A Window Opens- Elisabeth Egan

Alice is a married mother of three in her late 30s, living in the New Jersey suburbs of NYC.  She works part-time at a women’s magazine writing the column on book recommendations and this gives her a nice balance between being present with her children, taking time for herself (spinning class! book club! wine with friends!), and remaining active in the career force.  But then, her husband, Nicholas, loses his job as a high-powered corporate attorney and decides to go into practice for himself.  In the meantime, Alice decides to take on a full-time job to support her family while Nicholas’s business gets off the ground.  She finds a well-paying job with Scroll, the latest innovation in bookstores.  Alice thinks she’ll be curating a collection of ebooks for customers to choose from in Scroll’s luxurious reading lounges, complete with free trade coffee and organic snacks.  But Alice is actually entering the retail world where customer demand and the dollar are the bottom lines.  Her job offers very little flexibility, includes a 90 minute one-way commute, and requires Alice to be hooked up to email and her phone all the time.  At first, she is thrilled to be taking on this new challenge, but real life soon gets in the way.  Her kids are handling things alright, but she is never quite satisfied to be spending so little time with them.  Her husband begins drinking more and more.  And on top of all that, her father’s cancer has returned and is not responding to radiation.  Alice tries to make her new job work alongside the personal interruptions, but she eventually finds that she is being made miserable trying to “have it all” and that the job she has put her life on the line for is making her miserable.

This is a very “ordinary life” sort of story– Alice deals with work details and raising a family and taking care of aging parents. I liked that and I liked Alice. She’s navigating through a lot of new things, but seems to remain down-to-earth and just… I dunno, seems like the kind of person I’d want to chat books or kids with. I like that Alice is thrown into the deep end with her new job and that she tries to make it work and is capable of doing work that is probably outside of her depth of experience when she comes in. There is some of the excitement of a new business venture in here and that is entertaining (until things take a dramatic turn that ruins the whole deal for Alice). I’m always down for stories about women finding themselves and making life work for them and this was no exception.

But there were three big things that bugged me about this story.  First, Alice’s husband’s drinking issue is never really tackled in a meaningful way.  He’s been getting black-out drunk in the afternoons for about a year and manages to turn this around just by wanting to quit?  To me, it sounded like he had addiction issues, which are unlikely to be solved by force of will.  I kind of feel this story would have worked without a drunk husband, so Egan needed to deal with this in a real way or leave it out.

Second, I’m a little uncertain how to take the ending of this story, where Alice figures out Scroll is not for her. It was the ending I was rooting for and absolutely appropriate for Alice’s situation, but I am kind of left hanging. I’m a working mom (granted in a more family-friendly environment) and it almost feels like a slap in the face to read a book about a working mom whose problems are all solved by her quitting her job and letting her husband’s business take the lead. I don’t know. Not every working mom has the luxury of quitting her well-paying job to “figure things out.” I think I’d have been more satisfied if this had ended with Alice finding a full-time job that gave her more flexibility to be present with her family, rather than having her return to part-time work and the vague possibility of a future business venture.  I just felt very uncomfortable about reading a book about “having it all” that settles firmly into the message that it can’t be done.  And sure, I think “having it all” is a problematic concept and that there is no realistic way to do everything you want in life (even without kids), but I think many mothers manage to find a balance they can live with, even with a full-time job.  It just really bugs me that Alice’s solution had to be exiting the traditional workforce, especially when all her children are in school full days.

Finally, I think a lot of my dislike about the ending of this book has to do with my discomfort with the socioeconomic background of the characters in this book. I just felt vaguely unsettled that money is never a REAL problem for Alice, that she can afford the babysitter, the house with the perfect location, the new work wardrobe, the lessons and activities for the kids, etc. without breaking a sweat. She lives in a rarefied world (one where she inherits money from her father’s death, even)– not the world most of us would find ourselves in if our partners lost their jobs and went into business for themselves.  I always feel a little uncomfortable with these stories of women for whom money is no big deal, particularly ones that strive for as much realism as this one did.

Anyways, despite the fact that had some rather major issues with this book, I did enjoy it quite a bit.  I think Alice’s character won me over and that that made this book a lot more charming than it would have been had these issues been present in the story of a flatter character.  I’d definitely be willing to try more from this author, should she write another novel.  As for a recommendation, if Jennifer Close is your kind of chick lit, then I think Elisabeth Egan would be, too.  This is definitely for fans of that higher brow sort of chick lit– the kind with heavier issues and East Coast, privileged characters, where the drama of daily life outweighs romance or comedy.

