Tag Archives: chick-lit

#3: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

It’s time for Chick Lit!

Octavia Frost, bestselling novelist, is submitting a game changing book.  Authors talk about things they wish they’d done with their books and how it’s hard to walk away sometimes, but Octavia has decided to actually do something about it.  In her newest book she is rewriting the final chapters to all her books.  It’s never been done before and her publisher thinks she’s crazy.

But why is she doing it?  Why does she want to change the past for her characters and what is she trying to change for herself?

On the day she is to hand the manuscript over, she finds out her estranged rock star son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.  Milo and Octavia haven’t spoken in years but she gets on a plane and goes.  She doesn’t know what will happen when she gets there, but she needs to be close by.

Parkhurst writes several stories in this novel.  While Octavia is trying to heal the wounds with her son, chapters from her books are slipped throughout.  Parkhurst writes Octavia’s original ending and then the  new ending.  These pages within the story give clues to Octavia and Milo’s past.  We know Octavia’s husband and daughter are gone, but why?  Divorce?  Death?  More falling outs?  What happened years ago, and why did Milo shut her out of his life?

I liked the layered mysteries in this.  The foreshadowing is thick, but isn’t too obvious.  Clearly something happened and it wasn’t good, but you don’t know what it was.  When you do find out the first part, you still don’t know why the second break happened.

Parkhurst does a great job writing the tension between mother and son.  Octavia has wanted to be in her son’s life since the day he cut contact.  Now that she’s back, neither one of them knows how to act.  And of course it’s extra confusing because his girlfriend has been murdered and he was the one found covered in her blood.

The ending was good, but what really sold me on the book was the characters and structure.  Parkhurst really spent time developing personalities.  Giving herself the added challenge of writing endings to fictional books and then rewriting them to give clues about Octavia and Milo is clever, original, and it worked.  She had to create the idea of fully formed novels by only writing the endings, and then re-write those endings to slip in clues about Octavia and Milo.  This could have failed spectacularly.

2011: The Review

The fact that I’m sitting down on January 31, 2012 to type up my 2011 review sort of sums up the review…  I did not meet my goal of 52 books.  I was very surprised by this because I assumed I read this much by the middle of each year easily.  Clearly I spend more time watching TV, playing video games (Skyrim owns my soul right now), and letting my iPhone own my life than I realized.

Here are the books I finished last year but did not review, so they did not make it into the CBRIII countdown:

#38: The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick

This is a self-help book. I had thought it was a memoir and would have been really disappointed if I didn’t find out it was a self-help book before I got it.  Like any self-help book, there’s stuff in here that is outstanding and there’s stuff in here that made me roll my eyes.  I do like that he framed skills to fit the nerdist mind and I could relate to the negative mindset, but parts of it didn’t work for me.  I think any self-help book is like that though.  I don’t know what I would have thought of this book if I wasn’t a huge fan of Hardwick and the Nerdist podcast.

#39: The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm #1) by Michael Buckley

Super cute!  Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been living in an orphanage and shuffled around from family to family.  The grandmother, who they were told is dead, shows up to claim them and things start to get more and more confusing for the two girls.  Granny Relda calmly explains that fairy tales are real, they’re all related to the famous Brothers Grimm and it’s up to them to solve crimes in their town and keep all the characters in line. 

I would have LOVED this book and probably the entire series as a young’un because the book was massive and had chapters.  I can see a lot of hardcore young readers tearing these up. 

#40: Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch

Another memoir in my quest to live vicariously through others.  This was a great look at Lynch growing up knowing to her very core that she was going to be a star and how she navigated her way and did it.  There’s a lot of interesting things about her improv work and I was really interested in the terrifying exhilaration of working on a Christopher Guest creation.  She talks about how she realized her drinking was becoming a problem and even if she didn’t have some fantastic rock bottom story, it was time to let it go. 

She developed an incredibly mean streak for herself and had a long running, critical, judgemental voice running over and over through her mind.  In her early thirties she was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, stop drinking, and tackle that inner Sue Sylvester.

She comes across as very honest and open in this book and it’s awesome to see her success, not only with acting but with her wife and wife’s daughter.  It’s awesome when there are happy accidents.

#41: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I loved this. 

I didn’t know it was YA until after I started it, but I would have grabbed it anyway.  It’s super creepy and original and I could not figure out what in the hell was happening. 

Did I mention it’s creepy?

The ending was great and set up the next book.  I wasn’t expecting a series, but I’m really happy it’s in the works because there is a lot that can be done with this.

The pictures make this book work.  So, so creepy.

#42: The Gluten-Free Bible: The Thoroughly Indispensable Guide to Negotiating Life without Wheat by Jax Peters Lowell

Yuck.

There were really helpful sections of this book where the author sticks purely to the facts.  The sections on gluten free grains and flours is outstanding.  She knows what she’s talking about.

