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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#BookReview: The Floater - Sheryl Sorrentino

At the age of 46, Norma Reyes graduated with her law degree, fully expecting to be offered a spot as a first year associate at Robertson, Levine & Shemke (RLS), the firm where she'd clerked the previous summer and received such high praise.  Twenty years of working her way up to supervisor of phone operators while going to school at night have finally paid off.  And even though her ailing mother ridicules her dreams, Norma is determined to make it.

The partners at RLS have never taken Norma seriously.  Yes, she did good work in her summer position, but they would never hire an associate from a less than prestigious law school.  Norma didn't look like them and certainly wouldn't fit in with their client base, given her ethnic background. Luckily, the recession gives them an excuse when they deny her employment as an attorney. While they won't hire her as an attorney, they will hire her as a floater.  Grudgingly, Norma accepts the job, believing that it will only be temporary and that once she passes the bar, she'll be offered the position she deserves.  Poor, gullible Norma.

Weeks of being belittled by everyone from senior partners to first year associates (a group she should have been a part of) start to wear on Norma.  A chance encounter with Oscar Peterson, the mail room supervisor, makes Norma's life a little more bearable.  But their happily ever after is disrupted when Oscar gets wind of a memo about Norma, drafted by one of the senior partners.  Norma will have the fight of her life on her hand if she can get her courage up enough to do something about it.

I was torn between liking, pitying and hating Norma.  It was obvious from the beginning that dealing with her family and men had bruised her self-esteem, but she had to have guts to go back to law school at night at her age.  So while I loved that she was courageous enough to do that, I was mad that she let the attorneys mistreat and lie to her repeatedly while she accepted it.

I also vacillated between liking and disliking Oscar.  He seemed to have Norma's interests at heart, but he was so overly aggressive and insensitive at times that I kept waiting for him to break her heart like her previous boyfriends.  Even by the end of the book, I wasn't sure that she should be with him and wanted to yell out like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, "You in danger, girl!"  Perhaps the author didn't develop Oscar enough to make him likable or maybe it was her intent to make the reader distrust him.  Either way, I can't say that I was happy to see Norma with him.

Another thing that bothered me was how long Norma stayed with the firm, because surely working there as a floater was not the first time she witnessed the assholeness of the place.  As a clerk during the summer, she had to see the way partners treated the support staff.  Or perhaps it was okay with her then because she saw herself as one of them (attorney) instead of one of them (support staff).  Which lends itself to the question, is the mistreatment of others excusable based on their rank in the company hierarchy?  Apparently it was at RLS.

Published: August 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Do Something by Macy Grey

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Monday, October 29, 2012

#BookReview: Passing Love - Jacqueline E. Luckett

Because you are to me a song,

I must not sing you over long.

Because you are to me a prayer,

I cannot say you everywhere.

Because you are to me a rose,

You will not stay when summer goes.

- Passing Love by Langston Hughes

Ruby Mae Garrett looked out for herself and made no apologies for it.  From the moment she saw Arnett Dupree, she was a woman possessed.  Actually, she was a girl possessed, but at 16, she thought she was a woman.  So when her strict mother caught wind of Ruby Mae sneaking off with the horn player, she put an end to it.  Never one to be outdone, Ruby Mae had to have the last word and the day she left her parent's house was the last day she spoke to them.

Nicole-Marie Roxane grew up loving all things French.  Her infatuation started with a small, blue French to English dictionary she found in her parent's cedar chest.  Speaking French with her father strengthened their special bond.  One day the dictionary was gone and not another word about it or French was spoken.

Fast forward to present day, 56 year old Nicole is tired of watching life pass her by. She's wasted over half of her life on a married man who still dangles the "I'll leave my wife and marry you when the time is right" carrot in front of her.  If it wasn't for her friend insisting that she go to Paris, Nicole probably would have continued to only dream of going.  But she's finally on her way to 30 days of exploring the country that's always fascinated her.

