The Village Bride of Beverly Hills
GP Putnam’s Sons, 1st printing, 2004
Genre: Chick lit
Book Report: Following an arranged marriage in India, Priya relocates to California, where her new husband’s family has made a life for themselves. They are an oasis of traditional values and practices in the hustle of LA, though Priya begins to suspect that her new sister-in-law may be rebelling. After a year with the Sohnis, Priya is astonished when her mother-in-law tells her that she must get a job since she hasn’t yet conceived. No woman in Priya’s family has ever worked before, but she dutifully obeys Mummy and goes job hunting. Laxmi is with Priya that day, for she walks into the Hollywood Insider offices just as the receptionist goes into labor. Priya’s responsible and hardworking air—as well as her lack of ambition to be an actress—makes her a natural for the position.
Soon Priya is working harder than ever, still doing all the cooking and housework at home for her husband in in-laws, and working at the Hollywood Insider. But she also must juggle her appearance and behavior, as her traditional costumes or the homely hand-me-downs approved by her in-laws look outlandish at work. Luckily, Shanisse, assistant to the movie coverage editor, soon takes Priya under her wing, helping her buy more work appropriate clothes and suggesting she change into them at the gym on her way to and from work.
To return the favor, Priya steps in for Shanisse in an important interview, and attracts the attention of several power players, including a Hollywood star, a powerful publicist, and the editor-in-chief and publisher of Hollywood Insider. When offered the chance of a lifetime as a special interviewer, Priya battles her conscience, but her ambition wins out, and soon she is interviewing stars and attending premieres. The influence she wields at work begins to make up for the lack of autonomy she has at home, but she also becomes more aware of the imbalances within her marriage. Her husband Sanjay is torn between his parents and his wife, and Priya always seems to come out the loser. Fed up with juggling tradition and ambition in hopes of achieving balance, Priya must choose whether to make peace or rebel.
This was an unusual find for me, because I actually found it browsing in the library. Like, in person. Most of the time, I read either books already in my own personal library, or I simply order books from the MCL, and Eli picks them up for me. (I love deliveries.) But we had to stop to pick up some books on hold while running errands one afternoon, so I went in and did a little browsing, coming out with a historical novel and some chick lit. Not bad. Read the rest of this entry »
Rhett Butler’s People by Donald Craig
St. Martin’s Press, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: historical fiction, romance, parallel novel, cashing in, total crap
Synopsis & Review: I’m not going to explain the entire plot of Gone with the Wind here (which is one of my all-time favorite books, and with good reason), but this is a prequel/sequel/parallel novel to that. It starts during Rhett Butler’s childhood, and ends slightly after Gone with the Wind does. And it’s a travesty. Here is the jacket copy:
Rhett Butler’s People is the long-awaited novel based on the great American novel Gone With the Wind. Twelve years in the making, Rhett Butler’s People marks a major and historic cultural event for millions of Gone With the Wind readers, complementing and adding new dimensions to its timeless story.
Through the storytelling mastery of award-winning writer Donald McCaig, the life and times of the enigmatic Rhett Butler unfold. Meet Rhett as a boy, a free spirit who loved the marshes and tidewaters of the Low Country, and learn of the ruthlessness of his father, whose desire for control resulted in unspeakable tragedy. Through Rhett’s eyes, you will also meet the people who shaped him in other ways: the Overseer’s daughter, Belle Watling; Rhett’s brave and determined sister, Rosemary; Tunis Bonneau, the son of freed slaves — Rhett’s childhood friend who understood him like no one else; Jack Ravanel, whose name became inextricably linked to heartbreak.
And then, of course, there is Scarlett. Katie Scarlett O’Hara, the headstrong, passionate woman whose life is entwined with Rhett’s: more like him than she cares to admit, more in love with him than she’ll ever know.
Rhett Butler’s People, brought to vivid and authentic life by the hand of a master, fulfills the dreams of those whose imaginations have been indelibly marked by Gone With the Wind.