However…

There is a lot in this book where she speaks in universal statements that are simply not true and incredibly off-putting if this is not your experience and reality.  She often reminds you about how bad you felt when you kept losing all that weight and didn’t know why.  Remember when your bones stuck out?  Remember when you were so very skinny?  Yeah, that doesn’t always happen.

She also gives tips that work for her and she assumes that everyone will be comfortable and on board.  She talks about how she understands that at first you won’t be comfortable going into a kitchen in a restaurant to read all the labels and make sure the cooks are using clean pots and pans and cleaning off the grill if needed.  Since you won’t feel comfortable doing that right away, just bring your own food and have them cook that.  In clean pots and pans and on a cleaned grill if needed.  WHAT??!?!  Yeah, because that’s totally a comfortable moment!

The part that made me put down the book and groan in pain was when she got to the affirmations.  Yes, I understand the power of positive thinking and I agree that it is important.  However, I am not going to suggest to my newly diagnosed Celiac husband that he walk up and down the bread aisle in the supermarket whispering “You will no longer hurt me.”

I’m sure some people adore this book.  They will love her attitude and find her tips work for their personality.  I am not one of them.

It’s great for the facts, but for me, the tips and behavior suggestions were so alien that they almost negated everything else.

#43: Missy by Chris Hannan

I grabbed this one off the shelf knowing nothing about it. 

Opium addicted, prostitute Dol follows the silver boom miners looking to make money and have a fabulous time.  Nearly permanently gonged out on missy, she wanders aimlessly from party to party and her next dose.  She stumbles upon a violent pimp and his huge stash of missy, steals it, and then must figure out how to get rid of it  before the original owners kill her and everyone she knows.

While all of this is happening, her band of flash-girl friends is falling apart.  Some are killing themselves, some are trying to get out of the business.  On top of everything, Dol’s mom flits in and out of her life.

I almost abandoned this book several times.  I didn’t care about Dol.  Her character was static to the point of being infuriating.  Her friend Ness is done with the life and wants to be a respectable business owner.  She desperately tries to get Dol to come with her, but Dol keeps leading her on and using Ness’ own hopes to fund her missy addiction.  The other flash-girls had no personalities other than what was laid out in the original descriptions.

Dol’s mom was interesting in her desperation.  She’s been in the game too long but knows no other life.  It was incredibly depressing watching her fall apart while maintaining a false ideal of being glamorous and better than anyone else.  Even sadder was Dol’s ongoing attempts to win her mother’s respect and love, or at the least get some any type of attention from her.

I did like the end of the book.  Dol has a great moment of introspection and it changes everything.  I thought it would come sooner and even though I wasn’t too attached to the book, it was incredibly satisfying when it happened. 

#44: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson

More Chick Lit.  This one follows some of the major Chick Lit themes: cancer, sisters, relationships, career, kids, marriage…

There were some clichéd themes, but they often work in Chick Lit, so I only roll my eyes when they aren’t well written.

I liked the structure of this one.  The entire book is told through emails, faxes, letters and other written correspondence from Olivia.  She’s a super powerful Hollywood exec and is infuriated and befuddled by her wide-eyed small town little sister.

Her letters capture their fights and Olivia’s frustrations with love and work.  And then Maddie gets cancer and things change.

One of the things I really liked about this book is that things don’t get all syrupy sweet and perfect once Maddie gets sick.  Family issues are still there and the same fights continue to happen.  Even while the family pulls together, they still push each other’s buttons and push each other away.

It was also really entertaining to see the different sides of Olivia.  You’d see a professional fax she sends to a coworker followed by a pissed off email to a friend followed by a venting, desperate letter to a different friend all covering the same material.  I liked how Robinson captured this truth and show how we all have different voices depending on who our audience is.

There were a few sort of throwaway moments where Robinson slips in some Hollywood fame.  There’s one crazy scene where Olivia describes a date that is completely surreal and ends with the unnamed actor playing the banjo.  Steve Martin, perhaps? 

Robinson is a real-life Hollywood producer, so it’s no surprise that these sections of Olivia’s life are so well written.  Mixed with Maddie’s cancer and family drama, it made for a good read.

***

And there we go!  The 44 books of 2011.  I think there were a few more in there that I started and didn’t finish and maybe a re-read, but these are the ones that made the list.  A mere 8 books more and I would have met my CBRIII goal.

It’s going to happen in 2012 though.  I WILL DESTROY THOSE BOOKS IN THE FACE!

#36: Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

I don’t have a problem with Chick Lit.  I sometimes enjoy a fluff book.  There are times I want to pack my brain with important thoughts and ideas that will change my life, but then there are times where I just want to look at some words and think sort of mindless but happy thoughts.

However, when Chick Lit is bad… dear lords does it hurt.  And there are different types of bad.

Type One: Just a shit book.  Clichés, bad writing, horrible characters, predictable and pointless.  The type of book that makes you cringe because not only was paper wasted to print the pages, but some fully functioning adult decided that publishing the book was a good idea.  Someone with the job of deciding what books get to be published and sold read it and said “Yes.  Yes, let’s do this!” 

