Tag Archives: chick lit

Review: The Sweeney Sisters

Recap: The Sweeney sisters are known around Southport, not solely for their seemingly sweet sisterly bond or their beautiful red hair. But as is too often the case in towns based on tradition, they are known for their relation to a man: their father, the great author William Sweeney.

So when William Sweeney dies, and the country, celebrities, literary enthusiasts and the entirely of Southport mourn his loss, the women must come together with a force similar to that of their father’s prose to a) organize his funeral and celebration of life b) go through his things, sell his house and divide the earnings he left behind and c) find the memoir he wrote that he only wanted published after he died.

What they didn’t anticipate adding to that To Do List was d) forming a relationship with the sister they never knew they had, the lovechild their father had with the next door neighbor while he was still married to their mother.

The Sweeney Sisters follows put-together Liza, mad Maggie, tackle-it-all Tricia as they spend the summer coming to terms with their father’s loss by befriending Serena, their next-door-neighbor turned sister. Serena is a journalist, and they worry she may be seeking out salacious details to write a scandalous, bestselling memoir and tarnish their father’s name. It’s unclear if they can trust this new sister and if they ever really knew their father.

Analysis: Summer setting, check. Romantic sex scenes near water, check. Catty women, check. The Sweeney Sisters has all the trappings of a fun summer beach read (which frankly the world could use right now). And yet, it’s fair to say this fun novel goes a little beyond that. Sure, the ending is wrapped up with a perfect, beautiful bow, maybe a little too perfect. And sure, some of the plots were tropes I’ve read in other books.

But the relationships between the sisters feels real. These are women who are very clearly outlined, who are so different and yet so the same, who really know each other and understand why they are the way they are. Adding a fourth sister to the mix could have been done in a generic way (i.e. all the sisters hate her and then learn to love her or all the sisters love her and then realize she’s evil). Instead, it’s a slow burn and each sister has a unique, individual relationship with the new sister, making it less predictable as to how things would all wind up.

Each sister also has her own problems, aside from the death of their father and the entrance of Serena: Liza with her divorce, Maggie without a job or real inspiration for her path in life and Tricia with her difficultly in connecting with others. Between the three of them (four, if you include Serena!), there is some quality for any woman to relate to: loss, failure, fear. It’s book about women coming together to stand on their own without needing a man to help them, and that is something to be revered.

MVP: Maggie. Her ultimate ending is a little too picture perfect for me, but she is so messy and dramatic and fractured, so wild and free and fun. Her journey in the book, connecting with her late mother through art, is one of true awakening in a way that feels authentically sad and beautiful.

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Movie vs. Book: Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asiansRachel Chu is nervous. She’s about to go to Singapore for the first time with her boyfriend Nick, but this is not just some vacation. They’re visiting for his best friend’s wedding, and it will be the first time she’s meeting Nick’s family. Rachel takes some time to decide, but ultimately determines it would be a fun way to spend her summer off from teaching economics at NYU.

What she doesn’t realize is how nervous she really should be. As it turns out, Nick comes from one of the wealthiest families in Asia. He keeps this information on the down low so as not to be treated differently, but from the moment she hops the plane with him, she begins to understand his very rich reality and quickly comes to realize she may not be accepted by his family or friends.

Yes, Rachel is Chinese. But she is American-born Chinese (ABC), and to his traditional mother, ABC is essentially unacceptable. This pit-in-the-stomach, all-out sinking feeling is excellently portrayed in the movie version of Crazy Rich Asians based on the 2013 bestselling novel. The movie beautifully emphasizes all the best parts of the novel: the romance between Rachel and Nick, the drama between Rachel and Nick’s mother Eleanor, and the glitz and glamour of Singapore and the crazy rich Asians who live there.

The movie follows the book fairly closely except for the ending. The movie adds a scene in which Nick’s family and Rachel make dumplings together, offering an opportunity for Rachel and Eleanor to get to know each other better. The building of their relationship is effectively trashed when only minutes later, Eleanor tells Rachel she will “never be enough.” This scene adds a layer of indiscreet, purposeful anger between Rachel and Eleanor, which then gives Rachel a reason to show Eleanor who’s boss. This is a significant and positive change from the novel. Where Rachel remains mostly timid in the book, this scene in the movie pushes Rachel to fight for the alpha female role, positioning herself strongly against Eleanor so that she stands up for herself in a way we don’t get to witness in the book.

