Archive for the 'Chick Lit' Category

Review: Vintage by Susan Gloss

Monday, March 17th, 2014

VintageHC-C-1-e1386603710842I don’t generally review a lot of women’s lit, but the story behind Vintage  by Susan Gloss really spoke to me. I love the idea that items in a thrift store all have stories behind them! Someone wore the dress you’re trying on, the shoes, the wedding gown; someone sat at the table or read the books. Were those happy times? Did a beloved grandchild play with that teddy bear? I find it infinitely fascinating. In Vintage we meet some of the people behind those stories.

There are three women at the heart of the story. Violet Turner owns Hourglass Vintage in Madison, Wisconsin. Violet has always been a little out of step with her peers;  even in high school she had a retro style. She’s built this business – the perfect location, carefully selected vintage items, a growing clientele – and now she may lose it.

April is 18, an orphan, and pregnant. She bought a wedding dress at Hourglass — and returned it almost immediately. Amithi is still reeling from a terrible betrayal when she brings Violet a stack of beautiful Indian garments. While Violet navigates the turbulent waters of a new romance, the three women hatch a plan to save Hourglass, and maybe themselves along with it.

Okay, it’s definitely chick lit, but I don’t say that as a bad thing. It’s about women, about women on their own, making their own way without a man. Yes, there’s some romance, but it is really about three women who are (or are becoming) self-reliant. They can’t deal with the men in the story until they have their own lives under control – that was a theme that definitely appealed to me. Although I was a little disappointed in one big decision in the book, for the most part these women dig in their heels and refuse to be pushed around.

I really enjoyed Vintage, and I think it will make a great summer read. Telling the story with the items in the shop was a clever way to tie old stories in with new ones, and it really played to my love of thrift store finds and their imagined histories. My copy of Vintage was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. Sadly, it has disappeared from my Kindle (those blasted self-deleting ARCs!), but you can pre-order yours on Amazon, or pick it up at your favorite bookstore on March 25th.

For more on Susan Gloss and her work, visit her website. For more on other new releases from William Morrow, check out their website.

Nanette’s Review: Delilah’s Daughters by Angela Benson

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

delilahsdaughters_v4_s260x420When I was a kid, my mom used to curl up under a lamp and read romances until bedtime. If work had been particularly bad that day, she’d head for her book right after supper. When I got a copy of Delilah’s Daughters, I followed my mom’s example and curled up on my side of the bed, turned the night table lamp on and read, and read. This book is that kind of read. I found it absorbing precisely because it didn’t take me too far from home; the relationships, conflicts and values were familiar enough to make me nod my head in recognition, and I think a lot of readers will do the same.

“Delilah’s Daughters” is a trio of singing sisters that has reached the finals of an “American Idol” –like t.v. show. They should win—but they don’t. (You know how this goes, right? The best acts always seem to come in second.) The television show has brought them exposure that will ultimately divide them. Their mother, Delilah wants them to continue in the group that their dead father founded and managed. No one part should be greater than the other, she insists. And there’s a recording contract with a small, local company that will let them do just that. But daughter Veronica has been offered a solo contract with a major recording studio. Veronica loves the spotlight—how can she refuse? And Alicia—well, she’s never liked the spotlight anyway, and the demise of the group leaves her free to pursue her dreams of becoming a songwriter. Meanwhile, Roxanne, a cruise ship singer who is technically the best singer of the group, is seeing a married man. And then, there’s mom and manager Delilah herself: she’s trying to hold the family together, but the secret she’s harbouring could potentially tear it apart for good.

The conflicts between the characters are familiar. Can loyalty to a family or group hold a person back? Is breaking free and getting the dream all it’s cracked up to be? How many of your core values are you ready to give up to pursue your dream? And what do you do when the mistakes of the past threaten to overwhelm the present? Values are a central part of the book, but there are no tub thumping homilies here. Instead, you get people who are just struggling to do the right thing. They’re human, and they make bad decisions. They fight. They get jealous. And, although there aren’t any sexually explicit scenes, sex exists. These are real women, after all.

