Tag Archives: womens fiction

Getting into a reading groove?

I have read two books and a novella in the last 7-10 days, which feels kind of amazing.  Before the Years Long Reading Slump, three books a week – or more – was nothing.

“Wonderment in Death” – eh, it was fine, very focused on procedure, which I like.

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan – It was sort of sweet in a fairytale kind of way.  I don’t know, maybe English village life is really like that, and it isn’t a fairytale or fantasy?  The romance angle seemed kind of forced and not really believable, but I liked most of the characters and even the ex-boyfriend wasn’t terribly vilified.  (Truly, I was more irritated by how passive Rosie was with him.)  I checked LibraryThing, because Colgan’s name looked familiar; I haven’t read her before, but I feel like back when chick lit was bigger I read other similar Brit chick lit writers.

The Martian by Andy Weir.  As much as I enjoyed the movie, the book is better.  The majority of the book, like the movie, is narrated by Mark Watney, and the voice and tone are just so funny and smart, without being maudlin or pedantic, and he makes what seems to me to be complicated science* simple.  I even liked the end of the book better; there are some wrap-up/HEAish type scenes tacked onto the movie, which were fine but not really necessary.  There are a few Big Things that occur in the book that don’t occur in the movie; I’m curious to know if they were filmed but edited out for time or pacing, or if they were not in the screenplay to begin with because they felt like Too Much.  (I didn’t think they were too much as a read the book over several days, but I can see how they would feel sort of overwhelming in the 2 hour span of the movie.)  One of my favorite things is Watney’s appreciation for duct tape.  Also enjoyable are his appreciation for how ridiculous his situation is and his eye-rolling at NASA as they micromanage him from 140 million miles away.

I’m not sure what to read next – I feel like I need to jump on this trend and keep reading, for fear of relapsing into The Slump.  I’ve got a book by Shelly Laurenston and translation of Mario Vargas Llosa by Edith Grossman, both library borrows, sitting on my coffee table.  But a bunch of Patricia Veryan’s Georgian and Regency novels have been digitized; I loved them when I was a teen, and I’m curious to see if they stand up to re-read and adult perspective.

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*Neil deGrasse Tyson says the astrophysics and other science is right, but The Biochemist says Watney’s comments about bacteria in your body being healthy is not strictly true all the time.  I’ll defer to Science People.

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Unrelated to reading, my NWHL jersey arrived today.  So excited.  I’ll wear it when watching games online after the Four Nations tournament.  And when I go to a game in February.  (Although I may have to check the schedule and get to a game sooner.)

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I finished the second staggered shawl for a friend.  So sick of the pattern by the time it was finished.  But someone else asked if I could make one for them.  I think I’m going to have to say not until December or January, because I’m not ready for another identical project.  I want to try making a hat or something simple.

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It was in the mid-70s today.  It felt like summer out.  And it’s apparently supposed to be similarly nice for the next couple of days.

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We have a bunch of international people visiting for a conference right now.  For some reason the host didn’t organize any kind of map of the neighborhood or suggestions for lunch, just said go to the food court at Union Station.  Which, uh, would you tell guests to eat at the equivalent of a mall food court?  I would not.  I took a couple of people to Cafe Berlin; good beer and wine and the tail end of their Oktoberfest menu (so good).  Definitely going back there.

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Such A Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

Title:  Such A Pretty Face
Author:  Cathy Lamb
(c) 2010
Author/Book website here.

Why this book?
I was looking for something to read while away from home and away from my Kindle. Thus, paper book browsing occurred. When I saw this cover, I remembered it being on a "books I’m looking forward to" list on one of the reader/reviewer blogs I subscribe to, although I can’t remember which one. Book Binge, maybe? Or the Bookpushers?

What about the cover art? It did its job, captured my attention. Probably on its own, the cover art would not have been enough for me to buy the book, but between the cover art and the vaguely-remembered sort of recommendation-slash-heads-up, it was enough.

Two years and 170 pounds ago, Stevie Barrett was wheeled into an operating room for surgery that most likely saved her life.  Since that day, a new Stevie has emerged, one who walks without wheezing, plants a garden for self-therapy, and builds and paints fantastical wooden chairs.  At thirty-five, Stevie is the one thing she never thought she’d be: thin.

But for everything that’s changed, some things remain the same.  Stevie’s shyness refuses to melt away.  She still can’t look her gorgeous neighbor in the eye.  The Portland law office where she works remains utterly dysfunctional, as does her family — the aunt, uncle and cousins who took her in when she was a child.  To to it off, her once supportive best friend clearly resents her weight loss.

By far the biggest challenge in Stevie’s new life lies in figuring out how to define her new self.  Collaborating with her cousins to plan her aunt and uncle’s problematic fortieth anniversary party, Stevie starts to find some surprising answers — about who she is, who she wants to be, and how the old Stevie evolved in the first place.  And with each revelation, she realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she’s lost but the courage and confidence she’s gathering, day by day.

How is the story told?  First person POV from Stevie; no other POV included.  The narrative structure is divided into alternating chapters of present-day Stevie and child-Stevie, with present-day Stevie also relating large chunks of her adult history.  

