Tracy H. Tucker’s I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac is a funny, compulsively readable look at one woman's attempt to piece her life back toge...moreTracy H. Tucker’s I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac is a funny, compulsively readable look at one woman's attempt to piece her life back together one diagnosis at a time. Well-written and engaging, Tucker’s quick read had me hooked after perusing the cringe-worthy first chapter. Since I’ve been in the mood for light reading, I Kill Me arrived at just the right time.
The star of Tucker’s show is undoubtedly narrator Christine. I bonded with her immediately, seeing traces of myself in her worried self-exams and frenzied research. Though Chris’ constant anxiety can get taxing, I still found it — and her — endearing. It was obvious her fears were manifesting as health problems because believing she had those issues was something she could control . . . in a way. Until it all began to control her.
Ex-husband Richard is the story’s biggest tool — and someone I wanted to kick. You know, if I condoned violence (which I don’t) — and he was actually a real person. A middle-aged stereotype, Richard is a dude who trades in his “aging” wife for a newer model — one with a smaller brain and larger bra size. Tucker writes him well, though, and when he could have become a cardboard cut-out to revile? Well, I guess we learn forgiveness. Very slowly. Like Christine.
Eh, I feel like I’m not doing this story justice, y’all — because really? It’s funny. Very funny. Funny in a I-know-a-woman-just-like-this way. Funny in a sometimes-I’m-just-like-this way. Humorous in a realistic way, a life-affirming way. Christine is someone to empathize with, a character to root for. She’s not perfect and, like any good friend, can grate on your nerves — but at the end of the day, you still love her. You’re not sure where you would be without her. And you learn to live with her quirks because they’re just so her.
That’s how I felt while reading I Kill Me, a novel previously agented under another title. Tucker’s book is the reason I never blanket ignore self-published works. This small gem worked for me, and I raced through it on days I was otherwise frantic with holiday shopping mania. Fans of women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, post-divorce recovery novels (is that a thing?) and picking-the-pieces-up narratives will find plenty to enjoy in I Kill Me. No prescription necessary.(less)
It's been so long since I picked up a graphic novel. The ones I've enjoyed in the past -- like Craig Thompson's Blankets -- blew me away -- so it'd be...moreIt's been so long since I picked up a graphic novel. The ones I've enjoyed in the past -- like Craig Thompson's Blankets -- blew me away -- so it'd be fair to say I had high expectations of Nicole Georges' Calling Dr. Laura, a memoir in lovely illustrations. Described as "part coming-of-age and part coming-out story," Georges' book is an interesting work.
As a person, I have a ton of respect for Georges. She grows up in a home full of half-truths, and I think my favorite portions of the book were the ones revisiting her childhood. Georges' artistic style is fun and retro. I'm certainly no expert on these matters -- art is a fuzzy area I studied one semester in college -- but I appreciated her illustrations and the way she characterized her young self. As she suffers heartbreak and finds solace in life with her dogs in Portland, Ore., it's impossible not to feel the confusion and hurt stemming from a break-up and lifetime of family secrets.
The central mystery in Georges' work is, of course, that of the missing father. Who is he? Where is he? Why did he walk out on the family? Is he still alive? And I get that, through the course of the memoir, we're led to understand why Georges' dad is of less importance than, say, her mother: the person who, for better or worse, was there through it all. But I couldn't help feeling a little unsatisfied by the narrative and its resolution. By the book's close, I knew I should feel something -- especially after the epilogue. But though heartbreaking, I didn't feel as emotionally connected to Georges as I wish I had.
Still, Calling Dr. Laura will appeal to fans of graphic memoirs and GLBT-themed stories. Though Georges' orientation is not the story's focus, it's an important part of how she relates to her family -- and why she doesn't just confront her mom about the past. It seems crazy that a lie so big would stretch between them for so long, but Georges does a remarkable job of probing her family's history while still leaving a little mystery intact. I enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to read more of her story later on.(less)
With a special focus on Native American lore, family dynamics and mystery, Susan McBride’s The Truth About Love and Lightning finds us wading through...moreWith a special focus on Native American lore, family dynamics and mystery, Susan McBride’s The Truth About Love and Lightning finds us wading through the waters of the past with a few principle characters: Gretchen, a single mother who has never gotten over the shock of losing her best friend, Sam; Abigail, Gretchen’s grown daughter, who grows up believing Sam is her dad; and Sam himself, the youngest of a Native American family of farmers with a long history in Walnut Ridge, Missouri.
