Showing posts with label chick-lit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chick-lit. Show all posts

Monday, September 2, 2019

Best Friends and Other Liars by Heather Balog

Rating: WARTY!

I get that this is "chick lit" as it's termed, and isn't aimed at me, but it's a novel and to me there are certain things a novel really ought to do. It ought to be original for one thing, and this one was not, and it ought to be realistic within its own framework which this genre really can't be by definition, so there were two strikes against it right away. I guess you could say it ought to be entertaining too, but with the poor writing it wasn't - not for me. Others may disagree. On the bright side, the author has evidently been on a cruise so there is a certain amount of authenticity except for the part where they got onto the boat with such amazing speed.

Either her cruise ship was really small, or they arrived very late to be able to get through the waiting line, and to board as quickly and hassle-free as they did. Real cruise lines aren't like that - not if the ship is large. My own experience demonstrated that it took hours - literal hours - to get on board. I'd have been willing to grant that her boat was small, but that's not what the text said, so it lost believability for me on that, and yes, I get that the author may have wanted to move things along, but to skip even mentioning the line was really inexcusable. On the other hand, the massage was pretty accurate! I didn't feel remotely relaxed after mine either. To me it simply was not worth the money.

What turned me off this in the end was the trope male character, because while adherents of this genre might like that idea, the fact of the male always in every single case being muscular with film-star looks is ridiculous. I get why it's done, but to me it's pathetic and I demand much more realism in my stories than this genre - and this author in particular - is evidently capable of delivering. I DNF'd this at about a quarter the way through, right after she literally bumped into the guy - another tired trope which makes me barf. Sorry, but no. This was pathetic. I can't commend it, not remotely. It had a boatload of issues.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Rating: WARTY!

The short answer to the question (despite it missing a question mark), posed in the title of this audiobook is 'Nowhere'! Seriously. Read okay by Kathleen Wilhoite, the book began as a series of Oh-so-cutting-edge emails and so on. In short, lazy story-telling. I don't like epistolary novels and I wasn't liking this one. It just annoyed me.

It's sad because I came to this from seeing a teaser-trailer of an upcoming movie starring Cate Blanchett, of whom I'm a fan. As it happened, the trailer didn't tease me, but after seeing it twice in front of different movies Ild gone to see, I decided I'd give the book a listen if I could find it on audiobook at the library and I did, so I did, but I wish now that I hadn't. So I'm done with this story, and with this author notwithstanding her dedication to the Global Amphibian Assessment. For anyone interested, the story starts out with a girl, Bee Branch, looking through old emails to try and figure out whence her irresponsible mother disappeared.

I don't know what the movie is like - at this point I've seen only the teaser and I won't see the movie (especially not now!) unless maybe I catch it at some point on TV, but from what I've heard of the novel, Bernadette is hardly the best person in the world. In fact she's a bit of a jerk, and the teaser revealed none of this, although it did reveal how irresponsible she was. I really don't care if someone has good reason to be a dick. If they're a dick, they're a dick, and I'm not about to make a hero out of such a person. The story sounded scatterbrained and stupid and I want nothing to do with it.

Spring Skies Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett

Rating: WARTY!

This story sounded intriguing to me since I was born and raised in Derbyshire where it's set, but it fell short of the glory of a great story and it happened quickly. The language was far too flowery for my taste for one thing:

“As she stepped down onto the creamy marble floor of the imposing entrance hall, a blast of cold from the open front door sent a shiver through her, and she was glad for the thermal vest hidden beneath her silk blouse. A strip of Wedgwood blue sky showed over the rooftops of the buildings across the street.“
Creamy? Imposing? Silk? Wedgwood? At least she spelled Wedgwood right so credit where credit is due, but this was way too much, especially when most of it was all in one sentence.

And this is how we meet Lucie Kennington, who works for a high-end art gallery and is suspended in a most unrealistic way when an art piece she brought to the attention of the gallery is apparently stolen by being switched out for a fake. This made no sense to me since if she wanted to steal it, then why the hell would she ever bring it to the attention of the gallery in the first place? She found it hanging unsung on someone's wall and recognized it for what it was. If she were going to be dishonest about it, she would have offered the owner a few pounds for it and made out like gangbusters in the profit. If their beef is that it was stolen, not necessarily by her, then the problem is security, not the woman who found the piece.

So she gets suspended while an investigation takes place, and immediately this turns into one of those 'weak women fleeing back to her home town - or in this case to the countryside' which is precisely the kind of chick-lit story I detest. I foolishly picked this one up to read thinking it might be different and intrigued by the Derbyshire aspect. I had little to nothing of Derbyshire in the part I read which was admittedly limited.

All I really got was dumb-ass Lucie and an even more dumb-ass family of landed gentry named after characters from Arthurian mythology (which has nothing to do with Derbyshire, BTW) dealing with a financial crisis in their castle. It's patently obvious she's going to get it on with Arthur Ludworth who "might just be the most handsome man Lucie’s ever laid eyes on." Barf. Arthur has 'shaggy hair' of course which is probably why she can’t wait to shag him.

Of course, Arthur's salvation is once more a painting which Lucie recognizes and which is worth a fortune. I'm guessing the art gallery will find Lucie completely innocent and beg her to return, for her only to thumb her nose at them now she's King Arthur's trophy wife.

