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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#BookReview: Substitute Me - Lori L. Tharp

 Originally posted August 11, 2010.

Thirty year old Zora Anderson has floated from place to place and job to job on a whim.  Moving on when things become too much to handle, she finds herself in New York with a place to stay, but in desperate need of a job.  The college-educated daughter of upwardly mobile parents, Zora realizes that she's not living up to the goal her parents have set for her.  Even still, the former au pair in France decides to give being a New York nanny a try.

Kate Carter is headed back to work after an extended maternity leave and the search is on to find the perfect nanny.  She has regrets about leaving her infant son home with a stranger, but figures the ad she's placed will guarantee a perfect fit.

Substitute Me: Looking for a nanny who will take care of my six-month-old baby as if he were her own.  Five full days a week.  No cooking or cleaning required.  Must love children and be prepared to show it.  References required.

Raised in a working class neighborhood, Brad Carter is hesitant to bring in a nanny to watch his son, Oliver.   While his and Kate's jobs afford them certain privileges, he's unsure that this new situation meshes well with the way he was raised.  As Kate begins to work longer hours and Brad becomes more accustomed to Zora's presence in the house, it seems that the 'substitute me' is beginning to take on additional duties that have nothing to do with baby Oliver.

It's important to note that while Zora is black and the Carters are white, their races are not necessarily the central issue.  It seems to me that the issue is one woman completely giving power over her life to someone else and then questioning it when that person steps in and does a better job at it.  Kate and her mother make racially charged comments about Zora, but if they were being honest with themselves, they would realize that her race has nothing to do with the situation Kate finds herself in. 

In Jodi Picoult fashion, Lori L. Tharp has crafted a nanny story that gives the reader all sides.  Often the story is only told from the point of view of the nanny.  In Substitute Me, you really get a chance to learn the characters and understand that perception really is reality.

What did you like about this book?
It really made me think beyond the obvious.  As a black woman, I think I see race first sometimes and sex second.  This book made me realize that in this case, while race played a small part, overall it was not caused the real conflict.

What didn't you like about this book?
Zora's relationship with Keith isn't as fleshed out as I would have liked to see it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 I don't know that I love the cover of the book.  Nothing about it screams nanny lit or anything else that would grab my eye.  If I saw it in the bookstore, I would assume it was a thriller/murder mystery just based on its darkness.


368 pp
Published August 2010 
Disclaimer: A copy was provided by the publisher.








Theme: I'd Rather Go Blind by Etta James


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Monday, November 28, 2011

#BookReview: Satan's Sisters - Star Jones

Sweet Jesus, when I say people should stay in their lane, I do mean people should stay in their lane.  But I digress.  I'll get to why I said that later.

I remember all the buzz when Satan's Sisters first came out and everyone assumed it would be about  the women of The View.  Though the women are co-hosts of a daytime talk show, the similarities seem to end there.  As a former co-host is set to release her new book, aptly titled Satan's Sisters, the current co-hosts are in a tizzy over the potentially explosive information her book could hold.

None of the hosts has led a perfect life and each woman has her own secrets.  Maxine, the Barbara Walters of the show, is ruthless.  Her carefully created media persona has made her the darling of America.  Behind closed doors, Maxine will stop at nothing to get what she wants, even if she has to destroy lives and careers along the way.  Lesbian, Latina Dara Cruz loves her girlfriend, but she's not out to her family or the public.  Whitney Harlington is too busy carrying on an affair with the network president to realize her husband's wicked ways.  And Molly, the Joy Behar of the crew, has a pill addiction that's getting out of control.  Satan's Sisters threatens to expose all of their secrets and force them to come clean with the public and themselves.

What did you like about this book?
I appreciated the fact that the characters were fully developed.  Each woman's story line was fleshed out well.  In a recent appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, Jones announced that the book has been optioned as a series and will be coming to television screens in the near future.  It will be interesting to see how the book and characters come across on the small screen.

