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Posts Tagged ‘chick lit’

Chill out with your favorite cool beverage and a new novel. It’s summer, and hey, readers wanna  have fun.

So do the three women in Mary Kay  Andrews’ breezy Summer Rental, who used to channel Cyndi Lauper’s peppy anthem as Catholic schoolgirls in the 1980s. Now Ellis, Julia and Dorie have planned a reunion on  North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spending a few weeks relaxing in a rambling old  beach house.

But the likable trio arrives at Ebbtide towing extra emotional baggage. Career-woman Ellis has just lost her job in corporate banking and realizes she’s left with “a life as dull and colorless as the sand beneath  her toes.’’

Julia, a fashion model who lives  in London with a photographer, also is wondering what’s next, career-wise and relationship-wise. At least she  hasn’t been blindsided by a cheating husband like schoolteacher Dorie, who  impulsively invites a stranger to be a fourth housemate. Madison (not her real  name) is on the run from something or someone.

Andrews adds a grouchy landlord who only communicates by  e-mail and a good-looking single guy in the garage apartment. The mix makes for a sweet, refreshing cocktail of a tale – with a twist, of course, and an  unexpected punch when Madison’s past catches up with her.

Fans know that Andrews, who grew up in St. Pete, honed her skills with plot and pacing as mystery novelist Kathy Hogan Trocheck.  With such previous beach book hits as Savannah Blues, Hissy Fit and The Fixer-Upper, she’s not planning on  a return to crime. But e-reader owners can now find digital editions online of Lickety-Split and Crash Course, her capers featuring Florida senior sleuth Truman Kicklighter.  They’re replete with  Sunshine State color and characters. And Kicklighter is a kick.

Reading Claire Cook’s Best Staged Plans is like catching up with an old friend. You may not have talked in months, but you pick up right where you left off with what’s new and what’s next now you’re at mid-life.

This time, it’s Sandy Sullivan, a cheery Boston home stager with an early-retiree husband, a newly-wed daughter in Atlanta, and a slacker son in the basement of the renovated house she’s prepping for sale, even though she’s still wondering what’s her “postmom” mission in life.  She loves her tennis-playing husband — such a good guy — but she and Greg seem to be stuck in comfortable routines.

“Ah, the things you never thought to ask before you commited to a lifetime with another person. Will you get up with me to watch the sunrise, or will you snore the morning away? Will you write me poetry or take the easy way out with a Hallmark card for every occasion? Will you get the house ready to put on the market when I ask you to? Can you dance?”

Best Staged Plans begins slowly, as Sandy channels HGTV, obsesses over reading glasses, mourns past pets and family rituals. But the pace picks up when gal-pal Denise’s boyfriend Josh offers her a job staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta. Sandy’s Southern sojourn finds her getting to know her new son-in-law, meeting a homeless woman, and helping Denise deal with her bad boyfriend. It all helps her put her life in perspective as she picks out paint chips — you can’t go wrong with Benjamin Moore’s Million-Dollar Red.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Seven Year Switch) spices her light-hearted tale with tips on home decorating and gourmet meal assembly.  At one point, Sandy notes that “the thing about staging is that you have to stay open to surprises, because they often turned out to be better the things you planned.” Good advice whether you’re making over a room or your life.

Open Book: This is my blog, and I can write about my friends’ books if I want to. St. Martin’s Press sent me an ARC of Mary Kay Andrews’ Summer Rental, and Hyperion Voice sent me a review copy of Claire Cook’s Best-Staged Plans. You girls have a blast on your book tours. I’ll just continue getting the popcorn off the ceiling and hum “Wanna Have Fun.”

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Toss these two novels in the beach bag to share with your mom, sisters, daughters, gal pals. Easy reading that still illuminates the ties of family and friendship.

Best-selling romance writer Debbie Macomber’s eighth entry in her Blossom Street series, A Turn in the Road, takes three generations of women from Seattle to Florida on an eventful car trip.

