attempts to do just that.  Sarah is balancing a huge career change, her marriage, a big move from NYC to the countryside, her relationship with her sister-in-law, her best friend's hysterectomy, and the decision of whether or not she wants to be a mother.  Tough, thought-provoking stuff.  All this, plus she hasn't driven a car in years, so she needs to take driving lessons once she moves down to Virginia.  (Cue "Very Obvious Metaphor Used Throughout Novel".  Sorry, don't mean to be snarky.  It just nags me a bit when the metaphors are SO blatant.)

It's hard not to like Sarah.  She's a fun, somewhat socially awkward thirty-something, who manages to approach most of the mishaps that are thrown at her with a positive attitude and good humor.  But this inherent likeability is also the reason why this book probably will not leave a lasting impression on me.  Everything just seems to come up roses for most of the characters...even when they are battling truly devastating circumstances (like her friend Mona, who is diagnosed with cancer).  Many of the characters themselves seem a tad too perfect (Sarah's husband Josh pretty much fits every mold for Model Husband).  And the girl-power love-fests just got to be WAY too much for me after a while.  So many of the female-to-female conversations devolved into "You're so wonderful!", "No, YOU are!" scenarios that I started to gag a little towards the end.

Overall, I like the premise of this novel.  It has a heartwarming message.  And I had a good time getting to know Sarah.  But with SO many tough issues to explore, I expected something a little more hard-hitting, and a little less perfectly tied together.  I usually do like the inherent optimism of women's fiction novels, but this one tipped a bit too much on the happy-girl-power scale for me to really get behind it.  There has to be a few thorns in the roses sometimes, I suppose.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Zoe Fishman on her website and Twitter.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: The Stork Reality by Malena Lott

Title: The Stork Reality
Author: Malena Lott
Publisher: Buzz Books
Publication Date: February 25, 2012
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

What to expect when you're expecting? For Jake and Taylor, a career-driven couple that hadn't planned on having kids, it's a nine-month roller coaster ride. 

Creative director Taylor Montgomery gets the surprise of her life when she finds out she's pregnant the same day her best friend, Hilarie, finds out she's not. Taylor never wanted to be a mom, but it's all Hilarie has dreamed about. The Stork Reality updates this novel about the journey to motherhood and how pregnancy changes marriage, work, and even close friendships. 

Taylor gets a dose of the stork reality as she maneuvers the wild new world of moms-to-be and comes to terms with what it means to be a family. 

My Review:

My first read of 2014!  I actually finished this book around 3am on January 1, so it just barely made it into the new year.  Here's to a year's worth of new reads.  :)

The front cover of this book has a critic's quote on the front that says it's a blend of chick-lit and mom-lit.  I'd say that nails it fairly well (and with the caveat that you should be pretty familiar with pregnancy/childbirth before reading...certain specifics of it are not explained very well for the layperson who might be reading).  The main character, Taylor, is a high-powered ad exec (think Mad Men), married to a high-powered lawyer, and no real plans for kids in her future.  She's got a great job, she's in tip-top shape, her husband is a hottie, and she has a pack of girlfriends to hang out with.  Chick lit: check.

But, Taylor very unexpectedly finds out that she's pregnant.  Whoops.  Now she's got 9 months to figure out this whole baby/mothering thing.  Mom lit: check.

I've read my fair share of "mommy fiction", and while this book was fun, I can't say it was my favorite.  A lot of the book felt a bit disjointed to me.  For example, (as mentioned in the description above), Taylor's friend Hilarie is battling infertility during Taylor's pregnancy.  This is pretty emotionally draining for Hilarie, of course--if you know anyone who has faced infertility, you know that's true across the board.  So that's why I was rather surprised when Hilarie's dream finally does come true...with very little fanfare.  It happened quickly and without the sort of massive celebration I expected leading up to the event.  I felt similarly about how Taylor's husband (Jake) came around to the idea of the pregnancy.  He does such a quick about-face in his attitude towards it, it almost seemed like he wasn't the same character.