MY ASS. One major tip-off that something will suck: The protagonist repeatedly refers to themselves in laughable terms. In the case of McCraig’s Rhett Butler, it’s the term “renegade.” As in, “I’m a renegade.” Can anyone say that with a straight face? Could anyone ever?
And that, folks, is exactly the tone of the novel. But it’s not supposed to be funny. Read the rest of this entry »
The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird
Pocket Books, 1st printing, 1990
Genre: Fiction, romance, chick lit
Synopsis & Review: Gretchen Griner is an underpaid, under appreciated photographer for the Austin (that’s Texas) Grackle, part-time lover of Peter Overton Treadwell III (known as “Trout”), and major consumer of Cup O’ Soup. That is, until she meets Lizzie Potts—otherwise known as Viveca Lamoureaux, romance writer extraordinaire. Lizzie has a plan for Gretchen’s life—and it includes Lizzie’s brother Gus. But Gretchen has her own plan, and it does not feature a “wispy goon” named Gus. Of course, fate also has a plan for Gretchen, and it doesn’t care what Gretchen wants. So Lizzie will give Gretchen Gus, Gus will give Gretchen the man of her dreams, and among this oddball cast of marvelous misfits, someone just may discover the secret to true romance. (Jacket copy)
The Boyfriend School might have been the only worthwhile thing to come out of my seventh grade science class, other than my ability to flip my stool over while sitting on it and fall very hard without getting hurt. That sort of skill does come in very handy in life. I honestly don’t recall learning anything in the class, though I did get a kick out of the seventies anti-drug films they occasionally showed us (If you do goofballs, then you’ll die under a bridge. I still don’t know what a goofball is. Glue-sniffing?). But I also borrowed Sarah Bird’s The Boyfriend School from my BFF Tina’s friend Jennifer during that class, a really amusing and fun novel about appearances, romance, and a whole lot of meta-fiction about romance novels.
Gretchen gets assigned to cover the Luvboree, a Romance Writers’ Convention replete with multiple pen names and women in Southern belle costumes. Set to mock the women and the genre, Gretchen instead is befriended by Juanita Lusader (contemporaries and family sagas as Johni Lewis, and historicals as Lunita St John) and Lizzie Potts (Viveca Lamoreaux, medieval historicals), who expose her to romance and what it can mean for the women who read and write it. This opens the door for some discussions and asides on the value of the romance genre, and how it affects feminism; I especially enjoyed Gretchen’s reflections on the sisterhood of the genre, and how much that meant to her. Inspired and empowered by what she saw at the Luvboree, Gretchen sets out to write her own romance novel, Gain the Earth. Eager to transcend the genre and still suffering from condescension, she stumbles, and Lizzie and Juanita are there to help her understand the mechanisms of romance–both real and imagined. Read the rest of this entry »
Once is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann
Morrow, 1st edition, 1973
Genre: romance, chick lit, trashy novel
Synopsis & Review: Mike Wayne was a gambler, and he was lucky. When he left the Army after WWII, he had money in his pockets from card games and craps, and he had his eyes on the two biggest crapshoots of them all: the stock market and show business. The preponderance of beautiful women in the latter decided him, and he began trying his luck. Mike made it to the top, directing and producing on Broadway and in Hollywood, with hit after hit to his credit, a beautiful wife, awards and acclaim, and a corner suite at the Plaza. When his wife produced a daughter, called January for the month she was born, Mike fell in love for the first time, and vowed that even if his luck ran out, he’d give her the world. After his wife’s suicide, he sent January to an exclusive girls’ boarding school in the Northeast, but always made sure to spend special days and her birthday with her. On her weekend trips to New York City, they’d go out, father and daughter, seeing all the glitter and glamour of Broadway, and sharing Dom Perignon and caviar. Upon her graduation, January joined Mike in Italy on the set of his latest film, and it was in Italy that Mike’s luck ran out.