All in all, I tore through this book in the weeks leading up to Christmas — a notoriously busy time in which I often had to set the book aside for other tasks. Something kept bringing me back to McBride’s plot, though — a sense of intrigue that found me desperate to answer a few key questions: could this mysterious man blown in by a tornado actually be Sam Winston? Where had he been all this time? Is he actually Abby’s father?
Though the build-up to those resolutions felt a little bigger than the resolutions themselves, I really enjoyed this story — and wished we could have gotten to better know Gretchen’s two blind sisters, Trudy and Bennie. I loved the sisters’ preternatural abilities to see or hear things others couldn’t, giving them an otherworldly quality, and wished we could have seen their interior lives.
Flipping between the past and present, The Truth About Love and Lightning does a fine job of blending folklore with the lessons of the present. As much as the story centers on Sam and Gretchen, especially in their youth, it’s also the tale of the Winston family — and the land on which they’ve made a home for decades. It was fascinating how the farm comes to be in Gretchen’s possession, and I could definitely perfectly picture the setting — a testament to McBride’s storytelling.
Though the story left me with more questions than answers, I really enjoyed it. Fans of Sarah Addison Allen’s brand of magical realism, stories of first love, novels centered on folklore and those looking for a quick, entertaining read with a healthy dash of mystery will find plenty to enjoy in The Truth About Love and Lightning.(less)
Roland Merullo’s Lunch With Buddha is lyrical, thought-provoking, exquisite. I knew I was in for a treat from the first page, basking in the rich lang...moreRoland Merullo’s Lunch With Buddha is lyrical, thought-provoking, exquisite. I knew I was in for a treat from the first page, basking in the rich language, and Merullo’s novel is truly a joy for the senses.
Narrator Otto is the perfect mix of skeptic and believer. Hanging with Rinpoche, a revered holy man with an unending philosophical appreciation for life, is enough to change anyone — but Otto doesn’t have accept it. Still smarting from a recent tragedy, he’s not always in the mood for Rinpoche’s musings and non sequiturs — but knows his brother-in-law means well. Traveling together from Washington to North Dakota in a rickety old vehicle allows the pair plenty of chats on life, love and what comes next. And for Otto, a foodie and family man, these chats transcend the simple road trip.
Rinpoche himself is a true character. Enigmatic and fascinated by the strange habits of Americans, his observations — in broken English — reflect U.S. culture through a very unique prism. I loved the questions he asks Otto about the American way of doing things, and his devotion to Cecelia and Shelsa is very sweet. He’s someone completely comfortable in his skin — a man who doesn’t think of vanity, selfishness, cruelty. Regardless of one’s religion, Rinpoche’s thought-provoking prompts and explanations are fascinating.
There’s so much to love about Lunch With Buddha, a review book I accepted with some trepidation. I was worried I wouldn’t connect with the characters, would find the religious aspects too preachy, wouldn’t relate to Otto and his sad quest. I hadn’t read the first in Merullo’s series, Breakfast With Buddha, and worried I’d miss something by starting with the second book. But something about the description tugged at me — and despite its length, I was completely drawn into Rinpoche and Otto’s tale. No previous knowledge of the Ringling family necessary.
The story’s first-person narration clinched it for me. As Rinpoche and Otto meandered across state lines, meeting others who would teach lessons along the way, I felt like I’d wedged myself into the yurt they were supposed to share or hitched a ride in the back of the cab. Their journey is just that: a journey. One with a destination, yes, but also one without. One that continues long after we’ve closed the book.(less)
In a world of cat people and dog people, Alison Pace is firmly in the dog camp.
Well, actually . . . that’s sort of underselling it. Pace, author of no...moreIn a world of cat people and dog people, Alison Pace is firmly in the dog camp.
