book club


Image As those close to me know, I’ve recently become a romance convert. Like many others, I had preconceptions about romance novels — what they were about, the quality of the writing… Most of which were completely and utterly wrong. I’ve read romance novels that were much better written than books in every other genre I’ve read, and although I have a major issue with the book covers for the most part, these are not books that can be judged by their covers. They can be trashy, yes, but they are also often funny, heartwarming, and emotional.

I’ve also become familiar with the genres within the genre: contemporary, historical, paranormal… The one thing in common is that the HEA, i.e., the Happily Ever After. For someone like me who has been unapologetic about how much I like (require) happy endings in my movies it’s actually surprising that it’s taken me this long to get to the romance genre.

One of the things that has also recently happened is that I’ve come to learn is that chick lit (now also called “women’s fiction,” apparently) is not the same as romance. I honestly didn’t know that before. Romance can be first and/or third person pov, is often told from the perspective of both the hero of the story and the heroine (or in the case of GLBT romances, I assume, hero/hero or heroine/heroine), and, although the characters may experience personal growth, the story focuses more on the growth of the relationship, which often means that misunderstandings and misconceptions are revealed and resolved. Chick lit tends to be first person pov, told from the perspective of one character (a women, of course), typically a character who starts out somewhat vapid (or at least is presented that way) and finds themself achieving major personal growth by the end of the book. Although a chick lit book does often involve a relationship or romance, unlike romance, that is only a byproduct.

To be honest, I’ve grown both bored and annoyed with chick lit books. Although I have definitely enjoyed them in the past, I’ve become so irritated with them in fact, that I’ve been avoiding them pretty much at all costs.

Well, o.k., not avoiding them so much as reluctantly picking one or another up, putting it in the TBR pile, and then continuously bypassing it for the next book with the half-naked man on the cover. (See my previous note about my issue with romance book covers.) And I have to admit, Mrs. Perfect was one of those books that I kept moving to the side because I just couldn’t bear yet another plodding character study of an annoying heroine.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mrs. Perfect is the story of Taylor Young who by all apearrences is, as noted in the title, perfect. She has the perfect husband, the perfect children, perfect house, perfect life. And, in fact, she is the nemesis of Marta Zinsser, the heroine of Jane Porter’s book, Odd Man Out (which is the first Jane Porter book I read and the one that lead me to this one). I loved Marta Zinsser and hated Taylor Young. I couldn’t imagine empathizing with this character under any circumstances. And because I’d been resisting chick lit (which, I need to say is a term that seriously annoys me, although I equally despise the term “women’s fiction”) I just couldn’t bring myself to crack open this book. The thing that motivated me to finally do so was that I met Jane Porter at a conference, and she was such a lovely and wonderful person that I couldn’t imagine her writing any character that I’d truly dislike. So I took the plunge.

What amazed me was that Porter was able to simultaneously maintain the characteristics that made Taylor Young “perfect” while also layering all of her imperfections in such a relateable and believable way that it was impossible to do anything but root for her in the end. No, that makes it seem as though it’s just a matter of Taylor seeing what her issues were and fixing them all and wrapping it up with a bow; that wasn’t what happened at all. Instead, Taylor found herself in a position of losing everything she had so painstakingly built, then fighting tooth and nail to keep it, while also deeply mourning its loss. It’s not just that she learns who her friends are — it’s that she comes to know the other shades of each of these women and then realizes which of the women in her life are the ones that see her for who she is and helps build up her strength rather than try to knock her down.

The way Porter brings Marta back into the story and then develops the relationship between the two acknowledges their history while also allowing them to tentatively get past it. Bringing Taylor’s mother back into the story was also done in a fully satisfying way. And the ending, though not in the same HEA category as a romance, was everything I wanted it to be.

And although I did love this book, one of my favorite parts of it was the letter from Jane Porter at the end. “The truth is,” she says, “I am as much Taylor as I am Marta. Like all women, I’m fierce and fragile, hopeful and fearful, sunlight and shadow.” I love her; I love her books. I want to read more from her. But in the meantime I’ll just savor the advice she leaves us with: “Seize life. Love fully. Live joyfully.”

Amen to that.

