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Review: The Teddy Bear Chronicles (Saved in Paris)

The Teddy Bear Chronicles (Saved in Paris)

by Donnalyn Vojta

When Kelly met the roughly handsome and intensely charming Mark, she was impressed with more than just his fancy education and the flashy job that came with a substantial paycheck. Mark Flannery was doting, seemed genuinely interested in her, and over the first few weeks of their whirlwind romance, thoroughly embedded himself into the very seams of her life. Coming from a broken home that involved an emotionally and verbally abusive mother and a sister who abandoned her, Kelly wasn’t mentally aware of how much she was searching for something to fill the holes of her life. She yearned for someone to care for her in every aspect, for someone to truly nurture her spirit and to encourage her along her goals and dreams.

Luckily for Kelly, Mark slipped right into that role like a good pair of shoes. But soon enough, for Kelly, the dream of a life with a gorgeous and successful man turned into a nightmare.

It began with an obsession over her email correspondence. Endless questions about her cell phone texts. Interrogations over who she was friends with and what they discussed. Queries over where she was going. And then it slowly transitioned into Mark controlling what she was going to do with her life, insisting that he would pay for the entirety of her education as long as she chose a profession that was “especially befitting a woman.” He told her who she could be friends with and how often she could speak to those friends each month. He demanded that she be home at a certain time each evening to prepare him a handmade meal, not even lessening his grip on her life when her father passed away. Feeling trapped but uneasy at the prospect of going it alone , Kelly eventually put her aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur and business owner to the side, accepting Mark’s offer of financial stability while desperately trying  to put the trepidation growing within about his controlling ways and instead, focusing on being  thankful for the good things that he was bringing into her life and their relationship.

But as time passed things only got worse. Mark infiltrated her life like a seasoned war general, directing and managing her every waking minute. As Mark’s controlling ways eventually began to wear heavily on her, Kelly began to try and fight back — but her rebukes were met with his fists. Slaps, shoves, and swift kicks became the repercussion any time Kelly dared to contradict Mark or speak her own mind. Feeling angry and sometimes hopeless, Kelly decided to formulate a secret plan of escape — but she knew she had to be incredibly careful and strategic. She’d known for a while that Mark had a professional private investigator tailing her every move and so every step she took towards freedom had to be precise and perfect. She also didn’t put it past Mark to take his physical abuse to the next level. . . Kelly had her suspicions about a previous relationship Mark had where the girlfriend ended up rotting in a ditch with her throat slashed.

Little did Kelly know, she had an ally watching over her the whole time, someone who was monitoring her every move just like Mark but with good intentions instead of deviance. There was someone in Kelly’s life who felt joy when Kelly succeeded and felt pain when Kelly was hurt. Like a ray of sunshine peeking through a stubborn cloud, there was a friend observing Kelly right underneath her nose.  A certain little teddy bear had been a constant companion to her since she met Mark, and unbeknownst to Kelly, the cute stuffed toy knew everything there was to know about her boyfriend — including the fact that he’s was only controlling, but also, that he was indeed a murderer.

Stowed lovingly in a carry-on bag, the toy accompanies Kelly as she spirits away in the dead of night all the way to Paris. Her teddy bear gives a honest account of Kelly’s palpable fear, intense relief, and also of bizarre coincidence and exalted reunion — all  in a fresh and true voice. As a friend who can only be seen and not heard, Kelly’s teddy bear spins a story for readers from a one-sided perspective, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions as to why Kelly is doing what she is doing and what shadows lurk in the background. Readers will also be privy to two other character’s corresponding story lines, also told from the viewpoint of their teddy bear companions. All of the characters reach their climax in the enigmatic and magical City of Lights, and all three bears will find an individual end to their exhilarating adventures.

The Teddy Bear Chronicles is the debut novel by Chicago based author Donnalyn Vojta. A former litigation attorney, the author is now fully immersed in the world of writing by way of a station as an academic tutor and professional writer. The concept of a thriller being written entirely by the perspective of a group of teddy bears is singularly unique, and while the mystery and pace of the story ramps up, readers will be thankful for the comedic relief provided by the furry companions of each character.

Giving the novel 3 out of 5 stars, I have to commend the author on being so bold in her somewhat peculiar and unexpected choice of perspective. I have read 1000’s of books and not one has been told by way of a teddy bear; especially not a novel that is certainly for adults due to the subject matters of abuse, mental illness, and murder. I was unclear as to several of the character’s intentions at many parts of the novel, and I also felt that the characters at times did not behave or react in a realistic manner. The dialogue between characters at times appeared forced, especially given the nature of the relationship. I really enjoyed the character of Richard and his progression in the romance department; he was written in such a way as to be found endearing and sweet.

Readers interested can find this book at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.

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Recommendation: Weekend In Paris

Weekend In Paris

by Robyn Sisman

” People can be so frightened of failing that they do nothing, or choose something so dull they have no chance of shining. “

Not every book is meant to be meaty and award-winning, like the classic War & Peace. Not every book is meant to invoke deep and delicious feelings of unrequited attachment or passionate love at first sight. Not every book is meant to be the one that you grab off the shelf a hundred times until it’s literally falling apart from the spine on out.

Weekend in Paris, by the late Robyn Sisman, is not one of those books. But it is a fun, flirty, and whimsical tale of a young woman who rushes off to Paris to begin a lifelong transformation – and what girl doesn’t dream of that? It’s a book you can throw in your handbag before you hop in the car with your family and take a nice, long road trip. It’s a book you can giggle with and appreciate for it’s silly and fanciful nature. It reads easy and light, as most chick-lit books should.

Perky and youthfully optimistic Molly Clearwater has high hopes for herself. There have been a few wobbly moments since she made the move into trendy and exciting London from her small town, but she is keeping a clear head and moving forward. Sure, her boss, the ever grumpy and somewhat misguided Malcolm Figg, thinks (and often, actually says) that she’s nothing but a typical stupid secretary. He’s probably just feeding into the stereotypes about blondes, and Molly is sure that someday soon he will recognize her full potential and begin showing her some respect. She’s always been a very careful and cautious young lady, and her arrival into adulthood is no different. She plays by the rules and makes sure that all I’s are dotted and all T’s crossed, but that doesn’t stop her from dreaming that one day she could be more than just the reliably simple girl next door.

When Malcolm commands her to book a trip to Paris for a medical conference and insists upon her coming along for the ride, Molly is ecstatic. She’s never been to the glamorous city of fashion, food, and French kissing, and so of course she would be delighted to go – what girl wouldn’t? And all on the company’s dime as well! She cannot wait to begin a weekend full of enacting as much joie de vivre as humanly possible. If there is one place that you can let loose and reinvent yourself (if only for the weekend) – it’s Paris. Never mind what the gossip around the office about Malcolm is. . .she’s sure that he couldn’t possibly be expecting “a physical reward” for his allowing her to accompany him on his business trip.