Well, actually . . . that’s sort of underselling it. Pace, author of novels like Pug Hill and A Pug's Tale, is a serious dog person. In You Tell Your Dog First, a serious of canine-related essays, Pace recounts her fur-filled childhood, creation of a life in New York City, writing career and -- eventually, quite happily -- the adoption her own West Highland White Terrier, Carlie. It’s heartwarming non-fiction with chew toys, cute guys and dogs roaming free in Central Park.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m also in the dog camp. I grew up with dogs, love dogs, get excited at the prospect of visiting a friend with a dog. When others coo over adorable babies, I’m reaching for the squirmy mutt at their feet. If my boyfriend had a dollar for every time I squealed, “Oh my God, look at that dog,” he could retire quite happily, get a bunch of cats and leave my dog-hair-covered self in the dust.
So for someone like me? Someone who, as Pace’s title suggests, tells her dog the big news first? I was all about Pace’s funny, cute look at life with canines. I loved her descriptions of growing up with a literal pack at the homestead and could relate to her feelings of being a dog person without a dog. Living in New York City, Pace’s options regarding pet-friendly rental buildings are complicated. And when Carlie, a former show dog, comes into her life? Well, Pace will move mountains to find a good living situation for them both.
If you’re not nutso for pets, I can see readers rolling their eyes at some of the antics -- but the charming thing about Pace is that she never takes herself too seriously. Aware that some of her behavior could be seen as excessive, she often pokes fun at herself and reminds Carlie that she knows “Mommy is acting crazy.” It’s funny, and I understand. I’m not above dog-talk myself. I mean, my dog has a theme song.
You Tell Your Dog First is a quick read with insights as to how four-legged friends make our lives all the richer, and I really enjoyed Pace’s musings on the unconditional love and companionship of dogs like Carlie. If this book sounds like it’s up your alley, it probably is. A fun, light and heartwarming read -- would make a great gift for dog lovers, too.(less)
It’s been a while since I sank into a book like Jane Porter’s The Good Woman. From the description, you might think, “Eh, great -- another story about...moreIt’s been a while since I sank into a book like Jane Porter’s The Good Woman. From the description, you might think, “Eh, great -- another story about a mid-life crisis.” And to be fair? It sort of is. It’s obvious Jack isn’t paying Meg much attention. After 17 years of marriage, he’s just sort of . . . around. Not helping with the kids, not helping with things around the house. Not showing Meg any care and affection. Just there.
The events following Meg’s realization of discontent are gradual -- so gradual it took me a while to realize what was happening. But I liked that about it. Porter’s pace is deliberate, and she lets us into Meg’s head often enough to feel the frustration and boredom without playing all her cards at once. Though I felt parts of the narrative became repetitive (Meg hadn’t felt this way in so long, Meg just needed something more), Porter’s in-depth exploration of her main character’s emotions made this book for me.
While The Good Woman stays in the present, flashbacks to the Brennan sisters’ childhood and teenage years provide backdrop for how Meg -- sanctimoniously called “Sister Mary Margaret” by a sneering sister -- became such a control freak. Known as an extreme perfectionist, Meg is the quintessential “good woman”: a good wife, good mother, good daughter. She works so hard to maintain these ideals that she rarely pauses to figure out what she wants. And who hasn’t felt that way?
Honestly, as the eldest of five kids (four of them women), just about anyone born into that large Irish-American family would struggle under the collective weight of expectation. The Brennan sisters, all at various stages of their lives, are dealing with some heavy stuff -- and Meg tries to be there for all of them (save free spirit Bree). When she finally cracks, succumbing to a handsome man’s advances, I didn’t feel nearly as annoyed with her as I should have. By the time the real stuff goes down, we’ve bonded with her. I felt like I knew her. And while not excusing the behavior, I just felt really sorry for her.
The Good Woman is more than mommy-breakdown-lit -- and more than a book on infidelity. With three-dimensional characters, a captivating storyline and many emotional twists, Porter’s first in a new trilogy centered on the Brennan women held me hostage. I devoured the book in less than a week, picking it up whenever I had a few minutes, and will eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.(less)
Maybe it’s a symptom of feeling claustrophobic and stressed in my chaotic suburban life. There’s something soothing — very appealing — about being in...moreMaybe it’s a symptom of feeling claustrophobic and stressed in my chaotic suburban life. There’s something soothing — very appealing — about being in the country, and it’s just that sentiment that led me to pick up Richard Horan’s Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America’s Family Farms.