I didn't like Luci or Arthur; they were both as dumb as a bag of dumbbells, so maybe that makes them a perfect match, but that really put the brakes on this story for me. Girl with a secret past afraid of being embarrassed, and too stupid to tell all to the man she's supposedly falling in love with? I'm sorry but 'dumb broads' are not remotely interesting to me, nor is the 'billionaire falls for the poor girl' kind of a story - which is what this is, close enough, and you don't even get the eroticism! LOL! I ditched it and was glad I did. There's better to be had out there than this; much better.

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Rating: WARTY!

Author Sheila Heti is very reminiscent in her features of actor Cate Blanchett, but while I like the latter, I am not a fan of the former after listening to the opening portion of this. I really have very little to say about this one since I listened to so little of it, but the style really rubbed me up the wrong way from the off. The New Yorker has a review by Alexandra Schwartz which describes this as "sometimes exasperating." I beg to disagree. It was entirely exasperating.

It was first person to begin with which, with few exceptions, is nearly always a mistake as a voice, and while I commend authors who read their own work in the audiobook, I cannot commend this one in this case, because her voice wasn't easy on my ears. It was rather strident and domineering and felt like I was being lectured about something I'd done wrong! Well sorry, I'm a guy! Fatherhood is my thing. Motherhood isn't even possible for me! Do please forgive me!

This was one of the most egregious examples of the first person - what I'd call a #MeOnly style - and it was truly tedious to listen to. It was rambling and uninteresting, and I simply couldn't get into it. I gave up on it in short order and returned it to the library where hopefully someone, somewhere, somehow will find it to their taste.

The blurb claims that "Motherhood treats one of the most consequential decisions of early adulthood - whether or not to have children - with the intelligence, wit and originality" but this is patent bullshit - or perhaps in this case, baby shit. The blurb promised that the novel would follow her internal debate about whether to get pregnant "Over the course of several years, under the influence of her partner, body, family, friends, mysticism and chance" and I couldn't stand the thought of having to listen to this droning self-indulgence for that long.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen

Rating: WARTY!

I'm not opposed to chick lit and I've read a bit of it myself although it's not my first choice of genre, but quite honestly this was the worst kind of chick lit - arguably anti-#MeToo. I didn't read much of it, but to me it looked like the only connection it had to Cinderella was that the girl met her tediously predictably hunky guy when her stiletto heel got stuck in a crack between floorboards in this restaurant she frequents and in which this guy is part owner.

Her shoe comes off of course and he hands it back to her, but instead of leaving it to her to put it on, he puts his hand on her hip - not her arm or shoulder, or offers her his own arm for balance, but uninvited, he puts his hand on her hip 'to steady her', and she gets the wilts and the vapors. I'm immediately thinking, "I'm outta here. This is not my literature!" so I gave up on it. At only a few pages in.

Despite having a professional job in an office, this girl did not come off as very smart to me. She automatically assumed this guy was a liar when he told her he was part owner of the restaurant, like she was an expert on the place just because she eats there often. Neither is she the impoverished stepsister, so what this had to do with Cinderella, I have no idea. All I had actually needed to know is whether it was trespassing on my Cinderella territory or I on its, and the answer to that was a resounding 'no!' The story's nothing like what I'm writing so I fortunately don't need to be concerned with it at all, which is great, because I certainly didn't want to continue reading it.

I don't get why so many female authors so frequently subject their main characters to manhandling by strange men and then instead of becoming annoyed at it, turn to Jell-O. It sucks and it needs to stop. These two 'girls' were in the restaurant at the time of the shoe incident, so it probably wouldn't have been hard for the guy to quickly grab a chair from a nearby table. If they'd done that and she'd sat down and asked him to put the shoe on for her, that might have brought it a bit more in line with Cinderella and certainly been more socially acceptable and even romantic, but this author doesn't get it, and that's a problem. It might have been better yet if the guy had been part owner of a shoe store rather than a restaurant so he'd be naturally helping her to try-on shoes.

I didn't get how being a part owner fo a restaurant made him any kind of a prince either, unless the restaurant was Burger King! LOL! But as it happens, I really don't care because this story was trashy pap and not worth anyone's time. Readers need to demand better. Much better. More original, better written, more intelligent, and with real people instead of antique Barbie and Ken dolls.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

667 Ways to F*ck Up My Life by Lucy Woodhull

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note also that this novel shouldn't be confused with EM Moon's 667. This one trolls a similar ocean in many ways, which seems peculiarly fitting for an author named Woodhull!

When I sat down and began writing this review, I was thinking it would be positive, because I'd enjoyed a lot of the novel, but I had also seen a lot of issues with it and what really changed my perspective was when I began to consider everything in total, and especially the ending. When it came down to it, I honestly could not, in good conscience recommend it, not when I've rated other novels unworthy for less. I may well be in the minority in this view, but all that matters is that I can honestly live with the views I express here.

The title was the first problem, because despite what it claims, the novel fails to actually itemize 667 ways in which main character Dagmar screwed-up her life. More on this anon. As for the wording of the title, I couldn't help but wonder why we put that asterisk in there in place of the vowel. As soon as someone sees "f*ck" they know it means "fuck" and it's that word, not 'f*ck' that pops up in their brain whether they're prone to expressing themselves in that way or not, so you still generated a four-letter word in their mind!