 But unfortunately for Molly, that is exactly what Mr. Figg is expecting of her. When he makes a crass pass at her just before they are due to leave, she knows what she must do. He’s called her his “stupid secretary” one too many times, and she’s got to begin standing up for herself or else she just won’t be able to look at herself in the mirror.  With the false confidence she is so desperately holding on to, she decides that she has to begin behaving like the woman she wants to be, and the woman she wants to be wouldn’t take this sort of nonsense from anyone – let alone her boss.

Dear Mr. Figg,

Conscious as I am of the honor of working for Phipps Lauzer Bergman, the time has come for me to move on to a position where my talents will be more fully appreciated and deployed. I accepted this job under the misapprehension that its demands would be concomitant with my educational qualifications. Thank you for opening my eyes. I apologize for wasting your valuable time with my suggestions for improving the efficiency (not to mention the literacy) of the department. For my part, the time has not been entirely unprofitable, as I have been able to gather much useful raw material for my first novel. 

As of today I am formally resigning as so-called “Marketing Officer” and taking the holiday owed to me in lieu of notice. It will therefore not be possible for me to attend the Paris conference as planned, but no doubt you will manage perfectly well without the help of someone who is just “a stupid secretary.” 

Yours sincerely,

Molly Clearwater (BA Hons)

It was a magnificent letter, if she said so herself. Even Malcolm Figg would feel chastened when he read it. She had been right to stand up for herself. Definitely. To wait until Malcolm was temporarily out of his office, then gather her belongings, press “Send” and sweep out of the office for good was positively heroic. In a film, there would have been a “go, girl” music and the whole staff would have stood to cheer her exit. “

Ahhh, but Paris! A weekend in Paris! Should she throw caution to the wind and just go anyway? Everyone already thinks she’s going there so she won’t be missed (except, maybe, by her well-meaning, if a bit overprotective mother) and. . .well, she’s already got it all planned. Except now. . .she doesn’t have the “where to stay” part sorted. and the fact that she doesn’t know a soul there could be a problem but. . . why not? Standing at the train station with the Eurostar so close, her suitcase packed, and a ball of determination settled firmly in her stomach, Molly decides to be the heroine of her own story and take a chance on herself, and on the famed City of Lights.

Minutes into her ascent on Paris, Molly meets a loud and enchanting young woman who whisks her off to a party, where she is introduced to a motley crew of the most fashionable people she has ever met – literally. She is captivated by the impetuousness of her new friend, and is determined that some of Alicia’s wild spontaneity and overall fabulousness will rub off on her. It doesn’t take long for fresh-faced Molly to meet up with a darkly handsome French man and she instantly begins falling head over heels. Fabrice is dangerous and intriguing, and once she hops onto the back of his motorcycle, she is thrilled to find herself transformed from a run-of-the-mill secretary into a sexy and interesting woman of the world. Fabrice is an artist in a city full of dreamers and creative geniuses, and Molly surprises herself by allowing him to draw her, allowing herself to be swept up in the romance of it all. Paris has a way of casting a spell over those who let it.

” He propped the bike steady and climbed off himself. Molly felt his fingers flutter against her cheek as he undid her helmet and removed it. He smoothed back her hair carefully, a palm on either side of her head. ‘You know, Molly, you are very beautiful.’

‘No, I’m not,’ she whispered. 

‘I like your hair. And your little English nose.’ He ran a finger down it. 

‘That tickles.” 

‘And your smile,’ A knuckle brushed her mouth. 

Her eyelids drooped. She was melting, turning to butter. Then his lips were on hers, warm and searching. He pulled her tight and pressed harder, sliding his tongue into her mouth, tugging and twining until her head sank back in surrender and her body arched into his. “

But all spells must be broken and soon enough, Malcolm Figg reenters Molly’s life with all of the darkness and negativity of a heavy raincloud. She must enroll her newfound friends into a wildly intricate scheme to fully rid herself of him and in the process, finds out much more than she intended about herself and interestingly enough, about her past. Molly finds that in leaving home behind and jetting off to Paris that she has instead come full circle.  Molly’s  transition from the careful and curiously cautious Ingénue into a sparkling and truly confident bonafide woman means realizing (and accepting)  that she is extraordinary all on her own. Paris simply caused the magic that was already inside of her to wake up.

Weekend In Paris is the charming story of a young woman’s awakening and the steps she takes to reach it. Some experiences are full of silly comic relief, and some are filled with the dawning realization that things are not always as they seem to be. It is the quintessential tale of romance in the famed city of Paris and all of the excitement that it comes wrapped up in. I give Weekend in Paris 4 stars and recommend it to readers of Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot; and anyone who wants to skip town and reinvent themselves. . .if only for the weekend.

R.I.P 

Robyn Sisman 

08/04/49 – 05/20/16

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Recommendation: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess

by Sophie Kinsella

As I sat down to make my recommendation today, I was having a hard time.

One goal with this year’s blog is to not repeat authors. That is already proving to be difficult; as I have weekly combed through my extensive library of over 700 books, looking for just the right title to recommend to my loyal readers, I have learned one very obvious thing – I get attached. By that I mean, once I have read a book and I enjoy it, I will then go out and buy every single book that author has written. And I particularly love series. I could spend nearly four months recommending Sookie Stackhouse novels for you. But I can’t do that because. . . I just really don’t want to repeat authors, with as many talented writers as there are out there.

So anyway, I sat down with a stack of Sophie Kinsella books and spent a good hour trying to figure out which one to recommend. I was originally going to fill the author’s space on my blog this year by reviewing one of her books that I have not yet read and desperately want to – Finding Audrey, the YA tale of a girl suffering from anxiety; something that is very near and dear to my heart. But I have so many wonderful authors already lined up for reviews, I decided I would fill my terribly lacking recommendation slot instead.

But which one to choose? Kinsella has written a whopping 25 novels (both as herself and under her nom de plume, Madeline Wickham) and I have loved so many! I mean hello – Shopaholic?! Remember Me?! Twenties Girl?! You see my dilemma.

I finally decided on a book that I picked up last summer off the clearance section at my local Half Price Books and devoured in less than a week (I had lots of reading time last summer, as my newborn nursed literally every two hours, for 40 minutes each time). This book kept me giggling, nodding my head in agreement, and generally smiling as I made my way through it.

So, today’s recommendation is The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella.

Samantha Sweeting is in denial that she’s a workaholic. Sure, she measures every single minute she spends in the office and catalogs her progress obsessively – she is paid by the six-minute increment, after all. No, she hasn’t taken a vacation in years – she can barely find time to get her nails done (and that’s only if her best friend bodily drags her away from her desk). Of course she spends 8. . .10. . .12. . .okay, 15 hours a day at work. She’s an attorney trying to make partner, and so it just makes sense that she spend most of her time trying to stay on top of things. And it’s not as if she has much to go home to anyway; in fact, she has nothing waiting on her at home (unless you count the nosy neighbor who lives down the hall).

