Friday, July 26, 2013

Book 28 of 52: Messy by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Fug Girls are back!

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan are the writers behind Go Fug Yourself, a funny fashion celebrity blog. They're also YA authors and just published Messy, their second novel.

Messy is a modern day take on Cyrano de Bergerac (or Roxanne. I loved that movie). Much in the same way that Clueless turned Pride & Prejudice into a send up of rich kids living the Beverly Hills lifestyle, Messy is a send up of rich kids living in the shadow of Hollywood.

It's also a sequel to Spoiledin which we met Brooke Berlin, the daughter of mega action star Brick Berlin. Spoiled had Brooke (and everyone via gossip blogs) learning that she had a half-sister, Molly, who came to live in the Berlin mansion after her mom died. Here, Brooke hires Molly's green-haird friend Max to ghost write her blog as she tries to start her own acting and "it girl" career.

They're an unlikely pair. Brooke is queen bee at Colby-Randall Prepatory School (acronym: CRAPS), and Max is the headmistress' daughter who's working minimum wage jobs to help pay her way to a summer NYU writing program. That's the only reason Max took the job. The money was too good to pass up, especially to pay for something she previously thought was out of reach.

As you can imagine, things go awry. The blog takes off, and people expect that Brooke really is the person writing the blog. When Brooke falls for a smart, cute guy in part because of the blog, she expects Max to help out - never mind that Max has a crush on him too.

Messy is good, fun YA. The characters aren't complete, cardboard stereotypes. Sure, there's the quarterback jock - but he asks Max out on a date. Brooke is that uber popular blond rich girl, but Cocks and Morgan show us that she has a very insecure side that drives a lot of what she does. Max could have been the typical loner-who-needs-a-makeover.

I know I'm probably out of the target audience for this book, but I know a lot of adults read YA every now and again. Look at what happened with Twilight. This would make a fun beach read for you and the young women in your life.

And, to take you into the weekend, the "nose jokes" scene from Roxanne:

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Book 27 of 52: Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand's books have been featured twice on this blog: A Summer Affair was book 38 of 52 of cycle one of "Book a Week with Jen." I then reviewed The Island in 2010 (it was not part of a specific book a week project). 

I'll repeat here what I said back in 2010: "Full disclosure: a few years back, I wrote an article about Hilderbrand. She's lovely, writes the first drafts of her novels in long hand, loves Bruce Springsteen and Philadelphia. Part of that interview is blurbed on one of her book jackets. Small thrill since I like and her books so much."

I still do. She's a talented novelist, and I've never taken more than a week to read one of her books.

Last year's offering, Summerland, was a dark one: four kids going to a graduation party are in a horrific car accident - the driver dies and her brother is left in a coma. It's a sad book - an enthralling one - but a sad one. It even has a Greek chorus in the form of brief chapters of what the town is saying and thinking about the kids who died, the kids who lived, and the families of all involved. I reeled after reading that book. It was so powerful and so well done.

Beautiful Day: A Novelis fun. It's about the wedding weekend of Jenna Carmichael. I've been through three family weddings (well, four if you count my father's second wedding) in the last couple of years, and God knows so much can go wrong when you're all trapped in the same place. Things are said. Tears, cried. Tempers? Oh boy. And the conflicts over blended families - said out loud and or hushed up - can simmer. And something always goes wrong. Always. I was the maid of honor in my sister's wedding, and very sick and medicated (and swollen from the medication as you can see in the pictures). It poured the day of my father's wedding - so much so that we had to use a hairdryer to dry his soaked linen suit AND that day was also the first time I was about to meet my new step sisters. I didn't know that my brother's wedding would be outdoors, and I had to walk down the aisle on my tippy toes. I wasn't in my younger brother's wedding, but I had a first row seat to some family strife there. Yeesh. Weddings bring out the best and worst in most families, as happens in Beautiful Day.

Which is why I say this is a fun book - because of the "we've all been there" factor. But it's not a comedy exactly, or some frothy chick lit thing. The story is told from three points of view: Margot, the maid of honor and older sister; Doug, the father of the bride; and Ann, the mother of the groom. Margot is a divorced mother of three who is having a secret relationship with her father's law partner; Doug is a divorce lawyer and unhappily re-married after being widowed seven years prior; Ann is a North Carolina state senator who re-married her ex-husband, but not after he knocked up another woman while they were still married the first time - a woman who Ann in a moment of who knows invited to the wedding.

The wedding has been planned by Beth, Margot and the bride's dead mother. While she was dying of ovarian cancer, she wrote out how she imagined Jenna's wedding because she knew she'd never live to see it (Jenna is seven years younger than the next youngest sibling, and Margot eloped). Passages from "The Notebook" breaks up that revolving narration. That's the sad part - these women so obviously miss their mother, and their father does too, and their aching grief plays out over the course of the book - but it's not fresh pain, which allows the book some levity. 