It then leads to a different and happier ending between Rachel and Nick and a more concretely positive relationship between Rachel and Eleanor.

As it aimed to be one of, if not the most successful rom-com in years, Crazy Rich Asians had no choice but to tidy up some of the open-endedness of the book. But the plot choices made at the end of the novel were made to set up the next book in the trilogy (China Rich Girlfriend), and that is lost in the movie. (That includes much of the storyline about Astrid, Nick’s beautiful cousin.) This matters now because the movie sequel has already been confirmed, thanks to the wild success of the first movie.

Crazy Rich Asians is everything a girl could possibly want in a romantic comedy: romance! scandal! makeover montages! a big, beautiful wedding! But it’s possible — nay, definite — that the novel has more depth to offer.

Get Crazy Rich Asians in paperback for $9.60.

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Review: True Colors

511drsbgj0lRecap: Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann Grey have been three peas in a pod since childhood, sisters brought especially close together after the death of their mother when they were young. But as they hit their 20s and they started to go their separate ways, tensions grew between them. Winona remained single but excelled in her career. Aurora started a family, acting as the peacekeeper in the family. Vivi Ann remained a beautiful free spirit, inheriting the talents of her mother: riding horses. Vivi Ann is her father’s favorite as he grows increasingly depressed and ornery over the years after the loss of his wife.

But then Vivi Ann meets Dallas, an Indian in their world of cowboys and ranches. Hired as a ranch hand on their farm, Dallas feels immediately connected to Vivi Ann, and she to him. But she’s already engaged to “the perfect man” Luke Connelly, who just so happens to be Winona’s high school crush. Vivi Ann’s decision followed by  a murder in the town that involves her family sends the story off into the stratosphere and the Grey family spiraling .

Analysis: Like other Kristin Hannah books, the story is told through the eyes of each of the sisters, each chapter revolving between points of view, helping to paint a brighter picture of each character. Aurora, the girls’ father and Dallas remain the most underdeveloped as the story really focuses more on the oldest (Winona) and youngest (Vivi Ann) sisters.

After the scene it set initially, the book seems to move in one direction but then makes a stark turn around a third of the way into the book with the murder plot. For a story about sisters who have lost their mom, have a disconnected father and have a stranger enter their lives, it felt a little unnecessary to throw in any more drama. That said, the book really moves initially and slows down in the middle to end. There’s a period in which a long time passes in the book and the story seems to drag because of it, then rushing into a neatly wrapped up ending.

I really enjoyed the book while reading it and loved the story. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Winona and Vivi Ann too — a sister relationship that no one would understand but sisters. I just wish both the amount of time that passed in the lives of the characters and the literal number of pages it took me to get there were a bit more concise.

MVP: Winona. At times she was pathetic and extremely bitter, but of all the sisters, she still seemed to be the one who most had her life together. She may have been defiant at times, she’s a woman who knew what she wanted.

Get True Colors in paperback for $10.

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Review: All the Summer Girls

51qeoz7vyzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Nothing like a broken-off engagement and pregnancy, a cheating husband and being fired after your life’s become overrun with drugs and alcohol to start your summer. But that’s the way the summer begins for three high school best friends who grew up together and in recent years have mostly grown apart. Kate, Vanessa and Dani had already planned to go away for the weekend for Kate’s bachelorette party. Now that she’s no longer about to become a misses, the three decide to go away together anyway and keep it close to home: the Jersey Shore, the place where they spent all their summers together growing up.

But for the three of them, the Jersey Shore brings up bad memories of the last time they were here together, back during college when a tragic night lead to the death of Kate’s twin brother — a loss from which none of the girls ever truly recovered. Anxiety builds as the secrets of their lives — pregnancy, cheating, addiction — keep finding ways to creep into this home away from home that holds another big, aching secret. Eventually that anxiety must break, and break it does.

AnalysisAll the Summer Girls has just the right ingredients for a great summer beach read — romance, friendship, scandal, secrets and of course the beach setting. Meg Donahue brings it all together, forcing the reader to wonder what she would do any of these characters’ positions. Female friendship is complicated, and this novels dives deep into those murky waters, especially as it details the relationship between Vanessa and Dani, which is so severed, one wonders if it can even be repaired at this point. Sometimes girlfriends truly do just drift. Other times, secrets keep them separated. And still other times, girlfriends remain friends despite all the secrets, all the time that’s passed, and all the little things that annoy each other. The bonds prove strong in this novel.