Six years ago, Bethanne Hamlin’s husband, Grant, left her for a younger woman. Distraught and humiliated, she dreamed of the day he’d admit his mistake and come back to her and their two children. But now that day has arrived, Bethanne’s not sure she can ever trust him again.

Putting off a decision, she instead volunteers to drive with her ex-mother-in-law to Vero Beach for Ruth’s 50th high school reunion. Then her college-age daughter Annie, who is having boyfriend trouble, decides she’ll go, too. Of course, both Annie and Ruth would love to see Bethanne reunite with contrite Grant. By the way, he’ll be flying to Orlando for a real estate conference while they’re in Florida.

But before Grant can personally plead his case once more, the women make a few sidetrips, and Bethanne meets Max, a helpful biker hiding a painful past.

Turns out Max, whose path again intersects with Bethanne’s in Las Vegas, isn’t the only one hiding things.  Widowed Ruth is hoping she’ll see her high school sweetheart, Royce, at the reunion, although he may not want to see her. Her long-ago “Dear John’’ letter hurt him badly. Ruth can’t bring herself to dial the number Annie found on her laptop.

Macomber may have left Seattle, but she’s on familiar emotional territory. She chronicles her characters’ conflicted feelings with customary warmth and gentle humor. Ruth drags Annie to an Andy Williams concert in Branson. Once in Florida, Bethanne and Annie conspire to recreate Ruth’s high school prom.  Grant is surprised to find he has a rival and intensifies his courtship.

New love. Old love. Love lost and found. What’s not to like?

The three women in Wendy Wax’s new novel Ten Beach Road are strangers to one another at book’s beginnings.

Still, homemaker Madeline Singer, TV home show host/architect Avery Lawford, and professional matchmaker Nikki Grant all lost their savings to Ponzi schemer Malcolm Dyer. He’s nowhere to be found, but the trustees trying to sort out his mess have awarded each woman a one-third share in a beachfront mansion on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Alas, Bella Flora has seen far better days, and the Mediterranean Revival house at Pass-a-Grille needs a major renovation if it’s ever going to sell. The women strike a deal with hunky contractor Chase Hardin, a frenemy of Avery’s youth, to provide the elbow grease to restore Bella Flora to her former glory.

Wax dutifully details the womens’ mishaps with mops, ladders and polyurethane over the summer, providing each with a crowded backstory as they hammer out their new makeshift friendship.

Maddie worries over her now-jobless husband back in Atlanta, while her single pregnant daughter arrives with a video camera.  Avery, still smarting from her divorce from a handsome heel, can’t stand Chase’s condescending chauvinism.  And glamorous Nikki is harboring a secret that will affect them all.

Then there’s a hurricane.

Ten Beach Road makes for diverting reading, both in spite of and because of its predictability.  As the tide turns. . .

Open Book: I read a digital edition of Debbie Macomber’s A Turn in the Road (MIRA) through NetGalley, and Wendy Wax’s publicist sent me an advance copy of  Ten Beach Road (Berkley Trade Paperback). They’re just the first in a wave of summer books I’m enjoying. More to come!

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I’d like to think of my clothes as vintage chic, but, really, they’re just old ordinary. I do have a hat that belonged to my grandmother, its wide brim now more yellow than the original cream. Also a darling if impractical little black Kate Spade purse I discovered on a junking expedition with Cousin Gail. My best find ever is a knock-off designer bracelet from a consignment shop that looks so much like the real thing I have people wondering who’s my sugar daddy. Oh, and a cameo ring I found in a Georgetown thrift store…

So, ok, maybe I would venture into the London resale boutique at the center of Isabel Wolff’s diverting novel A Vintage Affair. Heroine Phoebe Swift, who feels bad about the recent death of a close friend and her own subsequent runaway bride act, has opened the new business hoping to find customers who love pre-owned designer duds.  A write-up in the local paper by a cute rookie reporter helps, as well as a request by elderly widow, Mrs. Bell, to sell her fine wardrobe. But not the child-sized blue coat of an earlier era still in perfect condition. It’s NFS.

