Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Smart One

I think there need to be categories of chick lit, because just plopping this book into that category without any qualifiers isn’t quite fair. Granted it has cupcakes on the cover, but it’s not actually a very “fluffy” book as far as content goes. Maybe I should invent something called the Sophie Kinsella Scale and rate all chick lit books on this. A book that scores a 10 on the SKS would meet the following standards:

- Useless but entertaining content focused primarily on dating and romance, with shopping and fashion as supporting roles
- Main character is a single female between the ages of 21 and 35
- Super girly book jacket, often involving cartoon pictures of women wearing cute outfits and very high heels, cupcakes, and/or whimsical little swirls and stars
- Takes less than 2 days to read
- Induces small amounts of shame when caught reading at the office and coworker asks, “What are you reading?”
- Completely predictable ending

The Shopaholic series would rank a 10 on the SK Scale. Here is a description of The Smart One from the back of the book:

Bev Bloomrosen thinks her sisters see her as a loser. Not that she minds being the Smart One, but she can't imagine she'll ever live up to her family's expectations ... especially since she left behind her artistic ambitions-along with her humor-impaired ex-husband-to pursue a career as a "mere" schoolteacher.

But her sisters have their own image problems. Clare, the Pretty One, married well and seems to have the perfect suburban life, yet worries that the paper thin fabric of her beautiful designer world is ripping apart. And Joey, the Wild One who had 15 minutes of fame as a one-hit-wonder rock star, struggles with sobriety and keeping the secret of her weirdest ambition yet.

They love each other but mix like oil, water, and hundred-proof gin . . . a combination that threatens to combust over family tensions, suspected infidelities, a devastating accident, a stunning confession, and the sudden reappearance of their handsome, now all-grown-up former neighbor, Kenny Waxman, who's back in town making his mark as a TV comedy writer.

It seems they'll never understand where their differences begin and their own destructive tendencies end. Then it happens: the sisters discover a decades-old body stuffed inside an industrial drum and begin a bold, heartbreaking, and sometimes hilarious journey that will either bring them together . . . or tear them apart for good.

I would put The Smart One somewhere in the 4-6 range on the SKS. It took me only 3 days to read, and the cover is close to being super girly, but the focus is not entirely on dating and romance and the main character borders on too old for a chick lit book. The ending was also not entirely predictable and actually, the writing was pretty good. I’d recommend it for a lighter read.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Last Chinese Chef

I almost a little bit want to say I loved this book, but something is holding me back from using the word love.

It's not a book I would normally pick out myself, but a coworker loaned it to me and I've been trying not to purchase so many books lately, so I finally decided to give it a try. I've never been someone super fascinated by Chinese culture, but I did work for 2 and a half years in the offices for Wild Ginger, a fancy, well established Asian restaurant in Seattle that serves mostly upscale Chinese food. And tell you what, reading this book made me need to go back there real bad and eat black pepper scallops, tomato and tofu stir fry, shu mai, sea bass in fresh herbs, seven flavor beef and even some fragrant duck. But if we're being honest, it doesn't take much to induce a craving now that I'm 8 months pregnant and starving for just about anything that I hear mentioned in passing.

What finally got me to pick this book up and start it is when I noticed that Nicole Mones (the author) also wrote Lost in Translation. That movie was good, right? So I decided this book probably wouldn't suck either. And it didn't. It's about a woman named Maggie, a food magazine writer who was recently widowed. She receives notice that her late husband has a claim that has been filed against his estate in China, where he often did business. She travels to China to investigate the claim and also takes an assignment for the magazine while she's there to write about an up and coming Chinese chef, Sam Liang. Sam is half Chinese, half American. He was raised in the US and recently moved to China to continue his grandfather's legacy as the "last Chinese chef". I feel cheap stealing a quote from the back of the book, but Ruth Reichl (former NY Times food critic, Gourmet editor in chief, and author) says it so well:

"I don't think there's ever been anything quite like this. It's a love story, it's a mystery, and it's also the most thorough explanation of Chinese food that I've ever read in the English language."

The descriptions of the food are amazing, the characters are believable and likable, and the story is interesting. Something kept me from getting that I-can't-put-this-book-down feeling, but it's sill a really solid read; particularly good for a book club with foodies in it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Virgin of Small Plains

A quick, engrossing read of questionable quality. The story is great - very captivating - but the quality of the writing is just okay.

Description I stole from the author’s website:

Seventeen years ago, the brutalized body of an unidentified young woman was discovered in the snow during a blizzard in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Deeply disturbed by this senseless death, the town rallied to give her a decent burial in the local cemetery. Since then, strange miracles have visited those who faithfully tend to her grave -- some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, the legend of the ill-fated girl -- the so-called Virgin of Small Plains --has spread.

But with the reappearance of prodigal son Mitch Newquist, troubling questions arise. Why did Mich abandon his beloved girlfriend, Abby, and flee on the night of the murder? Can Abby unravel a tangled seventeen-year-old skein of lies? And why do the town's leading citizens, including Mitch and Abby's own families, seem determined to keep the truth buried?

The style reminds me a bit of Jodi Piccoult, kind of addictive, but a little ridiculous every once in a while. Anyways, I still liked it and tore through it in like 2 days, so I guess I shouldn’t bash it. Also like Piccoult, it sounds like Pickard has written a bajillion books. In a pinch, I’d probably pick another one of hers up without batting an eye.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I think this is technically a young adult book, but I thought it was a bit more sophisticated than the usual YA fare. I actually think this could make a good (and easy) book club pick.

The book is about Zazoo, a 14 year old Vietnamese girl who was adopted when she was 2 by an old French man who raises her as his granddaughter in central France. Together, they run their tiny village's locks on the canal. Zazoo meets a young French boy on a bike near her canal one morning and over the course of their budding relationship, you get to watch her relationship with her aging Grandfather develop as well. Her Grandfather's stories of WWII come out of the woodwork and other characters in the village get involved in the story and it turned out to be a really beautiful, touching and sad book.

I think because of the YA factor, it stops short of being a major cry fest, and perhaps things are tied up a little neatly at the end, but I still thought it was a seriously enjoyable book.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Miranda's Big Mistake

Total chick lit. Decent, but don't rush out and buy it. Basically, Miranda has all sorts of romantic mishaps and per usual, takes just about the whole book to realize what has been glaringly obvious to the reader from about page 50 - she's in love with the OTHER guy! Shocking, I know. Still, I enjoyed it. It takes place in London, has entertaining supporting characters with their own story lines, and the author has a decent sense of humor.

Monday, July 6, 2009


I loved The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen’s Fool, but Philippa, you totally let me down on this one. Sure, there was all sorts of historical sauciness going on, but incestuous sauciness is NOT cool. It is gross. And the main character of this entire book is totally hate-worthy. I only read the whole thing because I kept waiting for her to die. But I guess when the narration is first person it’s sort of hard to kill them off mid-book, despite how much you may want to. Because then who would tell the story? Anyways, I felt like this book took like 400 pages to basically say “She sucked and then she died.” Pretty sure I won’t be picking up the sequel to this one, particularly because it seems to feature a new brother-sister combo and I’m not in the mood to read about more raunchy, incestuous sex. Ew, Philippa. Just, ew.