What didn't you like about this book?
Much like the agony I endured while listening to Terry McMillan narrate Getting to Happy, it was just as painful to listen to Star Jones narrate Satan's Sisters.  What could have been a four star book easily became three stars because Ms. Jones hasn't met a period or comma she liked.  With her always breathless and extremely dry voice, she rushed sentences together and added pauses where none were necessary.  Her disjointed reading made for a terrible listening experience and her snarky tone of voice did not serve her characters well at all.  Had I another audio book on standby, I would have ejected her CD from the player and listened to it instead.  With all that being said, I wonder what makes authors decide to narrate their own work instead of leaving it to professionals.  It seems to make more sense when narrating a memoir, as was the case with Michele Norris and Condoleezza Rice, though the latter's tone was drier than a camel's tongue in the Sahara.  But neither Star or Terry should try their hand at narrating ever, ever, ever again.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Just write and leave the narration to a professional.







320pp
Published March 2011
Listening time: 10 hours, 27 minutes




Theme: Segredos (Secrets) by Eliane Elias

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Interview with Sibylla Nash, author of Bumped

When and why did you begin writing? 
There were stories I wanted to tell and there were stories that needed to be told. I was the type of kid that always had her head in a book. I have an insatiable need to figure out the world around me by writing things down, pulling back the layers of character and asking what if? When I discovered that people could actually make a living from writing, I was all in.

When did you first consider yourself a writer? 
I’ve always written, ever since I was kid, I was banging away on a typewriter (yes, I’m dating myself) writing short stories. Professionally though, I didn’t really consider myself a “writer” until I was in my 20s and started seeing my byline in magazines.

Is Bumped your first book?
Bumped is actually my second novel, fifth book. I’ve written three non-fiction books, one of which was co-written with a friend. In fact, I’m re-releasing a guide for parents later this year – Baby Modeling & Beyond: From the Stroller to the Red Carpet. My daughter began working as a model/actress when she was a baby. I wanted to share our experiences with parents who may be considering getting their child in the business.

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first novel was DreamCity. It came out 11 years ago (eegads!!) and it feels like it was during the prehistoric times pre-social media. I had a new cover created for it and I’m updating it for a re-release in December. I wanted to write that book because I’ve always kept a journal. I loved Bridget Jones’ Diary and really wanted to create a story using the diary format. I wanted to capture the experience about an actress who moves from the east coast to the west. It’s funny because DreamCity was fictional but now I find myself really seeing that lifestyle up close because of my daughter. When I originally wrote DreamCity, I had worked in talent agencies and production companies and saw the business from that perspective.

What was the hardest part of writing Bumped? 
Bumped was a long work-in-progress. If you were to ask my daughter how long it took me to finish it, she would probably say “forever.” In the beginning, the hardest part was just trying to find the time. I was a new mom when the idea for the book came to me. As I wrestled with the time management issue, the challenge became keeping the tone consistent after so much starting and stopping. I think in one version I mentioned Sky Pagers! The other challenge was reigning in the story, trying to find its heart.

In hosting the Colorful Chick Lit challenge, I’ve found it difficult to find books about “colorful” chicks that fit into the genre. Did you write Bumped intentionally as chick lit or did you just fall into that category? 
I always saw Bumped as chick lit. Early on, when I was work-shopping the book, I had some folks say it was more literary, but I love the chick lit genre. I wanted it to be in the same vein as Shopaholic and In Her Shoes.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 
I didn’t start off with the intention of conveying a message to my readers – I’m not a fan of books that are too message-y because it takes away from the story (in my opinion, although I have to say I did like the Left Behind series). Bumped is one woman’s journey and I hope it kept the readers entertained and enthralled. If it makes them reflect on decisions they have made, great! If it makes them give the next smooth-talker the side-eye, even better.