Then there's this whole backstory about Taylor trying to come to terms with her parents' deaths...I don't know.  I just wasn't feeling it.  I think the real issue is that this book tried to tackle some emotionally difficult problems, but wrote about them so shallowly that they weren't really given their due.  It's hard to write with a chick-litty flair and still be able to let your main character properly explore her deeper attachment issues, you know?  And it's not like the book made up for it in humor, because I didn't get much of that either.  As a result, the writing seemed rather bland overall.

Final verdict...if you want something light and have an interest in pregnancy/mommy related fiction, this may be a good way to pass the time.  But I do think there are other options within this genre that tackle the issues better, with more humor, and more depth.

What was your first read of 2014, friends?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose

Title: Sad Desk Salad
Author: Jessica Grose
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Source: copy received from Mandy at The Well-Read Wife for Mandy's Blogger Book Club

Plot Summary from  Goodreads :

As a writer for Chick Habit, an increasingly popular women's website, Alex Lyons gets paid to be a bitch. She's churning out several posts a day, and she saves her juiciest ones for blog prime time, when working women eat their sad desk salads in their offices. Alex tells herself she's fulfilling her dream of being a professional writer; so what if it means being glued to her couch and her laptop from six a.m. to six p.m., scouring the web in search of the next big celebrity scandal? Since Chick Habit's parent company keeps close tabs on page views, Alex knows her job is always at risk.

So when an anonymous tipster sends her the year's most salacious story—a politico's squeaky-clean Ivy League daughter caught in a very R-rated activity—it's a no-brainer. But is Alex really willing to ruin the girl's life by igniting the next Internet feeding frenzy? And what she doesn't yet realize is how this big scoop is about to send her own life spiraling out of control.

My Review:

First, two things about this cover/title.  ONE: the title always reminds me of the Fruit Salad song by The Wiggles.  ("Fruit salad...yummy yummy.")  Yeah, tag that under #momproblems.  TWO: the cover makes me hungry for salad.  I may or may not be eating a salad (at my desk) while I write this review.  I really love salad.

Well, now that we got that out of the way.

Sad Desk Salad is one of the more fun books I've read in 2012.  I place it in the chick lit genre, but it's got a healthy dose of wit and sarcasm that keeps it off the "fluffy" end of the spectrum.  Plus, I think any blogger, cubicle monkey, or woman-who-is-20something-or-was-once will relate in some way to Alex.  She's fun-loving, clever, and has big hopes and dreams, but she's also self-conscious and has a tendency to get in her own way (don't we all, sometimes?).

At the core of this novel are Alex's struggles to balance her Internet life with her real life.  As a blogger, she is steeped in Internet culture all day long--and as a result, her human relationships suffer.  Nowadays, I think that's the case for lots of us (even if we don't work online).  Sometimes it's so easy to get wrapped up in the latest Facebook drama, and not pay enough attention to the people around our own kitchen tables.  I really loved watching Alex contemplate this part of her story.

As far as the plot goes, I am happy to report that this is a chick lit novel that I did NOT find predictable.  In the midst of dealing with the aforementioned story about the Ivy League daughter, Alex is also trying to figure out who started a hate blog about her and her fellow bloggers.  While there were a few small hints about the culprit throughout the novel, it certainly wasn't enough to make me feel like I knew the answer well before the end.  I find that the element of surprise is often lost in this genre, but not so in Sad Desk Salad.

There is a bit of romance in the book (Alex is juggling her work responsibilities with her relationship with Peter, her live-in boyfriend), which provides a nice balance to the work-related drama.  But it's not overdone or cutesy in the mode of romance in many other women's fiction novels.  Alex is simply trying to find a way to make her work and home life comfortably co-exist--something that I think a lot of 25-year-olds struggle with early in their careers.