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(Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot lately? Mostly due to the surgery recovery thing. Not something I’d usually have the time for! But I’ll take what I can get…)

Head Over Heals (Lucky Harbor #3)
Jill Shalvis

The only bad thing about this book was that it had to end. Some may feel that the last little bit before the ending took a bit of a turn, but I’m not one of them. With each of the first two books in the series I thought that I wouldn’t want to leave that pairing for the next one — and that was especially so when moving on to Chloe and Sawyer. But it took all of two pages for me to change my mind and get on the C/S train. This also had the benefit of one of the best lines I’ve read in recent memory: “He grinned, and she sighed. One hundred thousand sperm and he’d been the fastest.” (Obviously not about Sawyer.)

I know there are more books in the Lucky Harbor series and I know that I’ll fall in love with each and every one of them. But for now I’m going to savor the stories of the three sisters — and put all three books on my Have To Buy The Hard Copy list.

I love0758269188.01._SY95_SCLZZZZZZZ_d this book! It pretty much had everything I want in a story – strong female lead (quirky, but not annoyingly so), great male lead (flawed, of course, but believably so [even if he’s an otherwise perfect specimen of the male persuasion, right down to the trust fund]), enjoyable secondary characters, and a story that built up perfectly. The beginning took me by surprise, I have to admit, in a way that made me unsure of whether or not I liked the main characters, but that was fixed fairly quickly. Other than that, my only complaint was that right when the payoff hit, rather than stay focused on the two main characters, the story switched entirely to a secondary story. (Thus the 4, rather than 5-star rating.) I didn’t hate that other plotline (although, I have to admit, I didn’t like Brody as a character much at all), I just would have liked to have more time with the main characters. All in all, though, it’s a book I could see myself coming back to — it’s definitely an author I’ll be seeking out again.

First of all, I know I already said this, but I am tired of half naked men on the cover of books. I am tired of them showing up in my feed, and I Imageam tired of carrying them around. I do not ever again want to get into a conversation with my dad about whether the half naked man on the cover on my latest book is the actor from Perception (Erik McCormack) because it really looks like that actor (It isn’t, Dad). [Are you sure that it isn’t that actor? (Yes, I am sure, Dad.) Hold on, let me get my glasses, because it really, *really* looks like that guy. (It ISN’T that guy, Dad.) Wait a minute — how many books do you have with that guy on the cover? Why are you reading so many biographies about Erik McCormack? (IT. ISN’T. ERIK. MCCORMACK. DAD!!!!!!!)]

But I digress…

So, yes, this is yet another of my binge-y romance books that fall into the hot-perfect-man-falls-for-quirky-cute-could-be-you-weren’t-ten-years-older-and-thirty-pounds-heavier-woman category. Except I am even more distracted by the half naked man on the cover because he doesn’t quite match the description of the guy in the book, and, for that matter, neither of them really fits my own description of what is attractive so that is even more distracting to me.

Which is all to say that I’ve already been way too distracted by all of this to fall in love with the story and that’s part of the problem in the first place. (And I may as well give you a spoiler alert right now as I am probably about to go into way too much detail. Sorry. I’m weaning myself off Percocet and am in a cranky mood right now in case you couldn’t tell.)

I spent the first few chapters of this book convinced that there had to have been more chapters before them as I felt like I’d started in the middle and not at the beginning. There was just a little bit too much familiarity going on with Hunter (the guy) just kind of walking into Toni’s (the girl) cabin as if they’d known each other forever.

They hadn’t, of course, and once I realized that, I was a little annoyed. I mean, Hunter was all nice and sensitive and Toni was all strong and vulnerable and I was more than happy to watch the two of them get together. But I wanted to watch it happen, not just have it kind of be a fait accompli (or however you say it) even though the whole reason I’m reading something like this is because it had darn well be going to happen or else why am I reading it, right?

The happening itself wasn’t bad (who am I kidding — it was more than o.k.), and then I hit the second hiccup. After a whole lot of build up about how understanding and respectful Hunter was about Toni’s full-out fear of being left alone in the woods (with a back story that I related to just a little bit too much), he goes and, yep, leaves her alone in the woods.

I mean, I know the whole thing about needing to create conflict, and I’m willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story to a point, but, really? Leaves her just standing there completely alone in the woods? I wanted to throw the book across the room, I was so irritated.