What books have most influenced your life most? 
Notebooks. I have a thing for journals, notebooks, sketchpads and anything bound that I can write in. I have boxes of journals and notes that have captured moments in my life and being able to write down my thoughts, plan out my dreams, it’s allowed me to be the architect of my life.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 
That’s a tough one, I read so much and soak in everything. I love Stephen King for his pacing and ability to scare the crap out of me, the VC Andrews Flowers in the Attic series for its high concept/hooks. I once interviewed the late LA Banks and she was so inspiring and prolific. She didn’t find time to write, she made time to write. The list goes on. I’ll read books and see how someone made a transition or how they structured their novel and it goes into a pot that I stir and will later pick out bits and pieces and figure out how I can put my own spin on it.

What book are you reading now?
It’s not even funny, I have a backlog of books stacked up in the house and on the iPad. The one that I’m almost finished with is Rob Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. This book has been life-changing for me because it’s helping me to regain my focus and really concentrate on what’s important. I also have an excellent book on screenwriting I’m getting ready to start called Save the Cat.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I don’t know if they’re new, but they are new to me. I enjoyed Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones and 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter.

What are your current projects?
I have two books that I’m updating this year that I mentioned and I’m also working on a sequel to Bumped and I’ve outlined the sequel to DreamCity. So 2012 should be pretty busy.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 
Writing can be very solitary and it’s work, some days you have to really wrestle the words on the page. It’s totally self-directed and self-motivated and the hardest thing for me is tuning out the noise of the day and really challenging myself to write outside of my comfort zone, push the boundaries of the craft and become the writer I’ve always wanted to be. Once I actually get my butt in the chair, it’s all good. It’s getting there that tends to be a problem.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? 
We were driving past a section in Los Angeles the other day and I was telling my daughter that the homes reminded me something out of an Easy Rawlins’ mystery. I read those books years ago and even now the imagery and characters are just as vivid as the day I read the book. As an author, that’s what we all strive to do: create characters and settings that are so real, they become memories of places you’ve been, not stories you’ve read. Walter Mosley does that, he has the ability to pull you into the story headfirst.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 
Thank you for reading my work and going with me on this journey as an artist. I hope you are having as much fun as I am. Life’s short: Live large, dream big and love hard!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

#BookReview: When She Woke - Hillary Jordan

I didn't expect to be blown away by this book.  Sure, I requested it from Algonquin Books because it looked interesting, but I had no idea that it would completely draw me in and make me late for work because I couldn't put it down.

In this reimagined, futuristic version of The Scarlet Letter, sinners don't wear a letter indicating their crime.  They wear the color on their skin.  The need to direct funds away from prisons and to law abiding citizens has led to the non-existence of prisons.  Through a process called chroming, criminals are color coded and microchipped, allowing anyone that passes them on the street to know what their crime is and allowing the government, and anyone with a computer, to track them at all times.  Yellows  serve short sentences for misdemeanors and Blues are child molesters.  Red is the color for murder.

When Hannah Payne fell in love with a married man, she had no way of knowing that she would end up a Red.  Having an abortion in a United States where it's no longer legal is tantamount to murder.  So when the authorities find out that Hannah has indeed had one, she's brought to trial.  The refusal to name the doctor that performed the procedure or the father of the aborted child add time to her sentence and she faces the prospect of 16 years as a Red. Faced with a future of being shunned by her mother and treated as a second class citizen by the rest of the country for the next 16 years, Hannah is determined to make her way to a place where she won't be judged.

Jordan pulls from so many areas with When She Woke.  Canada and her version of the Underground Railroad harken to runaway slaves making their way from America to a country where they would be seen as free men and women.  The overturning of Roe v. Wade, along with an appointed Secretary of Faith, are  indicators that America, as we currently know it, is no more.  Though I don't remember the year that the story takes place being referenced, the United States, in this book, has clearly moved completely to the right and the party that claimed to want no government interference now interferes with every aspect of human life and morality. 

What did you like about this book?
I love books that force me to think.  What would it be like to live in a world where your every move can be tracked by the government or where your crime is worn on your sleeve so blatantly?  I imagine that it would be stifling.

What didn't you like about this book?
I had the same problem with this book that I had with The Scarlet Letter, the protection of father of the child.  Ugh, just like Hester Prynne pissed me off, so did Hannah Payne. I hated seeing both women take the fall for a sin in which two people were guilty, but only the women were implicated.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I would have loved an epilogue just to wrap things up neatly for me.