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents- Liza Palmer

I’m going to develop a reputation for not liking Liza Palmer’s books, but I swear that’s not true.  I really did enjoy the first two of her books that I tried.  (Proof 1 and Proof 2)  But I guess pushing that proof aside, I really did not like A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents.

Alright, so the premise of this story is Grace is from this super tight-knit family with four kids, an estranged father, and a really awesome mother.  Grace’s mother died five years prior to this story started and Grace hasn’t spoken to her siblings since her mother’s funeral.  She has isolated herself in this little bubble of numbness, hiding from the intensity of her grief.  Then, one day, Grace’s sister calls to tell Grace their father has had a stroke and has made their older brother his power of attorney.  Grace sucks it up and out of a feeling of obligation to be a good child like she thinks her mother would have wanted her to be, drives up to see her father and her siblings gathered at his bedside.  It soon becomes clear that Grace’s father is dying and there is a big scuff-up because a lady claiming to be his wife keeps turning up, making it incredibly puzzling why their father left his power of attorney to a son he hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Amid the legal issues this precipitates, Grace is left with trying to process her grief for her mother, resolve her feelings about her father who abandoned her, get back in the good graces of her siblings and nieces/nephew, and reconnect with the boyfriend (who is also older brother’s partner at their law firm) who she abandoned when she deserted her family five years earlier.

There were parts of this story that worked for me, particularly the sibling relationships.  It felt like a very real reunion between these four very close siblings, with some anger and resentment from her sister, total acceptance from her younger brother, and some tough love from her older brother.  In the face of some really trying circumstances, they band together to make sure their father’s dying wishes are complied with.  I also enjoyed the plot antics in terms of the second wife and legal rights and inheritance and all that.  It was an original and interesting plot for a chick lit book and was actually a cohesive plot (unlike that of Girl Before a Mirror).  Also, Palmer’s writing is very readable and this book was no exception.

But there were parts of this book that did remind me of my dissatisfaction with Girl Before a Mirror.  Mainly the romance and character development in this book felt forced, much like they did to me in GBAM.  Grace’s grief bubble dissolves in the blink of an eye.  That sort of sudden character change doesn’t feel authentic and is kind of confusing.  In addition, the romance in this book lacked the establishment of a real connection between John and Grace.  It’s mostly told in flashbacks, but the on-screen, real-time romance we get is no real discussion or resolution of the five years separating these two, but rather just some sex and quick forgiveness and I love yous and never ever leave agains.  And that was also much the same way that the resolution of relationships went for Grace between her and her siblings and between her and her father.  It was all quick and easy forgiveness, and while I was willing to buy that Grace and her siblings could put aside the past to work together on their father’s behalf (after all, that’s what families do), I had a hard time buying that her ex-boyfriend whom she abandoned and the father who abandoned her would result in such easy resolutions.

Also, I wasn’t particularly happy with the ending of this book.  The epilogue was gag-me-with-a-spoon cheesy (seriously, why do authors think the surprise pregnancy is a cute, romantic thing?  WHY?) and for a story with a lot of people in heartaching situations, everything ended up a bit too rosy.  A story about a father who abandons his children and then calls them to his deathbed 20 years later could have much more depth and emotion than this story managed to.  This was all a little more fluffy and happily ever after than you might imagine based on the plot description.

And I think that brings me to the big thing that has been bugging me in Palmer’s books– she chooses very big issues to discuss in her books (the death penalty, school shootings, the death of one’s parents, sexism in advertising) and instead of digging deep, still manages to turn out a story that is rather fluffy without any major examination of those big issues.  I think that’s why Seeing Me Naked and Nowhere But Home worked for me– they were mostly about the family and personal drama.  The death penalty could have been a big issue in the latter, but plot-wise it wasn’t necessary, so it didn’t work against the overall development of the characters.  And I think this is also is why A Field Guide for Burying Your Parents fell so flat for me– it promises to deal with the grief of losing both parents through death and abandonment, but ends up settling for an easy out with a father who always loved his kids and ex-wife, but could never ask for forgiveness and come back to them and made grieving a mother as simple as not talking about it for five years and then having a mini-breakdown in a parking lot.

