Anna Quindlen’s Rise and Shine was my first introduction to this popular author. I was drawn by the description of a powerful woman who stands in cont...moreAnna Quindlen’s Rise and Shine was my first introduction to this popular author. I was drawn by the description of a powerful woman who stands in contrast to her relatively unknown little sister — two women doing important things, even if one isn’t known outside the shelter where she gets impoverished mothers and children out of danger. Quindlen’s story of one sister’s fall while the other rises kept my attention and broke my heart. Though I found myself spitting mad at some of the plot twists, Quindlen’s love letter to New York City — and two of its inhabitants — rang true for me.
First, Bridget. Lady is a spitfire. If there’s anything I like in a narrator, it’s someone willing to offer a no-holds-barred glimpse into their life. Where Meghan seems to “have it easy,” being a celebrity and all, Bridget muddles through each day with its abused kids and bureaucracy. Though outsiders might see Bridget as the one with the “tougher” job, especially as she gets none of Meghan’s glory, it’s obvious that Bridget doesn’t really feel that way about her sister. Meghan’s grueling schedule, professional woes and issues make her life unenviable most of the time . . . that is to say, unenviable to me. And Bridget. I liked that Bridge didn’t crucify or revere her sister . . . that she could present both her flaws and highlights. Don’t most of us feel that way?
Meghan herself was a bit more of an enigma, especially when stuff really starts to go down. I alternated between wanting to hug and slug her. No one could fault her for uttering a few choice words about a TV guest, a philanderer who has the nerve to appear with his pregnant girlfriend. The only trouble was the fact that said words were muttered as millions of Americans dipped a spoon into their morning yogurt. After the brouhaha, I really felt for Meghan — until she ran from her problems. As her marriage hits the skids, I wanted her to walk up and face Evan . . . the way she’s faced so many other things. Still, I couldn’t completely fault her for some of her choices; it just wasn’t a great situation.
Quindlen makes some points about fame vs. the everyday worker, New York vs. the rest of the world. Though I got them, they didn’t make the story for me. At its heart is a tale of two sisters who have always been Fitzmaurice Against The World. After the death of their parents, Meghan tended to a young Bridget during her formative years . . . and that bond is unbreakable. As the story progresses and things get worse, the pair must depend on one another to get through it all. And Quindlen’s message about sisters — how crazy they make us; how much we love them — feels very authentic.
Lovers of women’s fiction and stories exploring the dynamics of family and friendship will find Rise and Shine to be an entertaining, memorable story. It was interesting, heartbreaking — so many things rolled into one. I listened to it on audio and didn’t want it to end.(less)
Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, a novel based on Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, is an ambitious and moving look at a couple’s early r...morePaula McLain’s The Paris Wife, a novel based on Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, is an ambitious and moving look at a couple’s early romance and disintegration set against the gritty backdrop of post-World War I Paris. Though the book ultimately left me a bit miffed at the couple, I realize these individuals weren’t puppets McLain could maneuver; Hemingway’s own A Moveable Feast provided extensive source material, and the author incorporated details from personal correspondence and more. I hate asking myself, “Is this real? Or maybe this,” which is why I often stick to pure fiction.
Knowing how faithful she was to Ernest and Hadley’s story actually allowed me to just relax into the narrative. McLain’s Hadley is so strong and vivid that I had to remind myself this wasn’t actually a memoir. As the older Hadley meets and is courted by a young, handsome writer with dreams the size of Chicago, it’s obvious why she would have fallen so completely for the man who would be Hemingway. Back in the early ’20s, Ernest was just a guy with ambition and a funny last name. Hadley feels loved by him, accepted by him — and barely hesitates in marrying and following him to Paris, where Ernest becomes a foreign correspondent and gets to work on his literary career.
All is not macarons and cream, of course. Post-war France isn’t a colorful, sparkly place; the Hemingways’ cramped apartment with its loud neighbors and dank location would have evoked misery in someone less in love than Hadley. She dutifully accompanies Ernest to his social gatherings, where she’s introduced to the “Lost Generation” crew of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sara and Gerald Murphy and more. Being neither a writer or artist, Hadley seems to have little in common with this glittery gang — especially as McLain often emphasizes how unfashionable and “plain” she can be. But there’s something real about Hadley, something that makes her seem far more tangible than the other women in the book. She’s solid. Dependable. Honest.