352pp
Published October 2011
Disclaimer: Copy received from publisher. Opinions are completely my own.


 

Theme: Skin I'm In by Cameo


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Friday, November 18, 2011

My Kindle Fire Review


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#BookReview: Killer in High Heels - Gemma Halliday

Maddie Springer, one of my newest chick lit faves, is back again.  If you'll remember, we first met Maddie in Spying in High Heels.  In that book, she was trying to track down her missing boyfriend while resisting the charming Detective Jack Ramirez.  Luckily, she made it out of that adventure relatively unscathed. Lucky for her and lucky for readers, Maddie is back!

Killer in High Heels finds our nosy yet adorable protagonist heading for Las Vegas after a strange call from the father to whom she's never spoken.  Along for the ride are her best friend, Dana, and Marco, the flamboyant receptionist from her stepfather's salon.  Hijinks and hilarity ensue as the trio tries to locate and save Maddie's dad, all the while keeping the mob at bay.

What did you like about this book?
Though Maddie is funny in her own right, Dana and Marco are equally funny and entertaining.

What didn't you like about this book?
It seemed to run longer than necessary.  There were a few times when it could have wrapped up, but it seemed to be drawn out for no particular reason.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'm still working my way through the series, but Maddie's mother and her mom's best friend, Mrs. Rosenblatt, are hilarious. I'd love to see more of them.






310pp
Published March 2007




 

Theme: Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley

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Monday, November 14, 2011

#BookReview: Fairy Tale Fail - Mina V. Esguerra


We all know someone who's in love with the idea of love, right?  They're living life like a Disney fairytale, walking around with birds singing in their ears and bunny rabbits and squirrels following them like Snow White or Cinderella.  And then reality hits and they realize they're not Snow White or Cinderella.  They're not even Sleeping Beauty, who I always felt was the most boring Disney princess, but I digress.

Ellie Manuel loves love.  She's lived her whole life believing that her Prince Charming exists and that he'll come along and sweep her off her feet.  Well that doesn't happen.  What does happen is she falls for her friend, coworker and current Prince Charming, Don. Though working in the same office could be a testy situation, Ellie is happy to see Don day and night, until things fall apart.

You know how when you break up with someone and you share common friends, someone gets the friends when you split? Imagine that your coworkers are your friends, your only friends.  So how does one deal with a break up where she's suddenly the odd woman out at work and in her personal life? She changes departments.

Set in Manila, Mina V. Esguerra gives readers another quirky chick to cheer for in Fairy Tale Fail.  Ellie's journey from sappy dingbat to savvy adult is an absolute pleasure to watch.

What did you like about this book?
 Like her other books, Esguerra set this book in her hometown of Manila, so readers unfamiliar with customs and the culture are introduced to new and fun facts.

What didn't you like about the book?
At times, the story line was predictable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 Other than the predictability issue, not much.






Published April 2010
Available in Kindle/Nook format only


 

Theme: Weary by Amel Larrieux

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Free for All Friday, November 11

Who else is happy it's Friday?  The time change has been killing me all week and I'm glad to have this weekend to try to correct my sleeping pattern and what not.  Before I start my weekend, let's run through the usual hodgepodge that makes up Free for All Fridays around here.

By this time next Friday, I'll be snuggled up with the new man in my life.  Though I wish this was who I'm talking about,



the reality is, I'm talking about
That's right!  Someone that feeds my addiction for books and gadgets ordered this for my birthday last month and it should arrive next Thursday.  I'm considering staying up late Thursday night to play with it so I can report back to you next Friday on whether or not upgrading from a regular Kindle to the Fire is worth it.  Meh, we'll see.  At any rate, I'm excited like



In other news, if you're on tumblr, I've started two different accounts.  reads4pleasure.tumblr.com is updated randomly through the day with things I find of interest.  Sometimes it's literary quotes, other times it's songs, pictures of some of my favorites (like Ella Fitzgerald) or just plain foolishness.  If you follow the blog through Facebook, you'll notice that the feed there is updated more frequently.  Facebook fans get the feed from both the blog and the tumblr account.  So if you want to make sure you don't miss out on a thing, follow me on Facebook and/or tumblr.

