Stuff and Nonsense: chick lit

Showing posts with label chick lit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chick lit. Show all posts


Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

After the company she co-owns goes bankrupt, the bank takes her flat, and her lover goes home to his mother, Polly finds herself living in poky little flat over a decrepit-looking bakery on the tidal island of Mount Polbearne off the Cornish coast. There she returns to her old hobby of bread-baking and slowly begins to supply bread to the island’s inhabitants, befriending some of them along the way. Of course, as is to be expected, Polly becomes quite a successful baker, regains the security and confidence she lost in the bankruptcy, and falls in love with a total hottie.

While Colgan does not skirt around the difficulties of life in a dwindling British fishing community and the book can be quite heartbreakingly sad at points, it is still an overwhelmingly warm and pleasant book, full of lovely carbs, honey, and puffins. Oh my cake, the puffins. THE PUFFIN. Neil is the best puffin sidekick a reader could wish for and I am so pleased to see Colgan has written an entire children’s series about Polly and her Puffin.

As with Colgan’s other foodie romances, there are several recipes at the end of Little Beach Street Bakery. The cheese straw recipe looks like something to serve with tomato soup and the focaccia is definitely a yeast bread I could handle ... not so sure about the cinnamon buns or the bagels, though!

There are two more books in the Little Beach Street series, Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery and Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on them as soon as possible.

With light in my head
You in my arms

(Did I mention the book quotes the Water Boys extensively? No? Well, it does. I know. I know. References to the Water Boys and lots of good bread? Heaven).

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (HarperCollins, 2014)


Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe

When Issy Randall's London employer makes her redundant -- no matter she's be sleeping with her boss and you'd think he'd might have given her fair warning (the jerk)-- she is justifiably despondent and at a loss as to what to do next. While she takes "retraining" classes, she finds herself dreaming of owning a bakery. Issy grew up in her granddad's bakery and, as her roommate and ex-coworkers will attest, certainly knows her way around a kitchen. In pursuing her dream of owning a bakery, Issy meets many interesting secondary characters -- everyone from future employees, to possible love interests, to quirky new neighbors. Of course, her ex-boss (now her ex-boyfriend, too) can't stay out of the picture for long ...

Issy's relationship with her nursing home-bound grandfather and her fond memories of his shop are warm and endearing, and add extra charm to a novel already bursting with it. I also enjoyed Issy's friendship with her roommate Helena, which feels very authentic. And, really, you cans feel that kind of "authenticity" throughout the book -- the secondary characters (aside from, maybe, The Dreadful Ex) are all full-fleshed and functioning "real" people. That's quite a feat and one of the reasons I really enjoy Colgan's books.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, 2011)


Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Sherbet lemons. Pear drops. Nougats. Rock. Humbugs. If these words don't thrill you or fill your heart with nostalgia-tinted joy, Sweet Shop of Dreams is probably not for you. Oh, ostensibly this is a romance novel about a woman who goes to take care of an ailing elderly relation in a twee rural English village, becomes entangled in the daily lives of the townsfolk, and finds True Love quite unexpectedly. And it is that kind of story. But it's also very much a love song to sweetshops with each chapter prefaced by an excerpt or recipe from Lilian's sweets book.

This is the first novel I've read by Colgan since I read Talking to Addison and Amanda's Wedding over a decade ago. I don't understand the gap as I really enjoyed those two novels and had every intention of reading more. And yet here it is many years later, Colgan has written many more of books, and I've read none of them. Clearly, I need an app that will track the authors I enjoy and regularly remind me that it has been X many months since I read anything by them. (I DO NOT need it to tell me about forthcoming books. Dear heaven, I am buried in forthcoming titles).

So. The book. You want to hear about the book. It's a sweet little confection. Light and airy like meringue with just a hint of bittersweet feels running through it to keep it from treacle-sweetness. Great Aunt Lilian is a delightful character, but her story is -- unlike Rosie's -- not so clearly a happy one and her end-of-life circumstances lend a poignancy to the novel that it would otherwise lack.

