March 21st, 2011
RRBB has been hitting some very fun milestones lately. He had his first taste of solid food (if you can call it that) as the picture here depicts. He slept through the night: twice (even though in the few hours preceding the long sleep he was over-tired and ridiculously manic, but not upset). He visited a sugar bush and an antique mall (or, rather, his bored parents dragged him to said sugar bush and said antique mall). And he was babysat for the second time while my RRHB and I went to see the Elephant 6 collective at Lee’s Palace on Friday night. Shockingly, he’s still the happy, well adjusted, easy baby we’ve brought into this world.
Of course, I’m still not sleeping from the drugs. But the odd night isn’t so bad here and there, I can handle it. It’s funny, I get poetic about it in a way: the sun rises and it sets, the moon comes out, but without that deep hours-long pause — time passing in an instant because you are, well, unconscious, everything blurs into one, breakfast feels like a late night snack, lunch disappears, and dinner is always rushed, trying to cram the day in before the bedtime routine starts. As always, I am at a loss for spoken words. Friends came over for dinner yesterday and I just couldn’t finish my sentences, kept forgetting words, used the wrong words, filled up the space with malapropisms — when does the ‘baby brain’ end? Perhaps when I get more consistent, consecutive rest, or perhaps when the RRBB turns 18 and heads off to university. Who knows. For now, I’m struggling with simple sentences while complex thoughts careen around my brain like snowflakes — always melting before they necessarily land.
We went to the Bloor/Gladstone library last week, and it was glorious. It really is a beautiful building and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy libraries. I haven’t truly visited one on a regular basis since being in grad school, and now that we’re pinching every penny, I simply can’t afford to buy books. I’ve been wondering a lot about other birth stories, wanting to compare experiences, wanting to maybe experience a little catharsis too in terms of my own trials and tribulations. So, one of the books I picked up was Rebecca Eckler’s Knocked Up (#27). I didn’t read anything other then What to Expect When You’re Expecting while I was pregnant, and now that I’m no longer pregnant (although still with-pooch), I am curious to know about other mothers-to-be. I mean, not everyone ends up on the special pregnancy ward of Mt. Sinai hospital with their lungs bleeding before giving birth, right?
In short, I wanted to know what normal was like, in a way. Granted, there was a little too much: “is my ass fat????” throughout Knocked Up, and I don’t know that I would have chosen a c-section had one not been chosen for me (I was oddly looking forward to the experience of giving birth). But I did laugh in various places, and while I know Eckler takes a lot of flack for her self-involved, me-first, examination of both pregnancy and parenthood, I actually enjoyed the lighthearted nature of the book. More chicklit than the nauseating “motherhood makes me a saint” stance of so much that I find online relating to this situation we’re in (yes, motherhood), Knocked Up gave me a bit of a mental break in terms of contemplating all that happened to me, and that’s all I’d ask of it. It was an easy-breezy read and I’m jealous of her ability to stay so completely focussed on not changing in the midst of such a huge change.
That’s not something I’ve been able to do — none of my clothes fit, in fact, I can’t even seem to find three-quarters of my wardrobe, having packed things away to who knows where in the house. My body is so very different and I barely recognize myself in the mirror. The shock of the naked self in the shower is enough to give up food forever, and were it not for the prednisone encouraging my stomach to crave every baked good on the face of this earth, I just might. I need to get more exercise, and I was actually jealous when the Rebecca in Knocked Up went out on a girl date barely two weeks into her daughter’s existence. There’s a level of guilt that I feel the moment I am away from the baby — that I am being a bad mother in a way by not constantly being in his company. I know that’s crazy, and ridiculous, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t hand him off to his father for hours at a time, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier leaving him. But to get back to my point, the physical changes — shorter hair, chubbier me, bloating from the meds — feel so much more permanent these days than the mental ones.