Maybe we like to make people swear even if they find it offensive, but it's not the word which really does the trick, is it? It's we who've secretly agreed to brand a perfectly good and venerable English word 'offensive'. Some of us agree that if we use it, we intend to sound offensive, and others agree that if they hear it, they'll be offended. It's a foolish game we play. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever from a rational PoV, but since when is language rational, especially in an election year? The truth is that it's all about shock value!

In deference to those who are sensitive though, I shall refer to this in the same way that one of the characters does: as "screw-up". I think it would have been more amusing had each letter been substituted, such as "$*@&-up" but that's just me. Be warned, though, that this is very much a highly questionable behavior and bad language novel, so if my previous use offended your sense and sensibility (for which I apologize), it might take a lot of persuasion to get you to read the actual book. As for me, I don't care about bad language in books in principle since it’s the way people talk and/or think in real life, so it’s not inappropriate per se.

As for the plot, it holds no mystery at all, so there can be no spoilers in this review. This story has been drive too many times to not need new tires and brakes before it's read-worthy: the decent, innocent, straight-shooting (or some such combination) girl gets fired by her caricature of a misogynist boss, and dumped by her jerk of a boyfriend on the same day.

How a woman with her potential ever got played into that position in this day and age remains largely unexplored (and I was glad of it!), but, but evidently smarts and self-respect got no casting-call. Anyway, she decides to change her life and predictably and magically, this leads to a better life and to the man of her dreams (Yash); however, she's been lying about things (in this case, her job and her name inter alia) when she first meets the guy, and finds herself inexplicably unable to avoid her lingering lies when the relationship deepens and then inevitably fails. Predictably, they then get together "romantically" and all's swell by the end bell.

To me, this play-acting wasn't Dag's major screw-up. The screw-up was that she failed to come clean with him as soon as she realized these feelings and this relationship were the one genuine thing amidst all the lies; worse than this, the author fails to justify her behavior. The major problem with this story then, is that Dag had absolutely no reason whatsoever to continue the lie, and this is where the novel began to fail for me because it became clear that the author wasn't letting the story happen naturally. She was like a show jumper who had a fine and spirited horse, but she wouldn't give it its head and trust it to jump, so fences were coming down all over the course!

Like a piano player who's been drilled too rigidly and never allowed to breathe the music or have any fun with it, she played the notes almost exactly as they'd been played by countless other artists before her, and never dared to set the melody free or improvise. That's why it felt so disappointing and unnatural to me. We got the predictable break-up and the equally predictable reunion for no other reason than a rigid adherence to a clichéd paradigm for this genre of novel.

That's when I lost the very faith in the author that she'd patiently built earlier. She made me hope for something out of the ordinary, and then deliberately stomped on that hope and killed it. Even as I feared this would most assuredly happen, I also entertained the fantasy that that maybe it wouldn't so at least in that regard, I went through the same thing that Dag did in her break-up. I doubt this is what the author had intended!

One of the things I had to try to overlook was that the title is rather fraudulent, as I mentioned earlier. There is no tally of 667 screw-ups here. This enumerated epistle which is added-to periodically throughout the novel (and which in some instances appears in place of the novel), is much more like a reminder list, or a list of observations or one of regrets, or of cute/inane comments/non-comments (items 541 through 547 I'm looking at you!) than ever it is an exclusive itemization of ways to screw-up.

For example #331 says, "My life had a forty-two percent rotten rating at" which is actually getting on for fifty percent better than the Suicide Squad movie had, but it isn’t a screw-up in itself! It was funny, I admit. Some of them were, and I don’t doubt that such a huge list of ways to screw-up is do-able, but would it be entertaining? Hence the wimp-out list, which sometimes succeeded admirably. Other times it was simply intrusive, annoying, and trite.

There were many instances where several successive line items said pretty much the same thing if in slightly different ways, or which amplified an original thought:

320. Maybe I could write a literary erotic novel
321. The hero threw the hussy onto the couch and grrfflsh ajdjdhdhha unnffffff-ed her
and this:
323. It was the hormones released from such good kissing
324. Such sexy, nasty, sweet kissing
325. The kind of kissing that kills everyone in a Shakespearean tragedy
These are no more screw-ups than they are unique entries in the list, and the hormones motif was overdone, especially when it appeared in the form of "it's hormones, nothing more." If a male character said the same thing of a woman he wouldn't be allowed to get away with it unless the idea is to portray him as a complete dick, so how is it any better if Dag says it? That felt gratuitously insulting to me, and out of place in the novel that this aimed to be.

Items 367 to 384 (excluding item 383) consist solely of the sentence "I was in love". Item 418 was "Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa!" - hardly a screw-up unless it took place at a funeral or when being threatened by a gang member, and neither applied in this case. "474. He didn't even owe me bird shit" would have been funnier if it had read, "Unless it was bird shit". So yes, this title is dishonest, but it does have the benefit of standing out. This is an important consideration, since "One Way to F*ck Up" would never be as appealing a title despite being more accurate! But enough said on this score.

