Wedding Season–Darcy Cosper

This novel is the product of a post-50%-divorce-rate world.  Joy’s parents are divorced and remarried and divorced again.  Both are set to remarry during the current wedding season, as are fifteen of her other friends and relatives.  That many weddings in one season would make the staunchest romantic blanche, but Joy does not believe in marriage.  We see glimpses into the fights and the disillusionment with both of her parents that follow their divorce, which give us insight into this belief.  Joy has found, at a wedding no less,  a man who also disbelieves in marriage.  They cohabitate and seem generally happy.  Their sex life is ok, she says.  They seem like warm toast together:  comfortable, but not too exciting.

Enter the ultimate aphrodisiac:  another woman in the form of Ora Mittelman, vampy memoirist who has done and seen it all and has no problem searching for the right guy under another woman’s nose.  After many weddings, a fight with one of her friends over her belief that marriage is stupid and outdated, and agonizing over what is going on between her man, Gabe, and Ora, Joy agrees to marry Gabe.  Why?  We’re not sure.  We don’t even see the actual proposal.

The why is illuminated for us by Joy’s lesbian best friend, Henry, who tells her not to marry Gabe because she is doing it for the wrong reasons, to keep at bay the fear that Gabe will leave.  Joy, Henry says, believes in marriage more than the rest of them, which is why she can’t marry.  Whatsit?   Because then when the relationship dies, because it will, she will be crushed.  Hmm.  She seems crushed already.  She is too fearful to ask her significant other about a woman with whom she thinks he is having an affair, she alienates her friends to bolster her own belief that marriage is for the deluded, and she created a company that does ghost writing, including ghost written love letters.  Seriously.  Therapy anyone?

The novel is fun in its humor, but the ending left me unsatisfied.  I didn’t need a happy ending, although Cosper tries to give one.  I also didn’t need a BS ending about liberation and freedom from someone who clearly is burdened with some major childhood issues.  Cosper wants a character who stays true to her principles, but misses a lesson in her own story–that principles can change as a person grows.  There is no real growth for Joy, which is sad. (Sorry, couldn’t help it).

Fun until the last three chapters.

Finished 8/13/12

Love in Idleness–Amanda Craig

Smart chick lit.  Love it.

Theo and his British wife, Polly, have rented an Italian farmhouse near Cortona for a two-week summer holiday.  They’ve invited Polly’s friends, Hemani and her son Bron, and Ellen, a shoe and handbag designer, to join them.  Theo’s brother, Daniel, and his friend, critic Ivo, along with Theo’s and Daniel’s mother, Betty, round out the adults.  Guy, a gardener made famous on Channel 4, joins later.  Polly’s and Theo’s children, Tania and Robbie, provide impish/ill-bred undertones to the vacation.

Theo has made partner in his firm and is a workaholic who has stopped having sex with Polly.  Polly has let herself go and has lost herself in being the stay-at-home mom she desired in the face of her academic-feminist mother’s own benign neglect.  Daniel is an American academic who stayed in Britain after graduate school and now feels pressure from Betty to marry, preferably Ellen.  Hemani is a recently divorced eye surgeon who has cut herself off from her sexuality in order to be the perfect single mother.  Ivo plays the inveterate playboy.

Craig creates her story along the lines of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with firefly fairies and love potions.  Daniel needs to realize he is really in love with Hemeni and Ellen that she really needs Ivo.  Theo and Guy have secrets to reveal, also.  Poor Polly’s story is left to be told in another volume, which is possible as Craig has interwoven one large cast of characters through at least three novels, as she relates in her acknowledgements.

The story is genius, really.  It combines the Anglophile’s fantasy of living in Britain and the American’s romance of vacationing in Italy.  Curvy women find love, paunchy men get goddesses.  Vile children become sprites and the drudgery of caring for home and children becomes a life phase.  And Shakespeare fans get to live a good story all over again.  What’s not to like?

I’m starting Craig’s In a Dark Wood and approach it like a bag of Lay’s.  You can’t eat just one.

Finished 4/26/12

The Girl She Used to Be–David Cristofano

You know when you go to a romantic movie because you want to walk out all warm and fuzzy and see someone’s life work out?  And then it doesn’t and you’re not sure if you should be pissed off or bummed out or just frustrated like a teenager whose parents walked in three minutes too soon?

That’s The Girl She Used to Be.  Melody and her parents witnessed a Mafia hit when she was six years old and their lives ended.  They survived (for awhile), but they entered Witness Protection.  In a fit of teenage snit over a boy, Melody ratted out her parents to a local paper and 29 hours later they were dead.  So she is relocated over and over and over, but this time alone.  The story begins with her ending one identity, making up a threat, and starting another out of ennui.  But then she meets a son of the Mafia family when he breaks into her motel room while her agent walks along the beach and everything turns on its head.  She’s tired of running and living a lie and feeling insecure.  This guy is in love with her after shadowing her for years, wants to save her by taking her into the heart of his family under his protection, and, to top it all off, is gorgeous and well-mannered.  Go figure.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Nicholas Sparks.  Stephanie Meyer.  It’s all about some handsome guy whose whole world revolves around us, around a woman, the woman who is telling the story.  And we eat it up because we want to be that girl with the guy who is tough on the exterior, but soft inside.  Who kicks the ass of the rest of the world, but wants to protect us and kiss us and bring us to climaxes we did not even dream were possible and this just by giving us the look.  Or flashing his abs.  It’s our version of a doe-eyed centerfold.   It’s a little uncomfortable to realize how appealing that story line is, but ok.

