Showing posts with label womens fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label womens fiction. Show all posts

Friday, August 5, 2016

August Mini-Reviews

It's Mini Review time again!  My streak of good novels continues--it's certainly been a wonderful summer for reading.  A bit o' popular fiction to share with you this time around:

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Ballatine, 2016
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

In case you've forgotten, I'm a huge Emily Giffin fan, and fully ADORED her last release (The One & Only).  That put her 2016 novel, First Comes Love, near the top of my must-read list this summer.  However, on the whole I have to say that I liked it, but didn't quite reach "love it" status.  Giffin's usual penchant for relateable, well-rounded characters is still intact--I loved the protagonists, Meredith and Josie, and the fact that they were both so perfectly flawed and quirky.  HOW does Giffin make characters that are both unique and yet have at least one trait that you can totally identify with??  It is a gift, for sure.  This novel is absorbing and involves some interesting discussion topics, but I was unable to get 100% on board when Josie's story got a bit too convoluted and far-fetched for me.  I appreciate Giffin's ability to include lots of gray areas and touchy subjects in her writing, but this one became a bit too hard for me to get behind.  I'd love to discuss with anyone else that has read it!  Overall: worth the read, but just not as outstanding as some of her other work.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Viking, 2012
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Yeah, take another look at the info above.  An ARC that I received...4 years ago.  OOPS.  Not long after I started the blog, actually, and well before this book's hype flew through the roof.  But even after the good reviews started rolling in, I was a tad skeptical's a romance.  And as I've said so many times before (see: every time I talk about Outlander) I'm not known for loving the romance genre.  However, one of my friends really wanted to see the movie with me, so I figured it was time to finally dive in.
OH LORDY.  THE SADS.  ALL THE SADS.  Please excuse me while I add to the hype, because this book was amazing.  I adored the two protagonists (Lou and Will), and their ever-changing dynamic is what makes this book a home run.  This is not at all a typical romance, but one that will make your wheels turn (it has some interesting moral dilemmas in the mix).  You'll laugh (I love Lou and Will's snappy dialogue), you'll cry, and then you'll do it all again.  The ending is one that I love to hate, and I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel very soon.  Highly recommend!!

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
William Morrow, 2015
borrowed from the library

This was the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club, and I was intrigued, because I've seen many Karin Slaughter books on the shelves before but had yet to pick one up myself.  My first warning to you is that the description of this book on Goodreads/Amazon/etc does NOT give an accurate idea of how much brutality is involved in the plot.  I've read my fair share of violent novels (hi, Stephen King groupie over here), but Pretty Girls is shockingly graphic in a way that I did not expect going in.  Alley stabbings, serial killing, snuff porn, we really cover all the bases here.  It took me a while to acclimate to that, but once I did, I found myself involved in a thrilling story.
Pretty Girls is impressive as a mystery, a thriller, and a crime drama.  The plot twists were never predictable for me, and even though the book is quite long, it never loses momentum.  The main character (Claire) is the perfect mix of tough heroine and annoying Stepford wife--easy to root for, but just naive enough to drive you insane once in a while.  This whole novel came together for me, which is impressive, given the crazy number of plot elements that Slaughter weaves into the story.
Definitely recommend this one as well--I see that Slaughter has quite a backlist, so I'm sure I'll be checking out more of her work soon!

What are you reading lately, bookish friends?

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.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Commencement by J.Courtney Sullivan

Title: Commencement
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: June 16, 2009
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with her grandmother’s rosary beads in hand and a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancĂ© she left behind in Savannah; Sally, pristinely dressed in Lilly Pulitzer, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, redheaded feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” T-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately.

Together they experience the ecstatic highs and painful lows of early adulthood: Celia’s trust in men is demolished in one terrible evening, Bree falls in love with someone she could never bring home to her traditional family, Sally seeks solace in her English professor, and April realizes that, for the first time in her life, she has friends she can actually confide in.