Unfortunately, while Colgan has done such a great job bringing her primary and secondary characters to life, her "bad" characters are surprisingly undeveloped. Yes, the dentist hates sugar and wants to turn the sweetshop into a carpark. I understand. I don't need to be reminded of that every time he walks across the page. What else is there to him? Nothing. The same with Hester and CeeCee.

All and all, though, I really enjoyed Sweetshop of Dreams and look forward to reading Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop if I can find a copy of it stateside. While Colgan is a prolific writer and seems popular enough in the US, some of her works are not available here. Weirdly, in the UK Sweetshop of Dreams was published as Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams. American publishers, what gives? Why change a perfectly good title? And the British edition has a much more attractive cover with proper sweets jars on it and everything! Why?!

And here's Jenny Colgan in a proper sweetshop talking about Sweetshop of Dreams:

Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan (Sourcebooks, 2014)


The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta

Acosta's She-Hulk is a bit different from the She-Hulk of my comic book memories and took a little getting used to. For example, I wasn't expecting a clear Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk divide as if She-Hulk were a completely different person from Jennifer. It makes sense in Acosta's novel, but that didn't mean I still didn't spend quite a lot of the beginning grimacing as Jennifer complained to herself about Shulky's shenanigans (while also using Shulky as an escape from her own mixed-up life).

That aside, I quite enjoyed The She-Hulk Diaries. Acosta's Jennifer Walters comes across as a very real person trying to successfully balance career and personal life while dealing with repercussions from some pretty poor choices (mostly She-Hulk's). She's made a checklist of goals to get her where she wants to be in life and she's confident and smart enough to make it all happen. While, I think, the look of the book and its dairy style are supposed to make you think of Bridget Jones's Diary, Jennifer is no bumbling-but-well-intentioned Bridget. Jennifer doesn't make blue soup. Jennifer tries to save dying children.

(Yeah. So, I might have a little crush).

And all that in a world filled with nefarious supervillians, a "dangerous" outbreak of niceness, and LARPing. LARPing, people. I'd love this book just for that. And the fluffy rats! And the tedious Avengers reports. Someone knows how to write superhero window dressing with style.

She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta (Hyperion, 2013)


The Builders by Maeve Binchy

Jo, Bobby and Pat would never understand how comforting it was to sit and talk to Derek at the end of the day, and how much it had brightened up her life.

Up to now Nan had not wanted to go anywhere, meet anyone, or try anything new. In the year since she had left work she had got out of the habit of going out. She stayed in Number Fourteen waiting there in case the children called in.

The Builders tells the story of a lonely woman named Nan, long separated from her husband, with three grown up children who seem either to take advantage of her or condescend to her. Nan strikes up a friendship with one of the builders rehabbing the house next store and as their friendship begins to change into something more, so does her relationship with her children evolve.

The Builders is another of Gemma Media's Open Door Series' short low-literacy novellas. For something so slim, there's a lot going on and some of the character-development and plot twists felt a bit rushed. Indeed, it felt almost as if The Builders was meant to be the outline of a proper novel. While The Builders' a pleasant enough read, it left me wanting and I cannot honestly recommend it. Not the lunchtime read I hoped it would be.

The Builders by Maeve Binchy (Gemma Media, 2009)


Mrs Whippy by Cecelia Ahern

I find that the rules of ice-cream tasting are the same for most things in life. To experience true flavours and true feelings you need to pay attention to your senses. How do things look? How do things smells? How do things feel when you touch them or they touch you? How do they taste? And, very importantly, what memories do they leave you with?

I'd wanted to read Cecelia Ahern’s Mrs. Whippy for a while now, but couldn't find it at a library near me ... but then my public library started developing an ESL/literacy collection and one of the first volumes added was Mrs. Whippy! Mrs. Whippy is part of Gemma Media's Open Door Series of low-literacy novellas. Each novella, written by "known" Irish authors, is less than a hundred pages long, making them perfectly bite-sized reads.