” ‘Your job is obviously very pressured.’

‘I thrive under pressure,’ I explain. Which is true. I’ve known that about myself every since. . .

Well. Ever since my mother told me, when I was about eight. You thrive under pressure, Samantha. Our whole family thrives under pressure. It’s like our family motto or something. 

Apart from my brother Peter, of course. He had a nervous breakdown. But the rest of us. “

But sometimes all work and no play can make for a few careless mistakes. As Samantha realizes with growing dread that an oversight has cost her client upwards of £50,000, she goes into panic-mode. Instead of fighting, she chooses flight, and off she walks straight out of her office at Carter Spink, down to the station and eventually hopping on a train bound for nowhere.

Samantha distractedly unloads herself at the last stop makes her way through town in a daze, desperately running things over in her mind and trying to figure out what to do to amend the situation. Before she knows it, she’s pushing open a wrought iron gate and knocking on the heavy front door of an impressive country home. The woman who answers the door hurriedly ushers her inside, ignoring Samantha’s request for a simple glass of water, and instead tells her some surprising news – Samantha has got the job!

” ‘I’m very grateful, really.’ I manage a half smile. ‘You’ve been very kind, letting me trespass on your evening.’

‘Her English is good, isn’t it?’ Eddie raises his eyebrows at Trish. 

‘She’s English!’ says Trish triumphantly, as though she’s just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. ‘Understands everything I say!’

I am really not getting something here. Do I look foreign?

‘Shall we do a tour of the house?’ Eddie turns to Trish. 

‘Really, it’s not necessary,’ I begin. ‘I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful –‘

‘Of course it’s necessary!’ Trish stubs out her cigarette. ‘Come on. . .bring your glass!’ 

What Trish and Eddie Geiger are looking for is really quite simple – they need a housekeeper. Someone to do the laundry, dust the mirrors, prepare the lunch, and especially. . . impress their friends and neighbors. Samantha seems so perfect for the job that they can’t help but hire her on the spot. Dazzled by her articulate conversation and very impressive references, they guide her down to her tidy living quarters and insist that she stay the night so that she may begin work immediately the next day. There is no way they can let this highly recommended and beautifully charming young woman leave – especially as she is so accomplished in the culinary arts.

Except, none of that is true. Samantha, overwhelmed by her desire to stay in the quiet, comforting home and hide from her problems has embellished her talents. . . more than a little. She has no idea how to properly make a baked potato, let alone a meal complex enough to be worthy of a five-star restaurant (unlike the Cordon Bleu-trained housekeeper before her).  Her reference is indeed a Lady, but Freya Edgerly is her best friend – not her former boss. And of course she speaks well – she’s British! But Trish and Eddie are just so nice, albeit a little eccentric, and she really has nothing left for her in London anyway. Hiding out in their home seems like the perfect solution to all of her problems.

Except the plan isn’t quite working as she’d thought it would. Sure, she’s got a place to hide, but she has no idea what she’s doing! Samantha is trying so hard that you really feel sorry for her when she fails again and again, but luckily for her – the resident gardener, Nathaniel, is more than willing to help Samantha with anything and everything she needs to learn. Not to mention, the one thing Samantha didn’t lie about was her tenacity and her smarts – two things that are imperative in job so complicated as the one that she signed up for. Eventually, life catches up to Samantha and she must decide which path she wants to spend the rest of her days walking down.

” I don’t know what’s happened. Brown bubbles are expanding out of my gravy saucepan, all over the cooker, and down the sides on the floor. It looks like the porringer in the story of the magic pot that wouldn’t stop making porridge. 

‘Get it off the heat, for God’s sake!’ exclaims Nathaniel, throwing his rucksack aside. He snatches up the pan and moves it to the counter. ‘What on earth is in that?’

‘Nothing!’ I say. ‘Just the usual ingredients. . .’

Nathaniel has noticed the little pot on the counter. He grabs it and takes a pinch between his fingers. ‘Baking soda? You put baking soda in gravy? Is that what they taught you at –‘ He breaks off and sniffs the air. ‘Hang on. Is something burning?’

I watch helplessly as he opens the bottom oven, grabs an oven glove with a practiced air, and hauls out a baking tray covered in what look like tiny black bullets. 

Oh, no. My chickpeas. 

‘What are these supposed to be?’ he says incredulously. ‘Rabbit droppings?’

‘They’re chickpeas,’ I retort. My cheeks are flaming but I lift my chin, trying to regain some kind of dignity. ‘I drizzled them in olive oil and put them in the oven so they could. . .melt.’

Nathaniel stares at me. ‘Melt?’

‘Soften,’ I amend hurriedly.

Nathaniel puts down the tray and folds his arms. ‘Do you know anything about cooking?’

Before I can answer, there’s the most almighty BANG from the microwave. “

What culminates is a hilarious and often cringing account of how Samantha begins to navigate her new life as a not-so-domestic goddess. Kinsella has a way of turning a phrase and painting a picture with rich description that leaves you chuckling and culminates in the endearment of the character(s) to you.

I give The Undomestic Goddess 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to lovers of Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner (although Kinsella’s subject matters are less serious than Weiner’s) and general chick-lit. It’s a book you can read quickly and enjoy as much as a slice of freshly baked chocolate cake.

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Recommendation: Something Blue

Something Blue

by Emily Giffin

” I ripped out a page and wrote: “Steps to Becoming a Better Darcy.” I thought for a second, replaying Ethan’s speech. Then I wrote:

1. Go to an ob-gyn in London and prepare for motherhood!

2. Be more healthy, i.e., eat better, no caffeine or alcohol

3. Find some new girlfriends (no competing with them!)

4. Let my family know that I’m in London and that I’m okay

5. Get a job (preferably a “do-gooding” job)

6. Stop buying clothes (and shoes, etc.) and start saving money!

Then, because something still seemed to be missing, I threw in a catchall:

7. Refine my character (i.e., be more thoughtful, less selfish, etc.) “

Emily Giffin is a Queen in the land of chick-lit, whether she likes the title or not. Face it – when your novel is turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson, you have to admit that your book is one of those that is thrown in a beach bag with sloppy dog-eared  page markers and smudged pages from greasy chip fingers. It’s a novel that will be passed around in a book club full of women drinking wine and spiked coffee on a lazy Saturday night somewhere in the MidWest, spending more time filling their glasses than speaking on the unforgettable nuances or unexpected plot twists of your latest story.  Giffin’s books are never going to go down in history as “the next Great American Novel” nor will they ever be on any high schooler’s required reading list. Women read Emily Giffin while taking a bubble bath or sipping on a glass of red wine on a Friday night as they try to get over the fact that “he who must not be named” (and no, I’m not talking about Voldemort) hasn’t called, all while trying hard not to accept that he’s just not into her. While some authors will fight against their books being labeled “chick-lit”, I have always thought it best to simply accept and embrace the title, as these books always seem to be bestsellers, extremely mainstream, and future film scripts.

