Tag Archives: chick lit

What I’ve read lately

I meant to write full reviews for these two books, but the further I get from reading them, the less likely that becomes.  Instead, here are quick thoughts.

Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson

Borrowed this via Kindle Lending after it was reviewed by Sunita & Jayne at DearAuthor.  The first chapter didn’t immediately draw me in, so it wound up just sitting on my Kindle for a few weeks; when I was clearing out samples, I found it and decided to read it before returning.

There’s no romance on the page, although there are marital machinations, so the blurb about waiting for Prince Charming is misleading and not great marketing IMO.  Pretty standard for chick lit, even with the Indian aspect.  The pacing was a little wonky:  it could’ve used some editing or trimming; as the end of the book approached, it felt like a string of slapstick moments strung together.   Despite very slow pacing through the middle, the end arrived very quickly and wrapped everything up a little too neatly.  Over all, an enjoyable read by an author I would try again, but not a keeper.

Lessons for Survivors by Charlie Cochrane

This is another Cambridge Fellows Mystery, set post WW1.  It’s published by Cheyenne Publishing; the series had been with Samhain for the last several books, so I’m kind of curious about what prompted the publisher change.  Price-wise, it was a little expensive ($6.99) for the length (185 pages) compared to earlier editions.  I enjoyed the book as I read, because I like The Adventures of Orlando and Jonty, and yet in some ways it felt needlessly convoluted and also as if some opportunities were wasted.  The blurb mentions the huge threat of the sleuths being outed by a rival, yet that aspect of the story didn’t get much attention.  Not bad but not the best installment of the series IMO.

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Romantically Challenged by Beth Orsoff

For this month’s TBR Challenge, which I managed to remember, I selected a book randomly.  This one caught my eye mostly because of the cover, which made me think of BitterSweets.

Title:  Romantically Challenged (excerpt here)

Author:  Beth Orsoff, an author who is new to me

Genre:  chick lit

(c) 2006, published by New American Library

Length of time in the TBR pile:  Unknown.  I’m not entirely certain how this book made its way into my house.  It’s a discarded library book, so I must’ve bought it at a booksale at some point.  *shrug*

Summary:  Julie is a 32 year old entertainment lawyer living in LA.  Last year she caught her boyfriend cheating, and she’s been single ever since.  After yet another wedding in which her extended family laments her single state, Julie decides it’s time to make a concerted effort to find The One.  Office set ups, friends of friends, speed dating, even a dating service, no means is overlooked.

What did I think of the book?  Well…its prose wasn’t bad.  And it was prettily packaged.  But there was absolutely nothing new or original in this book.  Even accounting for the age of the book, the setting, characters, and plot felt pedestrian and uninspired.

I’m trying to remember when internet dating first showed up.  Surely it was before 2006?  It was going on in an informal format as far back as 1995 in my observation, so Julie’s experience (or lack thereof) seemed odd.

Julie started as a cliche and never rose above it.  How many boxes could I check?  Educated, professional, too “choosy”, nagging mother, quiet father, office BFF with a problematic relationship to use as a warning, etc.   And her dates:  money conscious, too preppy, grooming issues, too WASPy, gay and closeted, etc.  Every single issue was telegraphed or handled with all the tact of a sledgehammer.  Yes, yes, Chekhov’s gun, but there’s a balance between foreshadowing and being utterly predictable.

Would I recommend it to other readers?  Not unless they were looking to read very stereotypical chick lit (which almost no one is now that its heyday has passed).

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Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi

I probably never would have picked up a copy of this ebook if I hadn’t seen it mentioned on Twitter, primarily because I don’t get the Hello Kitty phenomenon. I’m not sure if it was @avidbookreader, @McVane, or @limecello who recommended it, or a conversation the three of them had. In any case, I downloaded a sample of the book and was hooked, although I had not read the back blurb and didn’t know where exactly the book was going. I just liked the author’s voice and opening. The book is available in paper and electronic format, but the ebook was considerably less expensive, so I downloaded a copy. And then it sat in my e-TBR for a while (the e-TBR to be distinguished from Mt. TBR, the paper version of where potential good books go to languish).