Though Ernest doesn’t always see it that way.
I became completely entranced by Hadley’s Paris and her relationship with Ernest, her first love. The novel is told in retrospect, meaning we get all of Hadley’s asides and insertions decades removed from this early marriage. I couldn’t help feeling intensely sorry for Hadley, knowing how everything was going to happen . . . a terrible collision you predict but are powerless to stop.
McLain never presents Ernest as a saint, nor does she shape him into a villain . . . but he was quite a jerk all the same. By the end of the book, I was ready to wash my hands of this selfish man and read something a little more uplifting. I felt for Hadley and Bumby, wanting what was best for them, but I couldn’t believe she’d had the strength to stick it out as long as she did. It made me angry.
But these were real people . . . real people McLain brought beautifully to life. I certainly don’t fault the author for their personal faults and decisions; I guess I just got really sick of them. When Hadley was ready to leave Paris, so was I.
Hemingway fans, historical fiction lovers, Francophiles and devotees of the Lost Generation will find plenty to devour in McLain’s enveloping work. Though I was occasionally frustrated by the principle players, The Paris Wife is a memorable work that has me interested in learning more about the legendary Hemingway. And maybe Wife No. 2.
Susi Wyss' The Civilized World is everything I love about literary fiction: vivid prose that reads like poetry; memorable, multifaceted characters wit...moreSusi Wyss' The Civilized World is everything I love about literary fiction: vivid prose that reads like poetry; memorable, multifaceted characters with whom you cheer and grieve; settings so alive you can feel the grit between your teeth; language that is both accessible and beautiful. A book with words that linger, creating a world marvelously alive to you.
Told through a series of vignettes over many years, each leap finds us visiting Adjoa and Janice at another point in their storied lives. While other characters come and go, these two women — one African; one American — felt like the true main characters. They were the ones to whom I was emotionally bonded, and I couldn’t help but feel Adjoa’s hurts and frustrations. Her twin brother was someone I never “clicked” with, knowing he couldn’t possibly be up to any good, but I cared for him because Adjoa did. She’s a hardworking, tenacious and brave woman — someone you can’t help but like.
The atmosphere of The Civilized World is engrossing, and I’m a bit abashed to note that I knew (and know) little of Africa before reading this book. Though not exactly well-versed now, I’m more on my way — and definitely intrigued. This peek at life in Ghana and Malawi is unvarnished. Wyss’ work is described as “influenced by her twenty-year career managing women’s health programs in Africa, where she lived for more than eight years,” and I felt like the character of Janice — a white American — could be an extension of the author. Janice was broken, a little bit jaded — but ultimately someone I felt for. Her passages with Adjoa were easily my favorites.
At just over 250 pages, The Civilized World was a quick read that really got me thinking. Regardless of the differences that kept Adjoa and Janice separate, their bonds — the need for love; the searching for acceptance; the grief for things that were and are not now — was palpable. Though the extraneous characters didn’t mesh as well for me, I loved Ophelia’s obsession with offbeat, nonsequitor African names (like “Nobody” and “Comfort”). By turns deeply sad and uplifting, the common threads that bind these characters were fascinating.
Fans of literary fiction and those interested in Africa, female relationships, race relations and other dynamics will find a memorable, lyrical story in The Civilized World. I only used the publisher description above because it’s hard to pinpoint, to classify; it is truly a story all its own.(less)
William Torgerson’s Love On The Big Screen is a fun, nostalgic love story — from the dudes’ perspective. Zuke’s best friends — a group of guys with fu...moreWilliam Torgerson’s Love On The Big Screen is a fun, nostalgic love story — from the dudes’ perspective. Zuke’s best friends — a group of guys with funny nicknames like “The Dini” and “Cowboy” — are all searching for the same ideals: “God, knowledge, compassion and women.” I didn’t realize the novel has a religious bent until a few chapters in, but no matter. Torgerson was never preachy or overt with the boys’ explorations of faith. In fact, I found it rather interesting.