Something Blue wasn’t the one turned into a movie, however. It was Something Borrowed, Giffin’s first published work. The story follows Rachel, a solidly good girl who plays by the rules until she finds herself in the ultimate taboo – in love with her best friend’s fiancee. And what’s worse, he is in just as much in love with her. Darcy, the best friend whose shadow Rachel perpetually falls under, has always gotten everything she has ever wanted – by hook or by crook. Her flamboyant and bratty personality dwarf her best friend’s dreams and accomplishments and you truly don’t feel sorry that Darcy is losing her man.  Dex (the fiancee) is the handsome and perfect-on-paper king to Darcy’s queen and while Darcy cannot wait to plan her perfect wedding, she’s having a hard time fitting in meetings with her wedding coordinator around secret sexual liaisons with Marcus, the groomsman she’s currently sleeping with.

Rachel and Dex fall in love – that real kind of love that comes around only once in a lifetime (if you’re lucky). They know it’s wrong. The readers know it’s wrong. I mean, stealing your best friend’s fiancee – no matter how annoying said best friend is or how willing said fiancee is to be stolen- is a big no-no in the world of girl code. But you root for them and you’re happy for them, and even though Darcy can be a pain in the rear, you hope she can find happiness too. I mean, if Rachel loves her, then you know that Darcy has some redeemable qualities.

Something Blue is where Darcy finds that happiness, in the most unlikely of places – in herself.

” I had nothing to say to that, so I just turned the tables right back on him and said, “I knew it all along.” 

This was a total lie. I never in a million years could have foreseen this moment. The shock was too much to bear. But that’s the thing about the sucker punch; the sucker element hurts worse than the punch. They had socked it to me, but I wasn’t going to be their fool too. 

“I hate you both. I always will,” I said, realizing that my words sounded weak and juvenile, like the time when I was five years old and told my father that I loved the devil more than I loved him. I wanted to shock and horrify, but he only chuckled at my creative putdown. Dex, too, seemed merely amused by my proclamation, which enraged me to the brink of tears. I told myself that I had to escape Rachel’s apartment before I started bawling. On my way to the door, I heard Dex say, “Oh, Darcy?”

I turned to face him again. “What?” I spat out, praying that he was going to say it was all a joke, a big mix-up. Maybe they were going to laugh and ask how I could think such a thing. Maybe we’d even share a group hug. 

But all he said was, “May I have my watch back, please?” “

Spoiled Darcy is used to having it all and not having to work too hard to get it. She lives a glamorous lifestyle in one of the most prestigious cities in the world and she is adored by men (whether they belong to her or not is beside the point). But when she finds out her best friend, mousey little Rachel, has stolen her fiancee and worse – that Dex is actually in love with Rachel over Darcy and is leaving her veritably standing at the altar, she finds her world shaken. She’s not necessarily sad to say goodbye to Dex; more like she is embarrassed to have had the tables turned on her for once. The fact that she’s losing her picture perfect man to a woman she has never deemed true competition is a hard pill to swallow. To compound the problem, Darcy finds out she is pregnant, and if she’s quite honest, she is not sure who the father could be. Unfortunately no amount of denial will change the fact that she is about to become Darcy with a forever Plus One.

After obsessing over Rachel and Dex and their relationship so much that she has exhausted everyone around her, Darcy decides to flee New York to London and crashes into the world of her childhood friend, Ethan. Her plan is to transition her sparkling and amazingly lavish lifestyle from one impressive city to another, but reality soon slaps her in the face. Darcy does everything she can to avoid the real world and impending changes in her life, including falling into another relationship with another wrong guy. She cannot resist trying to fix her problems with all her old tools of the trade and mistake after mistake begins to take it’s toll on her formally indomitable spirit.

Soon enough, Darcy finds herself surprisingly disturbed as she begins to see herself through Ethan’s honest eyes and realizes that she has to change herself from the inside out if she has any hope of being a decent mother. In the brilliantly charming writing style of Emily Giffin, Darcy is slowly transformed and redeemed – with a lot of laughs and some heartache along the way. Darcy has to find a way to move on from spoiled socialite to nurturing mother, a path that is difficult for even the most skilled of women. Putting someone else first when you’ve always been the star of your own life is a difficult role to commence, and Darcy is finally ready to finish something she has begun.

” As I looked at the picture of us, I thought about everything that had happened between Dex and Rachel and me, deciding again that the cracks in our relationships had been a breeding ground for deceit. Dex and I had cheated on each other because we weren’t right together in the first place. Rachel betrayed me because our friendship was a flawed one. I lied to her about Marcus because of the same negative undercurrent — the unspoken competition that can corrupt even the best of friendships. That had ruined ours. 

As much as I wanted to hold them responsible, I knew that I was not blameless. We were all accountable. We had all lied and cheated. But despite everything, I knew we were still good people. We all deserved a second chance, a chance to be happy. “

Something Blue is a great read for any lover of the chick-lit genre, and I suggest reading Something Borrowed first. There is also a prequel to Rachel and Darcy’s friendship before their tangled love triangle – The Diary of Darcy J. Rhone. But I will say, I enjoyed Something Blue much more than it’s counterpart – Darcy is obnoxiously snobby and full of herself, but the transformation is so endearing and I love it when you find yourself cheering for someone you previously didn’t think deserved it. I felt much more invested in Darcy than I did Rachel and the layers that had to be removed before she could truly find something pure and good in herself were fun to read.

” Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.” 

If you read Something Blue and enjoy Giffin’s writing, I also suggest Baby Proof – my favorite of her novels. It chronicles the lives of a couple who upon marrying, mutually agree that they will never have children. The husband decides to change his mind and the couple split, leaving the wife in a serious bout of contemplation about her future as a mother. . . or as a single woman.

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Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been complied and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travelers and researchers. 

The introduction begins like this:

Space,’ it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts in space. Listen. . . and so on” “

 

I’ve never been one to pick up a fantasy novel on my own. I have always much preferred fairytale fiction and the popular “chic-lit” style of writing. I’ve noticed lately how much I’ve become attached to historical fiction and how much I naturally move towards series as a preferred way of reading. Nothing intrigues me more than a good set of books. Characters I can sink my teeth into through book after book and the slow unraveling of their layers. . . getting to know them on deep levels and forming attachments. I strongly feel that it is incredibly difficult for an author to truly know the in’s and out’s of their main character(s) through the writing of just one novel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that my husband (shall we call him, The Beast?) brought to me last week on our date night at the bookstore. It’s something we have done literally since our first date – combing the aisles independently for something that catches our eye, scoping out the hardcovers to see if they have come down in price yet, perusing the clearance section to see what treasures have been added. We come together every so often and reveal our finds and sometimes we have something for the other. The Beast already owns a well-worn copy of Hitchhiker’s at home, but because he once loaned it to a previous girlfriend (let’s call her Fat Anaka, shall we? A totally random name, I promise) I consider it tainted and refused to read it when he offered it a few years ago. He decided I should give it another try and bought me my own crisp copy (brand new for $4 at the Half-Price Book store).