I have to confess I was concerned about Dag's drinking problem. At one point, she actually recognizes that she has a drinking problem, which is admirable, but she resolves only to give up daytime drinking and then promptly breaks that vow. She made no vows whatsoever related giving-up becoming the falling-down, vomiting, passed-out drunk (fortunately in that order), of which she was guilty. This is exactly why her drinking is a problem bordering on, if not embracing alcoholism since it's made repeatedly clear that it's alcohol, not friends, not exercise, not books (there goes literary!), not music, not crafts, not movies, not even food, but alcohol, which is her life-jacket when ineffectually opposing a sea of troubles. She actually abuses her best friend Mel, who sounded far more interesting to me than Dag became, although I was disappointed that Mel had nothing to say about Dag's drinking.

The story definitely took a serious downturn when she started stalking her ex and obsessing over him even more than she had before. That's when it was no longer romantic or a comedy for me. Had the genders been reversed and a guy was doing this, he would have been called on it by the readers if not by another character, so how is it any better that a woman is doing this to a man? It's not. It's neither entertaining nor is it funny.

Yes, Yash is being a bit of a jerk, so maybe this co-dependent couple really did deserve each other in the end, but at least he has cause for his behavior. She has no excuse whatsoever and worse, she doesn't even get that he needs to be left alone so she's compounding her main course of liar thermidor by adding a side dish of ass stalks. It made me really dislike her and negated any good feelings I'd entertained towards her from earlier.

But enough about meme; let’s talk about eupathy. The milieu of the story was a comfortably predictable one. It seems like whenever an author or screen-writer is aiming for a 'literary' story, they have their main character, who is typically a female, somehow involved with books. In this case, Dag is employed as an editor at a publishing company, but she doesn’t work on novels. No fear! She works in non-fiction - and there are no environmental dilemmas for Dag; it’s all about print, as though involvement with ebooks is slumming it.

More than this, the guy she falls for is a writer, and she predictably turns her web log into charmingly printable woodcuts. None of this is spoilers. All of it is inevitable from the premises. So well-traveled is the route that it's a rout, and more of a sow's ear than ever it was a silk road. The problem appears to be that if such stories were not so predictable, they likely wouldn’t garner for themselves such a predictable readership. Too few authors have the courage to take the road less traveled, even in an era when they do not have to beg Big Publishing™ to lend them that sow's ear.

This novel was too much an attempt at an edgy version of a Meg Ryan movie or more accurately, it felt like a remake of the Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. I know I've read other novels which have run in a similar rut, but none of those were impressive enough for me to recall a title off-hand.

Some of it rang rather hollow or odd, such as where I read, "sew destruction upon Taylor." I honestly couldn't figure out if that was simply a case of bad spelling (that no spellchecker would catch!), or if it was actually intended as a pun - you know, sew...Taylor, but since I hadn't really seen any devotion to puns in this story, I think maybe "sow" was intended? And we're back to the pig's ear pun! Just kidding! But don't you love the English language?

Dag's approach to agents and publishing houses to sell her blog made little sense (especially when it was loudly telegraphed beforehand who would get the nod), and it made less sense given what a huge following her blog had garnered. She didn't need any help at that point, and why would she even consider it given that her plan supposedly was to screw-up? It felt like both a sell-out and a continuation of the endless Mary-Sue moments she was improbably accruing without any effort whatsoever.

The fact that this option isn’t even discussed made me realize that it must have been voted down by this 'literary' paradigm into which the author had locked herself like the clichéd emotional bride in the toilet at the wedding. Traditional publishing dominates, and the small prints dons the crown! E-books don't get a look-in! At this point the novel had become a fairy-tale lacking only Prince Chakra, and we knew for a fact that he wasn't far behind, so there was no suspense here at all.

But the bottom line for me is whether the novel is worth reading or not. It's one way or the other. I can’t tell you that two-fifths of a novel is worth reading and the other three not. It’s either worth my time or it isn’t and in the end, this one wasn't. So while I did find parts to be an entertaining read, overall it was disappointingly unoriginal. I think changing the paradigm would have made for a much better read.

A problem with stories like this is when to end them. It's always better to end sooner, even if it's too soon, than to let write be dumb. That's a territory this one danced with perilously, in tandem with me dancing with changing my mind. My mind is a lousy dance partner though: it keeps stepping on my prose. I think the story should have ended, given that it must head in this tired direction, right at the point where he texted her, and that should have been the first contact of any kind he made.

End it right there and you're doing better than you are with an ending which keeps on going right on into an epilogue. I don't read prologues or epilogues, so I never did learn what the last couple of itemized non-screw-ups were and it doesn't bother me at all. I wish the author all the best with her career, and I believe she definitely has a voice, I can't recommend this expression of it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Smart Blondes by Sonia Koso

Title: Smart Blondes
Author: Sonia Koso
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Smart Blonde by Stephen Miller (which I have not read), this is fiction and set partly in Austin, Texas. I like to read novels set in places I know or have known. That said, it actually didn't seem like my kind of novel except that the blurb did its job and lured me in. I was intrigued by the idea of main character Carrie Pryce coming home unexpectedly from her spa weekend, finding her husband going at it with a youthful French girl, and shooting him in the ass (accidentally, of course). These things happen.