When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed, but they remain fiercely devoted to one another. Schooled in the ideals of feminism, they have to figure out how it applies to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. For Celia, Bree, and Sally, this means grappling with one-night stands, maiden names, and parental disapproval—along with occasional loneliness and heartbreak. But for April, whose activism has become her life’s work, it means something far more dangerous.

My Review:

You may have noticed that this novel landed a spot on my 30 Before 35 list.  Perhaps it seems like an odd choice, nestled in there with the likes of Ulysses and The Color Purple.  However, I added Commencement because it's been on my TBR list for several years...and it's on my TBR because it tackles one of my favorite time periods: the college and post-college years.

Shortly after I graduated from UConn, I read I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.  It really resonated with me, and still holds a spot on my favorites list.  However, I soon realized that the number of books that focus on college/post-college life (without a primary focus on New-Adult-style, almost-erotica romance) is not high.  Commencement is one of them, and I was happy to finally get around to it!   (And what better time to read it, just after cap-and-gown season??)

This novel will certainly appeal more to a female audience, though I hesitate to attach the "chick lit" label.  The book has its fair share of hookups, girly fights, etc., but they are worked into the plot with a higher level of seriousness than "chick lit"implies (at least by my definition).  For example, the broad subject of "dating" is discussed in a whole host of contexts: how to balance your love life with your career after graduation; how to reconcile the fact that the love of your life happens to be a woman, which is a situation that your conservative family will never approve; and how to cope when what starts as a wonderful first date, ends in rape.

Yes, one of the best things about this book is that it takes primarily-female issues, and gives them the weight that they deserve, without the frills you may have come to expect from other women's fiction novels.  I suppose this appeals to me because college was a significant time in my life.  Not to sound like a nerd (never mind, I am a nerd), but it truly was the best of times AND the worst of times in many ways.  I made a lot (A LOT) of mistakes, and had a lot of successes (thankfully more than the mistakes).  Plus, I worked in higher education for 8 years afterwards, and saw other students going through a whole slew of social and emotional changes through that work.  I know this is not the case for every college grad, but it gives you some idea why novels in this genre, written without a sense of frivolity, click so well with me.

The novel is broken into two parts, with the first part covering most of Sally, Bree, April, and Celia's 4 years at Smith College, as well as their reunion at Sally's wedding.  The second half focuses on what happens to the women after they go their separate ways post-wedding.  The first half was definitely stronger for me than the second.  I feel like the plot took a rather far-fetched direction in the later chapters, and the ending is incredibly abrupt, given how well-developed the rest of the book is.  That said, I suppose the second half is where most of the "action" happens, so I can't knock it too much, given that I never felt like I hit a slow point as I was reading.

Overall, Commencement is the perfect blend of head vs. heart.  Sullivan confronts some important issues in the novel, and does so with passion and humor.  If you have a recent female college grad in your life, this would be an excellent book to pass on!

Is there a certain time period that you love to read about in novels?  Childhood?  High school?  College?  Parenthood?  What makes that stand out for you?

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?

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, March 15, 2013

Book Review: I'll Take What She Has by Samantha Wilde

Title:  I'll Take What She Has
Author: Samantha Wilde
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: e-ARC received via NetGalley for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.
Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat .  Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.

My Review:

As I mentioned in my Monday post, I love me some mommy fiction.  Motherhood is in a unique zip code of Crazy-Town that has a very specific set of worries, rewards, and neuroses.  Women's fiction novels that deal in this area are, admittedly, targeting a very specific audience, but I think that audience is often eager to see their daily joys and sorrows brought to life on the page.

Hence my excitement for this novel.  As it opened, I found myself enamored with the two main characters, Nora and Annie.  The chapters alternate between their points-of-view.  Nora is desperate for a baby, and has been trying to conceive for nearly a year with her husband Alfie.  Her best friend Annie, on the other hand, has two "oopsie" babies (very fertile, she is) and stays at home to care for them.  She's convinced that she's meant to stay at home, and not work...or is she?