So, I’d heard of it. But again, picking up a fantasy book is not my first choice. It’s not even my second. I’ve devoured all of the Game of Thrones books and have spent many a time in lands of witches and warlocks, vampires and immersed in other dimensions, but it’s only after I’ve dragged myself away from the sordid and melancholy lives of all of Henry’s eight wives that I will willingly choose a book of fantasy.

I’ll say, while it took me a little while to understand what was going on in Hitchhiker’s, but it did have me giggling  just a few pages in. We are introduced to the unassuming Arthur Dent, who is somewhat in denial of the fact that a highway is about to be built right through his house – until the bulldozer shows up quite literally at his door. He is automatically affronted and of course the only way to deal with this problem is simply to refuse to take it lying down. . . except that’s what he um, does, kind of. . .when he lies down in front of the bulldozer so they can’t demolish his home. Not that he particularly likes his home, but it’s the principle, you see.

His friend, the ambiguous and cleverly disguised Ford Prefect decides that he must rid Arthur of this situation and take him out for a drink – or two, or three. The end of the world is happening in oh, say 4 and a half minutes or so, and the best way to be blown up is while mightily intoxicated. Ford is an alien of sorts, if you can call him that. It’s all a bit ironic to call anyone alien in this book, especially once the truth about Earth is revealed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ford is an avid reader of and researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous collection of snippets and articles about every planet and system in the….galaxy. Where to get the best cocktail, how to play a certain drinking game, and what to do if you’re trapped on a Vogon spaceship is all right there in the electronic book. Ford has been stuck on Earth for a lot longer than he’d anticipated and he’s gathered so much research that he’s now completely agreeable with expanding upon the entry for the planet in the Guide.

” ‘If you’re a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth, you must have been gathering material on it.”

“Well, I was able to extend the original entry, a bit, yes.”

“Let me see what it says in this edition, then. I’ve got to see it.”

“Yeah. OK.” He passed it over again.

Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.

“It doesn’t have an entry!” he burst out.

Ford looked over his shoulder.

“Yes it does,” he said, “down there, see at the bottom of the screen, just under Eccentricia Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six.”

Arthur followed Ford’s finger, and saw where it was pointing. For a moment it still didn’t register, then his mind nearly blew up.

“What? Harmless! Is that all it’s got to say? Harmless! One word!”

Ford shrugged.

“Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book’s microprocessors,” he said, “and no one knew much about the Earth, of course.”

“Well, for God’s sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit.”

“Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it’s still an improvement.”

“And what does it say now?” asked Arthur. 

Mostly harmless,” admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough. “

Ford is by chance able to save Arthur from being included in Earth’s complete destruction by way of becoming stowaways on a Vogon spaceship – the very people who have just blown up the planet to make way for a galactic speedway. Their adventures continue as they are caught upon the ship by it’s grumbling yet poetic Captain and ultimately and ceremoniously tossed out, presumably to their untimely death in the deep, dark depths of space itself.

” “Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxiate. If you take a lungful of air with you, you can last up to thirty seconds, of course. . .”said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows, and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur’s eyes he suddenly looked very alien. 

“So this is it,” said Arthur, we are going to die.” 

“Yes,” said Ford, “except . . . no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried. 

“What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round.

“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.” “

To their complete and utter amazement, they are saved by a passing spacecraft. This particular ship is full of surprises, one being it’s pseudo captain and President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be Ford’s “kind of cousin.” In any event, they know one another and there is immediately an undercurrent of trust on board. Arthur is both horrified and exalted to find that the other passenger in attendance is a woman with whom he previously tried to hook up with a party (and was subsequently rejected by) – a fellow dark-haired Earthen named Trillian.

As they travel through space together a few revelations come to light and it culminates with the “discovery” of a legendary planet – Magrathea. This planet’s sole purpose was to design and build luxury planets for the rich and famous. Anything you could desire in a planet can be made here, for a price of course. The planet was thought to have been destroyed or lost but in fact, has only gone into a sort of hibernation since the economy began to falter some years ago.

The foursome lands on the planet and split up to explore. Arthur ends up on his own and meets up with a native of the planet, who begins to tell him the real reason that Earth was. . . built — to discover the true meaning of life. A machine named Deep Thought  previously handed the answer over but the consensus was that the answer simply wasn’t good enough. In actuality, Deep Thought believed that “mankind” actually did not know the real question they were trying to ask.

The path by which this question shall be answered is a tenuous one and is riddled with intrigue and humor. Not everyone agrees that we should know the meaning to life, or rather, not everyone agrees as to who should be the one to unveil the true answer.

” “We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!” 

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. you want to check your legal position you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?” 

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” “

The foursome eventually meets back up and has to flee the planet unexpectedly – for reasons that I won’t spoil, but I promise they were entertaining and quite unexpected.

This book is very short, clocking in at 180 pages. It’s a quick, fun story that has a lot of clever humor. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally began as a talk radio show and is a widely popular and beloved British written work. The series has a cult following and I am anxious to read the remaining books to carry on with Arthur’s travels. I found him to be the most interesting character in the bunch. A feature film was made in 2005 and Arthur’s character was played by the brilliant Martin Freeman. I could *hear* him speaking as I read Arthur’s dialogue and it fit so perfectly, it makes me very excited to see how things pan out for him and the group of misfits he has gotten himself caught up with.

The books are available in a collective format, meaning all books in one *or* you can buy them individually. They are as follows:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish  
  5. Mostly Harmless
  6. And Another Thing. . . 

There are also several companion books and short stories and published radio scripts that relate to the omnibus.

I give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 4 out of 5 stars. I would have rated it higher had the author explained just a tad bit more about the fantasy world we were so violently thrown in to very early on. I spent a few chapters confused and I personally need more of an explanation. But that’s just me. Pick it up if you’re looking for a quick, charming, funny read.

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Review: Certain Girls

Certain Girls

by Jennifer Weiner

”  Peter had talked me out of it. “It’s one quarter of seventh grade,” he’d argued. “All she needs is time.” Time, I thought now. I sipped my drink and shoved the worries away. I’ve gotten good at that. At the age of forty-two, I’ve decided, ruefully, that I’m slightly inclined toward melancholy. I don’t trust happiness. I turn it over as if it were a glass at a flea market or a rug at a souk, looking for chipped rims or loose threads. But not Joy, I thought as I watched my daughter shuffle back and forth with the boy’s hands on her hips, laughing at something he’d said. Joy is fine. Joy is lovely and lucky. And in the manner of almost-thirteen-year-olds everywhere, my daughter has no idea how lovely, or how lucky, she is.”

There are some books that you just know are going to be difficult to read, and Certain Girls was one of those books for me.