Based on the potential recommenders, I wasn’t sure what to expect, since they all have very different taste in books. The information in the blurb and the excerpt reveal that the narrator, Fiona Yu, is an American-born Chinese woman, a 28 year old lawyer who lives with her family, who are pressing her to marry a good Chinese boy. All of that is sort of chick-lit-ish (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way) and not very original, but an opening in which a narrator decides clinically to rid herself of her virginity via sterilized and lidocained dildo? Different and promising and satiric and funny.

Another chick lit cliche fulfilled: Fiona’s smart, went to Yale, is miserable as an associate at a Big Law firm. She likes expensive bags and shoes. And because it’s expected of her, she works in her family’s laundry. She wears stilettos not because she likes the way they look but because they hurt, which reminds her that she’s alive, and likens them to modern Chinese foot-binding. She resents that despite her academic success and good job, she isn’t skinny enough or pale enough to please cultural stereotypes.

At the outset, her rebellions seem small: she sows discord via planted pocket contents at the family laundry. She’s obsessed with Kurt Cobain and "Smells Like Teen Spirit". She makes serial killers her heroes (which probably should have told me something). One early passage that reveals a lot about Fiona:

All you have to do is comb your hair and wear a suit and you can be one crazy motherfucker. And get away with it.

The FBI profiles are almost always the same: White men. Age twenty-five to forty. Female serial killers account for only eight percent of all American serial killers. And they are white too.

White people get to have all the fun.

For once, I’d like to hear "The unsub is most likely female. Asian. Age twenty-five to forty."

Unlikely. Just look at Hello Kitty.

I hate Hello Kitty.

I hate her for not having a mouth or fangs like a proper kitty. She can’t eat, bite off a nipple or finger, give head, tell anyone to go and fuck his mother or lick herself. She has no eyebrows, so she can’t look angry. She can’t even scratch your eyes out. Just clawless, fangless, voiceless, with that placid, blank expression topped by pink ribbon.

Fiona has second thoughts about her hymen — mostly irritation that apparently didn’t have one to start with, and decides that she must have one. Enter Dr. Sean Killroy, plastic surgeon, who turns out to be a childhood friend Fiona lost track of. (Because he set a classmate’s hair on fire and was sent off to juvenile detention.) In your average chick lit book or romance, he’d be the main love interest, the True Love Fiona should be with, despite her parents’ match making, despite the awkward meet cute. And when Fiona ends up going over to his place and finding him waiting for her naked, it does seem like that’s where this is heading. But no.

Fiona and Sean are soul mates but not lovers. The romance trope is that meeting your soul mate makes you more fully yourself, makes you a better person in some ways. Sean and Fiona do this for each other, egging each other on, bringing out pieces of themselves suppressed by civilization, by programming, by weight of humanity and social expectations, into daylight, for better or worse (mostly worse). The closest relationship that I can think of is that the twisted dynamic of Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell in the HeartSick series…except Fiona’s not trying to catch a killer. Fiona loves Sean and fears him, likening the feeling to someone who keeps a dangerous pet snake — loving it but being vulnerable to damage if the snake isn’t properly contained and fed. Readers never get Sean’s point of view independently of Fiona’s narration, but he does seem to feel something for her. Is it love? Or the relief of having a partner in crime? I don’t know. Certainly his "tokens" to her put me in mind of a cat presenting its owners with dead mice or birds in tribute.

Choi basically takes all the tropes and cliches of chick lit, uses them, ties them in a knot and lobs them back at readers like a grenade. Narrator/heroine set free and empowered? Check. Able to take action for the things she wants in her life? Check. Hero who *gets* her? Check. But it’s like an impressionist painting or one of those optical illusion posters that were popular years back — look at a different angle and what you’ll see is not what you expected and might shock you.

