Tag Archives: chick-lit

Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer

Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer: Maggie and Olivia were the two fat girls in school, best friends that shared the bond of being misfits. Fast forward a few years: the girls are still (sort of) best friends, but Olivia had gastric bypass surgery and is now a size two and about to be married to a handsome and wealthy man, while Maggie is still the same size, single, and working at a coffee shop despite having a master’s degree. I remember being Maggie not that long ago: negatively self-absorbed, helplessly inarticulate around attractive men, and walked on by my so-called best friend. Though her inner monologue was very funny in places, she would have been a much less compelling character had I not recognized myself in so many of her flaws. This story says a lot about toxic relationships, family bonds, and inner beauty, but most importantly about self-confidence. I enjoyed watching Maggie’s journey, and I look forward to picking up Palmer’s other novels.

I would like to note that I read this while on the stationary bike at the gym. The title just screamed “gym read” to me. :)

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella: A cute book, but I had a bit of a problem swallowing the premise: a woman on a turbulent plane ride, fearing death, blabs all her secrets to the man next to her. (The man turns out to be the founder of the company where she works, and remembers everything she said.) What kind of nitwit responds to stress by telling a stranger how she finds g-strings uncomfortable? If you can get beyond that, it’s a pretty fun little book. I liked that I didn’t know where it was going, that I didn’t see the Big Drama coming a mile away. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a twist ending or a big mystery or anything, but it was amusing enough to keep me entertained the whole way through. I just wish I’d had a little more sympathy with the main character. I just don’t see the point of lying about your interests in order to impress somebody. If they don’t like you for who you are, what are the odds of having a good relationship with them?

I listened to this on audio, read by the appropriately-named Kate Reading. I’d listen to her read The Host just before this, and hadn’t been very impressed with her, but I think it was the fault of the source material. She was fantastic this time around, deftly switching between characters and accents: American, British, and even a spot-on New Zealander. Very impressive.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Assorted book reviews

I’m behind on my book reviews again. Here’s another bunch.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (unabridged audiobook read by Bernadette Dunne): Since the movie was so popular, I probably don’t need to mention that this is the story of recent college graduate Andrea Sachs and her year of servitude to Runway Magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. As her time under the thumb of this self-possessed, uber-demanding witch continues, Andrea finds all the things she used to cherish – her family, boyfriend, and best friend – slipping away from her. It definitely had its funny moments, but all in all I wasn’t too impressed with Andrea. She was snobbish and I was simply not convinced that she or anyone else believed her constant torment as Junior Assistant was really worth a vague possibility that Miranda could get her any job she wished at the end of it (her dream is to work at The New Yorker). I found myself repeatedly wondering why she didn’t just quit already. Still, it was a decently light and fun way to pass an otherwise intolerably long commute. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie now. I hear Meryl Streep is absolutely delightful.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (unabridged audiobook read by Justine Eyre and Paul Michael): An interesting take on the Dracula legend told mostly in the form of letters from various people who hunted him. Though a bit slow and academic in some places, by and large it’s a fascinating psuedo-history lesson.

Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos: Innumeracy is not the inability to count, but rather a lack of a general grasp of numbers and how they work. Its dangers, and they are many, are generally outlined in this book, though it is not nearly as alarmist as it could have been. The target audience is mostly the innumerate and those numerates who are curious or concerned about innumeracy. Though I was familiar with all the mathematical concepts covered, I did learn some new things and discovered some new ways of looking at information. Though far from dense, the writing style is not quite as accessible as I’d hoped, and I suspect most innumerates and math-phobes will pass it by. Which is a shame.

Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison: The first in a series of loony escapades of a country bumpkin turned soldier. In truth it felt more like a prequel, explaining the origins of Bill’s involvement with the Troopers, his two right arms, and his tusks. It was a very quick read and definitely had its funny moments, but it would probably be funnier to someone who doesn’t deal with painfully inane bureaucracy in real life. I have a feeling the next books will be better now that the characters are established.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (unabridged audiobook): This is the story of Jonathan the American and Alex the Ukrainian, who are both writing novels and sharing them with each other chapter by chapter. The stories switch off regularly: first a portion of Alex’s novel about his time working as translator for Jonathan as they journey through Ukraine looking for a woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. Next is a chapter from Jonathan’s novel about his ancestors in Ukraine. Lastly is a letter from Alex to Jonathan to discuss their novels-in-progress. There were two readers: one playing Alex and reading his novel and letters, and the other reading Jonathan’s novel. Alex’s frequent malapropisms are quite funny, in no small part due to the talented reader, but the back-and-forth of translation often leads to an obnoxious amount of repetition. Jonathan’s novel is, sadly, a complete waste of time. I’m not sure how much of this is due to the awkward, boring reader and how much is simply overwrought prose.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: It is extremely rare for me to get emotionally attached to fictional characters. As much as I enjoy reading, it’s more a pastime than a driving need to dive back into the tale. Not so with this book. I adored the characters. I was entranced by Clare and Henry’s relationship, and fascinated by Henry’s genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time without any control over when or where he ends up. I cried – no, sobbed – at certain moments with a depth of feeling I haven’t had for fiction in a very, very long time. I highly recommend this book.

Animal Farm by George Orwell (unabridged audiobook): I’m pretty sure I saw the animated film at some point in my youth, but the book is far better. Orwell is brilliant as usual. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the reader was very engaging.

Anybody Can Write by Roberta Jean Bryant: Bryant believes that above all, writing should be fun. That if a writer isn’t enjoying his/her own story, neither will the reader. She accepts the reality of many drafts and much rewriting, but sees that part of the process as rewarding as the initial creative spurts. All in all it’s an engaging read that didn’t really inspire me. Included are several “Wordplay” exercises, none of which interested me very much. Of course, every writer is different, so perhaps this book would be just the trick for someone with another style.