I only have one of Liza Palmer’s books left to read and I’m honestly not sure if I will or not.  It is her debut and should be closer in tone to Seeing Me Naked.  But I have had such mixed results with her books, that I have a hard time imagining giving them another try with the failures so fresh in my memory (Girl Before a Mirror was such a major disappointment for me).  In any case, it has been interesting to be working on authors’ backlists this year (kind of unintentionally) and to see that sometimes an author who really works for me in one book doesn’t at all in another.  Has this ever happened to you?

Summer Mini-Reviews: Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Look guys!  I am actually posting a review!  Ok, it’s a mini-review.  But I realized recently that I keep picking up books where the heroine gets cheated on by her boyfriend and it sets in motion a series of life-changing events.  I actually put down a book after two pages when realizing it had this same conceit.  Anyways, here are my reviews of two cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater books that I have read somewhat recently.

Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning

Hope Delafield has been with Jack, her childhood sweetheart, for over a decade.  Their mothers are best friends who have high hopes for their relationship.  Hope and Jack own a home together and Hope is certain that engagement is on the horizon for them.  That is, until Hope catches Jack kissing her best friend in a more-than-friendly, definitely-not-the-first-time kind of way.  Hope is crushed, but still loves Jack and believes his assertions that he loves her, too.  They decide to give it another go and Hope takes her share of emotional beatings on her journey to decide what she really wants for herself.

What I liked: Sarra Manning is one of my favorite authors and this book had a lot of the elements that I have come to expect from a Sarra Manning book.  Hope is flawed, insecure, and messy, but also very likeable.  She is forced by circumstances to determine what she wants out of life, as she has kind of coasted by picking both the career and boy her mother wanted for her.  She is also a total pushover, who has yet to grow a backbone, and she lets Jack walk all over her, giving him way more second chances than he deserves.  Her eventual non-Jack love interest, Wilson, is very much a Sarra Manning hero– he’s prickly and hot.  Hope could be a bit of a frustrating character, but I did like her and root for her and enjoyed seeing her grow over the course of the story.
What I felt meh about: This is an exhausting book.  Absolutely exhausting with the will they-won’t they between Hope and Jack.  It was appropriate for Hope’s character to not immediately end things and to keep giving Jack another chance, but it got frustrating to watch.  I really wanted more of the story to focus on things with Wilson and I wish Hope had grown her backbone a little earlier on in the story.
All in all: I am glad I read this book, as I really do like Sarra Manning’s characters, but this is probably my least favorite of hers so far.

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Delia Moss decides it is finally time to get the ball rolling with her boyfriend of nine years, Paul.  They own a home together and a dog together and Delia is ready to get married. So she proposes to Paul.  He is bewildered, but accepts and the two go to a pub to celebrate.  At the pub, Delia gets a text from Paul that is clearly meant for another woman.  She confronts Paul and finds he has been seeing someone else for the past few months.  She isn’t ready to the end the relationship, but she also can’t stand the sight of Paul right now, especially as she finds he keeps lying to her about little things.  When her boring, but safe job goes up in flames, she decides to move from Newcastle to London to stay with her best friend, Emma.  In London, Delia lands a job in PR and her boss is a bit… shady, but Delia wants a new life and tries to learn what she can at this new job.  That is, until she keeps running into a handsome investigative journalist who is hell-bent on ruining the reputation of Delia’s shady boss.  Delia’s life is up in the air and she has to decide who she is and what she wants out of life.  Does she want the relative safety of a relationship with Paul?  Does she want to be someone who bends (or breaks) the rules to be successful in business?  Or is she ready to take some risks and do what she knows is right?

What I liked: Delia is a very sweet and likeable character and the rest of the cast of characters (with the exceptions of Paul and shady boss, Kurt) were also fun to read about.  I particularly liked that McFarlane wrote in some seriously geeky characters, like Delia’s brother and the computer genius, Peshwari Naan, who were perfectly themselves, even though that meant they didn’t really fit into the roles that Delia hopes for them.  There is a lot of scheming between Delia and the cute journalist, Adam, to take down Kurt and while it definitely approaches a silly and ridiculous level of antics, I had a lot of fun with this plot line.  It was a cute, original way to bring two characters onto the same side and allow them to get a little closer.  Really, this book was fun and readable and had great leading characters.
What I felt meh about: I kind of got tired of the whole Paul story.  He cheats, he lies, Delia tells him she wants some time off, and he will just not take no for an answer.  He keeps sending her things to remind her of their relationship and begging for another chance.  Delia has started moving on already, though maybe she doesn’t quite realize it, and I just got sick of seeing Paul pop back into the story.  Probably, this would have bothered me less if I hadn’t read it with Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend in mind, but what can you do?
All in all: I really enjoy Mhairi McFarlane’s books.  They are funny and smart and just great chick lit.  I had high hopes that this would top Here’s Looking at You for me.  It didn’t, but it was a good book nonetheless.  I will definitely be back for more Mhairi McFarlane in the future.

