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Chasing Harry Winston: A Novel
Chasing Harry Winston: A Novel
by Lauren Weisberger
Edition: Hardcover
451 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A Passably Fun and Utterly Forgettable Piece of Fluff (2.5 Stars), September 27, 2008
Leigh, Adriana, and Emmy are three long-time friends and NYC residents rapidly approaching their thirtieth birthdays. Trouble is, none these ladies are particularly happy about this looming milestone. Leigh is a seemingly successful, type-A editor whose "perfect life" is actually anything but. She's in a relationship with charming, handsome sportscaster Russell, whose love seems suffocating and almost depressing to her, and her new client, eclectic author Jesse Chapman, proves to be a challenging case in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, Adriana, used to relying on her Brazilian gorgeousness to seduce any man she desired and spending her days doing little more than using her parents' money, wonders if she is losing her "touch" when it comes to men. Even more importantly in Adriana's case-does the ever-approaching "30" mean that it's time to actually commit to one man only? And for Emmy, recently dumped by boyfriend Duncan and feeling increasingly desperate for a baby, does her newly single status mean it's time to follow her friends' urgings, abandon her former "serial monogamist" tendencies, and embark on a man-catching adventure that will be the opposite of anything she's ever done before? With all of the drama surrounding the love lives (and general lives) of these "ringless wonders," the year ahead of them will be anything but ordinary...

While this book is not nearly the crisp, original page-turner that "Devil Wears Prada" was, it wasn't completely terrible either. Weisenberger's writing style is still pleasantly breezy and easy to read, making "Harry Winston" a decent anecdote to whatever arduous task you're recovering from or avoiding. And, I have to admit, I found that I usually wanted to keep reading just to see how pulpy crises of these women's love lives turned out.

But speaking of the characters, it is unfortunate to say that they were not the kind that are completely lovable (or easy to relate to). Leigh frequently comes across as a joyless "fun sponge" who readers will often wish they could just admonish to break up with Russell and relax already! Adriana's silliness does entertain during some of the novel, but then again, how much can readers enjoy a character who manages to whine her way through half of a novel, despite having a limitless designer wardrobe, looks to rival Gisele Bundchen's, and all the money she could desire without working? Emmy seemed like the sweetest of the characters, but the fact that she was portrayed as somehow "deficient" because she had not slept with hundreds of men during her life was disappointing.

So, you're not missing fabulous chick-lit if you pass over this offering, but if you do check it out from the library, realize that the not-so-subtle sluttiness=happiness message and lukewarm characters will make it little more than a decent diversion. I would definitely recommend some of Jennifer Weiner's books ("Good in Bed" and its sequel "Certain Girls") if you like your chick-lit to still have a little substance and staying power.


Fat Chance (Red Dress Ink Novels)
Fat Chance (Red Dress Ink Novels)
by Deborah Blumenthal
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.63
65 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Stale for Me..., May 15, 2008
For sassy Maggie O'Leary, life is NOT about being skinny. As a New York City-based newspaper writer who spiritedly advocates acceptance of all body types, her successful column "Fat Chance" is one of her proudest achievements. Maggie's never completely satisfied with her extra weight, but concludes that she cannot and will not fight nature and attempt to meld herself into the kind of super-skinny woman that society deems perfect. But suddenly Maggie's comfortable world of newspaper columns and gourmet lunches with newspaper friends Tamara and Tex changes. Sexy movie star Mike Taylor calls and asks Maggie to visit Los Angeles to assist him with his latest movie about women and weight loss-and really, how can Maggie resist a plea from one of Hollywood's hottest men? Yet moreover, how can Maggie meet him in her current un-svelte state? Thus begins Maggie's wild ride toward self-acceptance, contentment and figuring out the puzzles of weight loss and love.

It's clear from skimming the synopsis of "Fat Chance" that one can expect little more than frothy "chick-lit" type plot lines from this novel. The problem with "Fat Chance" isn't that it fails to be sophisticated literature but that it fails to be a more-than-mediocre "fun" read. "Fat Chance"'s most serious flaw is its hit-and-miss humor. Maggie is a spirited and sometimes melodramatic heroine who lands in numerous situations that should be funny, but the reality isn't so simple. While some of Maggie's musings and situations will produce a giggle or two, others aren't as funny as the author obviously intended and seem to be moments where Blumenthal is striving mightily and awkwardly to make a situation funny where is just ISN'T. Also, sadly enough, Maggie's columns that are included in the text hardly seem excellent enough to be syndicated (as they are said to be in the novel). Many seem trite and overly straight-forward; the worst read like something from a health magazine. And yes, the characters can seem unsatisfyingly one-dimensional and silly (yes, I know this is chick-lit, but still...).

