Showing posts with label women's fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women's fiction. Show all posts

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!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 13, 2014

Book Review: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Title:   Cutting Teeth
Author: Julia Fierro
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014,  Cutting Teeth  takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.

They include Nicole, the neurotic hostess terrified by internet rumors that something big and bad is going to happen in New York City that week; stay-at-home dad Rip, grappling with the reality that his careerist wife will likely deny him a second child, forcing him to disrupt the life he loves; Allie, one half of a two-mom family, and an ambitious artist, facing her ambivalence toward family life; Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into; and Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on Tenzin, the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. These tensions build, burn, and collide over the course of the weekend, culminating in a scene in which the ultimate rule of the group is broken. 

My Review:

True story: I went into this book MAJORLY hemming-and-hawing, totally dragging my feet.  And I left it thinking that it may be on my Faves of 2014 list at the end of the year.

Why all the whining beforehand?  Honestly, because I think I am hitting THE WALL with "mommy fiction".  I know, I write about it all the time and talk about how it's one of my favorite genres (hence why I jumped on this tour in the first place!).  But it's kind of like when my mom packed me a peanut-butter-and-fluff sandwich for lunch almost every day in fifth grade.  It started out as the best thing ever, but by the end of the year...well, I haven't eaten a PB & fluff in about 20 years.

However, Cutting Teeth stands out in the genre, and can't really be grouped entirely in the mommy category anyway.  It is a more honest, authentic, and dare I say...gritty interpretation of fictional parenthood than most others that I've read.  The majority of fiction books that I read about motherhood tend to be rather light-hearted, humorous, and nearly always happily-ended.  But Cutting Teeth gets at the tougher side of parenting.  Each character is, on the whole, a good parent--but inside, emotionally, they are dealing with many of the doubts and problems that even the best parents face.  Much of this is focused on identity: who each of them have become in the wake of parental responsibility.  In the end, each character is trying to figure out their true self now that they are submerged in the ever-important role of "parent"--and that is a struggle that any mom or dad can certainly relate to.

One of the best things about this book is the deep character-building that takes place.  I have seen other reviewers say that this book lacks in plot development, but I would argue that that is because it is so character-driven.  One of my recent gripes with other mommy-focused books is that so many of the characters feel one-dimensional.  You'll have the All-Natural Mom ("I only buy organic and cloth diaper!"), the Working Mom ("Watch me struggle with work/family balance!"), the Fertility Issues Mom (I am not downplaying the seriousness of this issue, but it does get tired when every book tackles it the same way), etc.  And amazingly, by the end of the book they all figure out their issues and/or learn to have respect for other perspectives, yadda yadda.

Yes, the characters in Cutting Teeth do each have very particular traits, and yes, sometimes those traits are overemphasized (case in point: Nicole and her freakish fears about the end of the world, meant to illustrate Overprotective Mommy).  However, as a whole, each character is rounded-out quite nicely.  For example: Tiffany, the child development specialist who lectures other moms on how to best parent their kids, also happens to be a white-trash sex fiend.  Which makes her feel pretty authentic to me (or maybe I'm just hanging out with the wrong people at playgroups, whichever).  Plus, there's a stay-at-home dad!  And a same-sex couple!  And sperm donors!  And nearly everyone has crazy secrets!  Anyway, lots of interesting relationships here, is what I'm getting at.

I should also point out that this book, while heavy on the kid talk, would likely still make interesting reading for those without kids.  That's especially true if you're into novels with great characterization and lots of relationship drama.  If you think you can overlook the parenting chit-chat, this one is worth a read.

That rather long-winded analysis boils down to this: Cutting Teeth tackles the realities of parenting with a level of honesty that I found to be refreshing.  Yes, sometimes it is almost too pessimistic at times, but perhaps this genre needs a swing in that direction once in a while.  Because being a parent is hard, y'all.  And it seems to be rather unpopular to directly recognize that fact (no one wants to be viewed as the unhappy parent).  But this book pulls no punches, which is a nice change of pace.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Julia Fierro on her website, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Guest Post: Why Contemporary Fiction Is My Jam

Happy Friday, loves!  FYI, I have a guest post rockin' over at Lost in Books, in honor of Becca's Women's Lit Event (going throughout the month of March!).  It's called Why Contemporary Fiction Is My Jam , and it tells you all the wonderful, lovely things that I adore about modern-day women's fiction.

If you need further temptation, there's a gif from Mean Girls included.  WIN!  Go read it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Title: Blackberry Winter
Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source: personal purchase via Kindle

Plot Summary from Goodreads

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways...

My Review:

I saw this book here and there around the blogosphere, but when someone told me "you'll like this if you like Jodi-Picoult-esque novels", I was sold.  You can get me to read the back of a deodarent stick if you tell me it reads like a Jodi Picoult novel.