Horan’s story is one of a writer and teacher who embarks on a quest to explore organic farms across the country, meeting colorful characters and exploring various aspects of farming in the months he’s away from his Oswego, N.Y., home. Harvested crops include green beans, tomatoes, wild rice and cranberries, and his locations range from the High Plains of Kansas, to Michigan, Ohio, Maine, California. Horan’s quest is national — and the locales were what most appealed to me about the book. I’m an armchair traveler, you know.
I was sold on needing to read the book when I learned one of Horan’s stops was in Winters, Calif., site of my magnificent hot air balloon ride, where he harvested walnuts. In Winters ourselves, we marveled at the amount of agriculture blossoming in the countryside. Our balloon guide talked about the many crops grown in the foothills of California, and I was enchanted by it all. It’s hard not to imagine a different life in California — one in which we actually take notice of the earth . . . and really depend on it.
That’s sort of where Horan is coming from, too. He wants to get back to basics. He wants to work with his hands, get dirty, get involved in something that doesn’t involve a classroom or book or electronic device. He wants to just be into it. And you know what? I really respected that.
Something about Harvest felt disjointed, though. While I liked following his adventures from one town to the next, the narrative felt sort of weightless — as though Horan had no real point to it all. Combined with the distracting footnotes on many pages, I found myself wondering what I was supposed to “get.” We didn’t spend enough time with any of the farmers or their families/helpers to really connect with them, and maybe that’s where the book veered off for me. Just as I become interested in one gregarious, up-and-at-’em farmer, we were bound for Michigan. Or some such.
Horan is certainly adventurous, pitching in and using all manners of devices (or just his plain hands), but I didn’t fully connect with him as a narrator. I appreciated that he was giving a voice to some of those hardworking folks who harvest and provide food for the rest of us office drones, but I never felt invested in the story. I finished the book and liked it well enough, but something was just . . . missing.
Those interested in farming practices, travel and the state of American agriculture might find Harvest more enjoyable than I did. While Horan can certainly write and I appreciated his observations, I wanted more.(less)
M. J. Rose’s Lip Service is the thinking woman’s erotica. This isn’t raunchy nonsense pinned together with a few weak plot points and vapid characters...moreM. J. Rose’s Lip Service is the thinking woman’s erotica. This isn’t raunchy nonsense pinned together with a few weak plot points and vapid characters — a limp excuse for pornography masquerading as literature. No. I’ll be the first to admit I know little about this genre, but Lip Service worked for me as a mild thriller with some naughtiness.
Julia is interesting. We learn she had some sort of breakdown in college, an event that led to her “romance” with Paul . . . which is really no romance at all. A widower, Paul has a young son whom Julia adores, and the stability he provides is exactly what she needs at a shadowy point in her life. She’s looking for a rock, someone to keep her safe, and she finds it in her new husband: a man who works at keeping her quiet and calm.
That works for Julia . . . for a while. But when she’s introduced to phone sex therapy, she realizes how dull and colorless her life and marriage have become. Devoid of any emotional or physical intimacy with Paul, Julia’s mind is left to wander — and that’s where Sam steps in. As Julia learns more about the Butterfield Institute’s work, she’s a little scared at how invested she becomes in the process. Maybe too invested.
This book surprised me — in a good way. As I mentioned, it has plenty of steamy scenes for romance lovers, but at its core is Julia’s transformation. I really felt for her and hoped she wouldn’t stumble down a bad road, especially when she seems poised to break free of the past.