Assorted Book Reviews

I am totally behind on my book reviews, so here are a whole bunch at once.

The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan: A little like a lighter version of The Joy Luck Club, except with Indian women instead of Chinese, this is the story of three women who immigrated to America from India and their relationships with their American-born daughters. Nothing too heavy here, but I liked the characters, there was quite a bit of Indian history I’d never learned before, and the pace was nice and quick. At the end of each chapter there are recipes for Indian dishes, both traditional and Americanized. I did not prepare any of them, but it’s a clever way of drawing the reader further into the story. Good beach read.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (unabridged audiobook read by Firdous Bamji): Usually I can’t bring myself to be interested in others’ quests for enlightenment, but this is surprisingly good. The excellent reader is of course a big part of that, but the story itself left me with quite a bit of food for thought. While Siddhartha himself finds the Right Path eventually, the reader is left to find his own way. After all, without trying many paths in life, Siddhartha would not have reached his goal. I can imagine one getting different things out of this book depending on where in life they are. I may have to pick it up again in a decade or two.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (unabridged audiobook read by Flo Gibson): I had a lot of trouble with this one. The language was difficult, Gibson read way too quickly, and for most of it I had no idea what was going on. Perhaps if I’d read a paper copy I’d have enjoyed it more.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer: A beautifully tragic account of young Chris McCandless’s journey (and subsequent death) in the wilds of Alaska. Using diary entries, interviews with people who knew McCandless, and some similar historical endeavors, Krakauer attempts to uncover the motivations and thought processes behind the urge to experience nature in unbelievably dangerous situations. I have never had such an urge in my life, so the description of such an alien frame of mind enthralled me. I have mixed feelings about McCandless himself; I think he mistreated a lot of people who cared about him, but it sounded like he was on the brink of turning his life around there at the end. This story would not have worked as a novel – the premise is just too unbelievable and the timeline far too jumpy – but knowing it was true kept me turning pages until the very end. I agree with the review in the Washington Post, printed on the back cover: “Anyone who ever fancied wandering off to face nature on its own harsh terms should give a look.”

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner (unabridged audiobook read by Johanna Parker): Kate Klein is a bored housewife in a boring suburb full of SuperMommy neighbors who look down their noses at her. When the least despicable of them is murdered and the police have no suspects, Kate starts investigating on her own. However, this isn’t really a mystery novel. Like Weiner’s other novels, it’s more about relationships and motherhood – two subjects she tackles expertly and very humorously. The ending is surprisingly satisfying, though not especially tidy. Parker, who also read Little Earthquakes, was a great choice for this story as well. One of these days I’ll stop feeling embarrassed for liking Weiner novels. They really are very enjoyable.

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner (unabridged audiobook read by Johanna Parker): Though stories of multiple people all experiencing different variations on the same theme are far from uncommon, this one is reasonably fresh and enjoyable. Here we have four mothers (current, former, and soon-to-be) from four different backgrounds, each dealing with issues with her marriage and with her mother (or mother-in-law). The target audience is definitely mothers and mothers-to-be (and I think fathers could benefit from such an honest account of what their wives and girlfriends are going through), but I found myself sympathizing with the characters and wanting to know how things turned out. I especially empathized with Kelly. No, this book has not made me want children of my own, but it was a good story nonetheless. And it certainly didn’t hurt that it was read by a actress with amazing subtleties in her voice. Most of the men sounded alike, but she had an amazing range in her female voices.

Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak

Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak: This is the story of Kate, a doormat. Most of her life is spent under her mother’s thumb in some way or another, and that need for approval from the one person in her life least willing to give it forces Kate into a slew of bad decisions throughout her life. That’s not to say this book is all depressing, though sometimes it was a bit frustrating to see Kate putting up with such poor treatment. There are also parts that are touching, like Kate’s eternally devoted grandparents, and parts that are hilarious, like her lovingly (and brutally) honest friends. Almost all the characters are so detailed I could hear them in my head. In all, it’s a pretty good depiction of how a woman can let her life get so far off track – and, happily, how she can get it back on again.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner: This is my second Weiner book (the first being the popular Good In Bed), and I must say her writing is some of the most indulgent I’ve ever come across. The author insertion is so obvious – all the characters are Weiner (or her opposite, or a person she wishes she knew) in a different costume. The thing that separates her books from your average teen-penned romance is that her themes are so universal that author insertion becomes reader insertion. You see her characters and think, “That’s me. That’s my life.” Therein lies her appeal.

As with most chick lit, the plot was fluff and totally predictable from the start, but that did not make it any less enjoyable. Rose is the older, successful, overweight sister. Maggie is the younger, trouble-making, gorgeous sister. Throw in an intersecting story about an elderly woman named Ella who lives in Florida with her entertaining neighbors at the Golden Acres senior citizen community and you have a fun little romp of a story.

My only real complaint about this book was the all too convenient flashbacks. Too often someone would make some comment which would be followed by an explanation of some childhood event or something they “always” did, which for whatever reason had never been mentioned before. One glaring example of this was Sydelle’s strict adherence to the Jewish faith, which was never brought up until it became an issue. Such “oh by the way” moments made it feel like the character development was done on the fly.

All the same, this was a fun, quick read. Weiner’s always good for one-liners and amusing exchanges, and a happy ending is guaranteed. I don’t imagine most men would enjoy this book (though I think it could teach them a lot about the female psyche), but I would definitely recommend it to any woman looking for little bit of literary candy.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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