I can see why Jio's book is compared to JP.  At its core is a mysterious and moving story, as Claire searches for the long-missing Daniel, and deals with her personal losses at the same time.  The story itself is what kept me turning the pages.  I wanted to know what happened to Daniel, I wanted to know what happened in Claire's past and whether she would reconcile with it, and I wanted to know where Vera went.  Jio always has a new mystery for you to uncover, and that's the best aspect of this book.  Plus, the mother/son relationship between Vera and Daniel is awesome.  Maybe I'm just a sucker because I have a son, but by the end, I was getting teary every time I learned more about them.  What can I say, motherhood turned me into a sap.  I AM NOT ASHAMED.

I do wish that the writing were stronger, though.  While there were a few unpredictable twists at the end, for the most part, Jio has a tendency to make the answers to her mysteries a bit too obvious.  And as a reader, I don't like to feel like I'm being hand-held through the plot.  I figured out one of the big "reveals" before I hit the 10% mark of the novel.  There are just too many blatant hints about how certain people will become significant to the plot, and with a little more creative wordcrafting, that could have been avoided.

Also, the writing itself (especially the dialogue) feels clunky and stilted at times.  It's clear that Jio skips out on certain details or emotional embellishments when she's trying to lead you towards the next clue in the mystery.  For example, at one point Claire and a companion are searching a house, and stumble across a broken window and some missing items.  Clearly a burglary.  But they oddly ignore it and move onto the next room in the house (where they, TA-DA, end up finding the next clue).  This felt strange, and illustrates how the author spent too much time only focusing on the important details, rather than fleshing out the full story.

Overall: an intriguing story that will tug at your heart-strings, for sure.  Despite my caveats about the way it was written, I don't regret jumping into this story at all.  I just wish the writing style made the plot shine a bit more.

Have you read this (or other) Sarah Jio novel(s)?  Thoughts, dear readers?

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!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Title: The Mermaid Chair
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: March 31, 2005
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Inside the abbey of a Benedictine monastery on tiny Egret Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, resides a beautiful and mysterious chair ornately carved with mermaids and dedicated to a saint who, legend claims, was a mermaid before her conversion. Jessie Sullivan’s conventional life has been “molded to the smallest space possible.” So when she is called home to cope with her mother’s startling and enigmatic act of violence, Jessie finds herself relieved to be apart from her husband, Hugh. Jessie loves Hugh, but on Egret Island—amid the gorgeous marshlands and tidal creeks—she becomes drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk who is mere months from taking his final vows. What transpires will unlock the roots of her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, as Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, she will find a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right.

My Review:

I was initially drawn to this book because I (and much of the rest of the world) enjoyed Kidd's other novel, The Secret Life of Bees.  I'd heard mixed reviews about this one, but gave it a try anyway.

Early on, I felt myself getting drawn into the book's atmosphere.  The narrator for the audiobook, Eliza Foss, provides a wonderful Southern lilt that perfectly fits my imagined voice for Jessie.  She also does a great job providing very distinct voices to all of the other characters in the novel (something that I find can make or break an audiobook for me).  And the fictional setting of Egret Island was beautiful--I wished I could explore the island in real life.

However, it wasn't long before I started to dislike Jessie's character.  She quickly started to come off as selfish, and constantly had an explanation for why everything she did was right.  But what really got me is this: Kidd tries to mask it with flowy prose, but the bottom line is that after 20 years of marriage, Jessie is bored and feeling tied down, so she rectifies the situation by cheating on her husband with another man.  I'm not averse to books that deal with infidelity--but I am not a fan of writing about it in such a way that it seems common, easily forgivable.  This book does that.  Jessie does what she does, explains it away throughout the novel, and maddeningly few pages are given to the way to which it is reacted.

The stated purpose of the book is to explore the connections between "the spiritual and the erotic", but I just don't think this was well-expressed.  I found myself not caring very much about the Mermaid Chair aspect (and while there is an interesting mystery surrounding Jessie's family, I found it's conclusion seemed like it was pulled out of thin air, disconnected from other parts of the story).

I think one of the better points of this novel is that you need to find yourself before you can "give" yourself to others.  I would have enjoyed the book more if that had shined through a bit brighter.  But it was hard for me to focus on that message with the messy way that Jessie's infidelities were handled.

Overall--this book had a lot of promise in the beginning.  Great setting, great voice, interesting family mysteries.  However, Jessie's perspective did not make me feel sympathetic to her in the least, and you need to be able to root for her at least a little bit if you want to put faith in the story Kidd is trying to tell.  An potentially beautiful story with an unfortunate POV problem.
Imagination Designs