Our main fella here is Eric “Zuke” Zaucha, the son of a sports fanatic who chooses his small school for its basketball team. Always one to adapt for women, seeing Abby on the first day of classes presses Zuke to declare himself an English major — the better to study near her book-loving self, you see. As a devotee of classic ’80s films like “Say Anything” and “Sixteen Candles,” Zuke is waiting for his own great cinematic love story to unfold. Convinced his own romantic life will mimic what he sees on the big screen, he befriends Abby . . . even though there’s a big ol’ beefy boyfriend to contend with.
Torgerson’s strength lies in evoking a very specific era: late ’80s America. And when it comes to feeding readers bits of tasty nostalgia, Love On The Big Screen delivers. The pop culture references had me smiling, and I’d imagine anyone who came of age in this time will find lots to bring back memories. Though set in a specific time, the boys’ individual stories feel pretty universal — and it’s easy to forget we’re not dealing with a modern-day love triangle. Until a guy calls only to get his lady’s roommate, who “forgets” to give her a message on his behalf. And then you think, Oh yeah: no cell phones. No email. No texting.
The guys beyond Zuke didn’t make much of a lasting impression, and I never felt like I got to know anyone outside Zuke, Abby and Marie I wanted to know more about the Brothers and wished their friendship had been explored further. For me, the major appeal of Love On The Big Screen was the idea of an ’80s-era romantic comedy told from a man’s perspective. And while the book didn’t fail in that regard, I guess I just wanted a little more.
BUT. But. I don’t want to leave the impression I didn’t enjoy Torgerson’s work; I really did. It’s cute, fun and light, and it easily held my attention over 214 pages. I loved the setting, the era and the boundless appeal of an underdog like Zuke — and I think the novel would appeal to folks who enjoy contemporary stories with a heaping side of nostalgic whimsy. On that front, this coming-of-age novel delivers.(less)
Carol Snow’s What Came First follows Laura, Vanessa and Wendy as they grapple with issues both familiar and foreign to many mothers. Laura and her bri...moreCarol Snow’s What Came First follows Laura, Vanessa and Wendy as they grapple with issues both familiar and foreign to many mothers. Laura and her bright, kind-hearted son, Ian, love their lives in suburban California. Born after Laura’s visit to a sperm bank nearly a decade before, the two-unit family would like nothing more than to welcome a third . . . but Laura, perpetually single, isn’t sure how to make that happen. Posting on a website designed to link families who may have conceived children from the same sperm donor, she eventually “meets” Wendy — a harried mother of twins.
Wendy’s son and daughter have major behavioral issues, a problem that drives her to seek out potential biological siblings to compare notes on her kids’ temper tantrums. After Wendy and Carol exchange notes and start their own research into their children’s DNA, they eventually find an answer to some of their questions — which leads them to Vanessa, a twenty-something trying to get a diamond from her live-in boyfriend. Ready to start a family of her own, Vanessa waits desperately for an engagement ring . . . but Eric seems no closer to committing than he did when they met.
All three women have trials, difficulties; no one’s life is perfect. And that’s what I loved about Snow’s novel dealing with fertility, motherhood, what it means to be a family — and what I always appreciate about her warm, rich and true-to-life characters. I probably related best to Laura, a type-A go-getter who can’t accept her family won’t grow. Her desire to have another baby seemed enviable rather than desperate, and I definitely felt her frustration and pain.
Where the story began and where it ended were completely different than I expected, and I love that What Came First surprised me from beginning to end. Though often light-hearted and very witty, Snow’s novel also raised questions about how families are formed and how love develops. In Wendy’s case, especially, I could see how difficult conceiving children who were not biologically “his” was for her husband, and these troubles were something I’d never considered before. I love a good slice of women’s fiction that also makes me think!