Phoebe, who used to work at Sotheby’s, believes every article of vintage clothing has a story, and she eventually convinces Therese Bell to share the history of the blue coat. It’s entwined with that of a childhood friend in France who was caught up in the Holocaust. In turn, Phoebe confides her own guilt about her late friend.

Still, even as Phoebe hand-sells the lovely clothes in her shop (the vivid “cupcake” prom dresses are a big hit) and is flattered by the attentions of an older man with a spoiled teen-age daughter, she remains haunted by the story of the coat.

Wolff is at her best describing the couture clothes and the varied customers who come in looking for the perfect dress or silky scarf. The cupcake dresses are a bit reminiscent of Ann Brashare’s traveling pants, somehow capable of transforming each girl or woman who tries one on. Through Phoebe’s expertise, Wolff also offers tips on the care of vintage garments and fabrics.

But the sad and serious tale of the small coat doesn’t really fit into the frothy world of the pretty frocks and Phoebe’s shallow romances and misplaced guilt. Then there’s the subplot about Phoebe’s parents’ divorce — her 60-year-old mother is thinking facelift while her father is dealing with diapers. Chick-lit can have have depth, but A Vintage Affair too often shows its seams. Pleasant off-the-peg patchwork but not ready for the runway.

Open Book: I bought the e-book edition of Isabel Wolff’s A Vintage Affair (Random House Publishing Group) at the discounted price of $9.99, but it’s not part of nook’s “Lend Me” program so I can’t pass it on. Pity.

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Hollywood calls them rom-coms, as in romantic comedies. Publishers label them chick-lit. I’ve always thought of them as beach books, even if I’m reading them in winter. They make me think of sun and porches and peaches and girl-talk. But now it really is summer, and I’ve been downing them like pink lemonade.

Jill Murray, the likeable heroine of Claire Cooke’s latest breeze of a book, Seven-Year Switch, is holding it together as a single mom, although her cottage’s porch railing is falling off. Husband Seth ran away and joined the Peace Corps seven years, leaving her with three-year-old Anastasia and no money. So she teaches around-the-world cooking classes at a community college and answers phones for a travel agency specializing in girlfriend getaways. Jill may cook exotic food and talk of faraway places, even be a culture coach for a cute guy who wants to open a bike-rental business in Japan, but she’s always there for her 10-year-old daughter. Suddenly, so is Seth. Or so he says.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s a Beach) covers a lot of emotional territory, plus a trip to Costa Rica, in less than 250 pages. And the ending, with a black zebra tarantula as Cupid, seems rushed. But this is pop fiction with the fizz of female empowerment. Jill is flawed and funny; that she doesn’t get her neighbor Cynthia’s sense of humor is a hoot in itself, as is her attempt to mold herself with Spanx. You’ll want her for a pal.

Also Dempsey Jo Killebrew of Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper, now out in paperback. That Dempsey, a young Washington lobbyist, is so clueless at book’s beginnings about her boss kicking her under the bus of a political scandal, makes you want to root for her more. The girl is in a mess. So, too, is Birdsong, the pink ancestral mansion in small-town Georgia, which her father suggests she help renovate and flip.  He provides the dilapidated house — including a cranky old cousin of a tenant — and then it’s up to Dempsey. But it’s going to take more than elbow grease, paint and power tools to fix things when a pitbull reporter and the Feds show up asking questions about Dempsey’s last job. Happily, there’s this good-looking young lawyer in town, not that Dempsey needs a guy to rescue her when she finds her inner steel magnolia.  

The Fixer-Upper is one of my favorites of Andrews’ Southern charmers, right up there with the hilarious and exhilarating Hissy Fit, and the one that jump-started it all,  Savannah Blues.