Right away, I was struck by how vividly and humorously Wilde was able to write about Nora and Annie's opposing struggles.  From Nora's frantic ovulation charting, to Annie's hectic diffusion of toddler tantrums, she had me laughing and sympathizing with both of them.  I was impressed by the wide array of mothering issues that were touched upon in the novel, and in a way that will leave mom-readers nodding and smiling as they go.  Plus, Wilde's writing style is such that she often purposely leaves you hanging with certain conversations and details, which is a great way to keep you interested from chapter to chapter.

However, in the end I felt rather lukewarm about this book.  Why?  Well, outside of the clarity with which the motherhood issues were illustrated, the rest of the book felt a little shallow.  Take, for instance, Cynthia Cypress--the new friend of Nora's that is mentioned in the book description.  She plays a fairly large role in the plot, but her character is annoyingly flat and one-sided.  For someone who has such an emotional impact on the protagonists, we learn very little about Cynthia by the end of the novel.  At first, I thought this was an attempt to shroud her in mystery, but the "reveal" about her at the end was underwhelming, and didn't seem to warrant her lack of development throughout the book.

I felt similarly about the plot action as a whole.  Its movement was very slow, and often anticlimactic.  I found that, by the conclusion, I didn't have much emotion towards how everything wrapped up.  It was rather a feeling of, "...that's it?"  Much like with Cynthia's character, the major plot events were not built up enough throughout the novel, which makes the ending feel bland.  There is also a lot of repetition in the novel, best illustrated by the constant use of the phrase "I'll take what she has" (or some variation) in the character's conversations.  This constant use of the title became grating after a while, even though the message it attempts to convey is a good one (the grass is not always greener on the other side).

Final verdict?  This book is a perfect illustration of a 3-star Goodreads review.  There were a lot of things I loved: the motherhood anecdotes, the humor, the jumping POV between characters, the underlying message.  However, there were a lot of weaknesses in the foundational parts of the book:  plot and character development.  In the end, this one was middle-of-the-road for me.

Other reviews of I'll Take What She Has:
Book'd Out
5 Minutes For Books
Life, Army Wife Style

Friday, March 8, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Title:  The Four Ms. Bradwells
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Dreamscape Media
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant. 

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever. 

My Review:

The general concept of this book intrigued me.  Based on the summary above, my interest was piqued by the meshing of chick-litty women's friendships, plus high-level political appointment: definitely spelled "smart women's fiction" to me.  I liked the idea of "humanizing" a situation that you usually would only see the CNN-proofed version of (ie. a Supreme Court appointment confirmation hearing).  All of this seemed to point to an awesome reading choice for moi.

At the beginning, the book lived up to my expectations.  We see Betts at her Senate confirmation as her three friends gather and look on.  We start to get background on their friendship, which is complex and funny, based on a bit of a joke that occurred in their first semester of law school.  Then the "deeply buried skeleton" comes out at the hearing, and Betts (along with her friends) take off out of Washington DC to hide from the press.

At this point, things started to go a bit sour for me.

Why, oh why, if you were possibly involved in a scandal that happened on a tiny little island in the Chesapeake...would you hide out ON THAT EXACT TINY LITTLE ISLAND?  This was the first point of confusion for me.  The first of many.  And I think I know why the author did it...a lot of the novel focused on revisiting the past, reconsidering past mistakes, facing your demons, etc.  So returning to the scene of the "crime" was symbolic.  But I refuse to believe that these four well-educated women, one of which was a Supreme Court nominee, would immediately flee to such an incriminating locale.  That's like someone accusing OJ of murdering Nicole and Ron, and he goes straight to their house to camp out.  MAKES NO SENSE.  And I do expect my book characters to have more sense than OJ.  That's a minimum expectation.