When Nicole's explorations lead to the discovery of a picture of her father in his military uniform over fifty years ago, she has to know why the picture is there, who owned it and what their connection is to her Alzheimer suffering father.  Though her mother offers little information over the phone, she does send her enough information to set Nicole off on a fact finding mission, knowing that she may not like what finds out.

As we've seen in Searching for Tina Turner, and as she again shows us in Passing Love, Jacqueline Luckett writes books about women who we rarely see as the protagonist.  As was Lena in Searching, Nicole is a woman of a certain age.  Both women feel under-valued and -appreciated by the people in their lives and set off on journeys to rediscover their self-worth and, of course, by the end of the books, they have.

Published: January 2012

Theme: April in Paris by SarahVaughan
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Friday, October 26, 2012

#BookReview: New York Valentine - Carmen Reid

London is all she's ever known or loved, until she's given a chance to go to New York.  With the cancellation of How Not to Shop, her fabulous makeover show, Annie Valentine is a woman without a plan, for once.  Not to fear, people like Annie never let the grass grow under their feet.

Svetlana and her daughter Elena saw a little success with their Perfect Dress clothing line after the disastrous Paris fashion show in Celebrity Shopper.  The dresses are selling fairly well in Europe, but are much better suited for the style of American women.  Svetlana is handling sales in Europe, while Elena is overseeing operations in America.  But Elena has fallen apart and so have sales overseas.  Like a woman without a country, Annie is a woman without a project, so when Svetlana asks her to go to New York to help Elena for awhile, you know she won't be able to resist.

Lana was to spend her gap year working on Annie's television show.  Since that show was scrapped, and Lana didn't care to work there anyway, she has the opportunity to visit America with Annie.  In a much larger role than she's been given in previous books, New York Valentine is really Lana's coming out party.  Seemingly directionless prior to the trip, she becomes more sure of herself during their New York stay, proving to be just as fashion forward and business savvy as Annie.

Lana's love life is also on display and while she does have her usual angsty teen moments, she proves to be mature in that area as well.  Given the focus on Lana and the attention given to her story line, I have to wonder if Carmen Reid is setting her up for her own series in the future.  Because she's younger, I would think that she'd have a slightly different audience than the readers that have come to adore early 40s Annie.  While Lana might be interesting to read about, I wonder how believable others find a just out of high school 18 year old acting in such a leadership role when she has absolutely no business experience other than selling items on eBay.

Back at home, Owen's pockets are bulging with money from the sales he makes at the weekend flea market.  At least that's where his family believes the money is coming from.  And Ed has been suspended from work for suspicious pornographic material uploaded to the school servers from his laptop.  As much as she hates to admit it, there's no way Annie can stay in New York and try to save someone else's business when her own family is falling apart.

Published: January 2011

Theme: Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring that bleating goat

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

#BookReview: Celebrity Shopping - Carmen Reid

When last we left Annie Valentine and her fabulous brood, there were two new additions to the family.  No, not her mother and Dave the dog, I'm talking about the twins, Mickey and Minnie.  How in the world can Annie balance her hit TV show and a full house that now includes babies?  No, there's not an app for that, but there is boyfriend Ed.

While Annie jets off to Paris to tape a spectacular episode for TV, Ed is left to deal not only with a surprisingly outgoing Owen and angsty teen Lana, he's also overseeing the home renovations that Annie insisted on, while handling the twins, and he's doing it all by himself.  It's no wonder that Ed feels beaten down and overlooked.  Annie is living the glamorous life and he's stuck at home.  But this is what Ed asked for when he took a hiatus from his job as a music teacher at Lana and Owen's school

The Paris episode proves to be a hit, but to maintain their ratings and renewal of the show for next season, Annie and Svetlana set off to hike the Scottish Highlands in high heels.  Sounds crazy, right? But it's the kind of thing readers have come to expect from Annie and her crew.  Of course, things never turn out as simple as she hopes and this may be her worst idea yet.