Fans of Snow will appreciate her take on love, relationships and moving forward. If you’ve never devoured a Carol Snow novel, you’re missing out — and What Came First is a great, feel-good place to start.(less)
Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers is a heart-wrenching, frustrating, enveloping piece of fiction. Though I alternated between wanting to s...moreVanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers is a heart-wrenching, frustrating, enveloping piece of fiction. Though I alternated between wanting to slap Victoria and desperately needing to give her a hug, I found myself really caring about her — and everyone in the story. For good or for ill, they were all up in my headspace for the week in which I listened to this novel on audio. And though I was emotionally spent by the end, I didn’t want it to be over.
Victoria is a pretty complicated character. On one side is this scared, rebellious, defiant girl — this child who wants no one; no one who wants this child. When Victoria gets this one chance at having a family and categorically blows it, I felt unbelievably upset with her . . . just like her social worker, who plays a large role in young Victoria’s life. But as the angry kid grows into a frightened and belligerent teen, we’re given a glimpse at a very raw and vulnerable Victoria — one no one really sees.
Diffenbaugh was masterful in this way. Just when I wanted to write Victoria off, shake her or run from her or lecture her, she showed us a tender view of this 18-year-old misfit — and how could I walk away from her then? She clearly needs help, and doesn’t know how to get it. Having never really felt like she received or was worthy of love, how could she offer it to Grant? Her first instinct is always to run and ruin, and I kind of . . . understood that.
Though the novel’s “twists” weren’t terribly shocking, I was too caught up in this fast-moving plot to care too much about its predictable turns. The author flips between present-day Victoria and her childhood, revealing the truth of what happened to rip her away from Elizabeth, Victoria’s one-time hopeful adoptive mother. I liked the alternating chapters and thought the story was touching and heartbreaking. It made me think about how so few questions in life provide easy answers — and that what we think we want often turns out to be so different than reality.
Arguably the most interesting part of the story was the actual “language of flowers,” though. Victoria is well-versed in what different blooms “mean,” and she finds differing descriptions of this language fascinating. As she and Grant develop a dictionary of definitive answers for cherry blossoms, tulips, roses and more, Victoria begins to speak not in blooms but . . . well, in words. Like, English ones. She’s hidden so much of herself away, blocked off and stunted, that it takes communicating in an old Victorian tradition to emotionally jump start her.
The story didn’t always go the way I wanted, and Victoria herself could be as annoying as she was endearing. But at the end of The Language of Flowers, I was in her camp — and ready to support her. Her character’s growth was tremendous, and I chalk Diffenbaugh’s excellent storytelling up to forming what would have otherwise been a sad, sad tale into one of hopeful redemption. It was heartwarming and raw and maybe not completely realistic, but who cares? I really liked it.(less)
Nina Benneton’s Compulsively Mr. Darcy is a unique contribution to the expansive world of Jane Austen fiction, though I can’t say I was bowled over by...moreNina Benneton’s Compulsively Mr. Darcy is a unique contribution to the expansive world of Jane Austen fiction, though I can’t say I was bowled over by this imagining. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, our favorite couple, are transported from Regency England to modern-day Vietnam, where Elizabeth’s job as a physician keeps her from dating much. She doesn’t expect to fall for Darcy, especially as her first meeting with him goes so poorly, but Austen fanatics know there can only be one outcome for this tale of — ahem — pride and prejudice.
First, the good: I liked how Benneton translated Darcy’s steadfast nature and strict attention to detail into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It makes sense, really, and wasn’t overdone. Readers aren’t subjected to Darcy washing his hands under burning-hot water 45 times a day or checking and re-checking locks. We’re aware of his OCD, of course, but Benneton used a light touch to portray that very human, fallible part of Darcy’s nature. I dug it.
The setting was amazing, too — I mean, how many novels have I read set in Vietnam? None, actually. The very British Darcy was an interesting contrast to Elizabeth, an earthy and low-maintenance American, and I could see how they balanced each other. While Darcy was pacing around, dealing with quirky relatives and a high-powered job, Elizabeth was helping her Korean patients and trying to ignore her attraction to Darcy. It was amusing.