Originally published more than a decade ago and now reissued, Lip Service can feel a bit outdated at times -- just in terms of the technology mentions -- but it didn’t really bother me. No doubt bolstered by the success of those-grey-books-which-shall-not-be-named, M.J. Rose’s novel should find a ready audience. And it’s deserving of one.(less)
Matthew Dicks' Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend was an emotional rollercoaster. Recommended for fans of Emma Donoghue's Room, I can see why readers woul...moreMatthew Dicks' Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend was an emotional rollercoaster. Recommended for fans of Emma Donoghue's Room, I can see why readers would draw parallels between the two: Room's narrator is a child with limited exposure to the world, describing simple things we experience every day -- watching TV, turning on the vacuum, walking outside -- in unusual ways. Dicks' narrator, the imaginary Budo, describes the real world in much the same terms, grappling with why "human persons" operate as we do. The effect was fascinating and, though I understand why others would eventually get bored with it, it really worked for me.
Though Budo's speech seems simplistic, that was deceptive; we have to pay attention to what he's describing, piecing together the saga as it unfolds. Budo is innocent and kind. All he knows of heartache is what he's learned by watching crime shows on TV, and trying to comprehend "evil" is tough. Having accompanied Max everywhere for years, Budo has seen more of the world than most imaginary friends -- the ones discarded by kindergartners as soon as they make "real" buddies at school.
I loved that Budo is the one telling Max's story, explaining how "the bravest little boy in the world" faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles to do what other children accomplish without thinking. Being teased, taunted or -- worse -- ignored completely, Max presses on. His favorite teacher, Mrs. Gosk, stole the show in every scene -- her hilarious turns of phrase, uttered to third-graders, cracked me up.
But for all the humor in Memoirs, the story was laced with also suspense. I couldn't believe how stressed out I got waiting to learn what would become of Max in the latter half of the book, racing through the story (on audio for me) to figure out how he would save himself. Because that's what he must do: save himself. Budo was so real I kept forgetting he was a figment of Max's imagination. That in the end, it was up to Max to deliver himself from evil. For as much as I wanted Budo to be real, he wasn't. (Or was he? I could see how this debate could rage. And make for excellent book club discussion.)
My only gripes concerns the story's villain and the pacing in the second half. Though we get a bit of the villain's back story, we're never inside her head -- and I wanted more. Unlike Dicks' other characters, she didn't feel three-dimensional. I wish we'd gotten more of a glimpse of her "backstage," so to speak, when she talked with coworkers and police. And the pacing? After the main event took place, I felt like I was constantly waiting for something to happen. Though I wasn't exactly disappointed by the ending, I did feel like the build-up was more exciting than the resolution.
Still, Dicks has crafted a unique, thought-provoking and memorable work in Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend. Exploring social issues regarding autism with a light hand and highlighting what it means to be loyal and selfless, Dicks' book pushes readers into a special boy's life and makes it hard not to care about him -- and Budo, that unforgettable ally.(less)
Emily Giffin’s Where We Belong struck a deep chord with me. Having guessed the connection between Kirby and Marian simply from reading the cover blurb...moreEmily Giffin’s Where We Belong struck a deep chord with me. Having guessed the connection between Kirby and Marian simply from reading the cover blurb (as you likely have, too), I figured this story of first love, youth and redemption would ultimately bring me to tears. And it did.
Marian is the sort of polished, Type-A New Yorker often populating women’s fiction. Determined to make it big from an early age, she’s dedicated her professional life to paying her dues and moving swiftly up the ladder -- and her relationship with Peter, the head of her TV network, doesn’t hurt. Still, she believes their love is genuine; their affection is clear, anyway. And that feels good enough. For a while.
Outgoing Kirby, preparing for her high school graduation, has always felt separate from her hard-working parents and perfect younger sister. Aware she was adopted at birth, Kirby doesn’t bear any ill will toward her family or carry a chip on her shoulder about her biological parents . . . but she’s always wondered about them, thought of them, maintained an active curiosity about who and where they were. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, she’s able to request the name of her biological mother -- which leads her to Marian, logically. But fearing her parents’ hurt feelings regarding her search, she chooses to keep her quest secret.
Marian herself is a bit of a vacuum. Beyond her ambition and high-powered TV job, we don’t know much about her -- and live more in the past, in fact, than we do in the present. Where We Belong flashes between present day and life for Marian and her first love almost two decades earlier, before life became undeniably complicated. As Marian’s story unfolds, it’s hard at times to sympathize with her and her decisions . . . but I tried to put myself in her place, questioning what I would do as a scared 18-year-old deeply flushed with shame, doubt and uncertainty.