In this latest from Carmen Reid, it felt like too many story lines were thrown at the reader.  The Paris adventures served as an opening to a new Svetlana story line, complete with the daughter we learned about in How Not to Shop.  Annie's father, who has only been mentioned in passing in previous books, makes an appearance also, so readers are forced to take on more serious topics than we're used to in typical Annie Valentine books.  I like that Reid thinks ahead and sets up characters for the next chapter of their lives (and book in the series), but it would be okay if she saved some of the set up for the next book instead of trying to cram so much into the current one.

Published: March 2010

Theme: Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye & Tammie Terrell

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Monday, October 22, 2012

#BookReview: How Not To Shop - Carmen Reid

Annie Valentine is back!  Though she's been at The Store for nine years, and enjoyed almost every minute of her time there, she's finally ready to move on to bigger and better things.  But true to life, the grass always looks greener on the other side.  In this instance, the other side is the world of reality TV.

Teaming up once again with her Ukrainian friend, Svetlana, who has perfected the art of  marrying well, Annie finds herself working on a low budget makeover show.  Unfortunately for her, she's also working with Miss Marlise, a former contest from hell from the popular TV show, The Apprentice.  That grass she thought was so green, not so much now.

On the home front, life with Ed is still good.  Her mom, however, is showing early signs of dementia and has moved in with the family against her will.  Owen insists on adopting a dog that sounds like he could give the ugliest dog in the world a run for his money for the title.  And Lana is in love.

I love the Annie Valentine series because Carmen Reid doesn't give us a perfect character with her.  Annie makes mistakes, both personal and professional, and sometimes she bounces back from them, other times she's doesn't.  Her life isn't the perfect story book tale we normally see in chick lit and I love that about her.

Published: August 2009

Theme: Grazing in the Grass by Friends of Distinction

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Friday, October 19, 2012

#BookReview: Match Me If You Can - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Take one adorable woman with just a hint of smart ass, add one no nonsense man who needs to loosen up and throw them together in the most unlikely circumstances and you have the formula for a hilarious Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. As was Sugar Beth Carey in Phillips' Ain't She Sweet, Annabelle Granger is not only a smart ass, she's a smart ass that doesn't know when to quit.  She's met her match in the man they call "The Python," Heath Champion.  No ladies, they don't call him that for the reasons you think.  Get your minds out of the gutter.

The only average person in a family full of overachievers, Annabelle can't live up to the standards set by her brothers or her parents, nor does she want to.  All she really wants is to make a success of the matchmaking business started by her beloved Nana.  If she could get just one big name client to sign on, and successfully match him, she's sure her business would take off.  Well known sports agent Heath Champion would be just the man with enough star power to guarantee her future, but Heath already has a matchmaker.

Heath Champion knows sports, players and how to negotiate.  Those skills have gotten him far and made him one of the top agents in the country.  He's also a man with a plan and, now, that plan includes getting married.  While he doesn't have a bride in sight, he's decided that he's far enough in his career that he can afford to settle down.  Raised in a trailer park in a podunk town, he's worked hard to overcome his small town ways and become a man about town.  Heath wants a well-groomed, sophisticated woman to help smooth out his rough edges and be an asset to him when he's mixing and mingling with A-list crowds and athletes.

Annabelle has her hands full as Heath not only shoots down each woman she picks for him, he also shoots down the women her nemesis, Portia, picks.  Just when it looks like neither matchmaker is capable of finding the woman of Heath's dream, Portia introduces him to "the one," and hilarity ensues.  By the way, the secondary story line with Portia is just as funny, if not funnier than Annabelle's.

I love smart characters, and smart ass characters are even better, so you know I loved Annabelle Granger.  Phillips' female characters are no shrinking violets.  They give as good as they get.  Match Me If You Can is full of strong, smart women, something I find refreshing in chick lit.  You already know from the moment you start the book that the characters will wind up together.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips' writing makes the journey entertaining and thoughtful from beginning to end.

