Saturday, January 2, 2010

Good chick lit, bad chick lit

I've read one chick lit book so far in 2010 and attempted another.  First, the good news, then the bad news.

I loved Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center.  Lanie Coates packs up and moves with her husband and three young sons from Houston to Cambridge. She leaves behind her childhood home and family in support of her husband's dream of being a musician. But what about Lanie's dreams? Her husband, Peter, keeps reminding her that she has the boys, but Lanie wants something uniquely her own. She joins a gym, begins taking a photography class, finds a new best friend. But does she risk losing everything by begining this new woman?

This book is just hilarious. I love the voice - Lanie's personality shines through as she tries to keep her three sons from destroying their apartment or killing themselves. Secondary characters are strong -- I enjoyed the subplot about Nora, the downstairs "Mean Witch" woman who recently lost her husband and complains about the volume of her children.  This is one of those truly believable, sympathetic chick lit books.

This is book no. 1 for the 2010 100+ book reading challenge, more info here (and there's also a link at the bottom of my blog, along with my FAQ).

I also tried to read a book that I couldn't get through.  This book looked fun and came well-recommended, so perhaps this is just my own foibles as a reader shining through, but I gave up on Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans by page 28.  I picked it up after that and tried to read further, but honestly, I was done by then. 

Two reasons why. First, voice. Jemima J is overweight and obsessed with skinny models; she blames every unfortunate occurrence in her life on her weight (lack of love interest, lack of upward career mobility, lonely nights without friends).  The author talks about how she is bright, funny and warm-hearted, but no one sees beyond her weight.  I did not like the "victim" voice. I have no doubt that being overweight can make aspects of life difficult, but I don't think that it prevents one entirely from having a life, with a career and friends.  Especially since the author was telling, not showing, Jemima J's personality. To me the voice came across as someone who was actually petty and jealous, blaming everything in her life on her weight when that isn't the case. Not a very sympathetic character! I just could not get into the voice of Jemima.

Second, tenses. Holy mother of God. This novel went from third person to first person to second person and cycled back through again. Every time the tense changed - especially when it happened between connecting paragraphs - it pulled me out of the novel.  At one point, I threw it down on the couch and ranted to poor MJ about the importance of tenses (something that, as an engineer, he could care less about; but that's the wonderful thing about being married).  The tenses to me came across as undisciplined writing and shabby editing, rather than a stylistic choice that helped drive the story forward.

I hate to be so harsh, but this story just did not work for me at all.  If anyone else has read this book, I'd love to hear your opinion.


shopgirl101 said...

I can't believe it's only Jan 2nd and you've already read one book! I'm very impressed.

Susan said...

I totally and completely agree with you about Jemima J. I actually forced myself through the whole book a couple of years ago, and I was appalled. It's not a good body image book for any female, by any means! The message was, "Be thin and have it all, instantly!" That's just not the case in real life and it was such a shallow book to boot.

Since we agreed on that one, I'll have to check out "Everyone is Beautiful." I've read other great reviews of it and I think it's one I'd enjoy.

Happy Reading in 2010!

Amber said...

I cannot stand writing that jumps from one point of view to another and then back to another. Pick one and stick with it already!

For the most part I can't stand chick lit, but I'll have to check out the first one after I finish my current reading list!

Katherine said...

Thank you so much for this lovely post about my novel, Everyone Is Beautiful! It's so great to read all these kind words. And what a fun coincidence that you stumbled on my blog! That happens to me a lot online: I follow one good thing to another in a long chain of goodness. I have a new book coming out in April called Get Lucky. Library Journal just called it "another thoroughly enjoyable girlish romp." Hope you get a chance to check it out! Thanks again for the great review--and many good wishes to you!