Type One sucks, but whatever.  Just as there are plenty of shit movies out there, there will always be shit books.  Hopefully you learn quickly how to identify them and train your body to avoid them when you’re browsing the shelves.

But Type Two… Type Two is the one that gets me.

A Type Two bad book is the kind that has potential.  The characters are good, the writing is good, the plot is interesting.  And then the author does something inexcusable with the plot that and it’s like when you find out that your best friend from middle school has been talking about you behind your back and stealing all of your friends and fuck her and her stupid cool jeans and awesome music collection.  The author took the time to do something good, and then WTF?  Did she panic about not having an ending and reach into Bag o’ Clichés?  Did she have a good ending but she was worried people wouldn’t get it?  Seriously, what happened?

And this brings us to Firefly Lane.

Basic plot: Kate and Tully meet in eighth grade, become best friends, grow up, deal with shit, stay best friends, go to college, deal with shit, grow up, become adults, deal with shit, then aren’t best friends.

It’s a pretty basic Chick Lit plot, but I liked it.  Kate and Tully were solid characters, even if their relationship and personalities were a bit clichéd.  Kristin Hannah deals with the Chick Lit themes of one friend being more popular and dominant than the other friend as well as the struggles of career and/or marriage and/or kids.

Side note: This book makes me want to do a study of female friendships in literature.  Is one friend always dominant and controlling in the friendship?  Is it like this in real life?  And why does it always seem to come down to marriage and children OR job that pays a jillion dollars but you don’t get a relationship or kids?

The book moves along and I did like the plot even if I did roll my eyes at some of the obvious clichés.  I also wondered if other people see these as comfortable and universal themes.  Is it because I don’t respond to it that I think they’re clichéd?

And then something pretty awesome happens that changed the book and I was all “Awwww YEAH!  Now shit is going to HAPPEN!” and then it starts to happen, and this is where I think Kristin Hannah panicked or couldn’t figure out how to fix it or what because the resolution?  ***SPOILER ALERT*** One of the characters in the book gets sick.  Not sick.  The character gets Really Sick.

I think I might have actually said “Are you fucking kidding me?” out loud when I read this part.  Could she not figure out how to have the two main characters work out their issues without having to bring Really Sick into it?  I was pissed.

Kristin Hannah talks about why this type of Really Sick was important to her and why she wanted to write about it, but I felt like she was writing two different books.  It was like she had started Firefly Lane, then found out about this type of Really Sick and decided to finish it by adding in her new knowledge. 

Yeah, yeah, I know people get Really Sick in real life and people need to deal with it, but it didn’t feel authentic here.  It felt like “Fuck.  I need to finish this book.  Hmm, how do I get these two characters back in the same room at the same time?  Oooooh, someone in the book needs to get Really Sick!”

I wish I could brush this off as a fluffy beach read, but it had potential.  Maybe that’s what I’m mad about.  I thought this book could have been a good book and it let me down.  It let me down!!!

#25: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

This is a classic beach read.

I started it at bedtime, realized it was a quick read and stayed up to finish.  I think it took me about two hours.  I would have loved to be on a lounge chair by a lake instead of yelling at myself to go to sleep because I had to work in the morning.

17 year old Emily arrives in Mullaby, North Carolina after her mom dies.  She moves in with her grandfather.  She didn’t know she had a grandfather.  She didn’t know Mullaby was a place.  She was used to Boston and her intense mother and causes and clubs and conformity.

Now she lives with an grandfather that’s over 8 feet tall, there are ghost lights in her backyard and people hate her because of her mother.  A mother who suddenly has a past that doesn’t fit with anything Emily knew about her.

30-something Julia has returned to Mullaby as well.  When her father died she came back for a quick trip to arrange everything only to discover that her father was deeply in debt.  She decides to stay for two years and two years only to turn his restaurant around, sell it for a profit and get the hell out.  There are too many memories here and she does not want to be pulled back in.

Realizing that Emily is lost in this new world and has to live down her mother’s reputation, she takes her under her wing.  Julia went to school with Emily’s mother and chooses her words carefully.  She is shocked that Emily knows nothing and offers her no explanation when the well-off Coffey family snubs her.  The Coffeys run the town and Emily can almost feel the anger pouring off of them.

As Emily slowly learns more about her mother’s life and her connection to the Coffey clan, Julie starts coming to terms with her own high school years.  Each story spills out, and while nothing was too shocking or surprising, I did enjoy the book.

A little bit of magic, a lot of romance and a bit of mystery.

Side note:  I’m sure any fan of Twilight will froth and scream over one happening in the book and I did shake my head a bit and wonder if Addison did it on purpose to lure in the rabid teenage girl crowd.

Again, a perfect beach read.  This book isn’t going to change any lives, but it was fun.