At first, anyway. For all Benneton’s assertions that Elizabeth is an intelligent, independent woman — a doctor, for cryin’ out loud — she becomes a complete idiot around (and about) Darcy. I know what you’re thinking: when we fall in love for the first time, as Elizabeth does, what woman doesn’t temporarily lose her common sense? And I would agree with you, friends. We often do become morons. But not in the obvious, ridiculous ways Elizabeth does. I was riding the Compulsively Mr. Darcy train until she began griping to Jane, her sweet sister, about how Darcy didn’t want to sleep with her after “seriously dating for days.” Yes: days. Virginal Elizabeth, so nervous and apprehensive about sex after some weird incident in her youth, can’t understand why the serious, analytical Darcy doesn’t want to hop into the sack immediately.
But was this book entertaining? Yes. I read it quickly, enjoying Benneton’s modern interpretation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s quirks. Nothing here rocked my world, but it was a pleasant diversion and an interesting addition to the Austen fiction canon. The familiar cast is well represented, including George Wickham (the cad!) and the annoying Bill Collins, and I liked finding their cameos in the fast-paced plot.
While cheesy lines akin to “My love, you are the very air I breathe” prompted eye-rolling, Compulsively Mr. Darcy is still a reasonably fun novel that may appeal to die-hard Austen fans wanting to reconnect with our favorite couple in a different place and time. (less)
As much as I wanted to become invested in Molly Shapiro's Point, Click, Love, I struggled. I'm an online dating alum myself, and stories delving into...moreAs much as I wanted to become invested in Molly Shapiro's Point, Click, Love, I struggled. I'm an online dating alum myself, and stories delving into the world of meeting potential mates through the Internet catch my interest. That’s what brought me to the novel, an entertaining story that kept me reading -- even if I wasn’t completely invested in the characters’ lives.
Despite heralding the four central women as “best friends,” we see very little interaction between them. The book’s third-person narration shifts focus between chapters from one woman to the next. That might have been my biggest hurdle to jump, enjoyment-wise: just as I was getting into Annie’s story, for example, we were hopping over to Maxine’s. Claudia’s situation felt the most realistic, but I couldn’t believe she was tumbling so far down a rabbit hole without anyone to pull her out. And I didn’t feel having four “main” characters was a benefit; I almost wish this had just been Katie’s story. Or maybe Claudia’s, though she made me pretty mad.
Point, Click, Love is easily digestible and occasionally sparkles with humor. Shapiro writes well and I enjoyed her turns of phrase, but her characters lacked the depth required to make me care about them. The “online dating” theme took a backseat to run-of-the-mill drama, and I didn’t feel like technology’s role in the modern dating world was explored in a satisfying way.
Fans of chick lit, modern romance and vignettes might find Shapiro’s novel an easy, breezy read for a summer afternoon. Though Point, Click, Love didn’t bowl me over, I did finish it quickly and would take a peek at the author’s future work. Maybe with a bigger concentration on the online dating scene, which was the most interesting part of this work -- whew wee, Katie and her potential sugar daddies! (You know, if the current situation doesn’t work out.)(less)
Richard Mason's HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER is a lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to c...moreRichard Mason's HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER is a lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to change an entire family and free them from their stuffy, well-made cages. In return, Piet is able to leave behind his poverty-stricken youth and seek all the pleasures to which he feels entitled as a self-made man.
I was initially attracted to this book because of a line drawn between it and F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, one of my favorite classics. After finishing HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER, I can see the parallels between the two. Though our setting here is The Netherlands, Piet functions as a sort of Gatsby-like anti-hero. I took turns loving and despising him, wondering if he possibly felt for the Vermeulen-Sickerts family or merely sought to snap off a piece of their prestige. That feeling morphed many times over, and I'm still not completely sure how I feel about Piet. Other than, you know . . . seduced.