Listening time: 11 hours, 18 minutes
Published: August 2006

Theme: It's Been You by Anita Baker

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#BookReview: Forgotten - Catherine McKenzie

If you disappeared for six months, would your friends look for you?  Would your employer notice?  And if you had a chance to start all over again, would you take up?

Her dying mother's request was that Emma Tupper travel to Africa, a continent her mother has long dreamed of visiting.  Initially reluctant, Emma chooses to go.  That decision changes her life dramatically.

Now I have to digress for just a minute.  I was greatly bothered by the fact that McKenzie, an author I normally adore, didn't do her homework.  Africa is a huge continent.  I actually had to search back through to find in which specific country Emma was supposed to be on safari.  When I did find it, the country was Tswanaland.  Never heard of it?  Let me tell you about it.

Tswanaland was a territory set aside for black ethnic groups in South West Africa as a part of apartheid.  This bantustan (territory) was dismantled with the end of apartheid in 1994 and incorporated into present day Namibia.  So I'm curious to know why the author would have her character visit a country that doesn't exist with that name.  At first I thought maybe the book was set prior to 1994, but since the TV show The Wire is referenced in conversation, it's apparent that the book is set at least post-2002, when the show premiered.

So back to the story, Emma returns to find that she's been declared missing and presumed dead.  While in Namibia, there was an earthquake that cut off access to phones and flights for six months.  At her first chance, Emma flies back home, only to find that she's jobless, homeless and has been forgotten.

Faced with the prospect of resuming the stressful life she was living before she left or starting over again, Emma makes the most comfortable decision.  But it doesn't take her long to question whether or not it's the right decision.  I honestly can't say what I'd do in her position.

Catherine McKenzie creates great characters.  They're funny and thoughtful.  They're realistic and likable.  Her previous books, Spin and Arranged were both great reads.  With the exception of the misstep regarding Africa, this is just as good.

Published: October 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Remember Me by Diana Ross

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Monday, October 15, 2012

#BookReview: Falling Together - Marisa de los Santos

We're all familiar with the poem that states, "People come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime."  From the first day they meet as college freshmen, Pen, Will and Cat are sure that they're destined to be in each other's lives forever.  Within their symbiotic relationship, Pen is the caretaker, Will is the thinker and Cat is the carefree spirit that makes the friendship work.

As adults, their friendship continues until the day Cat makes the decision to leave the group, with the request that they not try to find one another in the future.  Though Will and Pen try to make their friendship work without Cat, she's the missing piece of their puzzle and so they too agree to end their friendship.  But not a day goes by that Pen doesn't think of her friends and wonder if she's left an empty space in their lives as they've left in hers.

The day an email arrives from Cat asking both Pen and Will to attend their college reunion because she needs them, both are hesitant, but it's Cat, so, of course, they'll attend.  Except Cat isn't there, at least not physically, her husband is and he's the one that needs their help.

Cat's presence is felt so strongly throughout this book, though she's mostly spoken of in third person.  As much as Will and Pen adored her, I came away from this book disliking her immensely.  Pen and Will, but especially Pen, have had so much faith in her and remembered so many good things about her.  I'd agree with them that she was a light-hearted free spirit, but she was also selfish and unfeeling.  You certainly can't expect your friends to be the same way they were years ago, but to be dismissive of them as if they never played an important role in your life is cruel.

Looking back, Cat played the child to adult-like Pen and Will when they were students.  So she expected them to take care of her until she was ready to take care of herself and when she was ready to do that, she no longer had any use for them.  Like parents that sometimes fall apart when their child leaves the nest, Will and Pen fell apart without Cat.  I think that's why I dislike her so much.  It's her departure that interrupts their lives for years until she summons them.

I didn't expect to be so drawn in to Falling Together or to become so heavily invested in the characters.  Marisa de los Santos tricks the reader into caring about the characters by making them fully developed multi-dimensional characters.  This was my first read from her and I can't wait to delve into more from her.