Angela Benson’s work represents something of an alternative to some kinds of urban fiction. As another African American author pointed out, “not everybody’s into pimpin’, druggin’ and ‘hoin’.” This is about educated, reasonably successful but still ordinary folks that you don’t see on the news unless they’re anchoring it. But real folks have their own dramas—dramas that are all the more compelling because they are ones that everyone shares.

My copy of Delilah’s Daughters was an Advance Review Copy, provided free of charge.

For more on Angela Benson’s work, check out her website.

Review: Original Sin by Beth McMullen

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

What do super spies do when they retire? Buy a beach house on a little island in the South Pacific? Spend their days squirreled away in basement offices in D.C., drinking bad coffee and filing reports no one will read? Maybe they don’t get to retire — maybe they just keep on working until they blow their cover one last time.

In Original Sin: A Sally Sin Adventure, Lucy Hamilton appears to be a run-of-the-mill suburban mom. She has playdates. She gets manicures. She has a handsome husband with an important job and an adorable toddler named Theo. But Lucy Hamilton barely exists. She has no paper trail. But she has plenty of secrets.

Sally Sin, Lucy’s alter-ego, once attracted the attention of Ian Blackford. He was once the pride of the USAWMD but he turned his back on the agency and went rogue — and how do you hunt down your best agent, once he’s on your Most Wanted list? He seeks out Sally, over and over, but she thought she was free of all that. Now Blackford is back and dragging Sally into a very dangerous game. Can Sally stop the bad guys, save the world and still make it to yoga on time?

This book was so much fun! I must admit, I rolled my eyes a little when I got it. It seemed like pretty silly stuff. (I still can’t imagine walking away from an exciting career — even something as dangerous as espionage — to change diapers and drive the carpool. Different strokes, I guess.) But that’s all part of the fun. Lucy is a little torn as well. She misses the excitement of her old job, bringing down terrorists and international criminals for the USAWMD, but she doesn’t miss the danger and she loves her husband and her son very much. Luckily, her husband is the forgiving sort — he knows she’s got secrets and he hopes one day she’ll share them, but he doesn’t push too hard.

Original Sin: A Sally Sin Adventure would be a great beach read. It’s light and funny, with plenty of excitement, and once I got past my eye-rolling, I really enjoyed it. My copy of Original Sin was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Dark Prince by Christine Feehan

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

It’s not often that I get to indulge in pure fantasy junk food. Paranormal romance is not my usual choice, but a friend was interested in Dark Prince, so I decided to give it a try before I passed it along. I had a stressful business trip on the schedule and I thought that some chiseled, supernaturally handsome vampires would be great company in my lonely hotel room – and I was right. Dark Prince is literary junk food – no nutritional value but oh, so tasty.

Of course, it’s vampires. This is the first book in Feehan’s Dark series, originally published in 1999, reissued with additional material — 100 pages worth — and a purple cover, certainly earned by the purple prose within.  Curling up with the Carpathians in my hotel room took me right back to my mother’s Harlequin romance novels: the men are chiseled, strong, exotic and extraordinarily handsome, while the women are tiny, hauntingly beautiful beings who will stand up for themselves, but always seem to bow to their menfolk in the end. But Feehan must be doing something that resonates with readers — there are more than 20 books in the Dark series. I can see how easily readers can be drawn into the story of Mikhail and Raven.

Mikhail is the prince of the Carpathians, an ancient race of beings that are almost-but-not-completely vampires. They stay out of the sun, they drink blood, the shape-shift, turn into mist, control the minds of humans…but they aren’t vampires. Carpathian males are perpetually searching for their lifemate; if they don’t find her, they will eventually fall into darkness and either commit suicide or become a true vampire. Mikhail has nearly given up on the search when he “meets” Raven. He knows almost immediately that she is his true lifemate, but no human woman has ever survived the conversion without losing her mind. Will Raven be the one?

Of course she will — we all know that.  It’s all in how she gets there. In addition, there are vampire hunters who are determined to wipe out Mikhail’s clan, there are nosy tourists at the inn where Raven is staying, and there is a tremendous clash of wills between a [fairly] modern woman and an old-world prince, accustomed to being obeyed.  Oh, and did I mention the hot sex?

