The Bonneville Hotel is the best-kept secret in London: its elegant rooms and discreet wood-paneled cocktail lounge were the home-away-from-home for royalty and movie stars alike during the golden age of glamour. Recent years haven’t been kind, but thanks to events manager Rosie, it’s reclaiming some of its old cachet as a wish list wedding venue. While Rosie’s weddings are the ultimate in romance, Rosie herself isn’t; her focus is fixed firmly on the details, not on the dramas. She lives with a professionally furious food critic and works tirelessly toward that coveted promotion. But when the hotel owner appoints his eccentric son Joe to help run Rosie’s department, she’s suddenly butting heads with the free spirit whose predilection for the unconventional threatens to unravel her picture-perfect plans for the most elaborate—not to mention high-profile—wedding the hotel has ever seen, a wedding that could make or break not only the hotel’s reputation, but also Rosie’s career.
Although not every Browne book is a hit for me, they often are, and this one was incredible. One of the blurbs says it’s in the vein of The Wedding Planner. My comeback would be it’s everything I thought The Wedding Planner was going to be but even better. It’s a story that showcases a woman building her career while craving a relationship and ultimately getting the next level of her career and the relationship she’d been dreaming of.
I often find that in chick lit I have to be willing to give up on either seeing a woman with ambition or a woman desiring a traditional relationship. You often don’t get both. Both is what I want out of my comfort reading, and both is what you get here. Plus, both the career and the love interest are something you want to root for. Rosie isn’t a heartless workaholic but she’s also not someone who’s just working until she nails down the guy. She wants everything, and she keeps wanting everything even when the going gets tough. And the tough going is realistic, both in the romance and in the career. The realism kept things relatable even with things ultimately working out great for her in both ways in the end. And you know what? I like that things work out in both ways. I like that hope. We all can use some more hope in our lives.
In addition, the setting is just stunning. It’s a hotel that had its height in the Art Deco era, and all of the beauty and splendor of it is eloquently described. It was a place I wanted to keep coming back to because it just felt so divine, even with seeing the behind-the-scenes of the staff rooms and the stress of running the special events.
One other thing I must mention is that yet again Browne does a great job of presenting positive female friendships. There’s more than one woman to women relationship that Rosie has where both women help each other out. Women are shown as having differences of opinions and other difficulties to work through but ultimately being there for each other. It might not always work out that way in real life, but I really like seeing female friendships validated and other women not being demonized just to make a scene work.
Overall, this features everything I like in the best Browne books with the added dash of a setting that really suited me. The final scene was so pretty I had tears in my eyes on public transportation, and that’s really saying something. Highly recommended to lovers of quality chick lit.
5 out of 5 stars
A feature for the disappointing reads: I spent enough time reading them. The reviews shouldn’t waste more time. See all haiku reviews here.
By: Daniel Woodrell
The sheriff’s deputy at the front door brings hard news to Ree Dolly. Her father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date. Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive.
How could a book with
Meth and gangs and a strong lead
Be very boring?
2 out of 5 stars
Little Lady Agency
By: Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones can bake a perfect sponge cake, type her little heart out, and plan a party blindfolded. But none of that has helped her get far in life or in love. When she gets fired — again — she decides to market her impeccable social skills to single men. To avoid embarrassing her father, a Member of Parliament, Melissa dons a blond wig and becomes “Honey,” a no-nonsense bombshell who helps clueless bachelors shop, entertain, and navigate social minefields.
Everything that makes
Browne’s other books good is just
Missing. Try again.
3 out of 5 stars
By: Philip K. Dick
On the arid colony of Mars the only thing more precious than water may be a ten-year-old schizophrenic boy named Manfred Steiner. For although the UN has slated “anomalous” children for deportation and destruction, other people–especially Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker’s union–suspect that Manfred’s disorder may be a window into the future.
Using the n-word
For Martians. Fear of mental
Illness. Doesn’t age well.
2 out of 5 stars
Like everyone in New York media, editor Liz Buckley runs on cupcakes, caffeine and cocktails. But at thirty-one, she’s plateaued at Paddy Cakes, a glossy baby magazine that flogs thousand-dollar strollers to entitled, hypercompetitive spawn-havers.