I flew through Jennifer Weiner’s Good In Bed two months before I picked this one up, laughing and crying in equal parts along with the main character, Cannie Shapiro; an overweight writer who has to deal with picking up the pieces of her life after her ex-boyfriend decides to go on the record with a major magazine about “how it is to be in a sexual relationship with a fat girl.” Cannie finds herself pregnant and alone, spending just a few moments feeling sorry for herself before rebuilding her life into something beautiful on her own terms, with so much realness and comedy along the way that you cannot help but feel as if you have absorbed a piece of Cannie’s spirit once the story comes to a close.

Good In Bed was so real in fact,that I had to put it down several times while reading it. Too many things were hitting home. Her verbally abusive father, her well-meaning but oblivious mother, being in a relationship with someone who was not plugged in at all and then having to share a child with that person forever…it all spoke to me in such a way that there were times I couldn’t quite take it. Few books leave me feeling so invested.

I’d heard of Jennifer Weiner before reading her books. I am a regular at our local Half Price Books store and my first stop after pulling open the heavy, glass double doors and entering the land of my people, is the clearance section. Books for $1? You don’t have to ask me twice. In fact, I’ve been surprised and downright giddy at just how many times I’ve found the same book in the clearance section as on the regular shelf – but for $3 instead of $10.  Jennifer Weiner always has several titles in clearance. Not because they are bad, but because there are so many of them that there is an overstock. I heard somewhere random that every single book she has ever written has been on the New York Times Bestseller List, and that intrigued me. No bombs? Not one? That’s pretty impressive. One of her novels, In Her Shoes, has also been made into a motion picture starring Cameron Diaz. The author has stated in the past that Good In Bed is loosely based on her own life.

Certain Girls is the sequel to Good In Bed, staged nearly thirteen years later. It opens with Cannie and her husband celebrating at a joint bat & bar mitzvah for her daughter’s best friends, twins Todd and Tamsin. The baby we glimpsed in Good In Bed is all grown up, and Joy has a mind and voice of her own that is just as strong (but less sarcastic)  as her mother’s. Each chapter bounces back and forth between the first person perspectives of both Cannie and Joy, and as a mother to a daughter roughly the same age as Joy, I felt that I gained some insight into a teenage girl’s mind.

”  “Shh,” I said as I heard my mother’s footsteps approaching. I turned out the lights, and the three of us lay in the darkness. Tamsin clicked her retainer in and out of her mouth and picked up her book and tried to read it by the light of the digital clock, and I whispered for her to be quiet and put it away. Frenchie grumbled in her sleep. The numbers on the clock changed from 12:45 to 12:46. “Why does she do this?” Todd wondered. “She just loves me so much,” I said. I’d meant for it to come out sarcastic, but instead it just sounded pathetic, and weak, and worst of all, true. At 12:57, the door creaked open. I made sure my hair was over my ears so that my mom wouldn’t see my hearing aids and know that we’d been talking, and I held my breath, hoping that Tamsin wouldn’t start with her retainer and give us away. My mother approached the bed and stood there for a moment, not touching me but looking down, the way she did every single night of my life, standing in the dark, listening to me breathe. When she turned toward the window, I opened my eyes a crack, and I could see her in the lamplight, her secret face, the one she shows only to me.  “

The relationship between mother and daughter is strained, to say the least. A lot of it is centered around normal growing pains on Joy’s part and Cannie’s inability to accept that her daughter is no longer the baby that needs her for everything, anymore. In Good in Bed, Cannie has to really come to grips with giving her life up to be a mother, and when she makes that choice, she goes in full force. Her own childhood was full of heartache and disappointments and that is the last thing she wants for her daughter, so she severely overcompensates. As a result, Joy feels stifled and unheard, and it breeds discontent and anger in the budding teenager. The way that the story goes back and forth in perspective leaves you feeling for both characters; you can see where they both are coming from and how hard it is for both Joy to grow up and how hard it is for Cannie to let her.

Like many young girls on the verge of puberty, Joy yearns to be popular, and at the very least, just to be normal. Because she was born premature she has several issues, including a hearing problem that has resulted in her having to wear bulky hearing aids. Her voice is gravely and has a slight accent from the hearing issue, and she has never been allowed the freedoms of other children because her mother is so overprotective. Suddenly, she finds herself whisked into the popular crowd and even though she knows it’s all for the wrong reasons (i.e. they know her mother is best friends with a famous Hollywood actress), she jumps into the scene with both feet, causing discord with her bookish best friend. We go on a journey with Joy as she struggles against what she’s always known to be right, and wanting to fit in. She finds herself in awkward situations where she knows what she is doing is wrong, but she can’t help herself – although to watch her try and redeem herself is so very heartwarming.

One of the things Joy begins to deal with is the fact that her mother wrote a book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, around the time that Joy was born. It’s a book of fiction, but it is very obviously based upon her mother’s life. Joy begins a quest to find out what is real and what isn’t; her most pressing question is if her mother actually wanted her or not (the character in the book her mother wrote did not want a baby but found herself pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-boyfriend, exactly like real life). In this quest, she hunts down her grandfather, and the exchange is so raw that I could barely get through it. You just want to give Joy a hug…as a mother, myself, I just want to protect her.

Cannie is dealing with getting older along with her daughter. She’s also dealing with her younger, unstable sister and her needy mother. Her husband, Peter, also yearns for a biological child of his own. Due to the circumstances around Joy’s birth, Cannie cannot become pregnant herself, so they have to begin the process of finding a surrogate and harvesting eggs. The culmination of these life issues leaves Cannie feeling like a failure. She feels guilty that she cannot carry a child naturally for her husband and she feels jealous that another woman will potentially get to savor the feeling of having a child – her and Peter’s child – growing inside of her. She is along for the ride, albeit reluctantly. Her book agent and publisher are hounding her to write another book like successful Big Girls Don’t Cry, but she’s extremely hesitant because of all of the drama and trouble that came along with the first book. When she finds out that her daughter has finally read Big Girls, something she’s been dreading for 13 years, she is devastated even though she knew it was inevitable. It seems that Joy will talk to anyone but Cannie about the book, making Cannie feel like even more of an outsider in her daughter’s world.

“I looked at her. She looked back at me, her face tense and unreadable. “What are you so worried about? What do you think’s going to happen to me if I wear it? Do you think…” I shut my mouth. Do you think I’ll have sex with some guy on a pullout couch? I’d been on the verge of asking. Do you think I’ll get pregnant accidentally, like you? “I’m sorry,” she said. “But that dress is not going to work for the kind of day your father and I want you to have.” Which father? I almost said. But I could tell from her face it wouldn’t do me any good. I knew this expression. It was the same one she’d worn when she’d told me that I couldn’t go to an R-rated movie, that I couldn’t go to a party unless she’d talked to the parents beforehand, that she didn’t care how late everyone else stayed up, my bedtime on a school night was ten o’clock. I pulled off the dress and tossed it only my mom’s bed, where it lay in a pathetic puddle of pink. “Honey, I’m sorry. but…” I didn’t say anything. Hypocrite, I thought, forming the syllables on my lips, teeth and tongue without any breath behind them as I stomped down the hallway lined with family pictures: me as a baby, me as a toddler, me on my first day of nursery school and kindergarten and seventh grade, past the clock my mother was so proud of and the tables with vases of red and pink roses. Hy-po-crite. When she was only a little older than I was, she’d been having sex, actual sex with actual boys, and now she was worried that I was showing my shoulders?”