After three years of intensive surgery and rehabilitation in Switzerland’s exclusive Clinique, January Wayne was ready to be reunited with her beloved father, showbiz mogul Mike Wayne. For the past three years, the only thing keeping her spirits from sinking into a morass of pain and depression had been her love for Mike Wayne, her Superman, her everything. She’d been consumed by her desire to reunite with him, thought constantly about how it would be when they could be together again, out in the great, wide world. And she was utterly unprepared for what it’s like out there. Mike wa married now, to the sixth richest woman in the world, Dee Milford Granger. After a series of flops and misses following January’s accident, Mike swallowed his pride and became Dee’s consort at hourse parties and backgammon tournaments, all so that he’d have something to offer January when she came out of the Clinique. Suddenly, not only has the world changed around her, but the great playboy, the man’s man she’d looked up to her whole life is neutered. And so January begins trying to find out just who she was, bewildered and beguiled by popular culture circa 1971.
January’s old friend Linda Riggs from Miss Haddon’s is now editor for Gloss, a fashion and women’s magazine, and Linda begins shepherding January through the changes in the world. Mike and Dee both encourage January to date Dee’s nephew David, and up and coming broker, so he takes her on dates to Maxwell’s Plum and Le Club. Meanwhile, David is seeing Karla, a stunning actress in retirement, but Dee is desperate to keep David from Karla, as she is also Karla’s lover. So she dangles January before David, inheritance strings attached. Meanwhile, January is falling for Tom Colt, another man’s man, but a writer, and one even older than her father to boot. Everyone’s desperately scrabbling for happiness, and if all these rich, talented, beautiful people can’t find it, then what chance does poor, sheltered January stand?
Before VC Andrews but after Forever Amber and Peyton Place, there was Valley of the Dolls and Jackie Susann. I was fortunate to stumble upon the then-out of print Once is Not Enough (along with Dolores–also in hardcover–and a paperback copy of The Love Machine) at a St Vincent dePaul bookstore. Read the rest of this entry »
Ballerina by Edward Stewart
originally published 1978
Dell, 2nd printing, 1989
Synopsis & Review: Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery meet during their auditions for the New York Ballet School, the toughest and most prestigious school of dance in the country. Both girls seek scholarships, Stephanie because she cannot afford tuition and Christine to prove to her wealthy parents that she can accomplish something on her own. Miraculously, both girls are accepted with scholarships, but Christine’s parents continue to refuse to let her dance. Despite her misgivings about Chris’ slight resemblance to her own daughter, and their equal but different talents, Anna has a soft spot for an aspiring dancer and, shocked at the Avery’s ignorance of their daughter’s talent and accomplishment, Steph’s mother Anna steps in, persuading Mrs Avery to let Chris attend the school. When Mrs Avery explains her concerns about Chris’ health—she suffers from a rare neurological condition—Anna promises to watch over her, swiftly calculating the difference in income she’d get for boarding the wealthy teenager.
The two fifteen year olds quickly become inseparable (is it realistic for dancers to drop out of high school? Because there is no further mention of any schooling for either girl.), giving each other feedback and tips as they study under Lvovna, even promising to refuse any job offers unless the other makes it, too. That chicken comes home to roost, however, after Chris’ disastrous recital and Steph’s promising one. Read the rest of this entry »
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Penguin, 15th printing, 2003
Genre: fantasy, pop lit
Synopsis & Review: In a 1985 very different from the one we remember, Great Britain and Tsarist Russia still battle over the Crimea, and time travel and cloning are commonplace, but people travel by airship, a young woman named Thursday Next works for the SO-27, the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network. She and her fellows work to save and protect literature from forgery and vandalism, performing an essential service in a world where literature isn’t simply pop culture, it’s all consuming. Due to her familiarity with the world’s third most wanted criminal, one Archeron Hades, Thursday joins an operation investigating his involvement with the theft of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. From that botched operation to the theft of Jane Eyre and the kidnapping of Thursday’s Uncle Mycroft along with his Prose Portal, Thursday must work quickly to prevent the destruction of Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece.
I avoided reading The Eyre Affair for a while, convinced that it would be too precious and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. Well, I was half right. Read the rest of this entry »