Category: Contemporary Fiction

Jan 17

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction 13

Greetings, Bookworms!

The fact that it’s cold and gray doesn’t appear to have had the desired effect on my blogging output. So much for that theory. I’m still reading, of course, in between bouts of hibernation and snacking. Yes, I’m probably part bear. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay? Anyhow, a while back I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman (review) and really dug it, so I thought I’d check out some more of his work. That’s how I came to read Britt-Marie Was Here.

Britt-Marie is sixty three years old. She’s not difficult, she just happens to like things a certain way. A well organized cutlery drawer and a thorough understanding of the virtues of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) are key to a proper life. Kent never fully appreciated the extent to which Britt-Marie kept his life in order, unfortunately, and she’s simply had enough of their loveless 40 year marriage. Once she’s left, she takes a job the only place she can find, the rather derelict town of Borg. It was once a thriving town with a large trucking company, but it was hit very hard by the financial crisis. Britt-Marie begins work attempting to bring order to the soon-to-be-demolished recreation center, and soon finds herself somehow coaching a youth soccer team.

Fredrik Backman has the market cornered on curmudgeonly older Swedes with hearts of gold, let me tell you. Over the course of the book, we learn a lot of the circumstances that shaped Britt-Marie into the woman she became, and we are privileged to witness the circumstances that surround her metamorphosis. I mean, she ends up coaching soccer, for heaven’s sake. It’s adorable.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised by the plot of this book. For some reason, I never think of a country like Sweden having any problems. It’s one of those countries that always seems to be topping the “best countries to live in” lists. I just never thought “oh hey, I bet there are economically depressed areas of Sweden that are plagued with crime, unemployment, and general discontent.” Because I’m incapable of recognizing complexity, or something. Actually, I’ve got a quote from the book that totally works right here. Ahem: “Societies are like people in that way. If you don’t ask too many questions and don’t shift any heavy furniture around, there’s no need to notice their worst sides.” You should probably read this book. It’s a delight. Britt-Marie Was Here– check it out!

Talk to me Bookworms! What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Sweden?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 18

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Contemporary Fiction 5

Good Day, Bookworms!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a list of authors whose new work I get awfully excited about. I’ve read a good number of Alice Hoffman’s books over the years and they rarely disappoint. That’s why when I saw she had a new offering, I jumped on Netgalley and made the “pretty please?” face. (Alright, it’s all electronic so no publisher actually saw the face I made when I clicked request, but the face happened and you deserved to know about it.) *I received a complimentary electronic copy of Faithful by Alice Hoffman for review consideration. I’ll still be honest, though, because that’s how I roll.*

faithfulShelby Richmond is an ordinary teenage girl growing up on Long Island until the fateful night when a car she is driving slides on ice and is involved in a horrific wreck. Shelby’s best friend’s future is taken from her, and though Shelby is physically uninjured, she hardly walks away unscathed. What follows is a story of guilt, redemption, and rebuilding.

Shelby attempts to escape her bad memories in Long Island by moving to NYC. She’s a survivor if nothing else, and along the way she inadvertently collects a little family of lost souls.

Oh, my heart. I had so many FEELINGS with this one. Shelby got all up in my psyche. I mean, a broken girl who loves Chinese food and bookstores and rescues dogs? How could I not get emotionally attached? The book started a little on slow side for me, but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up waaaaaaaaaaay too late to finish it. And then I stayed up a little longer crying because FEELINGS. But that’s the reading life, right?

You want a book that gets into your guts? Faithful by Alice Hoffman will not disappoint.

Alright Bookworms. What was the last book that gut punched you in the feelings? I think I need more of this. 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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Aug 17

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

Contemporary Fiction 6

Greetings Bookworms!

Prior to BEA I’d only been to two author events, but I must admit that having interacted with an author especially in person makes for a different reading experience. Fun fact: I am fond of people who are nice to me. Granted, when authors are trying to promote their books, they tend to be nice to those who might purchase and/or talk other folks into purchasing their books. Just because being nice is also in an author’s best interest doesn’t make me enjoy it any less when they compliment my penguin cardigan. All this is to say that Jennifer Close complimented my (admittedly adorable) penguin cardigan when I got my book signed at BEA. And now we have a special bond. Obviously.

thehopefulsHer latest offering, The Hopefuls, is super timely considering that we’re in the midst of a (seemingly endless) election year. Beth knew going into her relationship with Matt that his eventual goal was to work in politics and eventually run for office, but that all seemed far away when they were living in New York and he was working as a lawyer. When they uproot their lives in New York to move to DC and follow Matt’s career, Beth has a hard time adjusting to her new reality. She hates everything about the city from the traffic circles to the casual discussions of government security clearances. Things begin to turn around when Matt and Beth meet charismatic White House staffer Jimmy and his wife Ashleigh. The two couples strike up a fast and intense friendship, but things soon get complicated. Politics, jealousy, and rumors threaten to tear apart the fragile sense of normalcy Beth has only recently attained.