On one hand, he's a selfish devil accustomed to getting what he wants -- and when he wants it. Whether a lusty embrace comes from a man or woman seems to be of little consequence, and he's already daydreaming about receiving satisfaction from a fellow employee at the Vermeulen-Sickerts' residence just hours after arriving. I don't think this was so much a bisexual tendency as a rampant desire to be pleasured when he felt the urge -- regardless of who was there to satisfy him. The true nature of his sexuality didn't seem to be of much consequence outside of what it asked him to do for others, and what he asked others to do for him. As you'd expect from a book with such a title, HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER is really all about Piet's pleasure.
And it's hard not to be seduced by Piet. On the surface, he's a talented pianist, an educated dreamer, a reliable employee. He's described as devastatingly handsome and all too aware of what his attractive physique can afford him from others. Whether everything is just an elaborate scheme to buy himself fortune, I'm not sure -- but I'm leaning toward not. At his heart, I don't think Piet was a cold and calculated gold digger. I think he was just a little tortured and entitled.
Though Piet is our central character, he isn't the only one craving release. Louisa and Constance Vermeulen-Sickerts want to be freed of the confines barring women from doing much beyond finding a good husband, becoming a good mother. Bright and devastatingly sarcastic, Louisa was a favorite character of mine; her sassy observations and unwillingness to become a pawn in anyone's game made me smile. Little Egbert desperately wants to be freed of his inner demons, and Maarten craves only the security to take care of his family in the manner to which they've been accustomed. And Jacobina? She just wants to be loved.
HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER was a fast, intoxicating read -- and though my interest waned slightly as Piet moved on from Amsterdam, I was very invested in the plot and characters. The novel features several scenes steamy enough to make my cheeks flush, but I wasn't bothered by the erotic and hypnotic nature of the story. If you're easily offended by sexual content, I'd suggest tiptoeing around this one -- but those seeking a raucous, entertaining and sexy story of one social climber pawing his way to the top will find Richard Mason's novel goes down a treat.(less)
Beth Gutcheon's Gossip is a whirlwind. Though it took me a third of the book to get the many dynamic characters straight in my mind, I felt invested i...moreBeth Gutcheon's Gossip is a whirlwind. Though it took me a third of the book to get the many dynamic characters straight in my mind, I felt invested in their stories and compelled to find out what happens to them. Gutcheon’s storytelling is non-linear; we bounce around often, moving from boarding-school past to present, but I never felt motion-sick. It worked well: we get the friends’ stories piece-meal, revealing little truths along the way, and I loved that.
Gossip reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Before you go throwing a proverbial book at me for the sacrilege, don’t “X” out of here — in terms of the narrator, Lovie’s first-person omnipresence reminded me of Nick Carraway telling the story of Daisy and Gatsby. We’re obviously being told a story in retrospect, and there’s a sense of foreboding as we move through the years. Though Lovie is undeniably critical to the story, she seems to serve more as storyteller than protagonist.
Dinah is the story’s real dynamo. A gossip columnist with plenty of secrets of her own, I found myself drawn to her character and wanted to see what uproarious thing she would do next. By contrast, Avis — even the name sounds so dull — comes off as the dull fish. Lovie is somewhere in the middle; she seems like a normal, respectable shop keeper, but we know all about a certain clandestine relationship she has carried on. The trio all keep secrets from each other, and truths from themselves . . . and that web eventually ensnares all of them.
Early in the book Lovie notes a historical definition of a gossip. To paraphrase, a “gossip” was one who “stood godparent” to a child — and the “gossiping” would be chatter between both godparents, discussing and worrying over their charge. When Lovie is named godmother to Nicky, Dinah’s son, she takes the role seriously. Having no children of her own, her friends are her family — and Nicky’s life is of particular interest to her. As the years progress, her sense of responsibility for his well being and actions only increases — especially as his own mother seems too caught up in her own dramas to notice him.
Spanning the 1960s all the way to a post-9/11 New York, it was easy to be swept up in Gutcheon’s vivid descriptions of society life and the friendships that shake and shatter her characters. As their loyalties are all tested, Lovie and her solitary life as carried into a maelstrom. The book’s cover — and description — are deceptive; there’s much more happening here than a little friendly rivalry between former schoolmates.
