Monday, January 3, 2011

The Wedding Girl

The Wedding Girl
Madeleine Wickham

The first book of 2011 is also my first book for the Chick Lit Plus Reading challenge. 

In The Wedding Girl, Milly Havill is set to marry Simon Pinnacle.  Just days before the wedding an event from Milly's past comes back to haunt her.  A chance encounter leads to the revelation of secrets from Milly's past. As Milly deals with the repercussions, her friends and family are each forced to confront their own secrets and lives to discover the truth of who they are.

I first read Madeleine Wickham a few years ago. I like Brit Chick Lit, and came across one of her books that I enjoyed.  I was surprised to learn Madeleine Wickham is actually Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series of books.

Frankly, I much prefer the books written under the Wickham nom de plume to the books she writes as Kinsella.  I find myself more easily able to identify with the heroines and their situations.  The plot lines are more complex, the situations more relatable.

There were a lot of surprises in The Wedding Girl.  I love that most characters are not quite who they seem to be.   Everyone has some kind of secret, wears some kind of mask, plays a role.  Everyone has to consider who they really are, what will really make them happy.  And that is a risk, because sometimes the people we care about the most can't see past our facade to really know the truth of who we are.

The Wedding Girl was a quick, fun read that I enjoyed the whole way through. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seeking Recommendations

You may have read earlier that I am doing Chick Lit Plus' Reading Challenge in 2011.  That means I'll be reading, you guessed it, Chick Lit.

Off the table are mystery/thrillers and historical romance.  But anything else goes. I think.  So,  this is where you come in.  I need chick lit suggestions.  I like smart Chick Lit (Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin, Marian Keyes). I like Brit Chick Lit. I'm interested in books that might stretch the definition of Chick Lit.

Any thoughts? I have to read twelve. So please, add your suggestions in the comments.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why, After All This Time?

I'd Know You Anywhere
Laura Lippman

Earlier in the week, I just wanted a book that would suck me in and make me want to turn the page.  I didn't want to think, much, but be engrossed and entertained.

I'd Know You Anywhere certainly met my "suck me in" requirement. But surprisingly, what I thought was going to be a fast-paced, intriguing mystery was actually more than that, deeper, and it made me think in ways I was not anticipating.

When she was fifteen, Elizabeth Lerner was abducted and held for forty days by Walter Bowman. He was convicted of the murder of other girls. Now, twenty years later, Bowman is on Death Row with an imminent execution date, and Elizabeth is now Eliza Benedict, happily married and mother of two children.  Until the day Eliza receives a letter from Death Row, Walter re-establishing contact.

What follows is the unravelling of what really happened while Eliza was captive. The choices we make to survive, the choices we make to take control of our lives. It also explores the  morality of the death penalty, but does not come down clearly in one camp or another. Rather it explores the motivations of both supporters and detractors.

What I really liked abut this book is that it told an exciting story, intertwining the past and present.  Without being salacious, Eliza's time with Walter is revealed. She's made peace with how she survived her time with Walter, and built a life for herself. But as the story unfolds, Eliza must revisit that time in her past.  She's unsure why Walter is contacting her, and she's looking for something from him. But is he only manipulating her again, after all these years, for his own purposes?

This is one of those books that had me carrying the eReader around with me, grabbing whatever minutes I could to read a few more paragraphs.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Doing Chick Lit Plus' Reading Challenge

One of the blogs I follow, Chick Lit Plus ( ), is sponsoring a reading challenge for 2011.  It is a simple challenge, twelve chick lit books throughout the year, two of which must be by a debut author.  So why this challenge?

The label "chick lit" alone is enough to turn off some people, and I understand that argument. You don't see much "men's fiction" but let's be honest.  Some fiction appeals more to certain groups than others. I, for example, don't often choose to read about hunting and fishing- they simply aren't interests of mine. That being said, some people use the term "chick lit" to be summarily dismissive of a work simply because it is written by, or geared towards, women.  And while some books I've read certainly fit the "chick lit" stereotype, others do not.  And if they do, so what? People read for a myriad of reasons. If someone gets some enjoyment reading the Shopaholic series, even if it isn't your cup of tea, why do you care? 

So part of the reason I'm doing this challenge is to, hopefully, broaden people's understanding of what "chick lit" is and show where it, like any other entertaining piece of fiction, has merit.  Secondly, although I read a fair amount of non-fiction to learn, sometimes I like to read to escape from the day to day chaos in my own life.  This challenge will remind me to slow down, at least once a month, and read.  There are so many talented, smart writers out there, writing about things that matter to me or that I can relate to. Still, I sometimes forget to take time to enjoy them.

So, I hope you'll join me on this journey, participating yourself or following the challenge related posts.   And as always, suggestions are welcome!

Great Power, Great Responsibility

A Great And Terrible Beauty
Libba Bray

With apologies to Spiderman, I'm starting this review with a paraphrase from him: With great power, comes great responsibility.  And that is also the theme of this book. Libba Bray's title is spot on. Power can be a great and terrible beauty.

I read a fascinating essay by Libba Bray a few weeks ago.  I didn't realize I owned the book but when I stumbled upon it in the bookshelf recently, I picked it up.  I wanted to see what else Libba Bray had to say.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is gothic, set in the Victorian era. After a family tragedy, Gemma Doyle moves from India to England to attend a women's finishing school.