Grade from me: A

Blurb from Choi’s website: 

On the outside, 28-year-old Fiona Yu appears to be just another Hello Kitty – an educated, well-mannered Asian-American woman. Secretly, she feels torn between the traditional Chinese values of her family and the social mores of being an American girl.

To escape the burden of carrying her family’s honor, Fiona decides to take her own virginity. In the process, she makes a surprising discovery that reunites her with a long-lost friend, Sean Killroy. Sean introduces her to a dark world of excitement, danger, cunning and cruelty, pushing her to the limits of her own morality. But Fiona’s father throws her new life into disarray when he dupes her into an overnight trip which results in a hasty engagement to Don Koo, the spoiled son of a wealthy chef.

Determined to thwart her parents’ plans to marry her off into Asian suburbia, Fiona seeks her freedom at any price. How far will she go to bury the Hello Kitty stereotype forever? Follow Fiona’s journey of self-discovery as she embraces her true nature and creates her own version of the American Dream, eliminating anyone who stands in her way without fear or remorse.

Excerpt here.

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2010 TBR Challenge

Avid Reader’s TBR Challenge is good for me and my TBR.  It is slowly (very slowly) winnowing down the TBR mountain.  Sometimes I wonder why some of the occupants are on the shelves, though, since so many of the books I select for the challenge wind up unfinished.

This month’s book: Fashionably Late by Nadine Adjani

(c) 2007 by Forge/Tom Doherty Associates

Convinced you’re having a quarter life crisis? Think maybe a soul-searching trip might help?

Aline Hallaby, a nice, obedient Arab girl, has it all – a budding career at one of Montreal’s most prestigious accounting firms, a loving family, and a boyfriend of three years who has finally proposed. To top it all off, she’s about to fly to Cancun with her accounting classmates to celebrate passing the Uniform Final Examination. There’s just one tiny problem: Ali has failed the exam. She hasn’t told a soul. Not her parents. Not her boyfriend. And definitely not her boss, who will boot Ali out the door as soon as she finds out.

So rather than suffer through seven days in Cancun with her drunken-yet-successful classmates, Ali grabs her best friends, Sophie and Yasmin, and flees to the farthest place her airfare cancellation insurance will carry her: the resort town of Varadero Beach, Cuba . . .

The sea, sand, and sun, not to mention the attention of a certain Cuban dive instructor, soon have Ali feeling wonderfully careless and increasingly reckless. Caught up in a whirlwind of rum-soaked nights and moonlit Havana strolls, this good Muslim girl gets her very first taste of what it would be like fo be bad, really bad. But will what happens in Cuba stay in Cuba? Or is Ali finally ready to break out of the good-girl mold and grow into the woman she’s meant to be?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, since I grew bored and irritated by Ali by the time she arrived in Cuba.

Why this book? I think I read a recommendation somewhere in blogland. And it seemed like a slightly different chick lit offering: heroine of Lebanese descent, set in Montreal and Cuba. But in the end, not so much. Ali just came across as spoiled, self-absorbed, and not very sympathetic.

I felt sorry for her exam failure, remembering how certain I was that I’d failed the bar when my results arrived on Saturday rather than Friday like all my friends. But impatient with her otherwise, and rather disgusted by her treatment of her boyfriend (whose sole offense seemed to be proposing during her meltdown) and her parents (who wanted her to be successful and to marry well – fairly average parental dreams). Mostly, as I read I wanted to tell her to grow up and behave like an adult. My expectation of chick lit heroines is that they behave like adults, even when making bad choices and then fixing them. Ali never seemed to get past adolescent. Of course, that may have happened after I abandoned the book.

Anything else? Am curious about how "good Muslim girl" is defined, because Ali did not seem particularly defined by her faith or culture. She drank, she dated a Catholic boy, she never went to mosque, etc. She seemed Arabic and Muslim in name only.

Keep or pass on? Pass on.

Read this author again? I’d try her again but won’t buy unless I *love* it.