Katie Fforde is a like a British Mary Kay Andrews. Several of her light-hearted books, including Stately Pursuits and Saving Grace, involve young women and old houses. Wedding Season, the newest one published this side of the Atlantic, offers three appealing heroines: cynical wedding planning Sarah, and her two best pals, unassuming dress designer Elsa, and Bron, who can do hair and cakes with aplomb. You might think it would be their celebrity client, referred by handsome photographer Hugo, who would play the princess bride, but it’s Sarah’s sister, getting married on the same day, who keeps putting up the obstacles to true love. Not my favorite Fforde but worth a spin.

Ann Brashares, of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, reaches out to an adult audience with My Name is Memory, in which boy meets girl over and over again through time, but she doesn’t always remember him. Romance and reincarnation aren’t really my thing, but Brashares’ characters — Daniel and Sophia/Constance/Lucy — have more than their share of adventures. For a more conventional boy-meets-girl (and her sister) beach book, check out Brashares’ The Last Summer (of You and Me).  

Open Book: I’ve met Claire Cook, and she’s a Facebook friend and FOB (friend of blog). Her publisher sent me a copy of Seven-Year-Switch (voice/Hyperion). I knew Mary Kay Andrews when she was still Kathy Hogan Trocheck, and she’s a longtime friend and mentor, being Caroline Cousins’ mystery mom, as well as FOB. She sent me an advance reading copy of The Fixer-Upper (Harper) last year. I’ve never met Katie Fforde, but I’ve bought most of her books, including Wedding Season (St. Martin’s Press), over the internet in their British editions because I can get them a year earlier. Ann Brashares’ publisher sent me an ARC of My Name is Memory (Riverhead/Penguin), after I requested it in a web promotion. I bought my hardcover copy of The Last Summer (of You and Me), and would whoever I lent it to, please return.

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Even back when she is a 17-year-old senior at a Connecticut high school circa 1980, Carrie Bradshaw is a budding fashionista, hoping clothes will help define her. “But who am I?” she asks herself as she packs for her college interview at Brown: a beaded ’50s sweater, a plaid skirt, a wide belt, and a Hermes scarf that her late mother bought on her only trip to Paris.

“You look cute,” a Brown student named George tells her before he kisses her.

Carrie also is an aspiring writer. As a tween, she comes across her grandmother’s romance novels: “The idea of becoming one of these lady writers filled me with a secret excitement that was nearly sexual, but also terrifying: If a woman could take care of herself, would she still need a man? Would she even want one? And if she didn’t want a man, what kind of woman would she be?”

At 17, though, she notes, “I’ve learned one thing since then: No matter what happens, I’ll probably aways want a guy.”

Yep, this is definitely the Carrie Bradshaw we know and love. In The Carrie Diaries, Candace Bushnell’s fun, first prequel to Sex and the City, we can immediately picture a younger Sarah Jessica Parker, not as awkward as in the old TV series Square Pegs but still not one of the popular “Pod” kids like Donna La Donna and the two Jens. Which is fine — “Bradley” has her own tight-knit circle: Lali, Maggie, Walt and the Mouse. Yet things are starting to change: Maggie, who has always been with Walt, turning her attention to Peter, editor of the high school paper; and bad-boy newcomer Sebastian Kydd, turning all the girls’ heads even as he hones in on Carrie.

Bushnell deftly charts the emotional highs and lows of adolescent love, friendship, rebellion and betrayal. Just enough details about Carrie’s single scientist father trying to raise three girls balances out the teen angst and antics. That Carrie learns a lot about herself and others is a given, but Bushnell, writing in the present tense, gives it a pleasing immediacy. You may think you know what awaits Carrie in the future, but following her there is a trip down memory lane. The last chapter, “A Free Man in Paris,” with its kicker last lines, is priceleess. It’s just sooo Carrie!

Open Book: I bought my copy of The Carrie Diaries (HarperCollins), which is being marketed as a YA crossover chick-lit. If you want something more substantial, try Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue, one of my favorite guilty-pleasure paperbacks.

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