This book is a easy read and Maggie is usually a likeable enough character-readers will probably enjoy the novel's cute, if too rushed, ending. However, this 2.2 star book is about as memorable as a store-bought cookie and readers could do far better in the area of literary consumption.


Quentins
Quentins
by Maeve Binchy
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $9.74
372 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Curl-Up-In-Bed Type of Book, May 8, 2008
This review is from: Quentins (Mass Market Paperback)
Ella Brady, heartbroken after her relationship with already-married financier Don Richardson ends in humiliation and betrayal, discovers Quentins purely by chance. Desperate for work to recover money that Don stole from her family and take her mind off the complicated problems the doomed relationship brought her, she agrees to work with a filmmaker friend on a documentary about this longstanding Dublin restaurant. As she unravels the story behind Quentins and learns more about the myriad individuals whose lives have been impacted by this one-of-a-kind restaurant, her life is changed in ways she could never have expected.

The best thing about "Quentins" is the way it introduces readers to a richly populated character world. Binchy's introduction of new characters is usually deft and well-timed-it was satisfying to find an author who (mostly) managed to juggle an ever-growing cast of characters in a believable and interesting way. Of course, as is the case with all but the most perfect books, there are a few portions of "Quentins" where readers will want to skip ahead to the next interesting part, but for every one of the dull sections, there is an especially touching or satisfying part that nearly makes up for it. Characters from other Binchy books (Cathy, Tom and the twins from "Scarlet Feather", Ria from "Tara Road" and Nora from "Evening Class") are included in "Quentins," and although their appearances are typically low-key, they perfectly "round out" the circle of friends at Quentins.

Fans of Maeve Binchy's warm, realistic sagas will find "Quentins" to be the perfect novel to curl up in bed with and will happily ignore a few slow pages when the payoff is total immersion in another engrossing Irish world.


On This Day
On This Day
by Melody Carlson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.59
125 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Average, January 1, 2008
This review is from: On This Day (Paperback)
At their best, Melody Carlson's stories are crisply written and filled with the kind of realistic, mind-grabbing plots that force readers to keep reading just one more page. Unfortunately, this "quieter" story by Carlson is the opposite of the above description. "On This Day" chronicles the intertwined stories of five seemingly unconnected women who attend a lavish wedding while struggling to come to terms with their separate issues. Aunt of the bride Elizabeth feels certain that her marriage is quietly crumbling, grandmother Margaret confronts her mortality, bridesmaid Ingrid questions the wisdom of her engagement, sister-in-law Laura struggles with feelings of inadequacy in the face of her husband's wealthy family, and family acquaintance Suzette hides fury over her husband's affair behind an impeccable appearance.

While each of their stories began promisingly, and were potentially the sort of situations that could easily have crafted into compelling reading, somehow each fell flat. One glaring problem, especially as the novel continued, was the amount of repetition. Each woman's problem was discussed so thoroughly and continuously that I often felt like skipping a few pages to get to a part where something fresh happened. Yes, I know that these detailed revelations were meant to draw the reader deeply into each woman's mind, but in this case, the tactic failed too often. Furthermore, these separate yet connected stories often slowly wound their way toward a sadly weak conclusion. Suzette had a snobbish, dramatic nature that could have made her one the most interesting characters, but her storyline fizzled out in a hasty way that seemed almost purposeless. Elizabeth's worries at first evoked sympathy, yet after being so "built up" but ultimately so tidily resolved, they seemed slightly silly. Ingrid's story had satisfying twists and in general, a resolution that would satisfy most readers. Laura's honesty was refreshing throughout "On this Day," although her story suffered some of the same "tidy resolution" problem that Elizabeth's had. As for Margaret, her quiet, sweet wisdom made her a loveable character (and one had to enjoy the small surprise she received at the end of the wedding day).

"On This Day" just doesn't come together as a truly engaging novel. The premise of strikingly different characters thrown together for a single day was intriguing, but was not fully developed, and while flashes of Carlson's best writing occasionally emerged, she failed to craft the kind of captivating plotlines that made previous "Finding Alice" and "Looking For Cassandra Jane" the kind of books that I carried with me until I finished them. Solidly average and unfortunately forgettable, I can only give "On This Day" 2.5 stars.