The mental part of being a mother seems easy these days. There’s love. You give it out, a lot of it. There’s patience, which sometimes gets tested. There’s joy. There’s boredom, and there’s bliss — but it all comes together in a pretty awesome package. So, I don’t blame someone for obsessing about the size of their ass — it’s overwhelming to contemplate all of the physical and mental changes at the same time, something’s got to give. I was remembering way back in the way back this week. An old boss I had at an evil corporation that I used to work for (which no longer exists) took us out for lunch within the first few months of her assuming a position she later proved she was utterly unqualified for. She had just finished mat leave for her second child and we were talking about babies. At some point, and I can’t remember what preceded the moment, she crinkled up her face and said that she really didn’t like babies, not even her own. Perhaps she likes her kids when they get out of the difficult infant stage, who knows, but all I’ve been thinking this week is how awesome babies are. I know I shouldn’t be so judgmental but as if I didn’t need another reason to post-actively hate the woman, now I even think she’s kind of inhumane. I’ve already forgotten the witching hour, the exhaustion, the frustration of the first little while, and moved on to complete and utter adoration.
I know it won’t always be like this — and we’re so lucky that we have an extremely easy going baby — but, for right now, I’m wallowing in the fun of it all. Charging ahead with crazy vampire kisses and holding that baby high up in the air to hear him squeal. Suffering through the whining when he’s in the car seat to enjoy a beautiful spring day where it neither rains nor snows — where the sun actually feels warm. Staying up far past my bedtime to enjoy a moment of non-couch (baby STILL only sleeps on me for long periods of time) freedom to watch reruns of Law and Order. Listening to him giggle uncontrollably downstairs as my RRHB plays with him. Even sobbing uncontrollably because of the hormones and whatever else is coarsing through my system because of the meds. It’s all awesome in a traditional sense of the word — it inspires awe in me that this is my life now, that my life contains another’s so completely at the moment, all things that I didn’t know when I was just pregnant and hoping to live. I am thankful that I did. I wouldn’t want to miss any of this.
Other library finds for this week: Blink, A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 Chapters, West Toronto Junction, Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems, as well as Knocked Up. I’ve been reading a poem a night before I go to bed, just dipping into them, and found this delicious line that somewhat sums up my last couple weeks: “O clamorous heart, lie still.”
As if it could. As if.
August 19th, 2010
There’s something I’ve discovered about my iPad — it’s incredibly easy for me to buy books with one click. Books I had long ago stopped buying because they were (and I don’t want to use this word) disposable — not that they’re throwaways but that they satisfy the need I sometimes have for the reading equivalent of a girlie movie. When I was pinching my Gail Vaz-Oxlade-inspired pennies, I couldn’t justify buying a book that would only take me an hour to read. I needed to buy books that were an investment, that would keep me occupied for longer than the time it would take to watch a film.
Well, my iPad has changed all that — I can spend less than $15.00 (which is less than the cost of a movie now) and in some cases, less than $10.00 (and let’s not get into a moral discussion of what’s wrong with ebook pricing because I work in publishing, I KNOW), for books that I can read like my mother used to read Harlequin romances, quickly, painlessly and with some tears (because I get so emotionally involved). I don’t always have to be reading literature but it does have a very special place in my book snob heart so forgive me if I’m a bit harsh on these books. Take this all with a grain of salt.
#36 – Fly Away Home
I still remember reading Good in Bed one afternoon when I was home sick from work. I bawled from start to finish. Weiner has a way with writing female characters that just gets to the heart of the hurt that we all seem to carry around. I haven’t read a novel of hers for a while and so I downloaded one thinking it’d be good to read up north last week at the cottage. The situation that starts off the novel feels “ripped from the headlines” Law & Order-esque. The wife of a prominent politician discovers via CNN or something equally horrible (her best friend calls to comfort her re: the news that had just broken) that her husband of x-number of years cheated on her with a not-quite intern. Sylvie Serfer Woodruff has two grown daughters: Diana, an overachieving doctor, and Lizzie, a recovering addict. When each woman hears the news of their father’s affair, they react differently but in each case it becomes a catalyst for change. It’s a very chicklit scenario — the overtly dramatic “event” that spurns women into some sort of evolution as if regular life just isn’t enough to make anyone become introspective, but whatever, the emotional journey each takes throughout the novel is rewarding and I can’t front — I bawled like a baby towards the end. BAWLED. IN FRONT OF COMPANY. AT THE COTTAGE. So it’s a breezy, solid, emotionally rewarding read even if it feels overwhelmingly cliched in many, MANY places.