In the case of Mrs. Whippy, delicious bite-sized reads.

Recently separated from her husband, who left her for "a twenty-three-year-old Russian lap dancer the size of a broomstick," middle-aged mum Emelda feels trapped in a downward spiral. Her sons, taking cues from their heel of a dad, act up and ignore her. Her best friend is too wrapped up in the affair she's having to offer Emelda any support. The only bright spot in her life comes from ice cream so it should be no surprise that thee arrival, one fated Monday, of Mr. Whippy's ice cream van into Emelda's neighborhood should herald great change.

The back cover blurb would suggest Mrs. Whippy is a romance and, while I admit there is a distinct possibility Emelda and Mr. Whippy will have a relationship, I would say this novel is much more about suffrage and self-empowerment. Emelda learns to put herself forward, to defend herself against the slights and condescension of others, to see the future as a thing of wonderful possibility ... and maybe that will lead her to romance.

Mrs. Whippy by Cecelia Ahern (Gemma Media, 2010)


A Surrey State of Affairs

Reading A Surrey State of Affairs felt like watching a car-wreck -- it was painful and horrible and I wanted to look away, but I couldn't stop. Constance Harding was impossibly oblivious to the shenanigans going on around her. I mean, you repeatedly find your Polish housekeeper's knickers in your husband's study and you put it down to slovenliness?

Admittedly, for the first month or so (the book is told as a series of blog posts), this obliviousness was kind-of funny and I wondered how crazy things would have to get before Constance opened her eyes to reality. But the humor wore thin by the end of February and then it was a matter of impatiently waiting for Constance to catch on.

It took Constance two-thirds of the book to find out about all the things going on around her and, even then, she didn't actually catch on. No, she was told pointblank. And then it was all surprise and disbelief and coping and self-actualization in South America and downsizing and happyish-ever-after. The End.

Clearly, this novel wasn't written with a reader like me in mind. Possibly, a more upper crust version of my British mother-in-law would have found it hilarious or insightful. Whereas, I just found A Surrey State of Affairs frustrating and a bit wearying.

And I must hurry up and read something else, because I'm not ending 2012 with a bad book!

A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford (Viking, 2012)


Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I am weary from all the carnal exertions of the last day and from the complete and utter dilemma that I'm faced with. I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over with my hands. Do I really want to know the extent of Christian's depravity? It's so daunting. I take a deep breath, and with my heart in my throat, I rip open the envelope.

Awkward virginal girl meets an extremely wealthy and powerful man. Said man becomes fixated with her and offers to make her his Submissive. Girl agrees. Light BDSM ensues. Etc.

Clearly, I've read too much erotica, because Fifty Shades of Grey is just not salacious or kinky enough for me. Here's a man, a powerful dominant man, with a room devoted to the pleasure of pain and the best he can do is whip his new girlfriend with a belt? FFS.

The sexytimes are always about Ana being naive and not knowing what to expect while Christian's all masterful and I get it, already. Now let's have some proper Kink. None of this spanking or whathaveyou and then the foil packets and the vanilla penis-vagina sex.

But, I suspect, the sex isn't actually the point. The point is that Ana's fallen in love with Christian and maybe he's falling in love with her and her Magical Love Vagina will heal his 50 Shades of Fucked Up and make him whole and they'll live happy ever after. Huzzah?

Also, am I the only one expecting Ana to end up pregnant at some point soon, because that girl cannot remember to take her contraceptive pill. Why is she on the pill, anyway? Wouldn't an IUD or implant make more sense?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage Books, 2011)


Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell

'I like this hotel.' Dev was openly grinning at her now. 'You're handy for the motorway. Although I'd prefer it if your chambermaid didn't seduce my guests.'

'I'll make a special note of it. Nooo sed...uct...ions.' Daisy slowly repeated as she wrote it down. 'How's your friend Dominic, by the way?' She raised her eyebrows, feigning interest. 'Still married?'