After that it went downhill for me, with Carrie retreating to her home town where she hangs with a wildly varied bunch of older women, including one who is ninety and a "pair of twins". I found that description hilarious. Do twins come in any other issue than a pair? I know one twin can die and thereby leave the other on their own, but he or she is still a twin right, even though the other isn't extant? Or is it possible to get twins in numbers higher than two?!

The author also made a faux pas with the French term joie de vivre, rendering it inaccurately as joie de vie. The line would have been funnier if, instead of reading "...his joie de vivre turned green" it had read, "...his joie de vivre became joie de vert" or something along those lines (or those airlines! LOL!).

Some critics have viewed this novel as 'strong Texas women' taking care of their own, but I don't buy into this strong /INSERT STATE NAME HERE/ women nonsense. Women in general are strong, it doesn't matter what state or even nation they hail from. Not all of them are strong, of course but probably a lot more of them than you might guess, so I didn't see anything unusual, noteworthy or surprising about their behavior.

That said, this was not a novel about strong women, but about rich, idle women with little to do but gossip and get into each other's business. Included with these women was gay guy who was so stereotypical he wasn't even remotely real, and a couple of husbands who were so thinly-painted that they were nothing more than screen-printed T-shirts sported by two of the women. Other than fashion and home décor, the descriptive portion of the book was non-existent, and so all that we were left with was smart-mouth and smart-ass, which quickly became tedious.

What I did notice was that all of these women were very well-off, so they had the time, freedom, and resources to help, something which far too few women have even today. It would have made for a more interesting story had they been impoverished and faced this same domestic problem in Carrie's life. I don't know this author, but I got the strong feeling that this novel was very much autobiographical - not necessarily down to the fine details, or to shooting of anyone, but in terms of the characters and how they interact - but it made me wonder what she would write next, having blown all of this in her first novel.

The problem, of course, with having these purportedly strong women take over Carrie's life is that it did nothing more strongly than it did highlight how thoroughly weak, helpless, and needy Carrie was. There's nothing wrong with having friends of course, and especially supportive friends who rally round at a time like this, but this still leaves an impression that Carrie is somehow inept, or handicapped in some way. That's not a good way to portray her. There's no doubt that someone going through what she did would feel betrayed, hurt, lost, and adrift, but The fact that she takes no steps to move out of that, and towards a towards a divorce (in the fifty percent or so of this novel that that I read) isn't constructive or interesting. What it shows is how utterly shows how paralyzed and inactive she is and that's not remotely flattering or endearing. The fact that none of the other women even broached divorce (in the part I read) shows how lacking in pro-active measures these supposedly strong women truly were.

Thus the 'strong women' aspect of the story was undermined to a disturbing degree, Indeed, it seemed to suggest that Carrie's real 'handicap' was that she's female! This impression was further exacerbated by the fact that Carrie's problem is evidently completely solved by her falling for the most stereotypical studly male imaginable. This isn't something you want to do in the novel that this was supposed to be, but it's what we got, unfortunately, and it's one of the reasons why I'm rating this negatively. The other I'll discuss shortly. Admittedly I didn't finish this, so I may have read this wrong, but by the half-way mark I had read enough to have serious déjà vu (or perhaps in this case déjà lu) and not want to read any more.

The author jumps around a lot in her story-telling and she puts in a lot of back story, which to me was annoying because it bogged the whole story down. I found myself skipping the large swathes of info-dump simply to get back to the action. Unfortunately, there was far too little that might be termed action. Although it was nice and a bit unexpected to get Jake's PoV, this really contributed nothing to the story, which I viewed as Carrie's, yet even she appeared to be merely along for the ride instead of moving and shaking.

Jake is Carrie's husband, and although he has a PoV, he doesn't have a leg to stand on, being the stereotypical philanderer. Indeed, there were too many stereotypes. With a name like Carrie it would have been hilarious had she gone all Carrie White on Jake's juvenile, mid-life-crisis, unfaithful ass instead of ricocheting a 32 caliber bullet into it, but this isn't that kind of story unfortunately.

Here is Jake's problem (aside from being a moron): "Jake momentarily thought about how beautiful Carrie had been" He didn't think what a good friend she was, what a great companion, how strong, how intelligent, how easy to be with, how wonderful, how pro-active, how independent, what a good mother, what a fine person. None of the above. It was all about beauty. But the truth is that this wasn't really Jake's problem, it was the author's problem. I'll get back to this.

We're told in the blurb that "Carrie meets Rhett Richards. He's an attractive oil field worker who can make women think un-Christian thoughts by the mere act of wearing a pair of tight wranglers." Once again this made Carrie look like a weak women in need of a manly man to give her some spine. It was insulting and clichéd in the extreme. Rhett, seriously? Pathetic.

The blurb said that these women are known as the "Presbyterian Mafia". We're told that they "have a book club that never reads, a garden club that doesn't garden, and a bible study class that gossips about the Methodists." They're also evidently "known around town for antics including cat-fights, car chases and Voodoo rituals." None of this suggests strong women, and it isn't even evident in the fifty percent or so of the novel I read before I quit in disgust. What that felt like to me was a cheap bait and switch and I didn't appreciate it.