Here’s the brutal part.  After pages and pages of Melody whining about her lost life and then pages and pages of her forgetting about the death of her parents as she luxuriates in the pampering that can be bought by Mafia money and the feeling of security from being attached to the baddest bad ass in the room, she ends up alone.  Like, forever alone.   Virgin Queen alone.

So thumbs up for the premise and the first half of the book.  I could have even forgiven the whining if, after following the conventions of romance, the happy caricatures ended up together.  That’s the problem with genre.  When you try to bust it, you risk alienating your audience. Would Pride and Prejudice have been such a hit if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy didn’t end up together?  No way, Jose.  I don’t read romance to have a literary experience.  Or to close the cover feeling worse than when I opened it.  Geez.

As with  a hangover, the best cure for a bad ending is to start reading again.  My fingers are crossed.

Finished 4/23/12

English as a Second Language-Megan Crane

Anglophile? Check.   Suffered through grad school? Check.   Love the idea of reading books for a year (as a job)?  Check.  Harbor an inner snark just dying to be let out?  Check.

Then get out the discrete book cover and grab this book for a quick weekend read.  Megan Crane spent her grad school years in the UK, then moved to Cali and wrote this first novel about a mid-20s (well, that’s charitable–late 20s) woman looking for meaning who ends up in grad school near Manchester because her ex told her she couldn’t.

She’s hard-edged, sharp-tongued, drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney.

And everyone, except Suzanne, loves her.

She says stupid things in her seminars, but ends up with a distinction on her first big paper and acceptance into the doctoral program.

This book is very lite in intellectual calories, but it’s all kinds of fun to fantasize about a year in England with two blokes as your best mates in the pub and two smart women to be your besties as housemates, the ability to drink and smoke and still look great, the chance to do nothing but go to school without having to hold down a job or, seemingly, work that hard at staying in school.

Here’s the reality part:  Megan Crane earned a PhD in literature from an undisclosed British university and went on to write five chicklit novels, but, my own face is red here, she also writes Harlequin romances as Caitlyn Crews and she seems to be churning out one a year.  I don’t know whether to be embarrassed for her or cheer for her.  I guess, like Suzanne, I hate her and want to be her all at once.

Finished 4/22/12

 

 

The Eggnog Chronicles–Carly Alexander

Why, oh why, must chick lit be littered with lines that make a reader cringe?  Or scenes that just don’t quite make sense?

The Eggnog Chronicles are not Christian chick lit, as became clear from a scene that began with, “Let me get you from behind.”  This was refreshing.  What was not as refreshing was that, once the protagonist dropped her legs from the hunk’s shoulders and got on all fours, that same hunk took her fingertips and pushed them into his mouth.  How? I asked myself.  When my husband picked up the book, which promised some sexy scenes and I pointed him to the one, he read through it and asked the same question.  Why, if this is so obvious to us, was it not obvious to someone along the way to print?

The Eggnog Chronicles follow three women, Jane, her sister Ricki, and Jane’s friend Emma.  Jane is the hard-edged New Yorker looking for casual sex and sure that anyone else looking for more is a moron.  Ricki is a big softie, a humanities major, who runs a Christmas shop that looks like a gingerbread house in Nag’s Head.  She has a collection of friends, including the prerequisite safe gay man, a sassy ethnic woman, a New Age middle-aged housewife, and an engineer-turned-surfer.  Emma is a banker who really just wants a baby.  That’s about it for Emma.

Alexander creates some interesting scenarios, but the actual follow through sometimes misses a step.  Jane is diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, which everyone tells her is treatable, but she takes two weeks off of work (nice job) to wallow in her near brush (in her own mind) with death, which suddenly makes her a compassionate human.  This softer more compassionate Jane seems to have rubbed off by the following year when the chronicles follow Ricki.

Ricki is living with a man who has been in the process of getting a divorce for four going on five years.  She has begun the Christmas shop through a series of accidents that have turned into a highly profitable venture.  She has a family of friends, none of whom like her boyfriend, who support her emotionally and at work as she becomes too busy for her small staff.  Anyone can see that she’s going to end up with her friend the surfer.  It follows the same line as Jane ending up with her bald, but intellectual, editor.  The guy who’s been right in front of you, but you just couldn’t see him because you were too busy being shallow and attracted to gorgeous arses. 

Like the muffed up scene with the downward facing dog and the fingertips, Alexander’s editors miss a glaring mistake in Ricki’s story.  Ricki has an open house that features Santa, which has become a Christmas tradition, according to their local paper and many other community lights.  However, it was just the previous year that Ricki asked her boyfriend to don the Santa suit.  How can something that has happened once have reached the status of Christmas tradition?   I’m going to guess bad editing.

Emma ditches her crappy boyfriend and finds a nice artist-type guy.  However, when nice-artist-guy goes out of town and ex-boyfriend-hunky-model-turned-cup-turned-model/soap opera actor turns up in her apartment to cry, Emma lets him in, lets him stay, lets him stay the night, and doesn’t kick him out of bed when he creeps in, but has sex with him.  When she realizes she’s pregnant she freaks out and assumes it’s his.  When she realizes, because artist-type boyrfriend saw the signs of pregnancy before he went out of town, that she was wrong, she still doesn’t come clean about her cheating and bad decision making and the couple go on to have a beautiful baby girl and the moral dilemma is over.  Wait a minute.  How can an author build a whole plot line around the dilemma of cheating and then whoosh it away when the character realizes that circumstances aren’t going to out her?  Maybe Jane is not truly the hardened cynical character here.

It’s easy to be the armchair critic, but that’s what reading is about, right?  Reading and responding.  I blame the authors less than the editors.   Editorial attention equals respect for the audience.  Respect to the chicks.

Finished 12/4/11