I read it in two days. I bet you will too. Thanks, Elin, for another great summer read.

The only question left is...will she write a book not based in Nantucket next? It's not a problem with her novels, but it's always something I wonder after I read one of her books.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Book 26 of 52: Whiskey Women by Fred Minnick

I've reviewed Fred Minnick's Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskeyfor an airline magazine, so I can't say too much about it here. But a little: it's a fascinating look at the role that women had in creating the spirits world we have today. I was surprised the entire way. I breezed through the book, sometimes taking it with me to the gym so I could read on the stationary bicycle, and I said "oh" so many times on one ride that I think I annoyed the lady next to me (sorry).

It'll be published in October.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book 25 of 52: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Finally! The Engagementsby J. Courtney Sullivan is one of the two books I've been waiting to read this summer. Why did hers come first? Because it was published first (and I just ordered the other, so that'll be on the blog at some point this summer).

Glad to report that I loved it. The Engagements focuses on different generations and their attitudes around one thing: diamonds, specifically diamons used in engagement rings, which is a jumping off point for the roles of women in work and in marriage and child rearing in general.

Sullivan starts with Mary Frances Gerety, who works for the Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia, starting in the 1940s. She comes up with the line "A Diamond is Forever" even though she is completely career focused and has no interset in romance or family. Copywriting is her job, and for De Beers it was to convince people that a diamond engagement ring is an absolutely necessity precursor to marriage where before only the wealthy did that, and not always with diamonds (my aunt's antique engagement ring, for example, is an emerald). It's easy to think that this character was inspired by Mad Men's Peggy Olsen, except that Gerety was a real person, and really did coin the line.

Then, as Sullivan's other books have done, the story is then told from rotating points of view from Gerety's career to 2012, but instead of groups of people are are obviously connected - college roommates in Commencementand family members in Maine- the connection between relationships are not apparent, and only show themselves as the book continues, with the last reveals coming very late in the book. It's interesting to see how she connects them - the 2000s French shop keeper, the 1980s Cambridge paramedic driver, the 1970s retired school teacher - and their feelings and emotions surrounding the diamond engagement ring with history of the ad campaign looping through.

Like I said up top, I loved the book, and stayed up way too late and may have taken reading breaks during the day to finish it. But it did dredge up a lot of junk in the back of my brain. I was almost engaged once. I even picked out my ring (which was an antique and from before the creation of Gerety's famous line). When I found out the price of the ring, which was in the five figures, I felt ill. For what? But he insisted that it was what I "needed." Of course, I ended up not needing it since we never got engaged. Fortunately, he didn't buy it (though I found out it's still there - I made the mistake of walking into the store when I was in the town where the shop is located soon after our breakup. Whoops.)

I'm most aligned with Kate, who is the 2012 character and anti-marriage. She lives with her (male) partner, and they have a daughter, but she doesn't want to be part of the marriage industrial complex, in which her sister is totally ingrained. The wedding in her story is that of her gay cousin, but the flashbacks to the sister's choices - knowing exactly what she needed in a ring, the suburban house, the big SUV life, the giving up the career, then the talk about how she "needs" to trade up her ring. Like Kate, I can't stand that buzz and noise. It seems so stupid to me, not just in the throwing money down the toilet, but in that so many people want to flush feminist's hard earned wins down the toilet (the nonsense in Texas doesn't help either). In this story, Sullivan makes a point I think about a lot: so many people seem focused on the act of the wedding, but what about after? Isn't that what's important?

Unlike Kate, however, I am opposed to marriage; I'm just not obsessed with being married (even though it seems a lot of people in my life are (you might not be surprised that's the case since I'm 32, but this started in my mid-20s). It doesn't seem that any of the other characters in the other story are obsessed with weddings, though. That was refreshing. This is not trite chick lit. It's an excellent novel, and a good one to get a reader thinking, as Sullivan's other novels have been. I can tell she's maturing as a writer, and I'm glad that she's chosen to continue down this road. There are so many women's books that are baths of pink and drinks and heels and man chasing. It's nice to have something else out there for the rest of us.

Two more random things:

1. I mentioned in my review of House of Tides (book 19 of 52) about using a rotating narrator, and how I didn't think the author had done it well in that case. It worked well here since all of the narratives were very different from each other even though, eventually, connected. I do worry that it's being overused though, and that the poor examples like House of Tides and that book I DNFed, will ruin it for everyone else.

2. I've been reading Sullivan's work since her debut novel, so of course I wanted to read The Engagements, but I bought it knowing that we are now with the same literary agency. Yes, I have an agent! And while we don't share the same agent, mine was listed in the acknowledgements at the back of the book, which was a jolt. A good one, but a light smack to remind me that there's a book deal dangling out there for me on another level of publishing than where I've been before. But I don't want to say too much to jinx it - just a nifty coincidence.

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