This was a quick, fun read. I zipped through it in a couple of nights and it was perfect hotel room fodder on a tough trip.  It didn’t require a lot of focus, it had just enough plot to keep the story moving along, and the sex was pretty hot. Of course, I ran into the problems I always have with romance novels.  The main characters are supernaturally beautiful (Raven is described as “tiny” 13 different times and I lost track of how many times we’re told she’s small and delicate). The language is flowery and over-the-top. the sex is hot, but the descriptions! There must be a list of romance novel sex phrases online somewhere and there is little that will dampen my interest in a love scene faster than reading about his pulsing manhood and her quivering sheath. The text could really use Coco Chanel’s advice: look at each sentence and remove one adjective before you hit save.

Does that sound harsh? It shouldn’t. I enjoyed this book! I won’t be picking up the rest of the series but if I was stuck in the airport, like I am this morning, I wouldn’t feel bad about picking up one of Feehan’s novels at the concourse bookstore. It will certainly be a fun read and I can rein in my eye-rolling for a few hundred pages. I never trust people who never read trashy novels; everyone needs a guilty pleasure. Paging through the reviews here you’ll find serious literary fiction, sci-fi, non-fiction, dashing detectives and scary serial killers. Balance is important and I like my books as varied as I like my dinner menu. I’m grateful to the friend whose interest prompted my own. I hope she enjoys this book as well.

My copy of Dark Prince was provided free of charge by the publisher, Harper Collins.

Review: The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns by Elizabeth Leiknes

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009


Lucy Burns works for Satan.

Now, I have often told stories about a particularly miserable old job and told people that I, too, worked for Satan. But Lucy really does work for Satan. She’s a Facilitator – she helps damned souls make their way to their final “reward” in a timely fashion. She got into this mess by making a deal with the devil when she was only 11 years old; of course, she didn’t know that was what she was doing when she asked “To Whom It May Concern” to save her dying sister. But her good intentions didn’t save her.

The job does have some perks and Lucy doesn’t mind taking advantage of them. She is arrestingly beautiful, can eat all the chocolate she wants and never gain a pound, she drives a fabulous car…but eventually, even the perks get tiresome. Lucy wants what a lot of people want – someone to share her life with. Unfortunately, her Boss has certain rules about fraternization. She can have lots of great sex, but after that first night, she won’t ever want to see the guy again. Doesn’t make for happy, fulfilling relationships.

Through some very funny circumstances, Lucy finally meets a man that she thinks is really worth changing her career over. But working for Satan is even worse than working for the Mafia – you really can’t get out and the penalty for trying can be pretty steep. Still, there might just be a way…

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns is a quick and charming read. Only about 150 pages, you can breeze through this one with a cup of coffee on a quiet afternoon. (I polished it off on a Continental flight between Cleveland and Milwaukee.) I liked Lucy and I was rooting for her to succeed. I had a pretty good idea where the ending was going, but that didn’t spoil anything for me.

My copy of The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns was an Advanced Reader copy; get your copy at Amazon.com.

Review: Let’s Get It On by Jill Nelson

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

This is the last, great beach read of the summer.

Let’s Get It On is the rather fanciful tale of LaShaWanda P. Marshall and her friends, Lydia Beaucoup and Acey Allen. They are the owners of a successful “full-service spa” (in other words: a brothel) for women in Reno, and they are opening their first franchise, on a yacht off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. These entrepreneurs are hoping to find a host of wealthy black women on the island who are willing to pay for the company of virile young men, if only the government will stay out of their way!

Now, when I say government, I don’t mean the local vice cops. In LGIO, President George Bush has instituted his “No Child, No Behind” policy (make sure you read that carefully), which essentially outlaws recreational sex. Very bad policy for someone in the brothel business. In addition, there are some stirrings among the workers – job dissatisfaction, or something more ominous?