The story really picks up as Marian and Kirby reunite in search of their shared link. I found the flashbacks of Marian and Conrad’s summer together very romantic, authentic and painful. Giffin perfectly crystallizes that moony, delightful stage of first love — a time that can never be recaptured again. My heart broke as the story unfolded, desperately hoping things could turn out differently . . . but knowing they couldn’t. And wouldn’t. Where We Belong’s main strength came in the form of these recollections, I think, and how much they made my heart hurt. Giffin knows her stuff.
The subject of adoption is handled with a great deal of grace and sensitivity, too. Always aware that Kirby already has a mother, Marian treads their new relationship carefully. She acts more like a protective aunt, or an older friend, and is always sure to avoid stepping on the Roses’ toes. I respected her for backing away when she needed to, and for paying careful attention to Mrs. Rose’s feelings. It was the kind, mature thing to do.
I read this entire book on a five-hour plane ride, racing to find out what would become of this beleaguered crew. Though I had a few quibbles with the plot’s predictability, it was nothing that ultimately hurt the story for me. Giffin delivers good women’s fiction, that’s for sure, with a cast of dimensional characters and a story of love and redemption I couldn’t put down. Though it didn’t have the punch of Something Borrowed, my favorite of her novels, it resonated with me. And I think it’ll resonate with you, too.(less)
Jyotsna Sreenivasan's And Laughter Fell From The Sky, a modern story paying homage to Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, was a worthwhile read -- one...moreJyotsna Sreenivasan's And Laughter Fell From The Sky, a modern story paying homage to Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, was a worthwhile read -- one that started slow but gradually picked up pace until I was hanging on by fraying fingernails.
Rasika is Sreenivasan's stand-out character: a woman torn between two very different worlds. There's her traditional side, her very Indian side -- the one in which she does as her parents ask. Obsessed with the fineries of life, Rasika knows her good job and social standing are crucial to maintaining her image. But spin around and see the rebellious, hiding-a-smirk-behind-her-hand Rasika: the one that understands her family's viewpoints but doesn't agree. That side that sneaks around behind their backs, shimmying out of her skirt when they're not looking. The Rasika that wants to do only as she wishes.
I could relate to that, honestly. Not in a tawdry way -- just in the way that we all wear different hats, so to speak, and represent different things to different people. While outsiders might views arranged marriages with a skeptical eye, Rasika is very respectful of her parents' wishes -- and knows this arrangement would make them happy. Though Abhay is a charming guy, a nice kid, it can't go anywhere. Besides, they're not equals . . . not even in America. The die has been cast.
Or has is it?
So much of And Laughter Fell From The Sky centers on tension. Sexual, romantic, familial, job-related . . . obligation and love and obsession are all cast into one flavorful stew, and Sreenivasan's thought-provoking novel is the main dish. Beyond the "getting to know you" exposition in the beginning, the novel's pace is brisk and reflective. I felt the plot could veer in any number of different directions, which kept the experience fresh for me. And I really felt I'd climbed inside the heads of Rasika and Abhay, muttering under my breath when they were acting stupid.
Because they just did sometimes. Act stupid, that is. I was often frustrated by the pair and wondered why they couldn't just work things out, though Sreenivasan did an admirable job of explaining cultural conventions and the perspectives influencing their decisions. So even though I wanted them to just fix things, I understood why it was far more complicated than that. And I liked that there were no easy answers.
Fans of contemporary fiction, second-generation stories and glimpses of modern families will find plenty to ponder in And Laughter Fell From The Sky. Though the story occasionally raised my blood pressure, I found it realistic -- and you know, I just really liked it. It worked for me.(less)
Sometimes I start a novel and think, “I’m too young for this.” Not because I’m such a hot young thing I can’t stand reading about “older” people (not...moreSometimes I start a novel and think, “I’m too young for this.” Not because I’m such a hot young thing I can’t stand reading about “older” people (not at all), but because I can imagine relating better to the work when I’m a parent or wife myself. But good books? It doesn’t matter if, on the surface, you have little in common with the main character — whether you’re 20 or 80, they drop you into their harried life and make you really feel something. And that’s what Melanie Gideon does in this wild, emotional, moving and entertaining story.