#37 – An Ideal Wife
I didn’t read this on my iPad, a friend sent me a copy, and Gemma Townley used to be one of my favourite chicklit writers — I always felt she was one step above so many of her counterparts. Her characters felt fresh, their lives just that little bit more interesting, but I’m no longer in my 20s or even early 30s and I’m less charmed by her books as I once was. An Ideal Wife follows Jessica Wild, a protagonist from two earlier books, and she’s never been my favourite. The hijinks that happen in the book feel contrived and I could tell what was going to happen almost from the beginning pages. In a sense, I think it’s the curse of a successful mid-list chicklit writer, the sales are good so the publisher puts you on a book-a-year treadmill and so you start churning out titles to suit the schedule and not the work. I’ll still recommend Townley over writers like Giffin and the like, simply because I’ve met her in person and she was AWESOME, but the last three books, in fact, the whole Jessica Wild series, has kind of disappointed me.
#38, #39 – The Sookie Stackhouse series (Dead Until Dark & Living Dead in Dallas)
Oh sweet Sundays I’m obsessed with a capital “O” with True Blood these days. It’s smart, sexy, fun, silly, fascinating, and now almost complete with fairies (as per Sookie’s reveal). Contrary to Salon, I don’t think fairies are lame and neither would about a half-dozen YA writers I know. But I digress. I’m dying for spoilers — even those trapped in cliched, irritating, truly terrible writing. Wait, did I just start to review the books? I know you have to give over to the nature of them, to the silly, candy-like essence of these books but I can’t help but feel my intelligence slipping away each time Sookie curls her hair or has someone comment on her perfect breasts. I’ve imbued the literary characters with a little of the spirited nature of the television show and that makes the writing a tad more palatable but I can’t help but wonder if Charlaine Harris doesn’t spend hours laughing her way to the bank over her royalty statements. What a fast one she’s pulled on all of us — there’s so little in the way of actual writing here vs. pure narration for the sake of narration that I’m not surprised it only takes me a little over three subway rides to get through one book (my commute is anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the TTC). And it’s not that I’m NOT addictively flipping pages — it’s that I AM. I’m not reading. I’m scanning. I’m dying to know what happens just so I can know what happens and not at all because I’m enjoying the writing. I roll my eyes more times than I can count but I respect Harris for her success and I’ll probably read all eight of the books that I downloaded last week.
#40 – Gone
Anyway, I felt a little sick to my stomach after reading so much chicklit in a row that this weekend I took Mo Hayder’s EXCELLENT new novel, Gone (published in Canada this January), away with me to the cottage and then proceeded to stay up very, very late to finish it. It’s a Jack Caffrey novel and it picks up relatively soon after Skin ended. There’s a new case in town — a man’s carjacking comes with a twist: he’s only taking cars with children in them, and the deeper Jack Caffrey gets into the case, the more goes wrong. Mo Hayder’s novels are suspenseful, terrifying, impeccably written and researched and this series just gets better with each novel. I know January is a long time to wait but if you’re at all interested in top-notch thrillers, why not give Ritual or Skin a try before then?
June 16th, 2009
I’ve been conflicted over the last few days about whether or not to create a post for Jane Green’s latest book, Dune Road. There were two things I liked about the book — the attempt to move beyond generic chicklit into a more mature story and it’s perfection for an easy read if you’re sitting on the beach for an afternoon. That said, there were a lot of problems with the book too. Continuity (or lack thereof) really makes me crazy, both in film and in fiction, and when authors repeat themselves, use the same cliches to describe multiple situations, add in unnecessary and completely irrelevant scenes, I get a little frustrated. So much about Dune Road could have been better — that’s not to say that it’s bad — but there are too many characters with too disperate storylines that don’t always connect. Simply, there’s just too much going on in this book and had Green slowed down and tackled maybe just one relationship instead of four or five, Dune Road would have been all the better improved by it.