This book was very cheeky and a lot more fun than I expected it would be. The whole political sphere isn’t something that’s ever been a huge interest of mine. I mean, DUH, I have opinions and I CARE, but I have no interest in engaging in debates or anything. Which is why I find the desire to work in politics so baffling. (For the record, I’m super grateful that there are people who DO want to run things,  but campaigning sounds like the ninth circle of Hell to me.) Thanks to the Beaks and Geeks Podcast (which is great fun if you have the time to give it a listen) I learned that author Jennifer Close had the same reaction to DC that Beth did upon moving there. The Hopefuls isn’t autobiographical or anything, but Beth’s DC rants came straight from Close’s initial reactions. No WONDER it felt so authentic!

Is this glowing review the result of the author’s complimenting my ensemble? Not really. At least not intentionally. I really did like the book. But, you know how it is. Unconscious bias and all that. Why don’t you give The Hopefuls a read yourself and form your own opinion?

Talk to me Bookworms! Would you ever consider running for office or does it sound as awful to you as it does to me?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’ll probably use it to buy more penguin things. Because PENGUINS.*

 

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Jun 13

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Contemporary Fiction 12

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I have been terrible about reviewing books lately. I don’t mean that what I’ve been posting is terrible (because I obviously think that what I’m saying is very important and interesting all the time) buuuut I’ve been reading a whole lot more than I have been posting. I’m going to try break out of the cycle this week, folks. Andi at Estella’s Revenge is hosting a week long Reviewathon and I am all in. First on the agenda is one of my BEA acquisitions, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.

curiouscharmsArthur Pepper is a 69 year old widower who is merely going through the motions in life. He’s spent the year since his wife passed away engaged in the most mundane of activities, his most rewarding relationship being with his houseplant, Frederica. On the one-year anniversary of his wife Miriam’s death, however, things begin to change. Arthur finally brings himself to clear out some of Miriam’s things when he stumbles across a piece of jewelry he’s never seen before. Arthur is completely perplexed by the bracelet and its unusual collection charms. Arthur’s curiosity is piqued for the first time since Miriam’s death. The former homebody embarks on an adventure that leads him to encounter locations, people, and trousers he never would have expected.

I hate to play the comparison game, but I’m going to anyway. Raise your hand if you’ve seen Up! Yes, the Pixar movie. The one where the widower goes on a journey and finds purpose and joy in life in spite of his grief? The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a little like that. With fewer balloons and more ferns named Frederica, of course. But the general vibe? Totally there. I couldn’t help but love Arthur and all the misfits and oddballs he meets along the way. This is a feel good book of the first degree, and utterly charming. If you need a few warm fuzzies, this is your read, folks!

Talk to me, Bookworms! What’s your favorite feel-good read?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 07

I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around by Ann Garvin: Review and GIVEAWAY!

Contemporary Fiction, Lady Fiction 13

Happy Tuesday Bookworms,

Whew! Summer, man! I’ve been reading plenty of books but I’ve been terrible about getting reviews written. It’s tough to buckle down and computer it up when the sun stays out so late and the weather is so delicious. I’m full of excuses. The point to all of this is that YES! Today I’m talking about a book! I was recently contacted by Ann Garvin and offered a complimentary copy of her latest book, I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around for review consideration. As per usual, I shall remind you that my integrity shan’t be compromised by the free book because I have truly terrible manners.

ilikeyoujustfinewhenyourenotaroundTig Monahan is has always been the steady, responsible type who helps everyone else out with their problems. She’s been taking care of her mother, who has been suffering from dementia. She’s always provided a soft landing for her flighty older sister. She’s a therapist, for heaven’s sake! Tig’s refusal to put herself (or more aptly, her boyfriend) first has caused immeasurable friction within her relationship. And all the glorious stability that Tig has worked so hard to build? It crashes down around her piece by piece. In the aftermath, Tig is forced into a new job, a new outlook on life, new roles, and unexpected challenges.