Published: October 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Prepping for the Dewey's Readathon!

Tomorrow is the annual 24-hour spring readathon hosted by the good people over at Dewey's Readathon.  As usual, I've decided to do a mixture of electronic and "real" books.  The readathon starts at 7 a.m. my time and my goal is to read books straight through and take 30 minute breaks in between books.

I know that I won't make it through all of the books.  I generally make it through four to six books before fatigue sets in.  But my planned list is as follows, in no particular order:

  1. Sky of Red Poppies by Zohreh Ghahremani
  2. King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels & Eleanor Herman
  3. The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen
  4. 40 Love by Madeleine Wickham
  5. No One in the World by E. Lynn Harris & RM Johnson

  1. Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn
  2. The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen (already halfway through, but need to finish)
  3. Hollywood Scandals by Gemma Halliday

Like I said, I won't get through all of these, but by picking so many, I'm giving myself permission to put down anything that doesn't catch my fancy and move on to something that does.  Look for updates throughout the day and, if you're participating too, please share what you're reading or leave links to your blog so we can check you out.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

#BookReview: Late Night Shopping - Carmen Reid

Shopping diva Annie Valentine is back and there's a new man in her life.  Who knew that underneath that mop of hair and baggy clothes was Ed, Owen's music teacher, and the new love of Annie's life.  When Ed asked her to renovate his basement flat, she had no idea that he co-owned the entire Georgian townhouse with his sister.  Annie raised the money to buy his sister out and she, Lana and Owen had been happy living with Ed for the last year.

Ed tolerates Annie's shenanigans much like Ricky Ricardo did Lucy, but Annie's missteps prove to be much costlier.  Though he's repeatedly told Annie that she needs to create a shopping budget, she only sticks to it until she sees a purse she just has to have.  Honestly, I can understand the purse obsession.  Know why? Unlike shoes or clothes that can be too tight or ill fitting, especially if you've lost or gained weight, purses always fit.  Always.

With a school holiday approaching, Annie decides to surprise Ed and the kids with a trip to Italy.  It just happens to turn out that the town where she's rented a villa is known as the shoe and handbag capital.  Amazing coincidence, right?  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Annie immediately makes connections with factories and merchants there, figuring she can sell their merchandise online and act as the importer for boutiques and department stores.  Much like Lucy, things go wrong, but there's no Ricky around to fix them.  Ed is fed up with Annie ignoring his advice and disregarding his warnings.

But like any heroine of chick lit, Annie manages to turn things around.  By the time the book ends, not only are you cheering for Annie, you can't wait to see where her newest opportunities will take her.

Published: July 2008

Everything She Wants by Wham!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

#BookReview: The Personal Shopper - Carmen Reid

From the same publisher that brought us Sophie Kinsella comes Carmen Reid and if you like Kinsella, you'll love Reid.  Whereas Kinsella's characters tend to be twentysomething singles, Reid writes about women of a certain age.  This week, I'll be highlighting the first three books in Reid's Annie Valentine series.

I downloaded The Personal Shopper back in June, when it showed up on a list of free books in a daily email I receive.  I thought it had a cute cover, but I put it on my "I'll read that one day if nothing better comes along" shelf.  Sometimes you just have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate books.  After reading some heavy/boring/obligated reading, I picked The Personal Shopper up and took it for a spin, and what a spin it was.

Annie Valentine can size anybody up and immediately know what kind and cut of clothes work for them, which designers would look best on their frame and what shoes are better left on the rack.  As a personal shopper at "The Store," it's her job to know these things.  Annie transforms her clients like Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Not only does she change their outer appearance, she gives them confidence to take on anything, whether it's the search for hubby number four or a promotion at work.