Another plus: this novel is very "current".  A lot of the dialogue goes on via text, email, and IM.  References to pop culture abound (Kardashians, Real Housewives, etc).  Grose even updated her novel to include the newest anchor of the Today Show, Savannah Guthrie, in one important scene (though I did see one slip where Ann Curry's name was listed when it should have been Savvy G's--oh snap!).  While I do think this could work against the book in the long run (readers 10 years from now are not going to remember David After Dentist on YouTube...I can guarantee it), for a here-and-now read it provides tons of entertainment.

I have one caveat about this book.  And it is this: at several points in the novel, the University of Connecticut is named as U Conn.  As a Husky alum, I squirmed in my seat every freaking time I read it, because there is most definitely no space there.  UConn, people.  It's UConn.  You heard it here at the Well-Read Redhead first.

Aren't you glad I got that out of my system?  If that's my biggest complaint about this book, you better pick it up and read it, like yesterday.  I'm a little sad that I already wrote my Best Books of 2012 post, because this one was pretty darn good.  Honorable mention!

Mucho thanks to Mandy over at The Well-Read Wife for providing my copy of the book.  We will be discussing Sad Desk Salad for Mandy's Blogger Book Club.  Grab a copy and join us!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Beneath the Glitter by Elle & Blair Fowler

Title: Beneath the Glitter
Authors: Elle and Blair Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source: ARC received via giveaway from publisher

Plot summary from Goodreads:

Welcome to a place where dreams are made. And where nothing—and no one—is ever what it seems.

After their make-up and fashion videos went viral on YouTube, sisters Sophia and Ava London are thrust into the exclusive life of the Los Angeles elite. Here fabulous parties, air kisses, paparazzi and hot guys all come with the scene. Sophia finds herself torn between a gorgeous bartender and a millionaire playboy, and Ava starts dating an A-list actor. But as they’re about to discover, the life they’ve always dreamed of comes with a cost.

Beneath the glitter of the Hollywood social scene lies a world of ruthless ambition, vicious gossip…and betrayal. Someone close to them, someone they trust, is working in the shadows to bring the London sisters falling down. And once the betrayal is complete, Sophia and Ava find themselves knee-deep in a scandal that could take away everything they care about, including the one thing that matters most—each other.

My Review:

I went into this book with absolutely no knowledge of who Elle and Blair Fowler are.  If you're like me, let me fill you in: apparently they are two sisters from Georgia who started posting makeup and fashion how-to videos on YouTube back in 2008.  They blew up online and have since moved to LA to begin starting their own makeup brand.  I guess they have been in all sorts of magazines and TV shows as well.  (Since my desire to know about makeup extends as far as the 1 tube of mascara I buy every 6 months, it's not too surprising that I was in the dark about this.)

Once I figured out who they were, I made every attempt to go into this with an open mind.  I know I have made comments about fluffy chick lit before, but I like them as guilty pleasure reads every now and again, so I was totally game for some shopping and lipstick time.

Unfortunately, this just didn't do it for me.  I was immediately turned off when I found out that the two main characters of the novel (Ava and Sophia) are sisters...from Georgia...who moved to start their makeup business.  Sound familiar?  Ladies, if you wanted to write about yourselves so badly, write a memoir.  Writing fiction with characters thinly veiled as yourselves just smacks of unoriginality.  Not to mention, it is very annoying for me as a reader to see Sophia/Elle and Ava/Blair have all sorts of amaaaazing boys throwing themselves at them, get invites to every big Hollywood party, and win all sorts of awards (that they actually were nominated for but did not win in real life, like the MTV Web Star Award), etc.  We get it, you think very highly of yourselves, yawn.

(Related to that: it drove me INSANE that Sophia/Elle was given a camera as a gift, shot ONE roll of film, and the photos ended up in a huge photography show because they were so spectacular.  As an amateur photographer who has worked on technique for years, that is mildly insulting.)