Joy doesn’t quite know how to navigate her way through her non-traditional family. Her biological father, Bruce, is remarried and has children of his own with a wife who is resentful of the fact that Joy even exists, and although she doesn’t have a very deep relationship with him, they do see each other a few times a month. She has a whole other family that she barely knows, and as she reads through her mother’s book, she once again asks herself how much is fiction and how much is fact. In her mother’s book, the ex-boyfriend took off to another country when he found out that he was expecting a child and the more research Joy does on the events in the book, the more confused she becomes. This contributes to Joy’s insecurities about family and about where she really belongs, about who really loves her. It reminded me just how fragile a young girl’s feelings can be, especially when she cannot seem to find the true place where she belongs.

“Of course we want you,” Bruce said. “We –” I cut him off. “I have to go now. My mom’s here,” I said, and turned and snatched my backpack off the coat hook where I’d hung it. I pushed the doors open and stood for a minute, dazzled by the sunlight. They both came after me. I ignored them, which was easy to do once I’d slipped my hearing aids out with tears clouding my vision. Keep moving, keep moving, I chanted in my head, and I started walking fast across the parking lot, Amber’s ballet flats slapping the pavement, sunshine sparkling off the windshields. Bruce called my name, but I just keep going, as if I’d find my mother’s blue minivan idling at the curb. At that minute, I thought I would have given anything if she had been waiting there, if she’d taken me into her arms and said, Never mind him and never mind her and never mind what I wrote. Of course I wanted you, I wanted you more than anything. I kept my head high and didn’t turn around even though I could hear Bruce calling my name. Probably they’re glad I’m going, I thought, and brushed a tear off my cheek. Probably now they’ll have fun.

 I was struck by how much Cannie wanted to be there for everyone in her life. I think most mothers can relate to that. Once you become a mom, the instinct to take care of everyone sometimes bleeds into all of your relationships and you do things without even realizing it half the time. The Cannie in Good In Bed was so strong-willed and ambitious, and the Cannie in this book was much more reserved; she had much more to lose. I can definitely relate to that. Becoming a mother sometimes means giving up your entire life for someone else, and then hoping that they will eventually realize all the sacrifices you made for them and be grateful. Sometimes it takes a long time for our children to realize what we have given up to try and make their lives easier and better.

The relationship that Cannie has with her father is addressed a lot deeper in this book than in the first. We knew he was mentally and verbally abusive and we knew that he’d abandoned the family when Cannie was a teenager to remarry and begin a new life for himself. Some of the reflections on this relationship were heartbreaking. Cannie can remember how she only ever wanted her father to tell her that he was proud of her, and on the odd times that he did, it would make her feel so warm and wonderful inside. But as Cannie grew into an adult and then became a parent herself, she really saw just how terrible her father was to her and her siblings and the longing for a father became a fear of him. He reached out to her when Joy was a toddler, only to ask Cannie (a newly successful writer) for money. When he didn’t receive it, his response was to threaten Cannie in a way that I felt was so sad – he threatened to show up, to be around.  The thought of this paralyzed her and made her hold herself back. The thought that this man who fathered her would somehow taint her own child, would bestow his verbal assaults and plant insecurities in her own child – that was her greatest fear. This hit home with me in an extremely deeply way.

Joy decides to seek her grandfather out in the midst of her quest on proving her mother’s book is more fact than fiction, and she certainly gets more than she bargained for.

” ” ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,’ ” he quoted. “That’s your mother. That’s all of them. Thankless.” “She’s not.” My tongue felt shriveled; my teeth felt like they’d been coated in sawdust. “She’s not,” I said again. I remembered the pictures from Grandma Ann’s, from when my mother was older, how she’d always looked like she was cringing. I remembered how my mother would take me swimming in the ocean when I was little, staying close to the shore, letting me hold her shoulders as she kicked and paddled, how I’d floated above her back and felt like I was flying. I remembered what she’d said to Hope, the baby she’d had but hadn’t wanted, on the last page of her book. I will love you forever. I will keep you safe. “I made her who she is.” My mother’s father gave me a sly, smug smile. “Read to her. Taught her to swim. Gave her all of her material. The story she told. And she made a fortune off it, didn’t she? Where would she have been without me?” “Happy?” The word was out of my mouth before I knew it.  “

The events that follow this one really begin to shape Joy into a young woman and she begins to realize with almost terrifying clarity that the place she has been searching for – her place of belonging – is right in front of her, with her mother. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a traditional “coming of age” story, especially as it is as much Cannie’s story as it is Joy’s, but it is such a pleasure to watch the evolution of Joy and the transition of the mother/daughter relationship. Cannie learns to treat her daughter more like a young woman instead of a child, and really has to lean on her as the book progresses. It’s a lovely thing to watch, and none of it feels forced. It’s very organic. Joy learns to respect and understand her mother and Cannie learns to allow her child to flourish.

”  “For you,” my grandfather said, and pressed the silver dollar into my hand. “For luck.” He pulled off his glasses and looked at all of us: Grandma Ann and Mona, Uncle Josh and Aunt Elle, and then, finally, me and my mother. “I’m so proud of you,” he said. My mother started to cry. I remembered after Tyler’s bar mitzvah, when I was sick in the bathroom and my father said the same thing to me. It was weird to think of my mother being a daughter the same way that I was, and how she might have been comforted by those words the same way I had been.”  “

The last quarter of the book really takes a turn that I wish it didn’t take. I won’t spoil it, but seriously, I was cursing the author. I guess she did what she had to do to get us to a certain place – to get Cannie and Joy to a certain place – but it broke my heart. I don’t usually cry over books, but I couldn’t hold back tears, so I recommend reading the last 50 pages or so alone so you can ugly cry in private.

I really loved this book, but I’m glad I took a break between the first and second in this duo. They both left me feeling a bit emotionally drained. Wonderful reads, but draining. There are some books that stick with me forever, and I can tell you that both of these will. I give Certain Girls 5 out of 5 stars, and believe it or not – you don’t have to read Good In Bed first. In my opinion, they are stand alone books. If you do read them and would like to giggle over a short story written about Bruce Guberman, Joy’s biological father, check it out in The Guy Not Taken, a collection of short stories by Jennifer Weiner.