Alice Buckle is a woman to whom many of us will relate, regardless of age — or what our dreams might be. A former playwright who has now thrown herself into the domestic life, her 20-year marriage to William has lost its sparkle — and her days are now more consumed by her teens’ daily dramas than writing her own. As William’s job becomes more stressful and their home life shows signs of wear, Alice can’t help but be sucked into the “Marriage in the 21st Century” study that drops right into her metaphorical lap.
With her mother gone, Alice doesn’t feel acknowledged anymore — and no one really asks her anything. Certainly nothing important. Researcher 101′s interest in her life and progression from optimistic 20-something to bored, lonely 40-something makes her feel powerful, uplifted, validated. More than anything, Wife 22 highlights our need to be heard.
The plot takes several twists I didn’t see coming, giving the online correspondence a sort of “You’ve Got Mail” feel (God, I love that movie). I found myself guessing and second-guessing what was going to happen, and Wife 22 is anything but a simple, one-note story. For something that often had me giggling aloud, the novel contains many serious issues — grief; infidelity; children growing up — but never collapsed under the weight of these topics.
Lovers of women’s fiction, explorations of marriage and family dynamics will find much to enjoy in Wife 22. Gideon’s original prose — witty in one breath; deep in the next — captured me from the first page, and Alice Buckle is a refreshing heroine I would love to read about again.(less)
Lisa Fineberg Cook’s Japan Took The J.A.P. Out of Me is an entertaining look at one Type-A woman’s quest to make the most of a foreign experience. Pet...moreLisa Fineberg Cook’s Japan Took The J.A.P. Out of Me is an entertaining look at one Type-A woman’s quest to make the most of a foreign experience. Peter’s new teaching post means Lisa must leave behind her L.A.-based friendships, family and work for the year they’re abroad. As someone addicted to her regular primping sessions, lunch dates and hobnobbing, Lisa’s introduction to Japanese culture is a little rocky. She doesn’t speak the language, for one, and as a tall, blonde American? Well, let’s just say attracts her fair share of attention. Cook isn’t prepared for the onslaught of changes, but eventually attempts to make the most of her time away outside the U.S.
Despite the skewering it’s taken, I have to tell you: I really liked this book. It was my constant companion in the days until I finished it, and I loved Cook’s glimpses at a culture so entirely different from my American way of life. Broken down into chapters regarding seemingly “simple” tasks, like laundry and eating out, Cook’s battles to master things that came naturally in the U.S. really got me thinking. I’ve traveled a bit in other countries and love peeking at how others live, but to actually move there? It was brave. And bold. And really cool.
Does Lisa occasionally act like a spoiled brat? Sure. Does her pinched-nose annoyance with foreign culture become grating? Sometimes. It’s hard to believe someone so averse to living abroad actually moves abroad, but hey — we all do crazy things for love. And Lisa makes no bones about the way she feels for Peter, even getting into the nitty-gritty of doing “dirty” American things in their Japanese living arrangements. We know they’re in love and they’re going to thrive or fall together. I liked the vulnerable parts of their nacent marriage she let us see, and I loved that she never tried to be perfect — or describe it that way.
And here’s what makes Lisa a likable heroine: she’s aware of her faults and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Though some have deemed it "shallow," I gently beg to differ: Cook is a self-proclaimed J.A.P. (Jewish American Princess), so her misadventures on public transportation and fending for herself in a world where everything is foreign takes on extra meaning. She admits she’s been spoiled and sheltered. And she’s trying to change that. Maybe it takes a while, but that was all right with me. I was invested — and along for the ride.
If you’re looking for a deep look at life for expatriates doin’ their thing in Nagoya, this probably isn’t for you. Lisa is often more interested in finding a good hairdresser and manicurist than becoming culturally enriched, but that didn’t bother me. She does offer insights into Japanese culture through an American lens, though they were pretty superficial. Still, I found her hilarious and charming, and Japan Took The J.A.P. Out of Me was a delightful read.
For chick lit lovers and armchair travelers, this is one delicious bento box of fun. (Mmmm, bento.)(less)