What did I think?  Very early on, readers are presented with the family trauma that is the core of Stevie’s neuroses and food pathology.  To be honest, if I had read the first few pages of the book while in the store, this book would not have come home with me, because the drama and heartbreak introduced early on are not my favorite subjects for reading.  They make for great women’s fiction, though, which is what Such A Pretty Face is.  

Even reading with the WF filter, I feel rather ambivalent about SAPF, really.  Stevie’s ultimate control over her life and her history and her future make for an uplifting ending.  But the constant ladling on of problems, some dictated by Stevie’s life choices and some not, was often Too Much.

One of the hallmarks of women’s fiction (I thought) was that there is no perfect HEA, that problems still exist but the main character is better able to cope and make her way at the end of the novel.  Stevie is better able to cope at the end of SAPF, but mostly because all the hard or bad things have suddenly been erased with a wave of her fairy godmother’s wand:  Evil Uncle’s villainy has been revealed; toxic best friend has been vanquished (without ever really acknowledging that Stevie *chose* to be her friend for years); Stevie has been absorbed into the extended family that disappeared 25 years ago and been given her rightful inheritance; her cousins are both on their way out of dysfunction; etc.  Essentially, thirty five years of familial dysfunction have been wiped away, which seems…not as realistic as women’s fiction usually is.  Is this a women’s fiction fairy tale?  

Would I read this author again?  No, probably not, because I tend to avoid women’s fiction unless it comes very highly recommended by another reader I trust.

Keep or pass on?  Pass on.  Anyone want it?  Otherwise it’s going to the UBS or PBS.

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The Cry of the Dove

I added The Cry of the Dove (UK title My Name is Salma)to my PBS wishlist for a couple of reasons. First, because it was a contemporary novel set in the Middle East and Britain, with an interesting sounding plot — the story of a woman who is imprisoned and the exiled after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Second, because (shallow as this seems) the cover art is gorgeous.

The book arrived promptly, then sat in the TBR pile for a while. I dug it out as part of Keishon’s TBR Challenge.

The narrative style is very similar to The Saffron Kitchen, another tale of a Muslim woman exiled for violating the family honor, alternating between the past and present. It was well-written, and I sympathised with Salma’s alienation, isolation and adjustment to life in England. Overall, I found the book to be frustrating, though. If I had read the reading group questions first, my mindset while reading probably would’ve been quite different, as would have my reactions to the plot. (Why put the discussion questions at the back of the book? Why not at the front? Just wondering.)

Ultimately, my own pragmatism is the reason this book failed for me. Spoilers follow.

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Another vacation read: The Saffron Kitchen

Title: The Saffron Kitchen

Author: Yasmin Crowther

Copyright: 2006 by Penguin

Why/how did I pick it? I picked up a copy of The Saffron Kitchen while browsing at Armchair Books in Dennis, which is a lovely independent bookseller with a wide range of nonfiction and general fiction, but a lack of genre fiction IMO.

Did I like the cover? Yes, the cover is what drew my attention: the color, the minaret and Big Ben. 

From the back cover:

A passionate novel about mothers and daughters, roots and exile, from the remote mountains of Iran to the rain-soaked suburbs of London

Rich and haunting, The Saffron Kitchen paints a stirring portrait of a family shaken by events from decades ago and worlds away. On a rainy day in London the dark secrets and troubled past of Maryam Mazar surface violently, with tragic consequences for her daughter, Sara, and her newly orphaned newphew, Saeed. Consumed with guilt, Maryam leaves her English husband and family and returns to the remote Iranian village where her story began. AIn a quet to piece their life back together, Sara follows her mother and finlally learns the terrible price Maryam once had to pay for her freedom, and of the love she left behind. Set against the brethtaking beauty of London and Iran, this stunning family drama “is a novel of tremendous hope” (Scotland on Sunday).

What did I think? TSK is one of those books that I can admire and recognize as good without really loving. It is general fiction or women’s fiction and not a genre romance novel. But it was “romantic” in the same sort of sense that Gone With the Wind is. I kind of wish I’d known about Penguin’s study guide (here), because I probably would’ve had a different approach to reading this book.

Despite the first person narration of Maryam, I felt very disconnected to her as the story teller. Was that intentional by the author, a symbol of how Maryam disassociated herself in order to survive? Even being told later what I’d already guessed had happened didn’t lessen my impatience. I understood that she was damaged by the repercussions of a single innocent act, but every description of the intervening years described someone who was holding on to her pain rather than letting it go.

And I probably would’ve been more sympathetic, but for the line spoken by Ali kills that — he tells Sara that Maryam must be permitted to choose her life (London or Iran) without being burdened by guilt (I agree) or obligation (WTF?). Obligation? Her husband — the Englishman she chose — is a self-imposed obligation that she should not be required to consider while having her midlife crisis? The nephew that she uprooted from Iran and had brought to London and whom she has now abandoned (another obligation she chose) should not be considered? Okay, that wasn’t romantic, it was selfish.

When I step back from my personal opinion about Maryam, I can say this was a well-written book, with good use of POV and narration and a fantastic sense of place. But it isn’t a keeper for me — as KristieJ would say, It’s Not You It’s Me.

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