While Donahue brings it all together, it does feel forced. Vanessa’s obsession with her ex-boyfriend is unwarranted since it seems to be nothing more than an eight-year-old summer fling. Not only that, but there’s a lot of build to a rather anticlimactic and uneventful plotline in the end. Dani discovering some of the things she learns on this trip also seems to make it a perfect time for her addiction to only get worse. Instead, she fights it off which is empowering and impressive, but in my opinion, unlikely under the circumstances. I’ve read several books about female friendship and all their secrets coming out over the course of a summer. It’s a common trope in “chick lit,” but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere.

MVP: Dani. Though her life is more of a mess than any of the other three girls, she’s the one that pulls through the best. She doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t cause a scene. She just deals with it. She decides ultimately that she needs to make some changes, and she does it, no questions asked, no hesitation, and that is impressive.

Get All the Summer Girls in paperback for $12.74. 

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‘Big Little Lies’ Coming to HBO

If you haven’t yet read Liane Moriarty’s huge bestseller, Big Little Lies — don’t worry, I haven’t yet either!– there’s now more incentive to do it. The bestselling novel is coming to HBO in the form of a limited series.

According to Collider, the series is set to debut in 2017, and it looks awesome. I only found out about this a few weeks ago when I was watching HBO and saw the trailer.

The series stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott and Laura Dern. It’s interesting that it’s set to air in this way on HBO, but apparently the story is complex enough to warrant more than your standard 120-minute feature, and the cast is so good, well, does it really even matter how long it is?

Meanwhile, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Liane Moriarty adaptations. According to Variety, Witherspoon and Kidman have already teamed up to produce a movie version of Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. 

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Review: Sunsets of Tulum

sunsets-of-tulumRecap: A near-death experience at work encourages Reed Haflinger to live his life to the fullest, and that includes repairing his relationship with his wife. They head to Mexico for a spontaneous vacation, but after a few days of fighting, Reed’s wife flies back to their home in Boston, leaving Reed to enjoy the rest of his romantic getaway. The romance winds up sparking between Reed and someone else.

Clione is half Reed’s age, but observant and wise beyond her years. The two connect on a level deeper than Reed ever reached with his life. Not to mention their sexual chemistry is off the charts. Reed extends his trip, and the two of them spend their time away from the resort in Cancun where Reed had been staying with his wife and instead explore Tulum, Mexico together. Reed realizes this is the great love he’s always been searching for and decides to end his marriage. But when he receives devastating news from home, he must truly decide if he’s ready to make the change he’s been considering.

AnalysisSunsets of Tulum is a romantic travel novel that explores living your life to the fullest and finding yourself, even if it happens a little later than planned. At the age of 38, Reed seems to experience what most men experience during a mid-life crisis, but he has bravery to actually take the plunge and make changes that many other men aren’t necessarily willing to make. I found it to be a bit unrealistic. It’s hard for me to imagine that someone would actually opt to end a ten-year marriage for a 21-year-old girl who he met a week ago. But I respect the character’s ballsiness in doing it anyway, despite how it looks to other people.

The book uses heavy-handed metaphors to tell the story. For example, Reed is afraid of water, and it’s his new girlfriend who gets him in the water and forces him to face his fears. With water symbolizing change and his obsessive fear of water established early on, there’s a good amount of foreshadowing happening in the water scenes, making it a bit overstated and predictable.

That said, Tulum is extremely sexy in detail I hadn’t expected but certainly can’t complain about, and I think the sex scenes helped to show the feeling of desire, excitement and ecstasy that so many people crave on vacations.

MVP: Reed. He was the most complicated character in the story, who had a very clear arc in growth and development. Though I initially found him unlikable for cheating on his wife, I understood why he did what he did. He later redeems himself, and comes away from it seeking and starting a new life most of us could only dream of.

Get Sunset of Tulum in paperback for $14.99. 