Let’s Get It On is a perfect beach read. There’s plenty of hot sex, a nutty plot and crazy characters that made me laugh out loud, and there’s the sisterhood you find in all good chick-lit novels. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, poking fun at the government, black intellectuals, and attitudes towards sex in general. It deals in its own way with the drama of dating for a modern woman. It’s an interesting question, after all: would women pay for a convenient source of great sex? Even if the answer is no, the fantasy of heading down to the local spa, getting a manicure, a pedicure and maybe a few “special services” is a delicious one.

This is not a book for prudes, and if the cover doesn’t make you blush, the language might. I’m not one for a lot of euphemisms – I don’t mind if you call the body parts by name and describe the action in some detail – but this treads the line of almost too clinical. Still, considering the hot action it describes, I don’t think that’s a huge failing. The book has plenty of humor, good sex, a little romance and even a little politics. Lots of fun for those final days of summer.

The first book in this series was Sexual Healing, about the ladies’ first spa in Nevada. I was a little skeptical about her portrayal of the culture of Martha’s Vineyard (it is a little over-the-top), but her book Finding Martha’s Vineyard certainly convinces me she knows what she’s talking about. She has also written other works of non-fiction on her experiences as a black woman. For more information on her books and other writing, check out her website, JillNelson.com.

My copy of Let’s Get It On was an Advanced Reader Copy; pick up yours before the summer’s gone at Amazon.com.

Review: An Offer You Can’t Refuse by Jill Mansell

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


If all chick lit were this well-written, I would read more of it.

This is definitely one to put on your beach-reads list. Lola is funny and engaging, her friends are totally over the top, and her situation is unique enough to be interesting, but in some ways it is all too familiar. It makes for a charming, funny little romp of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lola is 17, from a working class family, and head over heels in love with Doug. Doug’s family has money, his mother has an attitude, and one day she corners Lola and offers her £10,000 to dump Doug and stay out of his life. Lola is indignant and rushes home to call Doug, who’s away at college, and tell him all about it…only to find out that Doug is out with “another boy and two girls…isn’t it lovely to see him making new friends already?” and she can see heartbreak in the making.

If that isn’t bad enough, Lola catches her beloved stepfather, Alex, packing his bags. Seems that Alex has run up quite a gambling debt — he’s got no way to pay it and he plans to sneak off before anyone discovers his shame.

Lola makes a rash decision and takes the money (talking Doug’s mother up to £12,500, while she’s at it). She writes a “Dear Doug” letter and runs off to her cousin in Majorca, escaping her own shame. Ten years later she’s back in England, managing a bookshop, and through a bizarre and hilarious accident she finds herself back in touch with the last person she ever wanted to see: Doug’s mother. Of course, that puts her back in touch with Doug, too, and when Doug overhears a conversation he should not have been listening to, Lola’s secret is out and any hoped-for reconciliation with Doug is blown sky high.

Now, for a normal girl, things might end there, but Lola is far from normal. Her life is full of zany characters and they make the rest of the story (we all know where this is going, right?) a real pleasure to read. There’s Gabe, Lola’s neighbor, who runs off to Australia on a disastrous romantic errand and whose camera-phone snapshot of two film stars snogging catapults him into the exciting world of the papparazzi — even if he has to study gossip magazines at night to recognize the stars. There’s Blythe, Lola’s mother, with her brightly mismatched clothes and boring boyrfriend, Malcolm. And Sally — Doug’s little sister — who becomes Lola’s best friend and confidante, when she isn’t pretending to be her pregnant lesbian lover.

It’s a simple story — at 17, Lola made a terrible mistake that she would desperately like to correct. The problem is that correcting one mistake might end up hurting other people, and forgiveness is in short supply. What makes this book special is a fun and flighty cast of characters that will keep you laughing, even while you want to smack some sense into them. This should definitely be on your summer reading list.

Now, for those of you who read my teaser last week and wanted to know about Nick? I don’t want to spoil you too much, but let’s just say Nick is someone from Lola’s past. He was explaining why he wasn’t there for her when she needed him.

This review also appeared in my column at When Falls the Coliseum. My copy of An Offer You Can’t Refuse was an Advance Reader Copy; order yours at Amazon.com.