The Dirty Book Club
by Lisi Harrison
There are a few things I dislike:
Watching any season of American Horror Story without The Supreme Jessica Lange.
A PSL with no whipped cream on top.
Waiting for a new season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
And most importantly . . . being super excited about a book, loving the first few chapters and then . . . hating the rest.
I began The Dirty Book Club on a wonderfully quiet Tuesday night. I grabbed my pint of Peanut Butter Swirl Ben & Jerry’s, put the baby to bed, took my bra off, and snuggled into my king-sized bed complete with vibrating and adjustable mattress. I pulled my iPad over to me and called up the new book I was scheduled to read and review. I’d been looking forward to this one. My last few months of reading have been mostly mid-grade novels and some dark YA thrown in, a few heavy books with even heavier content, and one superbly convoluted thriller. I needed a nice and easy chick-lit book full of steamy romance and secrets, and I was sure this was it.
The first few chapters went by so fast, it was a blur. I was on a roll. My husband popped his head in at some point to ask me a question and all he got was a grumbling mumble in response, as I was set on shoveling ice cream in my mouth while sliding the pages of this intriguing book onward, desperate to know what would happen next.
The premise : a group of girlfriends who have known each other since they were teenagers. Now in their 20’s, a few are married, children are on the horizon, and life is becoming a big stagnated. The women meet as often as they can around the heavily pie-laden tables of their Pearl Beach, California homes, and they spend time catching up on the ins and outs of their lives over drinks. They share stories of grief, rejection, love, hope, and promise. At the suggestion of one friend, they begin a book club. A secret book club . . . because at the time, the 1960’s were full of oppressing weights for women, and books as dirty as their martinis were seriously taboo. So, covering their dirty books with prim-and-proper jackets to hide their insides, the women vow to meet once a month at the full moon and discuss the books and effects each novel has. They also make a pact: that once the men in their lives kick the bucket (because men always go before the women), they will jet-set it off to Paris and spend the rest of their lives together among the handsomely French and eloquently decadent.
During the course of the book club’s meetings, the women are forced to face issues that they’ve hidden just as well as the forbidden books they’ve been reading. It’s funny how a silly book can change you, can help you delve into the deepest parts of yourself and face some serious realities. Infidelity, homosexuality, feelings of “I’m not good enough” and domestic violence are topics that make their way steadily around the table. The women all vow to share everything with one another with in the strictest of confidence, and to let no stone go unturned when it comes to their confessions.
But, this is only the first couple of chapters.
Fast-forward – and readers are introduced to M.J. She’s a New York blonde living to work, instead of working to live. After the tragic death of her entire family (of which she blames herself), M.J. has thrown herself into her job as an editor of City Magazine and is looking forward to her impending promotion as editor-in-chief. The only real connection she has to the outside world is her boyfriend, Dan, who is a doctor and an adventurer . . . and who consequently lives on the opposite side of the country. After her promotion takes a turn for the unexpected and worse, M.J. follows Dan out to California and his newly purchased cottage in Pearl Beach. She’s floundering in depression and anxiety, and has no idea what to do with herself.
Dan encourages her to make friends and so she travels as far as next door where she meets Gloria, a spicy Jewish housewife who enjoys a good martini and an even better slice of gossip. But soon after their meeting, Gloria hitches a plane to Paris with her girlfriends, leaving M.J. without the neighborly advice she’d wanted to become accustomed to, leaving a gift propped up on her doorstep instead.
Gloria has left her spot in the Dirty Book Club to M.J., just as her friends have left their spots to a woman of their own choosing. There are a couple of rules, the first one being — you’re either all in or you’re all out, and it takes some convincing to get everyone to stay on board. But secret meetings in a curious bookstore partnered with prosecco and hidden letters placed delicately in each book means M.J. will have something to get her out of the house at least one night a month, and she’s not willing to let the other girls just give up without a fight.
Addie, the promiscuous bombshell who’d rather spend her time flagging down her latest conquest really hates the idea. Britt, the real-estate agent with twins and a lazy husband dragging her down doesn’t see the point. Jules, an event planner and liaison of love for a hotel, who can’t seem to solidify love for herself, could be on board if the others were there with her. It takes a little persuasion and a lot of alcohol, but M.J. plows ahead.
The four women grudgingly agree to meet once a month on the full moon and discuss their books, and maybe allow their fellow girlfriends into a slice of their lives.
The Dirty Book Club is the first adult novel by famed YA author, Lisi Harrison. The self-proclaimed participant in a dirty book club of her own, Harrison is best known for her mid-grade series The Clique and Monster High.
While I absolutely adored the premise and the beginning promises of the book, I found myself so let down as the chapters began to melt into one another. The characters were at times so hard to relate to and sometimes to even like. I found myself baffled at more than a few of their choices, which were a combination of predictable and non-sensical, almost as if the author could tell that she was making the women too mundane and as a result, fruitlessly attempted to spice them up with subplots that went nowhere. I was most interested by the first group of women, the founders of The Dirty Book Club, but despite the hint that there would be more of them and a greater depth to their stories, it all fell short. Deciding to throw in unemotional and disconnected letters by way of forming relationships with their predecessors seemed silly, and at times made a mockery of real issues. The ending felt rushed and forced, which was really a shame, as I felt that there was so much to dive into with the characters and their lives were so worthy of a build, to just end it the way it did seemed strange and realistically unresolved.
In the end, so much was left on the table and to be desired, and so I was left disappointed. I have to regretfully give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I had such high hopes those first few chapters, but The Dirty Book Club didn’t grow the way I so desperately wanted it to.