There are a several plot holes.  One to illustrate: Ava and her friend Dalton go out at 4:30am to rescue some puppies on the beach.  (Yes, we've resorted to rescuing puppies, OMG SOMEONE STAB ME WITH A FLUFFY PINK PEN.)  It is reiterated many times that they have to do it in no less than a half hour because the tide is coming in.  They finish the mission, and Dalton drives Ava to her noon meeting...which she is late for.  So they hurriedly rescued puppies at 5am, and didn't get done until 12:30pm?  I'm confused.  There were several glaring holes like this throughout the novel.

However, my biggest criticism is for the ending.  The first chapter of the book foreshadows to an event 5 months in the future, when Sophia and Ava are arrested for something.  You don't know what or why.  So the whole novel, you're waiting to find out (although it is GLARINGLY obvious who the culprits are pretty early in the novel...major predictability here).  And it is literally half a page, 2 pages from the end of the book.  So much information is skipped over, it makes you wonder why in the world they foreshadowed it in the beginning at all.  I think it was mainly done as a tactic to woo you into reading the sequel (apparently coming out next year), but it just feels clumsy and unsatisfying.

I've been pretty harsh here, so I will try to list a few redeeming qualities (because I rarely think a book is 100% bad).  This is a YA novel that I think will appeal to the YA readers who are fans of Elle and Blair in real life.  If you're into fashion, makeup, celebrity glamour, etc. you'll probably enjoy some of the detail that's included along the way.  It mentions puppies and kittens a lot,'ll like that if you're an animal lover?

Okay, I'm clearly losing this battle with myself.  I wasn't a fan, plain and simple.  It's sloppily written (I suspect ghostwritten), totally predictable, and too closely mirrors Elle and Blair in real life.  Fiction is supposed to be fiction--not an obvious attempt to make your life sound more glamorous.  It comes off as snobbish rather than fun.  If you're under the age of 16 and a fashion lover, give it a shot; otherwise, no bueno.  Stick to YouTube, ladies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Title: Where We Belong
Author: Emily Giffin
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.

For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.

My Review:

I will start by saying that I have always been a big fan of Emily Giffin's books in the past.  I got hooked on Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and ever since then, as soon as I finish one of her novels, I start Googling around to see if there are any rumors about when her next one is coming out.  I don't give them all 5-star reviews, but I like her writing style and the fact that she's able to write emotionally-charged books that don't always have the cliched happy ending.

That said, I was also recently dismayed by the controversy surrounding Giffin and her husband on Amazon, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that a little as I was reading.  BUT, this review is about the book, NOT that other stuff, and I want to make that clear from the get-go.

SO!  I was drawn into Marian and Kirby's story very quickly.  I know I talk about my mom-perspective a lot, but this book was especially emotional for me because I was constantly thinking about how it would feel to have to give up your child just three days after they were born.  Pre-baby, yes, it still would have been a tough thing to consider.  But now, I was practically in tears picturing it.  Giffin does a good job illustrating the gut-wrenching emotions in this situation for everyone involved--not just Marian and Kirby, but Kirby's adoptive parents, birth father, etc.

I have to say that Kirby was my favorite of the two main characters.  Yes, she's young and directionless, but also mature and unique in a way that she doesn't realize.  I loved the chapters that were told from her perspective.  (And, as a former aspiring girl drummer, I had to admire her musical taste!)  Plus, her humor is refreshing at times, given the serious nature of the issues involved.

However, I had a bit more trouble with Marian.  I never felt like I got a real handle on her.  Sometimes she'd throw off the vibe of the mature and worldly woman who's come to terms with her 18-year-old decision; other times (honestly, most of the time), she just seemed like a shallow snob who thinks she's grown up, but doesn't realize she is still being immature and selfish.  Right up to the end, she continues to claim that she gave Kirby up for adoption because it was the best decision for Kirby, not for her (Marian).  But it seemed pretty obvious to me that Marian's only true reason for giving Kirby up was that she didn't want to screw up her perfect life and future.  If she had kept Kirby, Marian's family had the means to give her a cushy life--but Marian's reputation and career dreams would have changed.  This is never really addressed or resolved in the novel, though the ending made me wonder if Giffin meant it to feel that way.  Either way, it was a point of frustration for me that Marian never really had a true "epiphany".