The girls are being groomed to be the perfect society wives.  Their job will be to support their husband, not sully his name, and lie back and think of England. Through a bit of blackmail, Gemma secures a place with the most popular girls in school. Their tenuous friendship deepens, and as they realize their futures are looming, they also look for more freedom.

The discover a way to enter the Realms, the otherworld, and there they unleash a powerful, primordial magic.  Heady with their new power, the girls of The Order begin their adventures, but a powerful brother organization tries to thwart them.  The Order no idea how grave the consequences of their power can be.

While A Great and Terrible Beauty is a fun, mysterious YA read with a kick-ass heroine who seems attainable to any reader, it is also social commentary about coming of age and women's role in society.  You feel the frustration of Felicity, Gemma, and Pippa as they want more from their life than to just be a dutiful society wife. Living at the turn of the century, and with their newfound power, this might just be in their grasp.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
David Ebershoff

I'm fascinated by polygamy.  I don't know why. But it is no surprise that when I saw this title, I had to check it out.

A modern day mystery of a nineteenth wife who is accused of murdering her husband, The 19th Wife  is interspersed with the based-in-truth story of Ann Eliza Young, the purported nineteenth wife of Brigham Young.

I found the history of Ann Eliza Young more interesting than the modern murder mystery itself. Even so, the details around the modern mystery were compelling.  While polygamy as it is practiced in this novel is not the norm, it is what we think about when we hear stories of men like Warren Jeffs. 

Ebershoff highlights two especially poignant side effects to the world of fundamentalist polygamy. Young girls forced to marry men, sometimes more than twice their age, and live a life bearing children to build up credit in the afterlife. And the lost boys, young men cast out of the compounds to not be competition of the older men.  Ebershoff's recounting of these gelled well with what I have read in polygamist memoirs.

Ebershoff points out that the recorded history of the Mormon church is ambiguous at best.  And modern Mormons will argue that the modern fundamentalist sect portrayed in this book are not real Mormons. Still, there's no disputing that polygamy was a huge part of the church's past.  

The story of Ann Eliza Young, manipulated into a marriage with Brigham and then successfully divorcing him and helping fight against polygamy, was fascinating.  It was history I was unfamiliar with, and I enjoyed learning more about this story. Ann Eliza's own dubious motivation for fighting Brigham was only a small part of the story. Finding out about what happens to her is the truly intriguing part.

Not as quick of a read as I thought it might be, I still found The 19th Wife an entertaining read, especially if you are interested in the subject matter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Riding with the Hells Angels... Not a Bullshit MC

No Angel
My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the
Inner Circle of the Hells Angels

Jay Dobyns

I'm a fangirl over three things: Harry Potter, U2, and Sons of Anarchy.  I'm going to assume that if you're reading this, you know what Harry Potter is, and that love or hate them, you've heard of U2. But Sons of Anarchy may be new to you.  If you don't know, Sons of Anarchy is Kurt Sutter's FX Network drama about an outlaw motorcycle club based in the fictional Charming, CA.  Since I love this show, it is no surprise that No Angel caught my eye when I was browsing through Barnes and Noble.

In 2002, undercover ATF Jay Dobyns took on the case of a lifetime, infiltrating the most notorious outlaw motorcycle club, the Hells Angels.  This was an incredibly dangerous assignment. If discovered, any retaliation short of death would only leave Dobyns craving said death.

The story is told simply from Jay's perspective.  He wanted the case to work.  But he took his role almost too seriously. He was so  immersed in the culture that not only did he almost become a fully initiated member of the Angels,  he nearly lost his wife, family,and self in the process.

The outlaw MC's, the "one percenters" as they are known, may operate outside the law, but they strictly adhere to their own code. Loyalty to the club is at the top of that list. Betrayal of that loyalty means almost certain death.

The book was an easy read, and a fascinating look into a world most of us will never know.  It takes the romance of a TV show like Sons of Anarchy and exposes the seamy underside of the life.  What do I mean? Well, with Sons, you truly care about the characters and although they are criminals - sometimes quite vicious ones- you feel understand their motivation and root for them, because underneath it all, most of them are good guys.

The reality - at least from what Dobyns experienced- is that most MC members are thugs. And while he genuinely liked and cared for some of them, he didn't gloss over what he saw. Most of the people he encountered were tweaking on meth or other illegals, and quick to violence. Still, there's something to be said for the intense loyalty of the club. That was the thing I couldn't get away from. Knowing that the club business is illegal, I can still appreciate the bond that the club brothers have, the respect for the cut and the life and I can see how Jay was sucked into it.

While a show like Sons of Anarchy gives us the bad ass Gemma Teller and Tara Noles, life for women in an MC is hardly glamorous.  Women are truly second class citizens in this world, at the beck and call of their "Old Men" if they ever make "Old Lady" status.  And they earn their place in part through sex- with whomever, whenever. 

What I found most fascinating about this books was Dobyn's complete immersion into the culture.  He became his alter ego, Bird, finding it hard to turn off his MC persona when he spent time with his family.  The Angels were relatively quick to trust Jay and the manufactured MC Charter he was a part of, a true testament to their ability to walk the walk.

The book includes an epilogue of what happened to all the key players in the years following the case, as well as  glossary of the terms unique to the MC world.  Recommended for anyone who wants a glimpse into this group that exists just outside the bounds of society.  It is indeed a unique brotherhood.