The other tumblr account, effyeahidris.tumblr.com is all about, you guessed it, my love for Idris. There's really nothing I love more than a good book, but let a picture of Driis cross my screen...let me hear that voice and I'm all



Lastly, I'd like to wish a very special birthday to @GammasWorld.  Today is her big day.  If you see her on Twitter, be sure to sprinkle her with birthday greetings.

Anywho, that's all I've got this week.  What's on your mind?


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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#BookReview: Bumped - Sibylla Nash

This book has been on my radar for a minute, but I was saving it for the read-a-thon. One of the things I've learned with read-a-thons is that it's best to keep your reading material short and lighthearted.  That way you don't get weighed down with any one book for too long and you don't get bogged down with deep thoughts or heavy feelings about the subject matter.

With that thought in mind, I added Bumped by first time author Sibylla Nash to my must read list for the read-a-thon and I'm glad I did.  I recently started the Spying in High Heels series by Gemma Halliday and Bumped reminded me of that series meets Platinum by Aliya S. King.  So picture a quirky every day girl turned detective who just happens to be involved in the music scene and you've got Elle Nixon.

PR maven by day (and a lot of nights), Elle is at the top of her game.  She loves her job and she's gearing up for a promotion.  Her love life is going pretty well too, or at least it was before her boyfriend disappeared on her.  Now pregnant, disgraced and jobless, Elle is having a heck of a time trying to make sense of it all.

What did you like about this book?
Nash blends just the right amount of fun and quirky with mystery to give a delightful read for lovers of chick lit.

What didn't you like about this book?
Off the top of my head, I can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'd be perfectly happy with a series of books about Elle.  The chick lit world could definitely use a colorful chick like her.






214pp
Published August 2011


 

Theme: Crumblin' Down by John Mellencamp



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Monday, November 7, 2011

#BookReview: The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka


Told in a collective voice that speaks for Japanese women that came to America, specifically San Francisco, a century ago, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a compelling read.  At only 144 pages, it should be a quick read, but it's not.  That's not because it's a complicated read or because it's boring, but it's so good that you'll want to savor each word and each story as they come.

Broken down into eight sections, it starts with their time on the boat from Japan to America as they imagined their new  lives with husbands they'd never met before, introduced only through letters and pictures.  It covers their disappoint with some of those husbands who had promised them a solid, middle class life and instead could only offer them work, side by side, as a field laborer.

Not all were field laborers and so it also covers their time working as a maid in a private house or at a hotel.  One line in particular stuck with me, as it made me think of the way people of color are sometimes made to feel in and out of the work place. 

“One of them greeted us warmly every morning in the kitchen, but whenever she passed us outside on the street, she had no idea who we were.”

I don't work in a kitchen, but the general idea is that I have co-workers that only know me within the context of our workplace.  Should I happen to pass them on the street during the lunch hour or run into them on the weekend, their eyes pass over me as if they have no idea who I am.  So it was interesting to me that these women, other people of color, had this same observation.

This group of women also speaks about the shame, the sadness, the fear and the loss that came about as a result of the relocation and internment of Japanese and Japanese American citizens, particularly those on the west coast, in the United States, as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II.  With their collective voice we hear of how homes and businesses were lost as families were forced to leave.  Children were removed from schools and friends as neighbors stood by and watched, often forgetting about them shortly after their removal.

Though it is at times sad, The Buddha in the Attic is not a sad book by any stretch.  For me it is simply a different look at another chapter in American history through the eyes of a group that I've not been exposed to previously.

What did you like about this book?
It really forced me to think. In reading the women's stories, it made me reflect on various immigrant's stories and their adjustments to a new life.  Most fascinating was a section in which the women speak of their white employers who tell them about how they cannot trust blacks to do certain things and how the Chinese are better at this, that or the other.  Consciously, or subconsciously, it becomes the basis of stereotyping of races and creates the foundation for pitting people of color against one another based on the stereotypes taught to them by those in power.