If a book about women with a title like “gossip” doesn’t seem intriguing, I still encourage you to give this one a chance. The explosive ending shocked and astounded me, and no sooner had I finished than I wanted to start it all over again. I knew I’d missed so much in my eagerness to finish. Gutcheon’s Gossip isn’t weighed down with filler; her words are obviously chosen with care. And for a word nerd like me, learning an alternative meaning of “gossip” — and how that theme is carried throughout the book — was fascinating. An excellent read.(less)
Devan Sipher’s The Wedding Beat is, if you’ll pardon the term, dude lit. Chick lit with a goatee. Sipher’s male narrator brings a refreshing change of...moreDevan Sipher’s The Wedding Beat is, if you’ll pardon the term, dude lit. Chick lit with a goatee. Sipher’s male narrator brings a refreshing change of pace to the classic city love stories I gobble whole — and I couldn’t help but fall for the cute, sweet and occasionally clueless Gavin.
This quick read is the sort of story I escape into during periods of extreme stress, you know? When you need something light, frothy and fun. Though the story meanders into deeper issues at points (the state of journalism, for one), the fast pace keeps you moving through Gavin’s adventures around New York — and into the ballrooms of the city’s fabulous brides. Those who love weddings will find plenty of details to pour through via Gavin’s assignments, and it was hard not to get in a bell-ringing, engagement-seeking mood. It’s obvious why Gavin, a single guy in his late thirties, would find listening to others’ love stories tedious after a while . . . and why he’d feel like “a wedding beat” was continuously pounding in his psyche.
Though never specifically named, Gavin’s paper is obviously The New York Times — and his attempts to survive cutbacks and lay-offs felt alarmingly familiar. The author’s modern touches — like the staff’s need to blog and tweet, aimed to keep our industry from becoming obsolete — were interesting and true. Delving into the author’s background, surprise: Sipher is a Vows columnist for the Times.
So, you know, Gavin is basically Sipher. And Sipher is Gavin. And rumor has it James Marsden’s character in “27 Dresses” is based on him — a storyline also woven into The Wedding Beat. So the plot thickens.
If you’re a fan of those types of movies (and I totally am), you’re going to eat this one up. With just enough romance to keep me hooked, Gavin is a quirky but loveable guy — a character you can’t help but want to be happy. Though he takes a few missteps in his quest to find the ever-elusive but unforgettable Melinda, he’s a genuine guy — and a very charming one. It was fun to read a romance from a male perspective — and penned by a male author.
So yes, The Wedding Beat: fun, quick and very enjoyable. I listened to the audio during three days of a super-long commute and wouldn’t have wanted to pass the time any other way.(less)
It’s almost impossible to summarize Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s Girl Unmoored — mostly because this story was so much more than I ever thought it would be...moreIt’s almost impossible to summarize Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s Girl Unmoored — mostly because this story was so much more than I ever thought it would be, and caused me to feel So Many Emotions I can barely articulate them all. Knowing it deals with loss and grief, I wasn’t sure how maudlin the story would become . . . but in Hummer’s very talented hands, what could have ventured into sad-sack territory somehow left me feeling enlightened and uplifted.
Reflecting on the book, that’s the word that keeps coming back to me: uplifted. Because even a book about death, homophobia, pain and ignorance somehow left me feeling good. And yes, I’m serious — I think it would be nearly impossible to finish Girl Unmoored without some sort of smile on your face. Because Apron? She’s amazing. And I’m feeling amazed by how much I adored this book.
Where was sassy, bright, hilarious, brave and klutzy Apron when I was 13? Because really, girl knows what’s what. Partly because her mother’s terminal illness robbed her of a childhood, I know, but she’s incredible all the same. After all these changes, Apron feels . . . well, unmoored. At least until she meets Mike, a handsome actor portraying the title role in a local theatre’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Apron attends with her judgmental friend Rennie, a simple girl who comes from a deeply religious family. When word gets around that Mike is a little more than “friends” with Chad, and that Chad is has a mysterious illness, proverbial — and literal — stones are cast at them. And Apron — amazing Apron — is somehow the link that holds everyone together.