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Review: Revenge Wears Prada

books2f-2-webRecap: It’s been almost ten years The Devil Wears Prada, when Andrea “Andy” Sachs told off her bitch of a boss, Miranda Priestly, and quit the assistant job at “Runway” magazine  “that a million girls would kill for.” In those years, Andy’s life has been revamped. She and her boyfriend broke up. Her best friend moved away. She’s now close friend with her former “Runway” colleague, Emily, and together they run their own wedding magazine. Also Andy is about to marry a sexy millionaire named Max.

It’s all well and good until her own wedding day, when she discovers a note written to Max by his mother — a note that mentions him recently running into his ex (which he never mentioned to Andy) and which tries to talk him out of marrying Andy. Andy walks down the aisle anyway and soon learns that in addition to hating her husband, she’s pregnant.  Add more problems to the list: Miranda Priestly wants to buy her magazine. Emily and Max see this as an opportunity — a fabulous way to quickly become millionaires and be associated — once again — with the fashion publishers of the 21st century. But for Andy, this is the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back — a move she absolutely doesn’t want to make. After all, it would mean getting back into business with the devil she left in the dust years ago — the one who still haunts her dreams. Can Andy handle it all?

Analysis: If this book tells us one thing, it’s this: Andy Sachs has not grown up very much since The Devil Wears Prada. She’s not working for Miranda and she’s still bitching about her and almost everything else in her life. She makes mountains out of molehills — like getting tested for STD’s when she finds out she’s pregnant because she’s convinced Max is cheating. And while she’s still very career-driven (refreshing!), it’s odd that after leaving “Runway,” she retains her focus in fashion and makes a career out of bridal magazines — a step back from her initial newspaper journalism track.

Revenge reads like your standard “chick lit,” and if you go into it knowing that, you’re probably better off. The book, though not written well, is still a fun, easy read. Unfortunately, much of the first third of it is spent filling the reader in on what’s happened in the last ten years, rather than moving the story forward in any way.

The twist at the end is great and pretty satisfying, but everything explodes and resolves so fast that it almost feels as if author Lauren Weisberger was too lazy to really write it out and explore it. That becomes especially clear when the final chapter fast forwards a year. Not to mention, I’m still scratching my head, trying to figure out when the “revenge” took place and if it really wore Prada.

MVP: Lily. As Andy’s best friend, Lily remains tried and true to our heroin who can’t seem to keep her life together. At least one character is likable!

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Review: Bond Girl

Recap: From the time Alex was a little girl and her father took her to his office on Wall Street, she knew she wanted to work there too. She studied for it. She interviewed for and got a job at one of the tops firms on “The Street.” But she didn’t know what being a “bond girl” was all about until the job began. There was the time her boss sent her a few boroughs away to pick up a 50-pound cheese wheel. There was the time she was called ugly at a work party. There was the time one of her coworkers ate everything inside the office vending machine in one day, and she had to babysit him. Sexism galore, Alex got through it all, learning the system and meeting a cute guy, Will, at work.

But nothing ever seemed quite right. Sure, she got paid well and was able to afford clothing, shoes and meals she never dreamed of purchasing on her own. But her relationship with Will never seemed real. He refused to talk to her on weekends, and she was never sure why. She got to hang out less and less with her friends since work took up so much of her time. And her boss was kind of a crazy person — demanding is an understatement. But when one of her clients started hitting on her to an uncomfortable degree, and when she finds out why Will is so distant, everything changes. And Alex had to ask herself — is this really what she signed up for?

AnalysisBond Girl is some light-fare chick lit, comparable to a Nanny Diaries or Devil Wears Prada in that it deals with a woman trying to get through the pain of dealing with a horrible boss. But Bond Girl is much more than that. In Nanny and Devil, those women work for women, employed in jobs that are typically held by women (nannies, fashion magazine employees). But Bond Girl turns that format on its head by throwing Alex into a male-dominated work environment. The added struggle of sexism thickens the plot and gives the novel the opportunity to make a social statement.

What’s better is that while Alex’s boss is demanding and especially hard on her, he’s ultimately a good guy. It’s easy to understand why Alex continues to work for him, and it’s refreshing to read a book like this in which the boss is actually likable. Alex, too, stays likable, which is an achievement in its own right for a book like this. Sure, she goes through some rough times — she cries, drinks with her girlfriends, complains. But she never becomes a horrible person like similar characters in similar books (i.e. Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada or Nan from The Nanny Diaries). 

While the book’s ending may be a little open-ended — as most books in this style are — I finished it feeling confident she would be okay.