Luckily, he came back appropriately sorry and feeling stupid enough that both Toni and I were able to forgive him. And then his family got fully introduced in one of the best family-meal scenes ever and, well, the book got a whole additional half a star because of that family. I loved, loved, LOVED them. They made up for all kinds of sins. And after that I was completely taken by the whole rest of the book and couldn’t put it down again until I was done.

There was one final little bitty issue at the end… In reading all of these romances, I’ve really wanted to actually get to see the whole happily ever after part. And although I agree with the other reviewers that the engagement and wedding were a little bit too rushed, by that point I was o.k. with it. I had totally bought into the engagement and wedding. But I didn’t like the slapstick treatment of the wedding itself. I didn’t mind unusual, but I wanted it to be taken seriously. (Yes, that would be me off pouting with Hunter.) And I didn’t want to feel like I was just being rushed to the end so that we could get to the next book, which I assume will take place in L.A. and have something to do with one of the brothers and the lady lawyer. But don’t hold me to that.

Because of the various rating systems, I couldn’t give this the rating that I really wanted to, which is 3.75 stars. It’s not quite of a 4-star, thanks to all the annoyances, but in recognizing that those annoyances might be a bit surgery/Percocet-weaning-induced, the author shouldn’t pay for my crankiness with a 3 or even a 3.5, and I’m therefore rounding it up to 4 in the places where it needs to be. I’ll be looking forward to the next in the series, and I’ll also be seeking out the (cousin) Ben/Gina story, which had way too much involved to not be a book of its own.

That’s right: I’m tired of being told that I should read something because it really “makes you think.” I don’t want to think — I want to escape from thinking. Therefore, I’m starting a book club all of my own. (Well, actually, of my own plus my sisters. They actually do read books that make them think, but they also appreciate a good fluffy chick lit book — as long as it’s written well, of course.) Meg Cabot is my patron saint, with Jennifer Crusie coming in a close second. I’m happy to say, that I’ve got another author to happily add: Stacey Ballis. Here’s the review of her book, Room for Improvement, I just posted on LibraryThing (see it there at http://www.librarything.com/work/1087127/reviews/73030967 – or, you know, just read it below):

I loved this book. It held my attention from the moment I started reading it until the very last words — not something that happens very often these days. Unlike the previous book I read (which, incidentally, also had to do with interior design, to a point), this story integrated the background and the relationships perfectly. I liked reading about the Trading Spaces/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-type reality show (although I did find it a bit jarring that it kept outright mentioning Bravo — was it sanctioned by them, I wonder?) as well as how the protagonist’s (Lily Allen) life changed as the show became more of a success. The friendships were great, as were the work relationships. Plus the romance didn’t feel forced in the way that some of the others I’ve read lately have. (That said, it definitely is not the main focus of the book so be forewarned if that’s what you’re looking for.)

I was quite happy that it was mentioned only in passing that Lily was on the more voluptuous side (whether a 14 going on 16 or a 16 going on 18, I can’t remember). It was refreshing both that she wasn’t a perfect size 2 and that it was such a complete non-issue. (In reading the author’s website I later learned that she wanted to put books out there that got this message across exactly. She did it perfectly, IMHO.) Although, of course, the picture on the cover doesn’t quite represent that; not the author’s fault, however. The one thing I didn’t like was that there were several places in which the author used a convention of paragraphs using alliteration — it brought about a smile the first time I came across it; not so much the second and third. That’s my one quarrel with the book, however, and not a huge one at that.

I also have to note one passage that particularly caught my eye: “We always buy people the KitchenAid stand mixer. Always the five-quart, even if they registered for the four-and-a-half-quart. Always in either deep cobalt blue or bright red, even if we are tempted by the new color choices of the season. (The lavender and spring green this year were particularly difficult to resist.) I think that deep down, all three of us secretly want nothing more than to own a five-quart KitchenAid stand mixer.”

Those of you who know me know exactly how I feel about the KitchenAid mixer so it won’t come as a surprise that, even if I hadn’t liked the rest of the book, this one would have earned it a star all on its own. The one sad part about all of this is that it looks like Stacey Ballis only has a few other books out. I guess I’ll just have to space them out judiciously.

Read more about Stacey Ballis at: http://www.staceyballis.com/