Dang. That little synopsis I just wrote doesn’t do it justice. This book was such a great exploration of messy feelings and complicated emotion. I love a feel-good novel, but I often find that they’re kind of one dimensional and obvious, you know? When I read a book in the self discovery vein, it often feels like there’s a sign blinking with “THIS IS THE CORRECT OPTION” when it comes to what choices the protagonist should be making, particularly in terms of her romantic life. I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around took a much more realistic approach to a set of improbable circumstances. It’s a hopeful book, on the whole, but it’s not one of those “follow your dreams and it’ll all work out perfectly” or “find your one true SOUL MATE and everything will fall into place” sort of narratives. It’s a little sad. A bit of a bumpy road. The choices aren’t always clear. Just like actual life. And you know what? I LOVED IT.

Want to know if you’ll love it too? Ann Garvin was generous enough to offer a GIVEAWAY of the novel (US entrants only, please.) Enter below, my little Bookworms!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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May 31

Rich People Behaving Badly: Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction 15

Happy Tuesday, Bookworms!

The day after a Monday holiday is always the most insane of days, particularly for us working stiffs. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it though. I got some flowers planted and books read and lots of delicious grilled things in my belly. I’m still trying to catch up on reviews for books I’ve read. I’m waaaaay behind schedule. Whatever. Today we’re going to be discussing an audio book I listened to a while back called Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford.

everybodyriseI won a copy of this audio book through Armchair BEA last year (I think?) It took me forever to get around to importing the words into my brain, but I blame that on the fact that it was an audio book on CD which isn’t the most convenient format for listening on the go. I ended up listening to it in my car (and totally got the first CD stuck in the player, thank you very much. Eventually the issue resolved itself. I think it may have been the first time the CD player was ever used in my car.)

Evelyn Beegan is the 26 year old product of prep school and a social climbing mother, but she’s determined to create a life for herself in Manhattan on her own terms. That is, until she takes a job with the world’s snobbiest website, People Like Us. Evelyn is put in charge of recruitment, where she’s paid to rub elbows with the ultra privileged elite she once avoided. During the course of her work, Evelyn finds herself summering at the vacation homes of New York’s old money- Newport, the Adirondacks, and the Hamptons become her stomping grounds. She is able to blend in with the people she’s recruiting and finds their world intoxicating. Evelyn soon begins to pass herself off as old money, and sweeps her wealthy-by-normal-standards family history under the rug. I think you can guess where this is heading.

I don’t know how to properly explain this audio book’s narration. The narrator used the most over-the-top fancy East Coast upper crust voice you can imagine. Does anyone anywhere REALLY talk like that? It was like Richard and Emily Gilmore on steroids. My husband came in from moving my car one day and felt told me in his own version of the hoity toity accent just how well Camilla’s croquet game was progressing. While the accent was kind of hilarious, the book was maddening. THESE PEOPLE.

Everybody Rise introduced me to a brand of human beings I didn’t think actually existed. This East Coast old money thing is NUTS. The amount of money casually thrown around in this book is staggering, and just wow. Everyone was so unapologetically snobby! Evelyn and her mother are DESPERATE to be in the club and it’s just SO SAD. Honestly, I can’t tell for sure how I feel about this book. I found this world so gross and upsetting. It’s eye opening, but I’m not sure I really wanted to see the world from this particular perspective. Yikes.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Did any of you attend Ivy League schools? Or Prep schools? Is this whole social scene ACTUALLY a thing? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Those of us without trust funds don’t object when a few spare cents find their way into our Amazon accounts.*

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Apr 22

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 18

Greetings Bookworms,

Wow. Am I ever behind on telling y’all about what I’m reading. 99 percent of the time when I’m running behind, it’s because I’m pretty lazy. This time, though, I really needed to sit on my thoughts for a while before I could put together a blog post. That’s mostly because reading Dietland by Sarai Walker felt so… Explosive.

dietlandPlum Kettle goes through life trying to keep a low profile. Her lifelong weight struggle has instilled a desperate desire to blend into the background, a feat she never quite accomplishes. Plum works from home or a local cafe answering the fan mail and advice requests for a popular teen girl’s magazine. After years of failed diets, Plum has decided to undergo weight loss surgery.

She’s confident in her decision until she acquires something of a stalker in a college age girl wearing brightly colored tights and combat boots. When Plum tries to investigate the odd girl that’s been following her, she falls into a collective of women living life outside of society’s terms. All this comes about around the same time as a vigilante group known as “Jennifer” begins dangerous attacks on a world that’s hostile toward women.