Girl Before a Mirror- Liza Palmer

I was super excited about this book.  I’d read Liza Palmer in the past and liked her books and saw the potential for her to write my new favorite book.  The premise sounded interesting– a 40 year old woman turning things around at work, in her love life, and in her friendships and family relationships.  The early reviews were mostly 4 and 5 stars and from reviewers whom I trust to approach the work of a familiar author with critical eyes.  All that to say, I had very high hopes coming into this book and I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite as disappointed with a book as I was with this one.

Girl Before a Mirror is about Anna.  Anna has just turned 40, is divorced and has been on a dating timeout for a couple of years, and works in advertising.  She’s been trying to reshape her life– getting rid of toxic relationships and trying to go after what she really wants.  One thing she really wants is a big, important account at work.  She’s tired of getting no respect for working on ads for women’s products.  She gets a great idea to pitch to Lumineux Shower Gel, to totally rebrand the under-the-radar item and get it into every woman’s shopping cart.  She figures if this is a success, she has a shot at landing Quincy Pharmaceuticals, the parent company of Lumineux.  Part of her ad campaign involves getting a romance novel cover model to be the man in the Lumineux ads.  So off she and her younger coworker, Sasha, go to Phoenix to attend RomCom, the romance novel convention.  In Phoenix, Anna meets Lincoln, a consultant in Phoenix on business and the two hit it off quickly, but while they find intimacy between one another easy, true commitment is another story.  These events set the background to Anna’s journey of self-discovery, as she tries to remake herself into the woman she wants to be, free of the insecurities of her youth.

All of that sounds like a book I would have liked to read, but I did not like reading this book at all.  The plot was very convoluted.  The ad campaign made very little sense to me– its tagline was “just be” and it was supposed to be about women accepting themselves as is, and this somehow had something to do with romance novels and the male models on their covers.  Anna’s relationship with Lincoln felt like instalove.  They meet in the hotel bar, barely talk, then end up making out in the elevator, and suddenly they’re sleeping together and talking about their insecurities and thinking about love.  All over the course of a couple of days.  I don’t want to dismiss whirlwind relationships, but these are two very closed-off people with walls built up all around them.  It was impossible for me to buy that they reached the level of emotional intimacy that they did so quickly and with so few interactions that weren’t just sex.  In addition, most of Anna’s friend/work relationships seemed to suffer from the same feeling of false intimacy.  Anna and Sasha declare themselves friends, but I didn’t really see the building of that relationship.  They are working closely enough together that it seemed reasonable for them to become friends and they acted like friends in the end, but the close confidences and intimacies between the two happened before it felt natural for them to occur, especially with Anna being so afraid to let people in.  On top of Anna’s work and her love life, there is a side plot about Anna’s brother, Ferdie, who ends up in drug rehab and both his problems and Anna’s issues all end up being blamed on their parents who just sort of magically appear as awful and absent people midway into the book.

All of these threads were going on and weren’t handled in way that made it easy to keep things straight… at times I felt like I was missing something– a chapter, a previous book, a conversation, something– that would have explained why Anna felt or acted in certain ways.  The issue with her childhood and parents felt like it came out of nowhere.  And there is a scene where she is rebuffed by the big name romance novelist for dismissing romance novels and for the life of me I couldn’t remember a time where Anna verbally dismissed romance novels.  After all, it was her (and Sasha’s) idea to come to RomCom in the first place.

Palmer tries very hard to make important points about how society undervalues women– as consumers, as workers, as people, as readers.  I nodded my head at most of these points– at how women’s products aren’t important advertising accounts, yet women are the ones spending money.  How ads aimed at women talk down to them or try to make them feel inadequate, rather than trying to speak to them like equals worthy of great things.  How romance novels or pop music are routinely dismissed as trivial or guilty pleasures, when there is value in stories about love and value in pleasure, no matter its source.  But… as important as these points are, they felt out of place in this book.  They are things Anna thinks or talks about, but they didn’t feel organically incorporated into the story.  It isn’t necessary to have Anna say advertising is sexist because it is obvious from the way her bosses treat her accounts, for example.