All that said--I did enjoy that the ending is not what you expect.  As I mentioned above, Giffin is very good at the non-cliche ending, and she continues that streak here.  It might be my favorite thing about her as an author.  Well, that and the way she sneaks in characters from her other books into her current novels.  I was pretty psyched to spot Claudia, Ben, and Jess from Baby Proof (and you even get a bit more info about what happened to Claudia and Ben after the book ended!).  Good stuff!

Overall?  Despite my frustrations about Marian, this was a wonderful book.  This is a touchy subject in many ways, but Giffin expertly handles the emotions and decisions that are involved.  In the end, you have a thoughtful piece of women's fiction (NOT chick lit!) that draws to a satisfying conclusion without tying up every tiny loose end.  I heard it got picked up for a movie deal, so let's see how Hollywood totally ruins it.  Ha!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: The Beach House by Jane Green

Title: The Beach House
Author: Jane Green
Publisher: Viking Adult
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Source: e-book loan from my local library

Plot summary from Goodreads:

Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn't care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn't she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes.

So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

My Review:

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase "chick lit".  I don't like it, because it implies a genre that is vapid, silly, and full of hot-pink-spined books.  While I find this true of SOME books in this genre (AHEM, Shopaholic series), it is most definitely not true for all (or even the majority).  However, I still sometimes use the term because it's easy and less clunky than saying "women's literature" or something of that sort.  Go ahead, call me lazy...

Anyway, I suppose you would say this book falls under chick lit, but I have to immediately follow that by saying this is SMART chick lit.  It's women's fiction that deals with relationships realistically, and makes an effort to get in the heads of each of its characters.  And oh yeah, I LOVED IT.

The story centers primarily around Nan and her 3 boarders (names withheld because I don't want to spoil).  However, it starts off following them well before they all end up in Nantucket, so the first chapter or two are a bit disorienting as you follow the lives of these seemingly unrelated people.  But once you figure out who's who, the variety of perspectives in this story is awesome.  Not only do you get the POV of each of the 4 main characters, but you get short snippets from their spouses' perspectives, their kids' perspectives, etc., creating a narrative that puts you in the head of nearly every character, and giving you a look at each of the 4 main characters from a whole host of different vantage points.  I love books and movies that do the whole we-don't-know-each-other-at-the-beginning-but-soon-our-lives-will-collide thing, but that paired with this crazy multi-person perspective?  Genius.  It's the #1 reason I loved this book so much.

By the end of the book, I felt like I knew each character so well.  Green spends a lot of time making sure you really understand the emotions of each person, in every chapter.  It doesn't take you long to start feeling invested in their well-being.

Themes of infidelity, being true to self, and "everything happens for a reason" were strong throughout the novel.  There are some GREAT plot twists, and the ending is perfect.

I only had 2 small beefs with this book.  Number one: the themes of the novel are highlighted WAY too much.  I think every character said/thought something along the lines of "she felt like she was coming home" or "he finally felt at home" or (enter cliche statement about home here).  Halfway through, I was like, "OKAY, GOT IT, THE BEACH HOUSE IS A METAPHOR, WE'RE GOOD".  Same goes for the "everything happens for a reason" theme.  I prefer it when authors assume I am smart enough to figure out the embedded themes on my own, cuz I is purty intellijent.

My other (very minor) complaint was that the American characters would sometimes use British-style language in conversation.  Not a huge deal, but it was noticeable...I'm sure it snuck in because Green is British.  It was just a little awkward in the dialogue when I picked up on it.

But overall?  The rest of the book was so good, I don't even really care about those 2 small complaints.  This is not my first Jane Green novel, and while I have really enjoyed most of them (Jemima J is definitely another to check out), this one might be my favorite so far.  This would be a great summer read, so quick--go get it before summer officially ends!

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