Annie is in search of husband number two herself.  It's not easy, or cheap, to raise a teen daughter and extremely shy, preteen son by herself.  And she has to dress herself as well as the women she consults with at The Store.  Being fashionable does not come cheap.  When she's not working at the store, she's giving private consultations, scouting for and selling items on her eBay store, and exploring the world of online dating.  She's also the queen of do it yourself projects, buying homes in need of repairs, restoring them, selling them for a profit and moving to a nicer neighborhood, each time, only to do the same thing all over again.

When she catches the eye of a wealthy dentist at her mother's party, Annie believes she may have found the one.  The facts that he's impotent, old-fashioned and seems to have an aversion to kids are just minor mountains to overcome.  What's important is that if she marries him, she won't have to struggle so much to keep Lana and Owen in private school.  But is Annie really ready to remarry just for financial security?

I thought this book was absolutely hilarious.  In particular, there's a scene in the jacuzzi between Annie and Gray, the dentist, that had me cackling over my lunch.  I doubt that younger Kinsella readers would appreciate it, but the more seasoned readers would definitely find it hilarious.

Published: September 2007

For the Love of Money by The O'Jays

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Friday, October 5, 2012

#BookReview: Goldberg Variations - Susan Isaacs

If you thought the grandmother in V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic was a piece of work, you haven't met Gloria Goldberg Goldberg Garrison.  A woman that neither desired or needed a relationship with her grandchildren, the indomitable force behind the successful Glory company finds that she finally needs someone.  But after a lifetime of being shunned by their grandmother, why should Daisy, Matt or Raquel come to her rescue?

In Gloria, Susan Isaacs has created a character that surely has ice flowing through her veins.  Mean and spiteful, Gloria seems to take delight in making others feel small.  When her cold-hearted ways drive away the only true friend she's ever really had, she also loses her company's successor.  And now she must find someone to take over her company because, at 79, her best years are behind her.

Siblings Matt and Daisy grew up as the children of the son most shunned by Gloria.  Matt is comfortable doing PR for the New York Mets and Daisy's love of cinema is perfect for her job in the film industry.  While both are curious as to why their grandmother has summoned them to Santa Fe, they can't help but remember that the way she's treated her father since childhood has had a profound effect on him and them, as an indirect result.

Their cousin Raquel is the daughter of Gloria's favorite son, Travis, and his true love, Adriana.  Upon Travis' death, Gloria cut off contact with his Puerto Rican wife and biracial daughter.  Of the three grandchildren, Raquel has the most reason to resent her grandmother and has no problem giving her the why and what for when she sees her.

The key messages in Goldberg Variations are reconciliation and forgiveness.  Weighing, perhaps a bit too heavily, on Isaacs' own Jewish faith, conversations between Daisy and Gloria are heavily laced with religious references.  At times it became distracting and somewhat preachy.  Just as I dislike Christian lit that relies too much on Biblical references, I didn't necessarily care for the religious messages sprinkled throughout Goldberg Variations.  That aside, it was a fairly enjoyable read.

Published: October 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Perfect by Alanis Morrisette

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#BookReview: Sad Desk Salad - Jessica Grose

Have you ever wondered who the writers are behind the gossip blogs you read? Come on now, don't pretend you don't read them.  Even if it's People, it's still gossip.  With Sad Desk Salad, Jessica Grose takes us behind the scenes of life as a gossip blogger.

Alex Lyons is glued to her computer and cell phone, not literally, but stepping away from either for too long means she could miss out on the next big story.  Working from home daily for Chick Habit, her life consists of scouring RSS feeds for topics and writing catchy posts.  If those posts are snarky, that's just an added bonus.  Alex's love life and friendships are suffering as a result of her demanding boss, and this certainly isn't what she signed up for with her Wellesley degree, but it's a living.

There's constant pressure on Alex to bring in page views, to the tune of one million a month.  So when the video of the daughter of one of America's leading authorities on raising children pops up and she's not only topless, but snorting cocaine, Alex has to decide if her page views and bonus are worth potentially ruining someone's life, and, perhaps, her own.