                            

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Recommendation: Size 12 Is Not Fat

Size 12 Is Not Fat

by Meg Cabot

“Less Than Zero looks relieved. “Good,” she says. “Well, I guess I better go and find a store that actually carries my size.” “Yeah,” I say, wanting to suggest Gap Kids, but restraining myself. Because it isn’t her fault she’s tiny. Any more than it is my fault that I am the size of the average American woman. It isn’t until I’m standing at the register that I check my voice mail to see what my boss, Rachel,  wanted. I hear her voice, always so carefully controlled, saying in tones of barely repressed hysteria, “Heather, I’m calling you to let you know that there has been a death in the building. When you get this message, please contact me as soon as possible.” I leave the size 8 jeans on the counter and use up another fifteen minutes of my recommended daily exercise by running – yes running – from the store, and toward Fischer Hall. “

I usually place novels into one of two categories – Healthy and Junk-Food.

Heavy Books take some time. You have to be prepared to read a Heavy Book, meaning; you can’t sit down and read snippets while your kids are fighting in the background, or while waiting to hear your number being called at the DMV. You need to be able to pay attention while you’re reading a Heavy Book or else you’re going to miss an important plot twist or a pertinent detail about a certain character. Heavy Books can take at least a week to get through, typically longer.

Junk-Food Books take no time at all. You can pick it up, read a few paragraphs, and then put it back down when you have to chase your toddler down and pull the dog food out of his pudgy fist before he eats it. You can go a few days in between reading sessions and still pick it right back up and not have forgotten or missed a thing, because none of it was really that important. You read these at the pool, throw it in your handbag as an emergency book, and you can get through it very quickly, sometimes in a matter of days.

I usually bounce back and forth between these two types of books. Of course, there are some books that fall into the “in between” category, but most books are usually closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. I usually can’t read Heavy Book after Heavy Book because there are too many books I want to read and I have limited time. I typically have a Heavy Book going at the same time as a Junk-Food Book. The Heavy Book gets read when it’s quiet, before bedtime in my house, and the Junk Food Book lays on the living room ottoman so I can pick it up here and there.

Meg Cabot is an author that you probably know more about than you think. Have you ever seen or heard of The Princess Diaries? It was a very popular movie in the early 2000’s (you know, after the 1900’s, the decade in which I was born and graduated high school in.) Urban New Yorker, devastatingly nerdy and utterly charming Anne Hathaway learns she’s actually a princess of a tiny country and goes to visit, meeting her grandmother who turns out to be a combination of Mary Poppins (literally) and Anna Wintour. She gets a makeover, finds love, reconnects with her family, and lives happily ever after with lots of comedic relief in between.

Meg Cabot wrote The Princess Diaries novel, along with about 15 other Young Adult novels featuring the Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldi/Mia Thermopolis and her adventures in princess’ing. She’s known for her serial writing, and she’s written several series of books for all age groups. I’ve read The Boy Series, which, while they don’t all have the same characters, is really fun. They are written using forms like email, IM, travel arrangements, journal entries, and paragraphs of regular text in between. One is even written loosely as the story of how Meg and her husband ran off together and got married. Super easy reads that you can get through during a few afternoons sitting in the endless carpool lane at your kid’s school.

Size 12 Is Not Fat is part of the Heather Wells Mystery Series, and I picked it up a few months ago at my local Half Price Books for $1. Yep, $1. You would not believe how many books I have purchased for under $5. I’ll have a blog post about that soon. Anyway, I put this book on my bathtub ledge and picked it up every night for about a week, giggling my way through relaxing bubble baths at the end of each day.

Heather Wells is a reformed teen pop star, but not really by choice. After approaching her record label about writing her own songs, the music executives and keepers of the kingdom laughed in her face and told her to take a hike. Her mother ran off with all her money, she caught her boyfriend with another woman, and she took a job as an assistant residence hall director for a New York college (mostly due to the free tuition she’ll be able to claim after her probationary period) where she’s severely undervalued – and where people are constantly asking her if “she’s that girl…” After vacating her throne as a pop princess, Heather has admittedly gained a few pounds but she’s perfectly fine with it because she is in fact at size twelve, the size of the average American woman.

“”Why are you applying for a job in a residence hall?” I’d cleared my throat. I wish VH1 would do a Behind the Music on me. Because then I wouldn’t have to. Explain to people, I mean. But it’s not like I’m Behind the Music material. I was never famous enough for that. I was never a Britney or a Christina. I was barely even an Avril. I was just a teenager with a healthy set of lungs on her, who was in the right place at the right time. “

The story hits the ground running as Heather is phoned by her boss to come straight into work because there has been a death on campus. A girl has slipped while jumping across elevator shafts, a game known as “elevator surfing,” and has plummeted to her death.  Here begins the mystery, and the first death leads to more, with Heather teaming up with her roommate and potential love interest, Cooper (who happens to be her ex’s brother.)  Whenever reading a mystery novel, I always try to figure it out before I finish the book. Size 12 Is Not Fat gives you about 75 possible suspects within the first three chapters, and I honestly didn’t figure it out until the end! I found myself thinking just the way Heather did when it came to suspects, and as she proved her theories wrong, I was surprised. I really enjoyed that about this book.

In addition to the mystery surrounding the dead female co-eds, we are introduced to the sweet crush Heather has on her roommate, Cooper. He’s placed her firmly in the “friend zone” and while she accepts the fact that she could probably never be his type, it doesn’t stop her from having (hilarious) fantasies about him. When she inevitably gets herself into more than a few sticky situations while trying to solve the murders, he is there to be her rock and sounding board, bailing her out of danger and steering her in the right direction.

“I can’t help staring at him as he puts down his beer bottle and stands up. Cooper really is a choice specimen. In the fading sunlight, he looks particularly tanned. But it isn’t, I know, a tan from a can, like his brother’s. Coop’s tan is from sitting for hours behind some bushes with a telephoto lens pointed at a motel room doorway… Not that Cooper has ever told me what, exactly, he does all day. “You’re working?” I ask, squinting up at him. “On a Saturday night? Doing what?” He chuckles. It’s like a little game between us. I try to trick him into letting slip what kind of case he’s working on, and he refuses to take the bait. Cooper takes his clients’ rights to privacy seriously. Also, he thinks his cases are way too kinky for his kid brother’s ex-girlfriend to think about. To Cooper I think I’ll always be a fifteen-year-old in a halter top and a ponytail, proclaiming from a mall stage that I’m suffering from a sugar rush.”

The book is essentially, a fun and fast-paced Junk-Food Book full of laughter, a little romance, a ton of nostalgia for any woman over the age of 30, with a main character who is likable and someone you would want to hang out with in real life. Each chapter is prefaced by a snippet that features lyrics from one of Heather’s songs when she was a pop-star. There were so many times I laughed out loud reading these because while yes, the songs were ridiculous, it took me back to being in high school the year Britney Spears made her debut and how similar Heather’s songs are to hers. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two singers, but I’ll let you read it yourself to find them all.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy read, consider giving Size 12 Is Not Fat a try, especially if you like a fun and light series and if you don’t have a lot of time to read. I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone over the age of 15, as there is (a small amount of) sexual innuendo and subject matter.