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SBD: show, don’t tell

It’s a St. Patrick’s day SBD.  Maybe I should drink some green beer?  Eh, no.  But I have some Irish whisky at home, so I’ll pour a glass this evening in honor of the SBD-ery.

I skimmed Jo Barrett’s This Is How It Happened (not a love story) last week. It wasn’t a love story, and I had no HEA expectations of it. When I first finished the book, I probably would’ve graded it as a B-. The language was okay: it didn’t stand out as particularly lyrical, nor did it make me want to break out a red pen. I liked the narrative style, in which the chapters alternated between the past and present. The characterization seemed a little weak and the plot a bit tired (A Comedy of Errors and Anger), but I liked the idea of it – a woman getting over her ex and her need for bitter revenge by moving on with her own life. But after reflecting more on the characters, I found myself becoming more and more irritated and disappointed by the heroine.

Show, don’t tell is one of the primary rules of characterization and narration. I thought that what Barrett told the reader about Maddy as a heroine (that she was strong and smart) was completely undermined by what she showed the reader (that Maddy had no self-respect and no common sense). The evil ex was so Utterly Evil that Maddy’s clinging to him came across as pathetic, naïve and downright stupid.

1. She does his homework and projects through their entire MBA program because he has to work. WTH? She worked, too, and managed to keep up with her classwork.

2. His comfort is more important than her health? He doesn’t like to wear condoms even though she is unable to use hormonal birth control, so he just doesn’t. Screw that. Or rather, don’t screw him.

3. He had genital herpes and didn’t tell her. To use a Dan Savage acronym: DTMFA. Not because of the herpes, but because he didn’t ‘fess up about it until she found his medication and called him on it. A guy who cared about you would not knowingly endanger you or your health.

4. He manages to get “their” business (which she conceived) in his own name, perpetually putting off “giving” her any share because of the way the investors want it, and besides, she’ll get half when they get married. That’s a two-fer, because it includes his dangling carrot of marriage, which he brings up to keep her in line but then ignores when she wants to set a date or talk about their relationship. <bangs head on desk>  If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen. 

5. Having a CFO leave because the CEO is cooking the books is bad. Not bothering to look, just accepting “he was too conservative” is sloppy, lazy business. Hello, Enron?  Worldcom? 

6. Your boyfriend fired you by email and told you to come in so you could work out your severance…and you believed him when he said the English-less janitorial staff threw away your portfolio of work?  <more head to desk> 

Frankly, after all that, I didn’t understand why Maddy hadn’t kicked him to the curb years earlier. And I found it hard to believe that she had all that much business acumen or judgment of any type. I certainly wouldn’t want her running my Fortune 500 company (which is what she’s doing at the epilogue).

I think Barrett was trying to make the ex as sleazy as possible and show that he really did her wrong, so the reader could see that Maddy going off the deep end was an understandable reaction. But she made him so sleazy that I couldn’t respect Maddy for staying with him.   And what she showed me as a result of his character was in opposition to what she told me about Maddy.  In the end, what Barrett showed me about the bad guy overroad anything that she told me about the sterling qualities of the heroine.

The malaprop wannabe convert to Judaism? Too painful. “Bagels and lockets” was supposed to be cute but just made me cringe.

In retrospect, I’d downgrade this to a C-, but only if I was feeling charitable, or grading up because I like the book cover (mmm, brownies). Otherwise, a D+.

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Holiday reading

The holiday weekend in books: not very felicitous.

1. Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair. CBA –> DNF. Which is a shame because I’m sure this is a good book. 

2. Under the Rose: An Ivy League Novel by Diana Peterfreund. C. I didn’t hear much about this follow up to Peterfreund’s debut, which was promoted all over the place. No budget? Or was she burned by the overexposure? (I thought it was average.) Also curious about the format change – from hardback to trade paperback. The book itself? Eh. I didn’t mind spending 3 hours on it; I’m glad it was a library book, though. It seemed predictable to me, and I have an inkling about where it is going in the future (also predictable). Mostly I just felt impatient with the narrator, who never struck me as being as smart as I was told she was. 