As with most books of this ilk, there's a moment when the protagonist has an "a-ha" moment and things become clear.  In The Devil Wears Prada, it's when Andi realizes she doesn't want to be another Miranda Priestly (though her clothes and her purses were to die for.  TO DIE FOR!).  In Bond Girl, another Alex has a moment when she realizes that she doesn't want to end up like some of the other women in her office have.  The common theme of all three books is women coming to a crossroads in their careers and deciding in which direction they should go.  Oh, and they all have gender neutral names.

Even after finishing Sad Desk Salad, I'm not sure what I would have done in Alex's situation.  As a blogger, sometimes page views and comments are the only way to prove someone other than your family and co-workers are reading your blog.  So what about you? Would you post information about someone you didn't know for page views and comments? Now, would you do it knowing that someone might post some of your revealing moments online in retaliation?  It changes things just a bit, doesn't it?

Published: October 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Pressure by Billy Joel
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Monday, October 1, 2012

#BookReview: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society - Amy Hill Hearth

If someone were to ask me to summarize Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society, I'd have to say that it's a cross between Fanny Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar.  If you've not read Fanny Flagg or seen the movie, I'll try to explain as best I can.  If my words fail to convince you to read the book, do it anyway and thank me later.

It's 1962 and the sleepy town of Naples, Florida is about to get a wake up call in the form of Jackie Hart.  Relocated there from Boston because of her husband's job working for the richest man in town, Naples has never seen anything like Jackie before.  She's loud and outspoken in a time and place where women are to be seen and rarely heard.  Before Jackie is done, Naples will be seeing and hearing a lot more from this woman.

Shortly after her arrival in town, Jackie starts the Collier County Women's Literary Society, though the group could easily be called the Island of Misfits.  Comprised of Dora, a recent divorcee and narrator of the story; Miss Lansbury, the town librarian; Mrs. Bailey White, an eccentric older woman whose claim to fame is murdering her husband; Plain Jane, no description needed; Priscilla, an African American maid; and Robbie-Lee, "Collier County's only obvious homosexual," the literary society becomes more than just a group of people that meet to discuss books.  They become a family.

I loved this book almost from the moment I started it and expected it to be light and fluffy through and through.  Then two things happened.  First, the group read Their Eyes Were Watching God, which they had to borrow from the "colored" library.  It was the first time that any of them, outside of Priscilla, became aware of Zora Neale Hurston, among other things.  Second, the group read The Feminine Mystique, which got Jackie all up in her feelings.  So as she's sitting there feeling sorry for herself, stuck being a middle class housewife, Priscilla points out the following to her:

"I was surprised that so many women were unhappy.  And I had to ask myself, What have they got to be so unhappy about? Most of us colored women would give anything to have the problems described in the book.  I mean, Negro women have always had to work.  We have to, because our men aren't paid a fair wage.  Compared to white men, I mean.  And obviously, there are some jobs - the good jobs - that colored men can't get at all, through no fault of their own.  So the women - colored women - we have had to hold hearth and home together.  One way or another, we need to bring money into the household.  That could mean picking watermelons in the field, like my grandma, or working for a white family, like I do.  Even the women who seem like they're not working - well, they're taking in laundry or ironing or mending.  So I guess what I'm saying is that the problems these ladies are talking about in the book - those are luxuries most colored women don't have."

Amy Hill Hearth could have ended the book right there and I would have been satisfied!  Priscilla's goal wasn't to make Jackie or anyone else feel bad about themselves, she simply brought another perspective that the group was unused to hearing or thinking about, living in their own bubble.  The author does a great job of fully developing her characters, making you love (and hate) some of their quirks, but understanding that each brings something necessary to the group.  I honestly didn't want the book to end.

For those thinking that Hearth's name sounds familiar, you'll remember her as the coauthor of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.  This is her first foray into fiction and she does an amazing job.  As Camille O. Cosby says of her, she "Honors and humanizes people and their wonderful diversities."

Published: October 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Theme: Dreamsville by Henry Mancini
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