But maybe I’m putting too much pressure on a book that’s clearly meant to be escapist in terms of its read. The novel tells the story of divorcee (she’s in her early 40s) Kit Hargrove and her family, which includes her ex-husband, two kids, a mother, and surrogate mother (her next door neighbour) as she navigates her new life. That means finding a new love (but can he be trusted?), a new job (as an assistant to a best-selling but secretive novelist with a tragic past akin to Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood), and finding her way to happiness. Accompanying her on this journey are her two best friends, Charlie and Tracy, who each have their own complex stories that further complicate both the novel and Kit’s life. The book throws in multiple mysteries, then tops them off with various cliched happenstances (long-lost relatives; shady pasts; soap opera love affairs) and tosses all of this about like a salad hoping a novel appears.
Primarily what the books could haved used was a bit of editing. Please let’s not use the exact same phraseology to describe more than one relationship. Please don’t introduce characters with vivid backstories who have absolutely no relevance to the central storyline. Please take more care to introduce shady characters who actually appear in the novel. More action, less telling, and for goodness sake, why not make it a triology — exploring each character: Kit, Charlie and Tracy in a full-length book so we feel at least satisfied that we, as readers, are getting the whole story.
In general, I can accept commercial fiction as it is — fun, frivolous and frothy. That’s why I whip through these books at lightning speed when I need a bit of a holiday from the tedium of everyday life. Remember, I’m nothing but a sappy girl at heart, as I’ve said many times in the past, but I also enjoy and am consistently impressed by writers who take up the challenge of moving beyond the cliches and the “read it all befores” to kickstart a genre that’s truly in need of a little facelift. I’ve been consistently disappointed with my latest chicklit reads, and have honestly enjoyed some of the Harlequins I blurbed over the last year far more. They may be predictable (as was this novel), but at least they feel a little bit more honest in terms of using their formulas in new and innovative ways.
However, I don’t want to end on such a negative note. I was sucked in from the very beginning of this book and read it over the course of a day. I even took the long way home via the TTC so I could get in a few more moments with the characters. There’s something special in a writer who can convincingly pull you along until the end of the book — someone who creates emotional lives for her characters in a way that you are consistently empathizing versus sympatizing, which for me, is always a richer reading experience. All in all this is a very good book for me to pass along to my adorable mother-in-law who broadly reads this kind of woman’s fiction. I think she’d like it very, very much.
January 29th, 2009
Jane Fallon‘s latest novel, Got You Back, retreads familiar territory — the novel starts off, like Getting Rid of Matthew, with a cheating spouse (him) and the two women who are left to deal with his emotional wreckage. But even if the situation feels similar, the new novel is wholly different than her first book, the characters are fresh and new, and she never lets her writing fall down or stumble into the well-trodden clichés of the Sophie Kinsellas of the chick lit world.
Stephanie’s husband of the last ten years, James, is leading a double life. He spends half his time in rural England tending to his veterinary practice — and living with his mistress, Katie. He’s got the best of both worlds: savvy, stylish Steph at home and comfy, cozy Katie while he’s away. The trouble for James begins when Steph and Katie discover one another (and the fact that he’s been lying to both of them) and they vow to get revenge. And let me just say: poor James. But also let me say that the book doesn’t go or end up the way you’d think that it would. All of the characters grow and change and none in expected ways. Fallon’s prose is light and frothy but she has such a knack for keeping the reader engaged. Also, her dialogue sparkles right off the page — I know, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s true. Got You Back is a like a vacation — warm, sunny, and always entertaining, and I’d highly recommend it for that one weekend you really wish you could just get away.
READING CHALLENGES: Fallon’s British and the novel takes place in London and even though it’s not the kind of book that I’d usually pick for Around the World in 52 Books, I’m counting it for now. Don’t judge me.
January 25th, 2009
I’ve been felled like a giant dead tree these past two days by the same nasty virus that took a hold of my RRHB last week. I slept ALL day yesterday. Didn’t move from the couch, ran a fever, and read when I could keep my eyes open for more than fifteen minutes. I did manage to crawl out from under the duvet, have a shower, and accompany my family to the Marlies game, which was piles of fun. After we got home, I crashed on the couch again and was in bed two second after Lost was finished (does anyone understand what’s going on with that show?). So, on top of disease crap I’ve caught whatever bug is going around. It’s winter, it’s to be expected. But I’m telling you, the only thought that’s been going through my head all week is quitting my job and living in California for the next three months to write. Annnywaay. Three books. Three reviews. Here’s the first.