The problem for me by that point is that there was no evidence whatsoever that Carrie was ever actually going to do anything. She's completely passive and the only things which happen are those which happen to her, not because of anything she initiated. She doesn't make things happen, and frankly she became totally boring after her initial shooting to stardom, as it were. The way her character was written was insulting to women, dishonest to the blurb (which wasn't at all a surprise let's face it) and boring to read. I know she was going through a lot, but she didn't remotely look like she would ever take the reins, not even when she got to ride the horse!

What really made me quit this book though, was reading the word "beautiful" one time too many. This author is obsessed with describing every main female character as beautiful, and even some who were not really main characters. Consequently, these were not remotely real women, and I cannot abide reading about female characters who are rendered patently false by poor writing. Yes there are beautiful women even if you define beautiful by popular, skin-deep acclaim as this author does, but they do not usually make for interesting stories. You need people who are beautiful inside for that. Here's the shallow litany:
"Deane was still beautiful"
"with beautiful young Gloria"
"Carrie was still beautiful"
"her parents were still beautiful as could be"
"Katie Dell was still a beautiful woman"
"Serving the most beautiful and popular girl"
"but you are just so beautiful" (this from "Rhett" not because she's beautiful, trust me, but because Carrie's putting out for him. To some men, that's all beauty really is.)
"beautiful she was. Rhett’s callused hands met tender skin" (I told you!)
"with their beautiful baby girl"
Even hair didn't escape this metronomic appellation (or should I describe it as an appall-ation?): "their natural hair color was a beautiful auburn"

It was just sickening to read this time after time after time. The blurb should have said this was about rich beautiful women, not strong women. In the world we've created for women, strength isn't beauty, It's making a go of things when there is no beauty, and this author either just doesn't get it, or doesn't care for it. Why female authors consistently do this to other women is a mystery to me.

Male authors do it too, let's not forget, and this blind obsession with shallow meaningless "beauty" as opposed to just writing about real, regular people, warts and all as it were, is what was truly sickening. Regular everyday women need not apply - only beautiful ones. I reject that and invite you to do so too.

In the end this book wasn't about strong women, and it betrayed the title by making those women who were featured nothing more than stereotypical blondes, not smart blondes at all. Never was there a novel more mis-titled than this one. I cannot recommend it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Delta Belles by Penelope J Stokes

Title: The Delta Belles
Author: Penelope J Stokes (no website found)
Publisher: Books on Tape
Rating: WARTY!

Read tediously by Karen White.

This is yet another audio book where I failed to make it past the first disk. Part of the problem was the dead reading of the novel by Karen White. Another part was the totally uninteresting story. The novel is about a woman named Deborah who goes by "Delta" for reasons which were unexplained in the portion to which I listened. She accidentally gets into an all-girl folk group at college which enjoys some success. Later she marries a pastor who dies prematurely, and the novel is told from that perspective, with Delta looking back on the era - a memory which is triggered by her receipt of an invitation to a high school reunion.

She determines not to go, but we know she will, and everything will be all Mary Sue in the end, which was off-putting, but I wanted to listen to this because I thought it would be interesting once the band started up. The problem was that it never did - not in the bit I listened to, and I was completely turned off this by the endless monotonous prelude which never showed any sign of ending. There was pointless description of uninteresting events, asinine conversations, and equally boring detailed observations. I got to the point where, much as I would have liked to heard about this band, I couldn’t stand to listen to any more of this tedious info-dumping.

The uninteresting voice of the reader didn’t help at all, but even if I'd been reading this myself, I honestly couldn't have finished it. I don’t know how an author goes about deadening what could have been a really cool story about music, but this one did a real number on it. I cannot recommend this novel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pam of Babylon by Suzanne Jenkins

Title: Pam of Babylon
Author: Suzanne Jenkins
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is the start of a series, believe it or not, of which the second volume has already been released. Curiously, I’m actually starting with the first volume for a change, but I don’t plan of reading any more of this series. I;m not a series fan unless it's exceptional and this isn't.

Pam Smith is spoiled rotten, so I guess it’s hardly surprising that she’s the most placid mammal in existence. She thinks her husband is having an affair, but would rather not drop that stone into the mirror-surface of her little pond of joy. She’s rolling in money to the point where she doesn’t have to work. Indeed, she doesn’t choose to work, living a fifties house-wife existence in a luxurious beach-front house on Long Island.

Her Husband, the bread winner, is a complete slut. After he dies, apparently of a heart attack on the train traveling out to visit his wife for the weekend (she lives like a kept woman in her snazzy isolation while he travels into "the city" and do the work during the week), he apparently is robbed, yet the thieves inexplicably take everything but his phone. It’s this phone which leads to an unraveling of Pam’s life, because the last person Jack (yes, he’s another jack-ass) called on it was his mistress. Which mistress? The young one – not the kept woman who is his wife or any other of his mistresses.

I honestly cannot believe a hospital would be either so stupid or so insensitive to blindly assume that the last person a person calls has to be an immediate relative! Rather than leave it to the police or try to find contact info on the phone, what we get here is the hospital calling Sandra the Mistress, not Pam the wife, yet somehow Pam manages to show up at the hospital at the same time as Sandra and the two meet. Instead of fighting, Pam hugs Sandra and the two embark upon a friendship.