I left this book feeling like I had read a first draft, like there was something to be fleshed out of this story, but it hadn’t happened yet.  I generally enjoy introspective, smart chick lit and I feel like this was an attempt to be just that, but the lack of cohesion in the plot, the characters, and the deeper message left me disappointed.

The Smart One- Jennifer Close

The Smart One is told in alternating points of view from four women in the Coffey family.  Weezy is the matriarch, whose empty nest doesn’t stay empty and who is a bit of a control freak.  Martha is Weezy’s oldest daughter. She is socially inept, works a dead end job at J. Crew, lives at home with her parents, is very into her weekly therapy sessions, and seems hopelessly incapable of ever becoming independent.  Claire, Weezy’s younger daughter, is the “normal” one, but has just broken off her engagement and finds she can’t make ends meet in New York City on her own.  She moves back home, but her fierce independent streak clashes with her mother’s need to control everything.  Finally, we have Cleo, the girlfriend of Weezy’s youngest child, Max.  Cleo is a beautiful young college student who doesn’t ever feel like she fits in anywhere she goes and can’t seem to follow societal conventions or relationship rules.  Cleo and Max move back in with Weezy, too, after they graduate from college.  This is an interesting look at family dynamics when adult children return to their parents’ home and at the lives of four women at personal crossroads in their lives.

What I liked: I picked up this book at the Strand when I was in New York visiting my sister.  I was eager to read more of Jennifer Close’s work after finishing Girls in White Dresses, which felt like a fresh, smart take on chick lit.  I was equally impressed with Close’s writing in this book.  I like her focus on the ordinary everyday events in life and I appreciate her ability to create characters who felt real and distinct.  Close also has a real understanding of relationship dynamics and that is very evident her in a story about the complexity of family relationships.  I also liked that this book focused on adults returning home, as that experience is becoming especially common these days.  I haven’t had to move back home, but I imagine that I would feel as frustrated as Claire did at the loss of independence.

What I felt meh about: While I appreciated that the characters in this book felt realistic and flawed, sometimes they felt too difficult.  It got to be a bit grating at times to read about Weezy constantly underestimating her children and her husband and trying to run everyone’s lives or about Martha complaining about everything and never taking control of her own life.  This also felt like a very WASPy, upper middle class story, which isn’t a flaw exactly, it just made the story less appealing to me.  Finally, some of the characters’ attitudes towards things like homosexuality, premarital sex, cohabitation, and unplanned pregnancy seemed out-of-place and old-fashioned for the characters that held the beliefs.  For example, Cleo is 21 and embarrassed about living with her boyfriend during college because that’s just not a thing girls her age do.  Moving in with a significant other during college was fairly common for people I knew when I went to college 10 years prior to the publication of this book, so that attitude seemed particularly strange.

All in all: While this book was not a personal favorite, I have no intentions of writing off Jennifer Close.  I really enjoy her writing and her sharp observations of people and personal relationships.  There is a lot of potential in her writing and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.



Here’s Looking at You- Mhairi McFarlane

Anna was bullied and ridiculed as a child for being fat, nerdy, and Italian.  Everything culminated in a horrifying scene at the school’s Mock Rock where Anna was pelted with candy and called names.  Anna is now in her 30s, a professor of history at a university.  She lost a lot of weight in her 20s and has become not just good-looking, but beautiful.  Her past haunts her, so in the name of closure (and a bit of sticking it to them), she goes to her school reunion.  No one recognizes her, though, but she runs into James, her school crush and one of her tormentors back in the day.  James doesn’t know Anna is THE Anna he tormented through school and Anna lets him believe they’ve never met before, that she has stumbled into the wrong event.  After the reunion, they keep running into each other, finding themselves thrown together on work project.  They get off to a rocky start, Anna holding the past against him, and James put off by Anna’s inexplicable rudeness towards him.  But as they spend more time together, they begin to realize how much they have in common, particularly a sharp wit.  With their past, though, it will be a rocky road to happily ever after.