#8 – The Almost Archer Sisters
Way, way, way back in the day when I actually went to a book club (a terribly scarring experience, truly), Lisa Gabriele came to meet with us and talk about her book Tempting Faith DiNapoli. She was lovely and it was a really nice experience (I, of course, had not read the book, but I did go back and read it afterwards). Fast-forward many years and I have been thankfully freed from book club for some time now. But I did want to read The Almost Archer Sisters for a few reasons: 1. the fond memories of talking with her about her first book; 2. the great review the novel got in the Globe and Mail and 3. because of the lovely note my friend Randy had attached to the book when it showed up in my mailbox. He said, “it’s just the ticket when these cold winter months are upon us.”
Peachy has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Beth. Both scarred by the death of their mother from a young age, how they’ve grown up and around the gaping hole left behind by her non-presence rolls itself out predictably: Peachy clings to safe and stable things, she wants to be a social worker, she’s got a solid marriage (even if she did get knocked up at 20), and two great kids (one of whom suffers from seizures). Beth rumbles around her life like a constantly breaking wave, causing trouble for all the swimmers in her wake, ruining lives and always hurting those who love her the most. All of this leads to the action (plot device?) that spurns the rest of the novel: Peachy stumbles downstairs late at night to find her husband and sister having sex. Peachy’s husband, Beau Laliberte, was once Beth’s boyfriend, and she left him behind all busted up and broken, too. Peachy decides then and there that Beth needs a dose of reality — she leaves her sister behind with her family while she goes off to enjoy a weekend in New York alone.
The novel’s premise, while terribly contrived, enables the author to explore the ins and outs of Peachy’s life from an emotional standpoint that could only be accessed after the kind of shocking event that tends to force someone into change. Her insights are open, honest and heartbreaking at times. And there are parts of the novel where you couldn’t find a better writer describing the inner workings of long-term relationships and motherhood. The novel remains cinematic from start to finish and even includes a ‘big city shopping montage’ that makes it impossible for me not to compare The Almost Archer Sisters to some of the better chicklit out there, think Gemma Townley and not Sophie Kinsella. I will, however, say that there’s a part of the novel I liked so much that I read it through about six times before finally closing the book. Yes, you can imagine it’s the end, so I’m not going to spoil it except to say that Gabriele’s story was just what I needed this week.
READING CHALLENGES: Lucky for me that Gabriele is Canadian, which means I’m counting this novel towards my Canadian Book Challenge. That makes nine books (and I’m just about to write up #10 too!).
October 21st, 2008
I know. Two words I never thought I’d use when it came to a book by Candace Bushnell. But, um, One Fifth Avenue is good. It’s entertaining, well written and quite a departure from her earlier books. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that in a way it’s kind of a modern comedy of manners. There are hints of bawdy Restoration literature and even a dash of Edith Wharton thrown in for good measure sprinkled in between the Vanity Fair-like plot that revolves around the very wealthy (and quite silly) people that live at One Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
When actress Schiffer Diamond returns to One Fifth after a substantial absence, quite a few things have changed. Most importantly, the ridiculously wealthy woman (and I can’t remember her name and left my book in Tofino) who occupied the top two floors of the building has died and her apartment is up for grabs. The infighting begins between the remaining residents: Enid Merle, an aging gossip columnist, Philip Oakland, her screenwriter nephew, and Mindy and James Gooch, an online director and an author, respectively. The rivalry continues even as the new tenants, the newly rich Annalisa and Paul Rice, move into the building and cause problems of their own. Completing the cast of characters is Billy Litchfield and Lola Fabrikant, outsiders who both want in for different reasons.
In the kind of New York world where address means everything, the people who live in One Fifth exemplify the idiocy of a certain kind of lifestyle. Bushnell’s ability to be cutting comes out freely in this book — the characters are all double-sided. Of course, they do have amazing lives, but they aren’t without their own flaws, making them at least human in this novel (unlike, say, the women of Lipstick Jungle). Strange, and maybe it was the wicked cold I’ve now caught after just finishing (barely) with the stupid bronchitis, that I enjoyed this book for reasons well beyond the usual insipid happiness I feel after reading chicklit. Kudos to Candace.