Dietland takes a no holds barred approach to eviscerating the beauty industry, gender inequality, rape culture, society’s obsession with weight loss, and the general nastiness that surrounds being overweight.

You guys, I have so many complicated feelings about this book. Every time I wanted to high five the author for making an incredible point, something happened that made me want to rescind my hand. I was all about the take down of diet culture. It sucks and this book disembowled it. High five right there. Of course, I wanted that high five right back when I read the way the author treated Plum’s antidepressant use. Are anti-depressants over-prescribed? Maybe. But are there a lot of people who NEED medication to manage their mental illnesses? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is this sort of characterization helpful? Nope. Not even a little. Then there’s the beauty industry. Does it feed on women’s insecurities? Totally. But the book slammed the beauty industry SO HARD that it made me feel like a crap feminist for enjoying wearing makeup and shaving my armpits. And as much as there’s a part of me that would love to see rapists and other horrible human beings punished when the criminal justice system fails, I just can’t with the vigilante stuff.

Are you starting to get a clearer picture of why I’m such a muddled mess over this book? The cognitive dissonance is STRONG with this one. Even though I didn’t agree with every little stance, I still think that Dietland starts all sorts of incredible and important conversations. It would make a stellar book club pick, especially if debates are your group’s jam.

Alright Bookworms. As you can see I’m a hot steaming pile of emotions here. What was the last book you read that left your feelings all a roiling?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive small commission.*

 

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Apr 07

Lies and Other Acts of Love by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Contemporary Fiction 3

Greetings Bookworms!

I am on an absolute roll with the water works this week, you guys. I cried while watching Inside Out (expected) AND Trainwreck (unexpected). Then I cried during two different books. Not that I don’t cry a lot, because I am totally a crier, but it’s a little unusual to have so many instances of non-real-life crying in a single week. My subconscious is probably just super pissed that it’s April and it’s still pretending to be winter and icky outside. I have a point, I promise. The second book to make me cry this week was Lies and Other Acts of Love by Kristy Woodson Harvey. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for review consideration. She seems super nice, but I’ll still give you an honest opinion. I’ve known you longer. And, you know, integrity, blah blah blah.*

LiesandOtherActsofLoveLynn “Lovey” White has seen a thing or twelve during her sixty years of marriage. You can’t be married that long and raise a family of five daughters without appreciating the art of the little white lie. Life hasn’t been perfect, but she’s made it work. At this point, she’d just like to see her family happy and settled. Unfortunately, her granddaughter Annabelle has been living in a whirlwind. After dumping her hedge fund manager fiance, Annabelle rebounded FAST with a musician she met and married within the week. When Annabelle’s life begins to spiral out of control, she comes to understand that things aren’t always what they seem and that difficult choices are part of this whole life gig.

Lies and Other Acts of Love was a bit of a complicated read for me. I simply adored Lovey and Dan’s story- in fact, I’d read an entire book about their life together with no complaint. The overarching themes of love being complicated and the idea that there’s often more to a fairy tale love story than meets the eye? Totally resonated with me. Great stuff.

But then there was Annabelle. You know how sometimes when you’re reading a book you want to jump into the pages and give a character a good shake? That’s how I felt about Annabelle. I don’t fault the author for this, my frustration with the character was 100% about my own personal hangups. That’s part of the fun of reading, though. Different books affect people in different ways. Annabelle drove me bonkers. She just kept making terrible choices. The fact that a single character was able to get under my skin so much is a testament to the author’s skill, though, don’t you think? I mean, most of the characters I’ve most wanted to give a stern “talking to” are out of classic novels, so if that’s any indication of quality, this was quite well done. Bottom line? If you like Southern fiction and aren’t completely jaded by the concept of love at first sight, Lies and Other Acts of Love could absolutely be a winner for you.

Soooo Bookworms, let’s talk. Tell me about some of the fictional characters that drove you bananas. Please? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. The author will also receive a commission. I think. I don’t actually know how it works with book sales. Kristy Woodson Harvey really does seem exceptionally nice, though, just in case you’re on the fence about the purchase. You probably won’t want to punch Annabelle. Clearly that’s on me.*

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Mar 10

I’m Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck

Contemporary Fiction 12

Howdy Bookworms!