3. If You Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern. DNF. Pretty cover. But if I had known from the backblurb that Ivan was imaginary, I wouldn’t have bothered even borrowing it from the library. Imaginary friends are okay for children but scream mental health problems to me in adults. Requires a suspension of disbelief that I can’t manage. 

4. Murder in Chinatown by Victoria Thompson. C. Interesting glimpse of turn of the century Chinese-Irish community. Okay mystery. All of the personal stuff that is hinted at between Sarah Brandt and Det. Sgt. Malloy? Eh. In the indelicate words of my impatient grandfather: piss or get off the pot. UST shouldn’t be stretched out forever; my limit is about 4 or 5 books; this series is long past that point. 

5. The Food of Love by Anthony Capella. DNF – not because it was bad but because I realized that I’d already read it. Went looking for a copy after reading Capella’s The Wedding Officer; realized I’d already read it a couple of chapters in. Good but not really worth a re-read IMO. B-/C+ 

6. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas. I actually have a bit to think about and to say about this book, but I’m saving it for Monday’s SBD. Unless I come up with something better for SBD, then I’ll post my opinion about Sugar Daddy earlier.

However, I did receive a Barbapapa book for Christmas! And a copy of Allende’s YA book La ciudad de las bestias. And two Borders gift  cards.  Yay!

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Girls of Riyadh

Drive by review…

Title: Girls of Riyadh

Author: Rajaa Alsanea

Copyright: 2007 for the English translation and publication; originally published in Arabic in 2005

Why did I pick it up? I read a review in The Economist (part admiring, part dismissive) and decided to pick up a copy.

Did I like the cover? No, the cover art/design would’ve put me off picking up a copy if I hadn’t read a review already – I thought it was a bit tacky.

Summary: Through the medium of a yahoo group, an anonymous Saudi woman of the upper “velvet” class narrates the lives and searches for love of four “fictional” young women. Her intros include snips of information about the feedback that she gets from readers and about her preferences in lipstick, etc. The cast of characters includes: Michelle, a Saudi-American who doesn’t quite fit in; Gamrah, who marries first but not happily; Lamees, the medical student who bounces around trying to figure out what she wants; and Sadeem, who is rejected by one suitor and strung along by another.

What did I think?   If the glimpse into the in-some-ways very sequestered lives of wealthy Saudi women is accurate, I can see why the book caused a stir when it was published in Saudi Arabia. Having said that, most of the contents were pretty average chick lit; the only difference was the culture in which it was set.

Perhaps it is simply my western outlook, but I had a very hard time feeling sympathetic to Gamrah, who seemed to make little effort to earn or work toward her own happiness. She was utterly dependent on her family and her husband, and although she wasn’t happy, she didn’t make any effort to change that. She didn’t deserve the poor treatment she received, but she also never really stood up for herself. The other three were more sympathetic, in that they weren’t just going through the motions while waiting for an arranged marriage that would bring them their Princes Charming.

GoR is not a romance, it is chick lit, so I didn’t expect HEA for everyone…but it felt unfinished to me. Not because I needed to know if Michelle ever figured herself out or if Ganmah ever remarried, but because it seemed to stop in an awkward place.

I liked the narrative style, with interruptions and asides from the narrator in the form of email. The language itself didn’t strike me as either particularly lyrical or especially clunky; I’m not sure what that says about the translator, though. I wish my Arabic was good enough to read an adult book so I could compare the two (I’m only able to stumble through kids’ books, elementary ones at that).

New to me author?   Yes. I think this may have been her debut, also.

Keeper? Nope, it was a library book.

Anything else to say?  I was trying to figure out how to do a dueling review of Girls of Riyadh and The Saffron Kitchen, because they both said something about women in the Middle East and their positions in Islamic societies, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it right. And frankly, after I thought about it, I decided that it would be like comparing Sex in the City to a Barbara Samuels WF book ; the fact that the two books include underlying themes about the social position of women doesn’t mean that the books themselves have anything else in common.  Apples and oranges. 

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