The children of Pam and Jack are evidently in college, and Pam is insensitive enough to deliver the news that dad is dead over the phone rather than get off her idle ass and go pick them up and deliver the news in person. The novel is so vague (on some things and inexplicably running into endless detail on others) that it didn’t say where the kids were, but unless they were across the country (which isn’t the impression I got), this seemed cold if not callous. From that point on I didn’t like her, and that wasn’t the only thing about her which was objectionable.

One thing which bothered me was what seemed to be Pam’s consistent 1950’s take on life. She was the stay-at-home domesticated mom who didn’t seem to have a life or any real interest in having one. She didn’t work, she didn’t seem like she was involved in any trusts, or foundations or charities, and she didn’t seem like she had ever been involved in any of the financial dealings pertinent to home-ownership and paying bills.

Her worst betrayal of feminism however, was when she sets off for the funeral and we read that her son Brent is driving the car. That was fine, but Pam’s observation about Brent was: “He was the man of the family now.” What? Pam is the adult, and she has a daughter, too, but Brent is the man of the house? Neither female need apply for any position of responsibility?

This was at odds with Pam’s protestation, earlier, that she wanted to be in charge of her destiny and that what she chose to do - and whom she chose to befriend - was none of anyone else’s business. It didn’t make any sense. It seemed like a complete reversal to me.

It wasn't he only thing which didn't make sense. Take this sentence: "She remembered her grandmother’s perfume, Cashmere Bouquet. The smell of it was so dry it brought tears to her eyes." The smell was so dry? I'm not even going to try to work that one out.

In short, this novel was tedious and not even remotely interesting. I couldn't finish it and I certainly cannot recommend the parts I did read.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Bitches of Brooklyn by Rosemary Harris

Title: The Bitches of Brooklyn
Author: Rosemary Harris
Publisher: Chestnut Hill Books
Rating: warty!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Each year, five women: Abby, Clare, Jane, Rachael, Tina meet at a beach house (or maybe it's a bitch house? they were known as the Bitches of Brooklyn in their teens...) for a reunion and some fun and relaxation away from the men in their lives. Abby sometimes doesn't show up, as is the case this year. Instead, she sent them a basket of fattening goodies with a note saying she had run off with one of their men.... My immediate suspicion was that there would be a good and innocent explanation for this. The big question was whether I could stand to read the entire novel to get to it!

The story of the remaining four women's weekend at the beach house is wonderful. I enjoyed reading it immensely. It was eventful in at least one unexpected way, and it was entertaining and amusing. The problem began when they returned to the city, and the story ground to a jarring halt. The mystery of Abby's whereabouts and behavior continued to dominate their lives when it really should not have. These women were disturbingly insecure, which did nothing to endear me to them. None of them really knew what Abby meant by "one of your men". Since all of their men were also on trips, they could see that it was possible that Abby had literally run off with one, but did "men" equate with husband or boyfriend? Or did men simply refer to a business acquaintance or partner? Abby ran a PR business, so did "men" refer to some person not directly connected with them, but instead, a celebrity whom they all liked?

The story really began to drag for me when we started getting random flashbacks for some of these four women, which did nothing whatsoever to entertain me or to move the story forward. Indeed, any forward motion at that point was solely downhill since the flashbacks were much more like hold-backs in that they held the story back from being told. I really didn't care what history these women had. I was more interested in what was happening (or in this case not happening!) right now. Consequently, I skipped screen after screen of badly-formatted text (in the kindle version) because it wasn't interesting and did nothing for the plot or for me. I have to say that in this day and age, there is no excuse for a poorly formatted review copy.

The novel was weird in some regards. For example, there's a lot of talk about cussing, but no bad words beyond 'bitch' are ever used. I didn't get that. If you don't want cussing in your novel, fine, don't put it in there. I'm fine with that, but to go on and on about it and then never have the courage to use it is just weird to me. The word 'bitch' is no better or worse than any other cuss-word in my vocabulary: it's just as obnoxious, and to grant that word a privileged status, yet balk at other cuss-words is entirely illogical.

To cut a boring story short, this novel simply deteriorated from bad to worse to even worse. I don't want to tell any more for fear of giving away critical spoilers, but let me simply say that it held no surprises, and the way it went downhill into nothing but a series of vignettes of various gaggles of these girls drinking too much in dive bars and elsewhere made it a truly uninteresting read even when the grand reveal came. I recommend the first few chapters, but nothing beyond that. I felt completely let-down by the needlessly drawn-out ending.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Love Rehab by Jo Piazza

Title: Love Rehab: a novel in twelve steps
Author: Jo Piazza
Publisher: Open Road
Rating: worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of her story, but even so, it will probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

Editing notes:
P 25 "So you listen to Dixie Chicks on repeat sober..." Needs a comma in there somewhere! It took me three reads to get it.
p104 There's some weird formatting by the Rule 7 text!

