On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
I was really excited to read this – every review I read positively glowed and Ms. Smith is one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to read since her first novel White Teeth came out, but never got around to. And my god, such a disappointment. Perhaps, if I’d read Howard’s End, the book’s inspiration, I would feel differently, but taken on its own it’s just the story of a bunch of people acting like jackholes and disrespecting those they supposedly love for no real reason. And, really, that’s all I have to say about that. I slogged through the whole thing, but I felt so annoyed at the end I had to jump into some light-hearted Chick Lit to recover.
The Thing About Jane Spring, by Sharon Krum
Completely asinine, but funny as hell, The Thing About Jane Spring is that Jane is a ball buster extraordinaire, raised by her Sergeant of a father to be a boy and a soldier, even if she can’t really be a soldier because he believes only men should be in the military. So instead she becomes a kick-ass attorney prone to making old ladies faint on the witness stand. Unable to catch herself a man, being too abrupt and scary for them, she decides one winter day to transform herself into Doris Day, right down to the bright yellow apartment, because Doris always got her man. Failing to realize that Doris always got her man because the script dictated she should, even if that man was Rock Hudson, she drags out her grandmother’s old togs, conveniently resting in her storage area, stocks up on make up, dyes her hair, paints her apartment yellow, tosses out her queen-sized mattress for a more appropriate single mattress (Doris being virginal, she feels, was key) and adopts the breathy voice and persona of a fairy-on-crack – a virginal fairy-on-crack from the ’60s no less, all in the hopes of catching a man. Like I said, asinine. But a hell of a lot of fun. Lest you think a novel about a woman reverting to the ’60s is a waste of your time and an insult to women’s lib to boot, first, lighten up and, second, never fear – lots of important lessons are, of course, learned along the way: if you’re nice to people they are nice back, heels are a bitch to spend 15 hours a day in but they make your legs look hot, jurors will vote your way if they think you’re swell, your lazy secretary will become more efficient if you stop being such a raging bitch, etc. And, the best part? I liked the ending. And I’m a notorious ending hater. Score one for Ms. Krum.
I Think She’s Trying to Tell Me Something, by Dan Graziano
Total dude-lit, which is funny, because the lead character, Jack Byrnes, slams an ex-girlfriend or two for only reading books of its sister-ilk. You know, the ones with pink covers that strike fear in the hearts of men? That being said, it’s very funny dude-lit. (Dude-lit does not sound quite right. Is there a proper term for this Chick Lit in a blue wrapper? Perhaps man-prose would be better?) [It’s actually called Lad Lit — Amy] Jack, a sports writer who covers baseball in NY, and don’t ask me which team because I am guilty of the crime of not caring, keeps having run-ins with his exes and it’s starting to freak him out. Mostly, he thinks the universe is trying to kick him in the ass. He decides that maybe he needs to sit down with these girls and end things on a high note, rather than the bad notes most relationships decide to give up on. Meaning he wants to rehash the good times, gloss over the bad times, like screaming obscenities down a hall at someone, and then never, ever see them again. A sound plan, as these things go, and a nice sentiment, and it, thankfully, doesn’t always go so well. At times a bit too High Fidelity, in fact one passage screamed HOMAGE (at least, I hope it screamed HOMAGE and not “I’m totally stealing this”) when discussing his first kiss ex-girlfriend, which I found distracting at times, but when the book is standing on its own, it’s rather funny.
Nine Wives, by Dan Elish
Henry Mann is that man that everyone says exists but doesn’t actually – he’s desperate to fall in love and get married. That’s right, he wants commitment, and he wants it now, damn it. To be fair, he may not be entirely to blame for his insanity; attending 8 weddings in one year will do that to anyone. But every woman he meets he pictures as his wife within five minutes, with no women, not even his favorite porn star, safe from his fantasies. In his spare, non-fantasizing and non-law-clerk-temping downtime he attempts to write the next great American musical based on The Great Gatsby. He also manages to fall for the girl that you just know will not be right for him. Fairly amusing Man-Prose, especially the daydreaming bits. Who among us hasn’t gotten carried away and imagined ourselves as Jennifer Aniston’s husband?