Daisy MacLean very capably runs her father’s country hotel, Colworth Manor, while he boozes up with the quests and generally carries on. Matters start to slip from Daisy’s control when her best friend, Tara the Chambermaid, is discovered in a compromising position with one of her exes on his wedding day at the hotel and Daisy locks horns with his dangerously sexy Best Man …

And I really can’t say much more about the actual story, because there’s too much going on and I would spoil your fun. Seriously, there’s a lot going on in this book. Most of the characters -- even the secondary and tertiary ones -- are quite colorful and nearly all have their own storylines, so the action never stops. And, yes, sometimes the storyline gets a little over the top (the transplant-baby mama-fire arc, for example), but it’s all good fun. Buckets of fun.

(I do feel I should warn you that reading Staying at Daisy's will make you want to rush to the nearest animal shelter and adopt a Clarissa or Clive of your own. I'm not inordinately fond of dogs, but I'd like a Clarissa).

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)


Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell

"Oh God, I'm so ashamed. How could I have gone out with someone for six months and not known they were a secret bell-ringer?"

"Come on." Erin's tone was consoling as she put the empty pudding bowls on the coffee table and stood up. "It's stopped raining. Let's go to the pub."

One fine day, Tilly Cole comes home to find that Gavin, her live-in boyfriend, has done a runner. Hurt, she visits her friend Erin in the tiny town of Roxborough for much needed cheering up. While there, she ends up applying for a job as a "Girl Friday" for a interior designer and his teenage daughter. Of course, Tilly gets the job and suddenly she has a new home and new life. Maybe even a new romantic interest in the form of Jack Lucas. Except Jack's a player with a tragically romantic (romantically tragic?) past. Will Tilly give her heart to a man who will break it or can she fix Jack's own broken heart?

Oh, I think we all know how this will end -- wedding bells and whatnot -- but, I promise, it's fun getting there! It's impossible not to like Tilly or root for her happiness and the abundance of secondary characters/subplots means the novel just roars along with never a dull moment. Some of it, especially the ending, borders on the ridiculous, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and say "I do believe in Romance! I do!"

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2010)


To the Moon & Back by Jill Mansell

Ellie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand; sometimes she didn't realize she'd been crying until the tears slid off her chin and dripped down her neck. She missed Jamie so much she sometimes wondered how she'd managed to carry on, but it had been fifteen months now, and one way or another she had. Maybe she was going a bit batty, conjuring Jamie up and having imaginary conversations with him, but it was her coping mechanism and she wasn't ready to give it up yet.

Jamie, Ellie's husband, is killed in an auto accident. Fifteen months later, Ellie still has not come to grips with his absence. Ellie’s father-in-law visits her and is horrified by how uninhabitable her flat has become (chavs and mildew) and persuades her to move to a much nicer flat in a much nicer neighborhood, Primrose Hill. One change begets many – Ellie quits her old job, starts a new one, makes a friend, reconnects with an old one, and (eventually) finds new love.

To the Moon and Back was a sweet, gentle novel and Mansell wrote Ellie’s loss and discovery of new love in a way that never felt maudlin or hackneyed. Indeed, while there were many relationships and many kinds of love depicted in To the Moon and Back, they all felt quite real and developed in ways which seemed quite natural. Zach might have felt a frisson of romance the first time he saw Ellie, but it took the entire length of the novel for that relationship to develop. (One couple does starts with a romance novel cliché -- they instantly fall in love and into bed, but they’re a nontraditional couple with a relationship that is anything but cliché and so I give them a pass).

I admit the last few chapters were bit too cutesy and rushed for me, but I was still charmed by To the Moon and Back and look forward to reading Rumor Has It and Staying at Daisy’s whenever they come back to my library.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)


The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Panic, panic, can't panic. Think of food. Think of sugar. I am a sugar cube in cold water. I won't dissolve. Precise edges. Made up of tiny, regular, secure parts. If the water were hotter I would worry, but it's cold. I stay together. Precise. Clean. Surrounded, but whole.

Okay. I need to cook. It'll calm me down.