MVP: Alex. Of course it’s an obvious choice. She didn’t have much character growth or development, but she could have gone down the path of becoming unlikeable, and she didn’t.

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Review: Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution

Recap: Lola Montez is on the run, and where to next? It’s the mid-1800s, and Montez is not one to settle. So when she is dared to seduce a king, she moves to Bavaria to try her hand at seducing King Ludwig I. That’s where she becomes one of the most famous mistresses in European history. Does this sound familiar? It might. That’s because it’s all based on the true story of the real Lola Montez, an actress, dancer, and mistress from the 19th century.

It’s her relationship with King Ludwig that results in backlash from the public. But Lola and her crazy self is too oblivious to notice the continental shakeup she’s had a part in starting. As she hooks the king, she continues to have sexual relationships with other men. Meanwhile, her daughter is cared for by her own mother — the fact that she’s the mother is kept secret from the both the little girl and anyone else Lola knows. Right decision or not, it’s enough to give Lola a reason to keep going.

Analysis: It’s hard for me to put into words what I didn’t like about this book. All I can say is there was a lot. It was twisty, and with no knowledge of the real Lola Montez, I didn’t know where the story was going. Her character comes off not so much cosmopolitan as she is casually slutty. The book is obviously meant to be comedic; we’re meant to laugh at her obliviousness and her ability to command attention and power without necessarily meaning to. But instead, I found it annoying. She came off as silly and dumb to me, making it difficult for me to connect with her and her story. The most interesting part was the relationship she had with her daughter — the daughter who doesn’t know Lola is actually her mom. But the reader only gets small glimpses into that relationship.

The book is also hard to read as a stand alone. It’s the third book in a series about Lola Montez, the Whip Smart series, and though it was teased as a novel I’d be able to read without having read the previous novels, it didn’t feel that way. It referenced things that happened in the earlier books fairly often. Eventually I was able to figure it out, but it made it hard for me to sympathize with Lola and what she had already been through.

MVP: Lola Montez. Despite how many issues I had with the book, she was nothing if not a spicy character with lots of personality! I couldn’t help but laugh at her casual looseness and aloofness.

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Review: The Never Never Sisters

Recap: For marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt, summer couldn’t come soon enough. She rented a home in the Hamptons, and is looking forward to spending some alone time there with her workaholic lawyer husband, Dave. But something happens at Dave’s office that causes him to be suspended. As his world spirals out of control, and he works to keep Paige out of it, Paige’s estranged sister plans a trip into town to visit. Sloane has been out of the picture for twenty years, since her drug addiction got the best of her.

Suddenly Paige’s relaxing summer becomes a stressful one, as she works to uncover why Dave was suspended and to get to know the sister she lost so many years ago (not to mention Sloane’s new fiancé, Giovanni). As the summer continues, Paige realizes more and more how many secrets the people close to her have been keeping. What happened at Dave’s office, and why won’t he tell Paige? Who is Sloane, and has she gotten her life together? Can she really be trusted? As a marriage counselor, she tries to practice what she preaches, but that proves easier said than done as she’s faced with her own marital problems.

AnalysisThe Never Never Sisters is a family drama, a good beach read, the perfect chick lit novel for right now, since its story also takes place in the summer. It hooked me because it wasn’t easy to map out exactly which direction the story was headed. Compared to other family dramas I’ve read, this certainly wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. Most of the characters came across as sketchy, so it was hard for me to understand why Paige so badly wanted to make things work with Dave and her sister. It was hard to believe there was ever much love in Paige and Dave’s relationship, and while I was curious to learn what Dave did to get suspended and why he kept it from Sloane, I didn’t necessarily care. And the fact that Paige is a marriage counselor and couldn’t even see the problems in her marriage was slightly concerning to me.

To be honest, I was more interested in the relationship between the sisters. The book spent a fair amount of time on them, but in my opinion, not enough, considering the book is titled for them. I expected and wanted to see more their relationship develop more. The fact that much of what they bonded over and discussed was Dave seemed to cloud the focus of the novel. But the ending was unexpected — in a good way! — though I wish the climax and resolution hadn’t felt so rushed.

MVP: Giovanni. Sloane’s fiancé brought to The Never Never Sisters the light-hearted, happy parts of the novel. While some found him to be annoying, he knew how to right a wrong situation and bring out the best in Sloane.

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