Snipped in the Bud, A Flower Shop Mystery, by Kate Collins
Abby is the star of the flower shop series of books who always seems to stumble into a murder mystery – you know the character, she stars in at least a thousand different series in different guises, and really, let’s just take a moment to contemplate how well these heroines are about stumbling into murders all the time. Now, me? If I keep running into dead bodies? I start to look long and hard at my life and make some fucking changes – but I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, Abby, such as she is, is starting to grow on me. I picked these up at first because I was trying to find a decent mystery to read, I was procrastinating on one thing or another and at first the perky heroine, reminiscent of so many other perky heroines only she’s short with big boobs and red hair, grated. Mostly because it wasn’t anything different than what I’d read a million times, just a different hair color. But the books have found a groove, or maybe I’m mellowing in my old age. At this point, who can tell? There’s the standard crew of wacky co-workers/friends, including: a mother of quadruplets, a wise older British woman who has an annoying quote for every occasion, the hot man of Mediterranean descent currently flirting with the nosy, yet saucy, Abby, and of course the wacky mother who creates insanely ugly art, paired with an ex-policeman. Plus, there’s the now-paralyzed, stoic father and, just for good measure, a hot, tall, blond, totally self-involved cousin for comic relief. And, right on schedule, this being the fourth book in the series or so, we now have a new character introduced, a hot yet wily reporter to rival Marco, the aforementioned hot Mediterranean, for Abby’s affections. Let it not be said that Kate Collins strays too far from the tried and true. And the plot? Something about a former professor of Abby’s being murdered when she happened to be on the scene, just to mix things up a bit and have Abby be the suspect for once. And though I give Ms. Collins a bit of crap for the formulaic set up, props to her for not pulling the ending from her ass. I love a mystery that gives you the clues along with the heroine.
Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
The newest Southern Vampire series, a series I somehow failed to know existed until late last year when I picked one up randomly, and I have since read each book. They are my book equivalent to Charmed – you know it’s trashy, but you just can’t help yourself. Because if you’re looking for trashy sci-fi kooky fun? With plenty of vampire sex (and really, who’s not looking for that)? This is the series for you. Especially the first few books. Amazingly, there is no sex in this book, though there is some heavy grinding and petting between the heroine Sookie and her latest supernatural booty call – I mean “love,” Quinn. Sookie, the aforementioned star of the series, is blonde, telepathic, tan and into dead guys. Mostly because she can’t read their minds when having sex. Which is really important during sex. Nobody wants to know what their partner thinks of their ass at a crucial moment, no? She is, of course, Spanish fly – every guy in the Louisiana universe the novels inhabit, be they werepanther, werewolf, weretiger, were-shifter, or vampire loves her. She’s that hot and nifty. The mortal men aren’t so much after her, but that’s probably just because she’d know when they were lying about bowling with their buddies.
This latest novel sends Sookie Stackhouse out of Bon Temps to New Orleans to see the vampire queen. (Yes, queen. Ms. Harris has actually created quite the well thought out and structured universe with sheriffs and queens and politics.) It turns out her only living cousin, who was dating said queen, was not so much living anymore as living dead. But now she’s dead dead and Sookie needs to clear out her apartment, getting into hijinks along the way. How could she not? She makes a new friend, a quirky young witch, grinds a bit on her new suitor Quinn (a weretiger), gets kidnapped, abused and mauled per usual and finally lays to rest the whole murder of Debbie Pelt that occurred, what? Three books ago? Two? Either way, I’m sure it’s not over, since Definitely Dead also introduced Debbie’s younger, angrier, hell-bent-on-revenge sister, so we have that to look forward to. Though, in a way, it’s refreshing that not EVERYBODY loves Sookie – and the character of hometown police officer/mortal Andy Bellefleur doesn’t count, because I’m sure in book eight or nine he’ll totally be down on one knee proposing.
(I should mention that while there is quite a bit of continuity between books, you can read them as stand-alones. I think the first one I read was book three, and I didn’t really feel lost. And also, Showtime or HBO or one of those channels has opted to turn this into a series, so you should really read them all beforehand so you can join me in yelling “That’s not how Bill should look!” and “That’s not what happened, motherfuckers!” at the screen.)