Ginny's parents have died in a car crash and her sister, Amanda, wants/expects to put their family home up for sale. Shy, quirky Ginny is ill prepared to deal with her parents' death, let alone the probable loss of the only home she has ever known. Seeking comfort and a world she understands, Ginny retreats to the kitchen where, using recipes handwritten by those now dead, she not only creates memorable dishes, but also summons the spirits of the dead. These summonings eventually help Ginny to come to grips with her family's past and build her own future.

I don't have to move into Amanda's house to be present in her family. Even though I'm not there physically all the time, I want them to have something that says, I'm out here. I'm okay. I love you. I want them to bite into a cookie, and think of me, and smile. Food is love. Food has power. I knew it in my mind, but now I know it in my heart.

As we all know, I love foodie novels and The Kitchen Daughter is no exception. If you loved the magical realism of foodie lit like Like Water for Chocolate or Crescent, I think you'll really enjoy The Kitchen Daughter. I devoured this book in one sitting and then I read it again, slowly and savoringly, over the course of a week. Even now, days after finishing it, I crave more of Ginny's story. The Kitchen Daughter is one of the few novels I've read this year that demands a sequel. Or a movie. A movie would be acceptable!

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (Gallery Books, 2011)


Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Every time I see you
I get a Sugar Rush
You're like candy
You give me a Sugar Rush
Don't tell me to stay on my diet
You have simply got to try it
Sugar Rush

Heather Wells used to be minor rock star, a tween sensation at sixteen. Then she lost her recording contract when she asked to record her own songs (dismissed by her label as "angry girl rocker shit"), lost her cheating rocker boyfriend to an up-and-coming sensation, and lost all her money to her mother who fled the country with it!

Thirteen years later, looking to build a life for herself that has nothing to do with her rock star past, Heather becomes one of New York College's assistant residence hall directors (free classes, natch). When her residents start dying in ways the police dismiss as mere college hijinks gone terribly wrong, Heather knows it must be murder and that it's up to her to discover the killer's identity before more girls die.

Size Twelve is Not Fat is fun, chatty, cute, and pretty darn ridiculous. I grinned the entire time I read it -- even when I was rolling my eye's at Heather's obsession with her hunky private investigator landlord (who just happens to be her ex-fiance's brother!) or the repetitive jokes.

I enjoyed it enough that I know I'll read the sequels, but not so much that I'd press this book on other readers. I guess I'm trying to say it's a fun and ridiculous read, but not an exactly memorable one. I finished Size Twelve is Not Fat two days ago and it's already fading from my memory, leaving nothing but a warm, fuzzy glow behind. And that's fine, you know.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot (William Morrow, 2005)


Marshmallows for Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson

Returning to England after a long stay in Australia, Kendra Tamale hopes her new flat is the perfect place to rebuild her life -- a quiet, tranquil, solitary place where she could spend time licking her wounds and getting herself back together. Alas, it seems her landlord's children have other plans! The children, Jaxon and Summer, keep coming to Kendra for help and attention. Soon she is drawn, unwillingly but necessarily, into their lives and their parents' relationship drama.

While the novel looks fluffy, it tackles some pretty dark and serious issues -- abuse, infertility, adultery, separation, alcoholism. Koomson approaches them with great sensitively and intelligence and I found myself pretty much cheering at the end. A less skilled writer might have gone for an obliviously happy ending, but Kooomson went with the one that was best for her characters. It's the right ending even if it lacks Romance.

My only complaint lies not with the novel, but with its American cover art. Kendra is black and the woman on the cover (what can be seen of her, anyway) is the same color as the (white) child next to her. Race isn't an issue in the novel, but the whitewashing of the cover has made it one for me because I can't understand why the publisher would have done this. It's essentially the same cover as the UK edition -- just whiter. Wtf?

Cover art aside, I thought Marshmallows for Breakfast made an excellent afternoon's read and I look forward to reading Koomson's recent novel, The Ice Cream Girls.

Marshmallows for Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson (Bantam Dell, 2009)