I enjoyed Mhairi McFarlane’s debut and had been putting off reading her second book because the blurb sounded so cliched.  A girl loses a ton of weight and is suddenly beautiful and can suddenly land her high school crush?  Ugh.  Well, yeah, ok, that is the short of it, but McFarlane handles it much more delicately and just better than I ever expected.  Anna’s life isn’t perfect when she becomes skinny and beautiful.  Being beautiful comes with its own rules, ones Anna never had to learn.  And the Anna on the inside is still nerdy, smart, and sarcastic.  Love doesn’t come any easier to skinny Anna as it did to fat Anna.  James is also not a simplistic character.  He’s pretty shallow and vain and is left reeling when his gorgeous wife leaves him for another man.  He struggles with coming to terms with the fact that beauty and flash aren’t actually making him a happy person.  He, like Anna, also has quite the sense of humor.  The banter between James and Anna was one of the best parts of this book, it was funny and cute and really helped make this mismatched couple make sense together.  What sounds like an eye-rollingly simplistic and cliched story was actually quite complex and none of the issues were glossed over to make this an easy love story.

My only real trouble with this book was that the ending felt unnecessarily drawn out.  Everyone else realizes that Anna and James are in love.  Then Anna and James realize they are in love, but there are some complications thrown in (the bullying thing, James’s ex-wife) that keep them from getting together right away.  And in the end, they only come together after a grand romantic gesture, which felt a bit out of place for their characters (particularly as they joke about this being a convention in romance novels earlier in the book).  None of this was a dealbreaker, it’s all pretty standard stuff for the genre, but I had hoped for more given that most of this book is hell-bent on complicating cliches in romance.

In any case, if you are a fan of smart and funny chick lit, you should definitely give Mhairi McFarlane a try.  I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the U.S. release of her latest book, It’s Not Me, It’s You.

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now- Claire LaZebnik

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now by Claire LaZebnik

Rickie is 25 and living with her parents, taking one college class at a time and taking care of her son, Noah, who is in the first grade.  She’s in a relationship of convenience (as in they hook up when he’s in town) with the brother of her sister’s husband.  She doesn’t really have any friends at her son’s elementary school and she doesn’t really want to.  Her life is at a bit of a stand-still and her relationship with her mom has brought her back to adolescent behavior.  Things begin to change for Rickie when her sister signs them up for the hospitality committee of the PTA and when Noah complains about the new gym teacher.  The hospitality committee and confronting Noah’s gym teacher, Andrew, force Rickie to become more involved in the school, opening her up to new possibilities in terms of friendship, motherhood, and even romance.

This is very much chick lit in the sense that it involves an adult woman coming into her own and finding romance, but Rickie’s life changes much more subtly than many others in the genre.  She’s still a difficult person, always wanting to do the opposite of what she’s told and being prickly and sarcastic.  But she begins to let people in and starts realizing that she has a lot more control than she thinks in interacting with other people, her mother and Noah especially.  She starts out the story being very protective of Noah, but it goes a bit too far.  She underestimates him time and again and tends to shut him down from even trying new things, particularly when it comes to sports.  Andrew takes a special interest in Noah and tries to encourage his athletic abilities, which seems to open up Rickie’s eyes for the first time that Noah wants to try sports, enjoys them, and they help boost his confidence, in spite of his not being very athletically-inclined.  At the same time, Rickie and Andrew are getting to know one another and the romance that develops between them is sweet.  Andrew is a genuinely nice guy and his mentoring of Noah was quite endearing.  This was a romance with a single mom where it felt right for the two characters to get together– they both were invested in Noah.  I also enjoyed Rickie’s developments in her relationship with her mom.  The two are always at odds, but they come to realize that that is what moms are for– someone you can be your worst with who will still love you.  I also thought that some of the side characters, like Rickie’s sister and her friends at the elementary school, were entertaining and interesting additions to Rickie’s life.

I kind of wish this book better addressed Rickie’s lack of direction in terms of career/education.  She spends the whole book mooching off her parents and it doesn’t really seem like that was going to change soon.  I’m not sure it would have fit into the scope of this book, but what can I say?  I wanted to see her gain a little more momentum in terms of her future and supporting herself and Noah.

All in all, Rickie is not a particularly likeable character, but I nonetheless found myself rooting for her, Noah, and Andrew.  This is the kind of chick lit I enjoy– smart character development, exploration of multiple relationships (family, friends, romance), and a sweet, easy romance.  I expect I’ll return to it sometime down the line and maybe even read other books by this author.