I can’t tell you why I loved this story so much, but I read parts with my hands shaking and tears streaming down my face. One particularly incredible moment — which I won’t spoil for you — comes near the close of the novel . . . when Apron retrieves a photo of her mother to give to someone in need. When she passes it over and explains why she’s sharing it, I actually felt like my heart was breaking. Like, cracked open on a broken mirror. And it’s been a long time since I felt like a book was breaking through that harsh Meg exterior.
I loved Hummer’s writing and Apron’s unique turns of phrase, especially when she was embarrassed or scared or angry (“My hair is melting,” for instance). I loved Mike and Chad and the pure devotion they had to one another; I even loved Dennis, Apron’s screwed-up, grief-stricken father, because I can’t fault him for what he does and somehow wound up caring deeply for him. Even “M,” Apron’s mother’s nurse-cum-wifely-replacement, had her endearing moments . . . until she said something that made me want to punch her. And then? Then I was glad things worked out as they did. I also loved Dennis’ obsession with Latin and how he instills a passion for it in Apron, and how each chapter opens with a telling phrase that had me wanting to read them all aloud.
Despite all my crying fits, I finished Girl Unmoored feeling like I could spend another 1,000 pages with Apron. Like I wanted to meet up with her a decade later for coffee, chatting about what she’d done with all that curiosity, courage and intellect. Though our narrator is a kid, absolutely nothing about this book is child-like — and I’m not sure how it’s being marketed. Young adult fiction? Coming-of-age drama? Contemporary fiction?
Regardless, readers, lend me your ears (eyes?): read this book. You will feel human and alive. It’s the one I’m going to be touting all year, declaring to others that this is the book we should all be trying to write. And the one we should all want to read.(less)
In a relatively short time, Sarah Pekkanen has developed quite a reputation for her smart, sassy and realistic examinations of women’s friendships. Th...moreIn a relatively short time, Sarah Pekkanen has developed quite a reputation for her smart, sassy and realistic examinations of women’s friendships. Though this is my first experience with her work, I can tell she’s earned it: These Girls is equal parts heartbreaking, surprising and moving. Just as I felt the story was veering into comfortable, well-worn territory, Pekkanen’s plot curved in a new direction. I loved not knowing what I was going to get — and that the obvious tropes didn’t apply.
Of all the characters, I really related to Renee in her pursuit to slim down. It’s funny the way weight can manifest itself in various parts of your life, and I thought her struggles — and what she ultimately sees as a “solution” — were well-drawn. The constant pushing of sweets in a workplace is something I can certainly understand . . . even when I’m the cupcake-pusher. I can’t imagine the tremendous pressure on those expected to look, think and dress a certain way just to maintain a certain “reputation” in their industry.
What really worked in These Girls was the scope of the interwoven plots. We’re not dealing with a trio of single girls taking on Manhattan; these women are smart, challenged and struggling to maintain their professional and personal roles. Cate, Renee and Abby’s individual family problems were detailed enough to invest me in the story, but not complicated enough to get frustrating. Though there were no easy solutions, this isn’t one over-the-top drama after another. Abby’s personal issues with her former job left me feeling a little cold towards her, especially as I felt she’d brought them on herself, but Pekkanen did a great job of creating sympathetic heroines I couldn’t actively dislike.
And Trey? He’s yummy. He’s savvy and paternal and suave and a total Chris Pine in my mind. I think Pekkanen’s overall moral — chicks over, um . . . guys — is a sound one, and I liked that we didn’t have a trio of otherwise intelligent women scratching each other’s eyes out over a man. I mean, really. We’re a little more evolved than that, right? I like my books to not be completely stereotypical and demeaning.
For fans of women’s fiction, novels centering on friendship and those looking for a good hook (each character’s back story is revealed over time, wrapping up only at the end), Pekkanen definitely knows what she’s doing. These Girls is a strong, well-paced book that dropped me off far from where I’d started. And I dug it.(less)