Despite the fact that I occasionally whine about the fact that I live in a cornfield, (a gross exaggeration, to be honest. At least half the fields are soybeans) but I LOVE the Midwest. I love the food, I love the people. It’s far from perfect, but it’s home. I think you know where this is heading. I picked up yet another book based in no small part on the fact that it was partially set in the Midwest and starred Midwestern characters. I’m very predictable that way. I received a complimentary copy of I’m Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck for review consideration. These are my honest opinions, of course, because my integrity costs more than a free digital galley. Throw in some diamonds next time, geeze. 

imgladaboutyouAlison and Kyle were high school sweethearts in Cincinnati, Ohio. Kyle was an idealistic and religious young man seeking to change the world with a medicine. Alison wanted desperately to break away from the Midwest and pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. With their dreams pulling them in opposite directions, Kyle and Alison throw in the towel on their relationship after a tumultuous six year run. Alison goes on to get her big break in NYC while Kyle marries, starts a family, and practices medicine in Cincinnati. Though they’ve both seemingly moved on, they still can’t quite seem to shake the hold they have on each other. As their paths continue to cross they’re both forced to examine their choices and the compromises they’ve made to pursue their dreams… Even when their dreams don’t turn out the way they imagined they would.

Ooooh this book. Gosh, I can’t quite pinpoint how I feel about it. Let’s start with what I loved. My BFF lives in Cincinnati so I got way too excited reading shout outs to Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili. I personally don’t quite get the Skyline phenomenon (don’t tell my “nephew”), but Graeter’s? SO GOOD. Plus their zoo totally has a penguin exhibit. You’d think that wouldn’t be a huge draw, but my local zoo? Zero penguins. It’s devastating. I really dug the Midwestern charm and the mention of casseroles and foods full of mayonnaise. Lemme tell you about my jello salads, y’all!

That said, I tend to have a difficult time relating to story lines that go behind the scenes of Hollywood, fame, and fortune, because it seems so foreign to me. The stories seem to be at best bittersweet and at worst fully tragic. Hence, Alison’s time in the spotlight didn’t resonate with me the way I’d hoped it would. Well, except for her diet. Hollywood, please just stooooooooooop with making the starlets get extra super skinny. They’re so hungry! Also Kyle’s approach to his Catholicism kind of confused me. Granted, it’s a pretty rules-heavy religion (a thing I know from personal experience) but he seemed to practice in the least pragmatic way possible. He’d screw something up but the choice he’d make to atone was way worse than what he’d done in the first place. The dude is a doctor but often severely lacking in common sense when it comes to his personal life.

So there you have my mixed bag o’ feelings about I’m Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck. If it sounds even remotely interesting to you, though, you should probably read it. I need someone to hash this out with.

Talk to me, Bookworms! I seem to always have trouble relating to Hollywood plots- is there a setting or situation that you run into in books that always kind of throws you?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jan 28

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 14

G’Day, Bookworms!

Man, do I ever love audio books. The last time I read a book by Liane Moriarty, I spent the first few chapters thinking the What Alice Forgot (review) was set in England only to be jarred when a mention of Sydney forced me to re-align my mental accent. I’m sure I would have remembered that Liane Moriarty is Australian and had that carry over into my reading of Big Little Lies, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have gotten to listen to a delicious Aussie accent for hours. That would have been tragic, I think. But, oh, this book!!!

biglittleliesBig Little Lies tracks the lives and scandals of the kindergarten class parents of Pirriwee Public, a beachfront Australian suburb. While a number of parents chime in, the story primarily follows three women. Madeline is a feisty 40 year old mother juggling a part time job, her three kids, and a complicated relationship with her ex husband (including his new yogi wife, and the teenage daughter they share.) Celeste is mother to a set of twin boys. She and her extremely wealthy husband cut an impressive figure at school functions, and appear near perfection… On the surface. Jane is a very young mother, new to the area. She does her best to fly under the radar with her son Ziggy, but circumstance renders that difficult.

Holy crap on a cracker, this book was amazing. I wouldn’t ordinarily go for a book so entrenched in the Mommy Wars and schoolyard scandal, but I could not get enough. Madeline, Celeste, and Jane contributed such compelling narratives to the story. It was fascinating and well crafted and deliciously deviant. A wicked sense of humor underscored some of the more traumatic story lines, making me laugh and gasp and sigh and scowl. This would make for brilliant book club fodder, my friends. Take note! (I’ve heard this is going to be made into a limited TV series for HBO. You can bet I’ll be watching!)

Talk to me Bookworms! Have any of you read this book? Those who have and are parents of school age kids, does the gossip mill portrayed in this book ring true to you?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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