What Alice Forgot- Liane Moriarty

Alice comes to on the floor of a gym, having just taken a hard hit to the head.  She thinks she’s 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child.  The reality is much different.  Almost everything old Alice hoped for her future is the opposite of what she’d expect.  She’s almost 40, a mother of three, going through a messy divorce and custody battle with her once-beloved husband.  She is an involved school mom and spends her days running PTA-type meetings, exercising, and managing her house and children.  Alice and her sister, who were always very close, have grown apart.  Her relationship with her oldest daughter is strained.  And Alice can’t shake the feeling that something terrible has happened.  Alice can hardly recognize the shape her life has taken and spends her days trying to recover her memory, while reconciling the old Alice with the new Alice, and hoping to get a second chance in her marriage.

This is the fourth book I’ve read and enjoyed by Liane Moriarty.  What Alice Forgot, like Moriarty’s other novels, is told from three different points of view.  Alice is the predominant voice and story here, but we also have journal snippets from her sister, Elisabeth, and letters written by her surrogate grandmother, Frannie.  Elisabeth and Frannie’s perspectives help fill in the backstory of Alice’s missing 10 years, but these characters also are transformed by what has happened to Alice.  In particular, they are forced to reflect how their past selves would view who they’ve become, which helps them let go of some past hangs up and move on with their lives.  It is an interesting line of reflection, and Elisabeth’s story, which focuses on her struggle with infertility, was particularly effective when put next to Alice’s story.  Alternating points of view is something I am picky about, but I think Moriarty does them very well, as I always enjoy them in her stories.

As for Alice, I didn’t find that I particularly liked Alice or that I could relate to her (well, other than I’m a wife and a mother), but I did find her situation one of those that does force you to reflect on your own life and how things never quite go the way you expect them to.  Alice’s life has been shaped by people and events she doesn’t even remember and while on the one hand it makes it hard to understand what is going on in her life (Why on earth are she and Nick getting a divorce?), it gives her some distance to reconsider things from a new perspective (Why was she so hard on her daughter when what she needed most was love and attention?).  And when Alice finally recovers her memory, she is able to actually move on with her life and to heal some of the wounds that have been gaping in her various relationships.

This book, and my reaction to it, reminded me a lot of Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch, in which a character goes back in time to relive her past life, but with memories of her old one.  Both reflect on how we grow and change over time and particularly with marriage and motherhood.  Both also encouraged me to confront the questions that the protagonists were facing: How would me from 10 years ago view my life now?  What would I change about the past (or the present) if I could?  And I think that this is something that I, as a reader, am drawn to– books that make me reflect about myself and my own development and decisions.

Anyways, if chick lit is your thing and you haven’t tried Liane Moriarty, I’d highly recommend her books.  She is definitely one of the best chick lit writers around these days and I particularly appreciate that her books tend to focus on women in their 30s with husbands and children.  What Alice Forgot is not my favorite Liane Moriarty book (just read Big Little Lies already, ok?), but it was an interesting story with well-developed characters and it left me with a lot to think about.



Stay- Allie Larkin

Savannah “Van” Leone has been in love with her friend, Peter, for years.  And now Peter is marrying her best friend, Janie.  As Janie and Peter head off on their honeymoon, Van grieves by getting super drunk and watching a Rin Tin Tin marathon.  She drunkenly orders a German Shepherd puppy from Slovakia off the internet, whom she names Joe.  Joe’s vet, Alex Brandt, serves as a very effective distraction from Van’s past and present troubles.  But when Peter and Janie return, Van realizes she can’t just erase them from her life and must work to reconcile her new-found independence and happiness with her past.

I bought this book when it was on sale on Audible, thinking it would be cute with some depth and it definitely was.  Van is dealing with a lot more than just a lost love, but also the potential loss of a best friend and facing feeling completely alone after her mother’s death.  Janie’s mom, Diane, is a bit of a surrogate mom/friend to Van, but Diane is a wreck and a drama queen and pays off Van to stay away from her, her daughter, and Peter.  Van is left feeling very hurt and completely abandoned by the friends who were her family in her mother’s absence.  Alex and Joe introduce her to the possibility of having her own life, free from the entanglements that come with loving your best friend’s husband and having a cruel surrogate mom.  Van’s attempts to completely cut these people out of her life go up in flames when Peter and Janie return from their honeymoon and she finds she has to deal with her past before she can truly move forward and have a future with Alex.