That particular detail highlights my main issue with this book: I feel like the author had all these MESSAGES she wanted to get across.  Things about women's rights, tests of friendship, girl power, etc.  And in her effort to make those messages crystal-clear to the reader, she sacrificed believability in the plot details, forcing her characters to do absolutely inane things that no real-life person would do in such a situation.  Example: skinny dipping.  No woman skinny dips nearly as much as the ladies in this novel do, but obviously their naked swims were meant to symbolize a release of inhibitions, feeling free from other's scrutiny, etc. so they were mentioned incessantly.  And, THE ENDING.  I nearly crashed my car with all the eyerolling I was doing while listening to the last CD.

Adding fuel to the fire, the characters themselves are not likeable--especially Mia, who is fairly central to the story.  Some sympathy is drummed up for her at the end, but I couldn't get behind it.  Plus, as an audiobook, it didn't do a good job keeping my attention.  The same narrator (Karen White) is used for all four women, and there were many points where I would lose track of who was speaking--made for a lot of rewinding and confusion at times.  I imagine this is not as difficult in print.

I am sad about this book, you guys.  I wanted so badly to like it, but I just couldn't.  I think the basic structure and subject of the novel had a lot of promise, but the actions of the characters started to lose me pretty early on.  I wish Clayton had focused less on getting her messages across, and more on creating a well-crafted storyline.

I need to get back on the audiobook horse--what's your favorite audiobook?

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!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

Title: Look Again
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

The summary from Goodreads:
"When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops—the child in the photo is identical to her adopted son, Will. Her every instinct tells her to deny the similarity between the boys, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she’s a journalist and won’t be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up? She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her own life—and that of the son she loves."

My Review:
Can you see why I was dying to get at this book?  I remember reading the back cover of it in a Borders (OH SNAP, dating myself!) when it first came out, and frantically writing a note on my hand so that I wouldn't forget to put it on my TBR list when I got home.  I finally got around to borrowing it this week.  Believe it or not, this is a tough one to review.

Let me start with the good things.  The plot will rip your heart out and stomp on it at multiple points throughout the novel, especially if you're a parent.  It's tough not to get emotionally attached to three-year-old Will.  There were a few times that I threw the book down and ran into my son's room to stalkerish-ly watch him sleep, because I was terrified at the VERY THOUGHT that something like this could ever befall a mother and child.  For that alone, Scottoline gets big points.  She does a great job with the emotional side of the plot.

I also loved that there were several twists that I did not see coming.  A few times I thought (quite smugly, I might add) that I had it all figured out, only to be proven horribly wrong ten pages later.  And I'm pretty sure that the only time I LOVE being wrong is when I'm predicting book plots.

But alas, this book was not 100% full of awesome.

One issue for me was with the writing style.  There were several times that Scottoline used young, "hip" conversational terms that felt extremely forced.  Phrases like "mos def", "we cool?", and "hold the phone" peppered the dialogue at times, and they were painful to read (even on younger characters).  This made the chatter between characters feel way too clunky.  Plus, Scottoline seems to have a burning desire to end every chapter with a dramatic one-liner, which got old quickly.  Choppy sentences like "She felt a catfight coming on." or "As if she would forget it." dangled dramatically at the end of every chapter (of which there were 96, so yes, it happened a lot).  It felt kitschy and didn't fit the tone of what was happening in the novel.

My only other issue was the romantic relationship that Ellen develops between all her super-sleuthing.  It was odd (strangest May-September romance ever), completely misplaced given the adoption/kidnapping situation, and totally unnecessary to the plot.  It was clearly thrown in there solely to keep the attention of the 50 Shades set.  I could have done without it.

Overall?  Look Again is based on a great concept, and certainly keeps you guessing.  But the writing leaves a lot to be desired, and at times, takes away from the enormity of the topic at hand.  It's Jodi Picoult-ish, but with a less serious writing style.
Imagination Designs