Love rehab is a very short novel (~140 pages) which took a bit of getting into. Frankly my initial feeling when I started reading this was that this was "chick-humor" which I wouldn’t appreciate (not that I'm a big fan of guy humor either. I prefer my humor gender-neutral!), or that it was a kind of feminine humor that you need two X chromosomes to really get/appreciate, or that I just would be plainly and simply bored with it (not bored of it, Richelle Mead!) and just wouldn't like it. There is a certain brand of feminine humor which I find genderist and obnoxious, but this novel doesn’t have that, and once I got the rhythm of it, it turned out to be funny and engaging.

I'm not sure about the immediate introduction of an instadore candidate, but to be fair, I am not sure either where that will go, so I won't complain about him yet; after all, this is Love Rehab, so there simply has to be a love interest somewhere along the way, I suppose!

So here's the story: Sophie, the female protagonist is going through a huge obsession-depression over the fact that Eric, her long-time boyfriend, dumped her for a younger, curvier "administrative assistant" (yeah, I'll bet!) at his office. Sophie's friend Annie, who is an alcoholic owner of a bar, shows up in her drive in a stolen police car, and is ordered to go through AA in order to avoid a worse sentence. Sophie goes with her and in a chat with the AA leader afterwards, realizes that she has an addiction to love and needs rehab. Since there's no such thing available to her, she undertakes to start one in her New Jersey (or is that Noo Joyzi?) home. She puts out word through her editor (she illustrates children's books), and a host of people show up to the Sunday meeting. They tell their stories, Annie and Sophie end up with a new house-mate named Prithi (no one can live there unless their name ends with an 'ee' sound!), and Love Rehab is launched!

One problem I did have with this was that while undergoing the oppressive struggle to get out from under the aftermath of a bad relationship, Sophie (the name means wisdom!) is talking about getting her eyebrows waxed. Excuse me, but isn't that part of the problem, that women have been conditioned to feel that their natural self is inadequate and in order to be acceptable to men they must turn themselves into the closest approximation to a Barbie doll that they can reasonably (even unreasonably) manage? When I read this I thought: I shall be seriously interested in where that goes as I continue with this!

So these meetings start snowballing with more people showing up, all of them as wacky as we've already met, with bizarre, sad, and humorous stories and as the word gets around it gets distorted. One woman called Katrina shows up asking if this is the right address for the 'Love Retreat'! She ends up moving in, sharing a room with Sophie! She's spoiled rotten rich and still having bad relationships, and she starts offering everyone aroma therapy (gag) and gods know what. I'm over 50% in and loving this tale so far. Not a lot seems ot be happenign in moving Sophie's sotry forwards, btu you get to wrapped up in the peripherals that it doesn't matter. But I guess that depends on how you define 'moving her story forwards'. She's so involved in the group that overall, she's doing fine and is really starting to overcome her addiction without really noticing. Maybe that's the point.

In many ways, this novel could have been written by Nora Ephron (were she still alive. I wouldn’t expect her to write it now!). One of the things I resent about this genre of story is that it's always about fabulously well-off yuppies who never seem to ever have to do an honest week's work, and who get morosely hung up about laughable trivialities. They have pretty much everything they want and they still can't find happiness! This novel was not quite that, but it had enough of that stigma inherent to turn me off it a bit - but not a lot. These characters were fun and interesting, and engaging, but I kept wondering why they never seemed to have to go to work, especially Sophie who can apparently take a straight three months off her job without her editor ever once getting on her case, and without her ever wanting for ready cash to splash around! And she thinks she has problems? It would be really nice to just once have a story like this, but about regular, working stiffs from a life which is a notch or two lower than the Ephron class battleship of thirty-something yuppie-dom.

So the predictable relationship with Joe the Alcoholics Anonymous counselor predictably happens. Although it happens in a better way than all-too-many of the young-adult novels I've been habituating of late, it still smacked of too much YA instadore. I found that to be really sad, because it betrays everything this novel purports to be about, and it is such an unrealistic event as to be a complete sham.

Yes, sometimes you do find the perfect partner on the rebound, but that's not the norm, it’s the extreme rarity. Most of the time when you've been hurt as badly as Sophie was, it wrecks your life and all hopes of a decent relationship in the foreseeable future, because your misery turns others off. There is (almost) never that perfect partner waiting for you just around the corner. In my experience no one even really cares that much because they've all been there too, and rather than being moved by and empathic towards your debilitating withdrawal, they're nauseated by it and don't want to know about it. Certainly, potential partners don't. In my experience, the only real honest and effective way to get through it is to go cold turkey and avoid other people until you get a grip. Of course if you have close friends and they're ready, willing, and able to put up with the ungodly mess that you are, then that's a good way to go, too!

The worst part of this novel was Sophie's love interest, which was telegraphed by someone with a sore thumb sticking out, and it was completely out of place for me. The ending, therefore, was so trite and demeaning as to be truly nauseating; it was an all-Nora-Ephron ending, which betrayed the growth which we're supposed to believe Sophie had undergone by rendering her into a helpless child who needed rescuing by a man, but that's all I have to say about that.

Even having said that, I can still recommend this novel because overall, it's a fun story about an important topic with which we all have some familiarity, some of us more than others. It does slip in the latter half as compared with the first half, and there is a bit of the way-too-predictable going on, but there is also a nice thread of sly humor and a host of interesting people and amazing behaviors to enjoy. So yeah, give it a read! It’s short and fun so what have you got to lose?