Finding Alice
Finding Alice
by Melody Carlson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.85
72 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skillful and Unique, December 25, 2007
This review is from: Finding Alice (Paperback)
For some, the frightening descent into full-blown paranoid schizophrenia is rapid. Alice Laxton, an intelligent and seemingly "normal" senior at an Oregon university, finds her life spinning out of control after a break-up from her boyfriend triggers the beginning of a long list of eerie symptoms. First, Alice begins hearing the insistent voice of "Amelia." Then she begins to suspect that everyone is plotting to hurt her. Finally, the cruel tricks that schizophrenia plays on her mind take her places she never imagined...back to the confines of her strict fundamentalist Christian home, to the streets, and to strange places of healing that Alice never believed she'd find.

Carlson has done a masterful job crafting this novel about schizophrenia. The first person narration works perfectly, giving Alice's voice a poignancy it would not have had otherwise. As Alice narrates her story with the perfect mixture of realism and intelligent eloquence, readers will feel as if they are living through schizophrenia along with her-fighting to figure out what is real and what is merely a part of a diseased imagination, wondering if a broken life can ever be truly repaired, and sometimes being forced to accept kindness from unlikely sources. And speaking of those unlikely sources of kindness, the supporting characters in this novel (in typical Carlson fashion) are well-drawn and unique. But beyond being a novel that is easy to get lost in, "Finding Alice" is also an enlightening look at mental illness in the context of a Christian worldview and a brave exploration of a subject that seems to be rarely addressed in Christian fiction. Kudos to Carlson for choosing to forgo the cliched "Western frontier" settings and instead writing about a fresh subject with universal relevance. If you enjoyed "Looking For Cassandra Jane," you will definitely find this genuine, hope-filled story equally satisfying.


These Boots Weren't Made for Walking
These Boots Weren't Made for Walking
by Melody Carlson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.25
120 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Completely Great, But Certainly Good Hearted, December 14, 2007
Cassidy Cantrell is just your typical 30-something career woman who is settling for an average life. She loves her boyfriend but the feeling isn't completely mutual, her ho-hum job doesn't excite her but it pays the bills, and so goes her life. But all of that changes when Cassie springs for a pricey pair of impossibly chic Valentino boots that seem to become a catalyst for disaster in every area of her life. After this fateful purchase, she loses her job, her boyfriend, and a sizeable chunk of her money all in span of days, and dejectedly decides to move back to her hometown. Once there, she finds that her formerly shabby mother has decided to become a glamorous, popular, and successful woman, only making Cassie feel that her life is even more pathetic in comparison. Cassie wonders if God has a plan for her (or if he's even listening to her woes), and if she can find a new life (and maybe even love) in an unlikely place...

Regardless of any other flaws the book may have, its best feature is the genuine, seemingly effortless likeability that Cassie exudes. It's hard not to root for a character who isn't perfectly toned, occasionally drowns her sorrows in Snickers bars, and wryly dubs her old gray sweatpants "loser chick apparel." And it must be said that Carlson handles the twists and turns in Cassie's love life deftly. With a book this cozy, the reader will be comfortably sure that a happy ending will result, but along the way, the author's trademark way of making romantic plotlines slightly more unique than usual builds a pleasant level of suspense. Unfortunately, the weakest part of the book was the average writing style. A few dull passages and the fact that the writing wasn't as "tight" and skillful as in another book by the same author ("Looking for Cassandra Jane") makes it worthy of about 3.5 stars.

But really, if you need a book to curl up with on a lazy winter afternoon and are having one of those days where reading about a flawless heroine will make you feel hopelessly ordinary, you could do far worse than "These Boots Weren't Made for Walking."


Joy School
Joy School
by Elizabeth Berg
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from $0.76

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Favorite, March 10, 2007
This review is from: Joy School (Paperback)
There are few authors who could turn the simple story of thirteen-year-old Katie Nash-a story where Katie only moves, starts high school, and experiences the universal "first crush"-into a novel that will linger in readers' minds. Even rarer is the author who could make this spare plot into something that is a joyous reading experience the second time around. Luckily, Elizabeth Berg is a writer who accomplishes both of these things.

"Joy School" is a novel that is written so uncannily well that its simplicity and seemingly ordinary character only highlight the outstanding writing. And in this case, "well written" doesn't mean "unable to be enjoyed by anyone but snobbish literary types;" it means that Berg has such a complete understanding of her own character that it's breathtaking. Katie's thoughts and actions (and schemes when it comes to her crush Jimmy) perfectly fit a thirteen year old, but at the same time, they are filled with such intelligence and wisdom that it's breathtaking.

This is one of those books that is actually deeply comforting to read, since its main character effortlessly and naturally echoes our most private thoughts. As you read Katie's musings about school lunchroom hierarchies, the complexities of friendship, and the pleasures of time alone, you'll be thrilled to find a wise philosopher as well as an everyday teenager.