Liz has spent years working a gazillion hours a week picking up the slack for coworkers with kids, and she’s tired of it. So one day when her stress-related nausea is mistaken for morning sickness by her bosses—boom! Liz is promoted to the mommy track. She decides to run with it and plans to use her paid time off to figure out her life: work, love and otherwise. It’ll be her “meternity” leave.
By day, Liz rocks a foam-rubber belly under fab maternity outfits. By night, she dumps the bump for karaoke nights and boozy dinners out. But how long can she keep up her charade…and hide it from the guy who might just be The One?
As her “due date” approaches, Liz is exhausted—and exhilarated—by the ruse, the guilt and the feelings brought on by a totally fictional belly-tenant…about happiness, success, family and the nature of love.
This book is more controversial than it probably should be. It’s a silly chick lit book in the vein of Shopaholic (if you haven’t read that series, the main character is addicted to shopping and does a lot of terrible things in a funny way). But it is a book that involves parenting, pregnancy, and women in the workplace, which are hot button issues for a lot of people. So I can see how it wound up being controversial. I do think most people are taking it too seriously though.
For the first solid half of the book I was fairly certain a lot of people were misunderstanding satire for seriousness. While some of Liz’s complaints about her particular workplace are valid (she has all the worked shoved off on her, repeatedly staying until midnight, while the other team members who are parents leave early; the expectation and pressure on women in their 30s to naturally want to have a baby, etc…) the way she reacts to these particular situations is childlike and pretty terrible. That said, a lot of chick lit has a tradition of the main character reacting in an over-the-top way no one in real life would ever do. It’s where the humor come from. From “what if” followed by utter ridiculousness. That said, halfway through the book I became less certain it’s satire and wondering more and more whether the author really looks at the world in this black-and-white way. If the author does actually think this way, it’s a sign of immaturity but one I’m able to laugh at. Not all readers might feel that way.
That said, I do think the author tried to provide a nod to women who feel differently. One of Liz’s good friends is having difficulty getting pregnant, and she supportively goes with her to a fertility doctor. There’s a character who is a working mother who calls Liz out by pointing out how very little time she actually gets to see her daughter and that she works just as hard as Liz then goes home and works more. (It’s true that this character is probably the only parent in the company who does, but the fact remains that she exists and calls Liz out). There is another character who is a parent who bemoans the pressure on women to return to the perfect body immediately after pregnancy, and Liz sympathizes with her. I do think by the end of the book Liz learns to have more empathy for women who’ve made different life choices from herself and sees it’s not all sunshine and roses onthe other side of the fence.
With regards to the writing, I didn’t like either of the love interests, and I did actually like (flawed) Liz enough that I was rooting for her to not end up with either of them. I will also say that I predicted the ending far far in advance but I’m also not sure how else the book could have ended and still lived up to the chick lit happy ever after mandate.
Overall, if you want a retake on Shopaholic featuring fake pregnancy rather than addiction to shopping, albeit one that doesn’t quite live up to Shopaholic, you’ll enjoy this book. You just need to be able to not take the subject matter too seriously.
3 out of 5 stars
Evie Nicholson is in love . . . with the past. An antiques appraiser in a London shop, Evie spins fanciful attachments to Victorian picture frames, French champagne glasses, satin evening gloves, and tattered teddy bears—regardless of their monetary value.
As a favor to friends of Fraser’s family, Evie jumps at the chance to appraise a Scottish castle full of artifacts and heirlooms. What could be more thrilling than roaming the halls of Kettlesheer and uncovering the McAndrews’ family treasures—and dusty secrets?
But crossing paths with moody heir Robert McAndrew has Evie assessing what she wants the most . . . and at an upcoming candlelight gala, a traditional dance will set her heart reeling.
I thought what better Christmas gift to give my readers than a review of a 5 star read! This is one of those books that was so exactly what I look for in the genre that there’s very little to say beyond well done. But I’ll try.
In chick lit I look for a few things. Romance I can root for (no rooting for a marriage to break up, for instance), a smart sense of humor, a realistic setting with a touch of magic, no hating on women in general or other women in particular, and writing that makes me feel as if I am there. This book hits all of those marks.
I was worried at first that I’d be getting a squicky story of Evie trying to steal her sister’s boyfriend, but that’s not what happens at all. Evie’s crush on her sister’s boyfriend is indicative of her tendency to crush on men she knows she can’t have, and it being her sister’s boyfriend is what it takes for her to realize that’s what’s happening. It was the thing that worried me the most but ended up working out the best.