July 30th, 2008
Zesty and I went to Costco the other weekend and I bought a lot of stuff. Well, not a lot of stuff, but I was kind of like a kid in a candy store because I’m not a regular Costco shopper. So, for the bookish girl, seeing giant stacks of books incites a certain kind of glee, so of course I piled a bunch of ‘off the list books’ (ones that we don’t publish or that I can’t get reading copies for) into my cart. The first one I tackled was Liz Tuccillo’s How to Be Single. (Yes, I’m still on the chicklit kick). What a disappointing book. It’s stereotypical, bland, relatively plotless and utterly unbelievable.
The premise — five single women in NYC in their mid-to-late 30s love, redemption and self-satisfaction — falls short of actually driving the action of entire novel, so Tuccillo invents an entirely ridiculous ‘adventure’ for her main character, Julie Jenson. See, Julie’s unhappy being a publicist at a publishing company so she decides, on a whim, to march into the publisher’s office and pitch a book about “How to Be Single.” Julie will travel the world and meet all kinds of single women from all kinds of different countries and then she’ll write a book. It’s Eat, Prey, Love in spades. Only it’s not because what it means is that Julie, THE MAIN CHARACTER AND NARRATOR, introduces the action and her four best friends who only know one another through her, and then LEAVES THE CITY. But she still TELLS THE STORY.
So that means all the stories are told from Julie’s point of view, even though she’s not anywhere near the action of the other four characters: lawyer Alice (who left her job to be on permanent “man” hunt); Georgia (whose husband recently left her and the kids to take up with a samba teacher); Ruby (overweight and depressed about her dead cat); and Serena (a hippie cook who works for a famous family only to leave to try and become a swami). The whole book is full of situations that are completely and utterly unbelievable. Of course, Julie meets a wonderful man in Paris with only one hitch; he’s married, but wait! It’s an open relationship! Yawn.
And we could run through the bland things that happen to the other four women but it’s not worth the energy it would take for my fingers to type it out. Not one aspect of the book (until we get to the VERY end) is about the women living happy and fulfilled single lives. They’re hysterical, depressed, somewhat crazed, and on the hunt for the “right” man the entire time. Tuccillo doesn’t break down a single cliche or take the story in any remotely original direction. And, I’ve got to say, it’s honestly some of the worst dialogue I have ever read on paper. For the most part, I wasn’t remotely interested in what happened to a single one of these women. Because they didn’t feel real. They didn’t feel passionate. They were stereotypes of women I see in sitcoms. They were Rachel and Monica, Miranda and Carrie, and with none of the quirks that make those characters endearing or original.
I have to say too, that the premise of the novel, when you first pick it up, is interesting, and I would have enjoyed it a lot of there was a whiff of these women embracing their single lives and actually growing from beginning to end. I’ve already given my copy away and I don’t want it back.
June 19th, 2008
First, a confession. I adore Gemma Townley. Personally, I think she’s one of the best writers working in chicklit these days. Her characters are never cliched beyond repair, her stories are always original while remaining within the bounds of the genre, and even if the girl always get the boy at the end (even if it’s not the boy she thought she’d end up with), how she gets there is consistently original and charming.
Jess, the main character in Townley’s latest novel, The Importance of Being Married, doesn’t believe in marriage. But when a combination of pure goodness and luck leaves her with an inheritance neither expected nor necessarily appreciated (at least at that moment in time) considering it comes with a caveat. The lawyer handing over the property thinks she married. And why does he think Jess is married? Because she told the kindly old lady she’d be visiting in the home a very long, detailed story about how she married her gorgeous, successful and utterly charming boss. Oops.
So, Jess and her roommate quickly sum up a plan called operation marriage or something of the like, as if it’s a project to be managed, and work on getting her married by the time the two-week deadline to inherit arrives. Hilarity ensues. As does a little old-fashioned honesty. It’s a happy ending. I’m sure that’s not a spoiler, it’s chicklit after all, and I’d be curious to see what Townley would come up with if she wasn’t sticking to a rigorous book-a-year publishing schedule and stepped outside the genre just a little. I’m sure we’d all be pleasantly surprised.