I really liked the romance in this book.  Alex was just a genuinely good guy and things were easy and natural between him and Van from the very start.  The challenges to their relationship– namely their past baggage– did lead them to take a temporary break from dating, which was also one of my big complaints in the book.  I wanted more romance, less drama with the snobby, rich folks Van has been hanging onto forever and who only seem to take advantage of her.  BUT as things go on, I came to understand that I was seeing a lot of the issues between Janie, Peter, Diane, and Van through the cloud of Van’s anger and resentment.  It became more apparent that these people are Van’s “family” and she needed to work through whatever lingering resentments were there so that she could move on in building new relationships and being at peace in her life.  Things maybe get a little impossibly rosy in their resolution, but this is the sort of book I wanted and expected a happy ending from, so I rolled with it.

I also want to highlight is how fun the dog character is.  Van and Joe’s relationship reminded me so much of how I felt about my dogs pre-baby.  My dogs were my best buds, who wreaked all sorts of havoc in my house, so I liked seeing a similar bond forming between Van and Joe.  And of course Joe gets up to some easily recognizable antics for any dog-owner.

I’d recommend this book for those who like chick lit and dogs and maybe fans of Kristan Higgins looking for something slightly more serious.  It was a fun read and I will likely pick up Allie Larkin’s other book at some point down the line.


Winter Mini-Reviews 3: Chick Lit and a Series Finale

I am trying to wrap up my 2014 reviews by posting some mini-reviews for things I neglected to review in full.  This is the post for everything else that didn’t fit into the two previous posts, so I have a couple of chick lit titles and a fantasy series finale.


Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

Girls in White Dresses tells the interconnected stories of a group of friends in their 20s, post-college, living in New York City.  It follow their various journeys through early adulthood– romantic relationships, starting out in a career, changing careers, never quite finding that real job you thought you’d have post-college, weddings of friends, friends having children, bad mothers-in-law, family stuff, etc.

What I liked: The stories were sharp and funny and all the stories and characters in this book felt familiar to me.  This book really captures what it is like to be in your 20s in the 2000s/2010s (as a white middle class college graduate anyways).  It was refreshing to get a more holistic view of these girls’ lives and I especially loved seeing them flounder in the area of career as that was the biggest struggle for me in my 20s.
What I felt meh about: I had some expectations coming into this book– the blurb made it sounds like it had a more cohesive plot structure, so I was initially bored and struggled to get into it.  Once I let go of my expectations and got further into the book, it totally clicked for me and I was sad to see it end.
All in all: I highly recommend this book, especially if you liked The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.  I want to reread it some time and I have bought another book by this author since this one resonated so well with me.


After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Lauren and Ryan have been married for about five years and have reached a breaking point in their relationship.  They’re not really sure they love each other any more.  So they decide to take a one year hiatus from their relationship and reevaluate after that break.  This sets Lauren on a journey of self-discovery, as she tries to figure out how to fix her marriage and whether she even wants to fix it in the first place.

What I liked: I loved Lauren’s family.  She is very close to her mother and two siblings and I loved to see the exploration of adult familial relationships along side the exploration of the meaning of love and marriage.  Lauren learns that love and marriage and romance mean different things to different people and has to decide what it means for her.
What I felt meh about: I wasn’t keen on the ending– it was just a little too tidy for my preferences.
All in all: This is smart chick lit that is easy and fun to read.  Loved it and highly recommend it.



The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

This is the final installment in The Magicians Trilogy.  I read the other two books almost three years ago so coming to this one after a long distance was a bit tough.  Quentin has been kicked out of Fillory and is trying to figure out what to do next.  Mostly he wants to save Alice (who got turned into a nifkin way back in the first book).  Meanwhile, in Fillory the world is ending.  Quentin ends up landing a job in a magical heist.  This heist gives him some tools to help in saving Alice, and maybe even Fillory.

What I liked: I like Grossman’s writing– he’s always smart and funny and clearly loves books as homages to authors and books abound in his books.  I am glad to see an ending to this story, too, and to see how much all the characters have changed over the years.
What I felt meh about: This book was all over the place and encompassed so much, that it was really disjointed for me.
All in all: I’m happy I finished the trilogy, but this was my least favorite of the series.