The book is full of wit and smart humor that made me feel like I was relaxing in a warm tub with gentle music. It’s the kind of wit that made me at ease and entertained.
I love the fact that the plot revolves around a woman going somewhere for her career, and romance coming out of that. Evie has her own life, and a significant amount of the plot is actually about her career.
Another part of the plot is the Scottish reel that is danced at the special ball the family that owns the castle hosts. I was expecting to find reading the passages about the dancing to be either glossed over too much or boring, but in fact those passages were so well-written that I actually went and looked up the specific reels on YouTube because I felt like I just had to see them. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they looked precisely like I’d imagined them based on the author’s descriptions. It was the icing on the cake of the book.
Overall, if you’re looking for a modern chick lit whose plot revolves around far more than the romance and that features well-rounded women helping each other out rather than tearing each other down, I highly recommend this read. Maybe it’s something to pick up if Santa gave you a gift card that’s burning a hole in your pocket.
5 out of 5 stars
Ria lived on Tara Road in Dublin with her dashing husband, Danny, and their two children. She fully believed she was happily married, right up until the day Danny told her he was leaving her to be with his young, pregnant girlfriend. By a chance phone call, Ria meets Marilyn, a woman from New England unable to come to terms with her only son’s death and now separated from her husband. The two women exchange houses for the summer with extraordinary consequences, each learning that the other has a deep secret that can never be revealed.
Is “two women swap houses and their lives change” a subgenre of women’s fiction? Because I feel like it should be. I have a real soft spot for house swap stories, starting back when The Holiday came out (one of my favorite romcoms). I was excited to see one featuring both Ireland and New England (Connecticut, specifically), and I sensed that the drama would be pretty high in this story. I wasn’t disappointed.
I learned a lot about recent Irish history from this book. For instance, I had no idea that divorce wasn’t legal in Ireland until 1995! The whole culture, too, wasn’t just that divorce wasn’t legal but that young marriage was expected. This directly impacts Ria’s life and her decisions. Learning this recent Irish history through Ria’s eyes helped make it more real and reminds the reader that these cultural norms and laws have a real impact on real people.
The settings were beautifully rendered. From Tara Road to the home in Connecticut, I felt completely present in each. I could hear the noises and smell the cooking at Tara Road and feel the cool pool water in Connecticut. The rich settings helped me take the perhaps at times ridiculous plot with the grain of salt such a story warrants.
Many issues are covered without ever feeling like the book was written just to talk about them. Rather, the issues exist because they just happen to in real life so why wouldn’t they in this book. Among the issues: alcoholism, domestic violence, grief, infertility, and more that I can’t mention without being plot spoilery.
Still, though, in spite of the strong setting and interesting plot, I did feel that it ended a bit too abruptly. I felt as if I was left hanging, wondering what ultimately was going to happen with these women. Being left wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing but after investing so much into these two women, I would have enjoyed at least an epilogue.
Overall, a strong entry in women’s fiction. It’s a house swap story that stays unique with the house swap not being about romance but rather about dealing with personal issues and where you want your life to go.
4 out of 5 stars
Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.
Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer–and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope–and finds love–is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.
But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m a Sophie Kinsella fan, so it should come as no surprise that I liked this book. But let me say I love love loved this book. It’s my favorite Kinsella book I’ve read so far. It was funny but also a beautiful love story and also great commentary on life and priorities. It gave me the warm fuzzies, you guys.
I think one of the things I like best about Kinsella books is how they present all of women’s life options as totally valid ones, even if the heroine herself doesn’t realize that at first. What matters most is the heroine doing what makes her happy, and often the drama comes from the heroine forcing herself to be something she’s not or align herself with life values she doesn’t have. In any case, this book walks a great line of neither demonizing career women nor women who stay at home. It also doesn’t present doing a high-powered, high-education track as better than doing a traditionally blue collar job like housekeeping or cooking. Yes, at first Samantha thinks one of them is better and looks down on the other, but ultimately she realizes the pluses and minuses of both types of jobs, and I really like seeing that in chick lit. A lot. I also really enjoyed seeing the struggle Samantha has between part of herself wanting the high-powered career and part wanting the quiet life at home. I think that’s a feeling many modern women can relate to.