What didn't you like about this book?
At just 144 pages, it was too short.  It ended just after the families were taken away to the internment camps and I would have loved to explore further and find out about their lives in the camps and after their eventual release or relocation.

What could the author do to improve this book?
As I said, I could have used a few more chapters.  Otherwise, it was the perfect read.






144pp
Published August 2011



Theme: Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins

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Friday, November 4, 2011

#BookReview: Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle - Ann B. Ross

It's been quite awhile since I've posted a review of the Miss Julia series, but I've been listening to her antics all summer.  In the latest, Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle, she's back with another round of madness and mayhem.

With the arrival of Hazel Marie and JD's twins any day, the household is in an uproar.  I don't know how big Miss Julia's house is, but current household members include JD, Hazel Marie, Lloyd, Sam, Miss Julia, Etta Mae, Lillian and Latisha.  And "dem babies" are on the way!

Never one to just give readers one story line to follow, in addition to Hazel Marie's pending delivery, there's the problem of Miss Julia bouncing checks all over town and a mystery to be solved when the body of Richard Stroud, a former resident of their small town who was sentenced to prison for white collar crimes, turns up in the shed of Miss Petty, Lloyd's teacher.  It just so happens that Miss Petty lives next door to Miss Julia's arch nemesis, Thurlow Jones.  Though she usually can't stand him, Miss Julia has no choice but to get in good with Thurlow if she plans to figure out what Richard was doing in the shed.

As usual, Miss Julia muddles things and it's only through the assistance of Lillian, the patience of Sam and overall good luck that she's able to straighten things out and, once again, return her household to the peaceful place she loves.

What did you like about this book?
Miss Julia is an absolute riot.  I've thought she was hilarious since book one and she continues to be.

What didn't you like about this book?
I'm still bothered by the dialect used by Lillian.  While everyone else speaks as if they're in the present, Lillian continues to speak as if she's in the early 20th century.  I have to question if the author knows any people of color outside of the ones she sees on TV or has created in her head.

What could the author do to improve this book?
I'd like to see more characters have their own story lines that focus more on them and not on Miss Julia.  I find each of them to be interesting so it would be nice to give them a chance to really shine.






320pp
Listening time: 9 hours, 36 minutes
Published April 2011




Theme: Bug-a-boo by Destiny's Child


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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#BookReview: Love Your Frenemies - Mina V. Esguerra

I'm finally getting back on track with the Colorful Chick Lit challenge and Love Your Frenemies is the perfect read for it.  Set in the Philippines, it's the story of Kimmy Domingo, the girl everyone loves to hate, at least that's what Kimmy believes.

When her fiance' ditched her the week before their wedding, Kimmy took off to parts unknown.  With an occasional phone call to her mother, Kimmy let her friends and family know she was okay, but for a year she traipsed around the world trying to find herself and forget the humiliation of being left at the altar.  The wedding of her BFF has brought her back to Manila and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Faced with the same demons that haunted her before she left, Kimmy returns to a clingy and needy mother, a tense relationship with her childhood friends and blatant hostility from coworkers.  So how does she plan to resolve these problems? It's simple.  She'll cut off unnecessary contact with all of them after the wedding.

What did you like about this book?
I always enjoy reading stories from a different perspective.  Though Love Your Frenemies is chick lit in nature, it's also a short study in Filipino culture.

What didn't you like about this book?
There were a few cultural references that readers outside of the Filipino culture may not understand.  It would have been nice to have footnotes or a short glossary in the back to help bring the reader up to speed.  On the other hand, Google is always available for readers willing to do the legwork.

What could the author have done to improve this book?
Kimmy is a likable character.  I could definitely see a series based around her.  Hopefully, the author will make that happen.






120pp
Published May 2011



Theme: Do You Know Where You're Going To (theme from Mahogany) by Diana Ross


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