Sweet and poignant, pensive and surprisingly funny, "Joy School"'s beautifully honest story is not to be missed.


Veil of Roses
Veil of Roses
by Laura Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.97
398 used & new from $0.01

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweetly Satisfying Chick Lit, March 9, 2007
This review is from: Veil of Roses (Paperback)
Twenty-seven-year-old Tami faces a bleak future in her native Iran. Deprived of basic freedoms and confined to living with her parents until marriage, she fears that she will become as listless and depressed as her mother. Then a surprise birthday present comes from her parents-a tourist visa that will give Tami a chance to stay in America for a short time with her sister Maryam. Living permanently in America will only happen if Tami, with the help of Maryam and her husband, can manage to marry a "suitable" Iranian man.

Yes, Laura Fitzgerald's debut novel follows an old format. From the minute Tami meets handsome, charismatic Starbucks worker Ike on the way to her English class, readers will begin to have strong suspicions about future plot developments. Yet there are enough other pluses about the novel that will keep reading enjoyable.

Tami's wonder at all things American (everything from dealing with free samples to relishing life without her customary veil) adds freshness to the book, and her intelligence and determination to truly find love makes her a fitting heroine. As for her suitors-an outwardly successful Iranian with obsessive compulsive disorder and another fellow countryman who turns out to be different than anyone imagined-they add that kind of drama that makes one desparate to see how the plot "tangles" are resolved. Other supporting characters, like Tami's fellow classmates and her loving but controlling sister, add interest and texture to the story, even if they occasionally seem stereotypical.

This is a book that you can't help but enjoy, even if its somewhat simple and predictable nature means that it maybe deserves about 3.8 stars. By time you're finished inwardly cheering for Tami and falling in love with the deliciously romantic Ike, you'll find it hard to complain about this generally inspiring remix of the "immigrant story."


Homeward My Heart (Daughters of Fortune, Book 4)
Homeward My Heart (Daughters of Fortune, Book 4)
by Judith Pella
Edition: Paperback
52 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Finale, June 5, 2006
Although WWII has ended, the Hayes sisters find that their lives are anything but peaceful. Cameron, the oldest, finds herself distracted from her journalism career since she is spending most of her time trying to return to Russia to reunite with her estranged husband Alex. Middle sister Blair tries to enjoy Washington, D.C.'s social scene with her senator husband Gary, yet the question of whether they will ever have children plagues her. Finally, Jackie is adjusting to life without her Japanese husband, Sam. She loves her young daughter, Emi, but struggles with prospective boyfriends who can't abandon their anti-Japanese prejudice and tension between her and still-racist Blair keep her from true happiness.

This story of sisterhood, faith, and change is the best in the series. It's clear that Pella knows about and loves Russian settings, and the historical backdrop of post-WII Russia and oppressive Communism adds depth to the story. "Homeward My Heart" also stands apart from the other books in the series since for once, all three of the sisters are united for a significant portion of the story. Their connected, but different, stories keep the book flowing seamlessly. The stories end well, too. With an arrest, a prison escape, a meeting with a long-lost family member, and a new romance, the series' loose ends are tied up with drama and realism.

The "Daughters of Fortune" series is not as engaging as Pella's "The Russians" series. However, readers who have kept up with the saga will appreciate that in this case, the best did come last.


A Day in the Life of the American Woman: How We See Ourselves
A Day in the Life of the American Woman: How We See Ourselves
by Sharon J. Wohlmuth
Edition: Hardcover
114 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyday Lives-An Extraordinary Book, March 29, 2006
"A Day in the Life of the American Woman" has a beautifully simple premise-focus on the lives of "ordinary" American women who also happen to be unsung "everyday heroes."

This premise happened to result in one of the best "coffee table" books I've ever read. "American Woman" is crammed full of skillfully done interviews and candidly beautiful photographs that investigate the lives of so many inspiring women. The women in this book aren't just glamorous career women or wildly successful entertainers-they're mothers, brides, and cancer survivors. Yet their stories are special because they so full of hope and the kind of realistic, hard-won perspective that will truly affect readers.

I also found this book refreshing because it has no "agenda." It's not anti-feminist, pro-feminist, politically correct, or pushing alternative lifestyles. The authors, with real open-mindedness, investigated the lives of myriad women with complete honesty. The inner beauty and strength of ALL women is the focus-and that clearheaded aim makes the book even more valuable.

"American Woman" really is a book that needs to be purchased. I have never found another book that did more to encourage me to be myself and live my "best" life.


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