The romance is also quite sweet. The early on playing between Samantha and her man and how that progresses made me feel like I was cozied up in a just the right temperature bath. But I also really liked that the book shows that compromise in a relationship is necessary. Both of them have to adjust their perceptions to fit the new reality of each other and both are willing to make compromises and meet in the middle.
Of course it’s also funny. What’s not funny about a lawyer trying to keep house when she doesn’t know anything about cleaning or cooking? At some point though the humor transitions into scenes that I can only describe as warm and glowing. That focus in on what really matters in life.
I was entertained. My life goals and ambitions were strengthened and validated. And I (maybe) (ok, definitely) cried happy-ever-after tears at the end of the book. I suppose if you’re a reader who doesn’t understand people who want to work a job they at least moderately enjoy and live life at a reasonable pace with lots of time with those they love then you might not enjoy this book. But I’d also say you need to read it and take a hard look at Samantha’s life before and after her lessons.
5 out of 5 stars
Lara Lington’s boyfriend – the one she’s sure is The One – just broke up with her. But that’s ok. She’ll soldier on. He’ll realize his mistake soon enough. And her business partner (in her small business of three people – the two of them plus one secretary) ran off on holiday and just isn’t coming back, but she just needs to keep the place afloat until she gets back. Everything is going to be just fine. That is…it would be if the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie hadn’t decided to start haunting her at her funeral. Now she just won’t leave her alone until Lara finds her precious dragonfly necklace. How exactly is she supposed to do that, keep her business going, win back her boyfriend, and not let anyone think she’s lost her mind?
I know this may seem like it was an odd read to pick up in the month following my father’s passing. (Yes, I read this eons ago…in December). I was in the mood for a light-hearted chick lit. Something to cheer me up. I knew I liked Sophie Kinsella, and honestly the thought of a loved one haunting you in ghost form sounded kind of nice to me for once. So I picked it up, and I’m glad I did. I think this might be my new favorite Sophie Kinsella.
There’s a lot here that makes this different among chick lit. First there’s the focus on a relationship with the member of a far-flung previous generation of your family. Chick lit often focuses on the heroine’s children, parents, or friends, but a great-aunt is a new one. (For me anyway). Things start out awkward and funny. Lara feels weird being at the funeral for a great-aunt she didn’t really know, and when Sadie shows up, it’s as herself in her 20s in the 1920s…how she continued to imagine herself even in her old age. Since Lara hadn’t previously had a relationship with her, she gets to know her basically as just another 20-something in ghost form. But she also has to inform her of how she’s passed on, and Sadie has to start to come to terms with what her life was.
The ghost looking for her missing necklace plot very quickly turns into a romcom mystery. There’s more to Lara’s family than meets the eye! And while I had my suspicions, how things ultimately work out was still enough of a surprise that I enjoyed seeing how we got there.
There of course also is a love interest and a love triangle that for one didn’t drive me batty (probably because it’s hard to be a real love triangle when one of the sides is a ghost). The book was humorous, the romance fun, and the plot engaging. But what shot it up to 5 stars for me was two themes.
First there’s Sadie coming to terms with what her life was, and Lara realizing that there’s more to the elderly than originally meets the eye. The book says a lot of good stuff about both how we treat the elderly in Western cultures and the process of aging and living your life to its fullest. It also touches upon taking the time to listen to your elders and learn from their success and mistakes. Lara’s life improves once she treats Sadie as a person, rather than just an elderly relic. And Sadie learns to let go once she comes to terms with how she lived her life.
The book also fights against the trope of a heroine being certain that someone is The One and then being proved she is right when she wins him back. Sadie teaches Lara a lot about being brave enough to be on your own. About the value of learning to be alone before finding someone. About how important it is to know who you are before you can find the right match for yourself. It’s only when Lara grows as a person (and a career woman) and actualizes more into who she really is that she’s able to find true romance, and I really liked seeing that theme in a chick lit.
Overall, if you want some gut laughs watching a 1920s-era ghost with her great-grand-niece cavorting around England, you won’t be disappointed in this book. But be prepared to find yourself fighting back tears to as you watch the inter-generational relationship blossom and everyone learn a little more about being true to themselves.
5 out of 5 stars