The Cinderella Pact, by Sarah Strohmeyer
In a refreshing break from her Bubbles books (though Bubbles does make an unnecessary and misplaced cameo), this mostly hilarious story is narrated by Nola. She is the obese, this-side-of-frumpy editor at a Jane-like fashion magazine who believes she is turned down for a job as the new ethics columnist because of her weight, a theory lent credence when her resume and samples are dismissed with nary a glance. She strikes back by creating Belinda Apple, a hip young British 20-something that she concocts with the help of a picture of herself from college and Photoshop. She sends in her exact resume and samples and lo-and-behold, after adopting a bad British accent for the phone interview, is hired sight unseen. Then, something that she intended to do only to make a point snowballs as she accepts the job and screws herself over by writing a column about how easy it is to lose weight. In this universe, ethics columnists seem to be something of a celebrity (or do people who read these magazines actually read and follow the advice columns and track who their advice guru is dating on Access Hollywood?) and everyone believes and loves her. Including her two best, also overweight, friends. And so she is suckered into losing weight and embracing her inner Cinderella, because her alter-ego Belinda says it’s totally easy and fab to do. Each friend takes a different route, from Weight Watchers to gastrointestinal bypass to hiring a personal trainer to torture her six days a week, all with varying results.
On top of this, there are the usual family dilemmas – her sister is younger and skinny and kind of a bitch, but she really loves her even if she does worship Belinda more, work is a drag (especially once they start investigating Belinda’s existence), and then there is the requisite love interest, Computer Chip, who may or may not like her for her. But who cares, because I found him to be the most boring aspect of The Cinderella Pact. I much preferred the twitty Brit Nigel, and in my opinion we didn’t get near enough of him, but ah well. Can’t have it all now, can we?
Here Comes the Bride, by Whitney Lyles
Cate Padgett is getting married. That is, if her mother, a strict Catholic, doesn’t boycott, (what with her daughter living in sin with her fiancé and all), if Ethan’s (her fiancé) cousin and ex-girlfriend (who has of course magically appeared and is gorgeous and perfect, if a little psychotic) don’t manage to sway him over to the dark side, if her bridesmaids will stop being little bitches about the dress and you know, the regular stressful wedding planning drama. Which is all fine and dandy, but something felt like it was missing.
There were nice touches to Here Comes the Bride, one in particular I liked was the conflict between religious mother and not-so-religious daughter and Cate’s stress over that (something any of us who have been raised in this environment can relate to all too well). And Ethan is nice and refreshingly not-perfect and Cate is a very nice person. Parts of it were funny and relatable, like the trauma of going through a religious marriage counseling session not because you go to church so much anymore but because you have to if you want to get married in your dream church. More could have been said about the whole following through on rites or the converting that people do just to be married in a certain faith, even if they have no intention of following up on that faith, but that’s probably a rather thorny issue that would be difficult to sandwich neatly and amusingly into Chick Lit – not that it can’t be done. I think it could be. And it could have added more meat to a novel that really is just about getting down the aisle in one piece. But I digress.
That being said, my main issue, aside from the writing being a bit choppy at times, and there being a typo or two (proofread, people. If you’d like me to do it for you, please, you have my e-mail. I’d love to.), is Cate. She’s TOO freaking nice. Much like in Always the Bridesmaid (Lyles’ first novel featuring Cate) I spent much of the book waiting for Cate to DO something. Anything. Smack down that annoying bridesmaid – or better yet, de-bridesmaid her. Pay for her own damn wedding so her mother can’t hold it over her head. Tell Ethan’s ex that she’s on to her skeezy ass. etc. And dear lord, is this book inspiring me to push for bitchery? It is. What is this world coming to? But really, there’s a lot of talk about people tossing obstacles in her path or being generally evil, yet there’s not a whole lot of doing something about it. Conflicts are easily solved either by being ignored or by a quick conversation which, really, doesn’t compel one to keep reading, as there is no sense of “Oh no, will they make it down the aisle? WILL THEY?”
44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith
My like of Mr. McCall Smith seems to be a thing of the past. Once an author I enjoyed, I’m a fan of his No. 1 Lady Detective series, now I find him rambling, boring and reading him makes me antsy. I keep flipping ahead to see where he’s going. It started with the pretentious Ms. Dalhousie in the Sunday Morning Philosophy Club and has carried over to this novel, which is more a bunch of vignettes than a straight-forward, plot driven book. It’s a collection of…moments, I guess you’d say, of the various psychotic people that live in the apartments of 44 Scotland Street, and I’d go into the characters if I felt they were worth the time. The book doesn’t really go anywhere, the stories don’t really tie together or flow, which would not have been an issue for me if I had found the writing compelling. Sadly, I did not.