6

She’s back: The Break

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The last time I read a book by Marian Keyes, it did not go well. And that was a shame because she’s one of my favourites. An author I can count on to make me laugh, probably make me cry and definitely reset my mojo.

But that didn’t happen with the last one.

So I was apprehensive about reading her new book, The Break.

the-break

Amy and Hugh have been mostly happily married for years. But the last 18 months or so have been difficult. Hugh’s father passed away and now Hugh is thinking about the finiteness of time. When his best friend dies suddenly not long after, Hugh goes to a dark place where Amy can’t reach him. She engages in a bit of a harmless work flirtation to help her deal with what’s going on at home.

And then Hugh announces that he’s taking a break from their marriage for six months and traveling, doing the things that he always wanted to and didn’t. He’s leaving Amy and their girls, Neeve, Amy’s daughter from a previous marriage who is in the early stages of a YouTube empire, Kiara, Amy and Hugh’s sweet daughter who always knows the right thing to say and do, and sensitive, ethereal Sophie, who is actually Amy’s niece but they adopted and now lives with them.

Without Hugh, Amy wants to feel sorry for herself and lie in bed and cry. But her friends and family tell her she has to live her own life. If Hugh’s on a break from their marriage, doesn’t it also mean that Amy is?

The Break is classic Marian Keyes. Classic Walsh sisters Marian Keyes! I was delighted to read this book. It was the exact mix of hilarity and seriousness that I have come to expect from Keyes. In The Break, Keyes explores fidelity and the crises that come from the deaths of those close to us. She’s also come up with an incredible cast of characters that I really hope we see more of! I can absolutely see Amy’s family members starring in their own books a la the Walshes.

It’s a bit of a doorstopper at 568 pages but it’s such a delight I’m not sure you’ll notice. The Break is an excellent book to tuck in your bag for a long flight or a weekend away. It’ll also do nicely on a rainy weekend with a cup of tea.

If you read The Woman Who Stole My Life and swore off Marian Keyes, you need to change your mind. The Break is a classic.

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7

Chick Lit Win: Fitness Junkie

Early last year, I read and loved The Knock-Off by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. It was deliciously chick-lity (no bad thing in these parts) with a decidedly adult outlook on life, love and work. In many ways, this was the book that reignited my love for the genre.

But I completely forgot to keep an eye out for any follow-up novels from this delightful duo.

So when Fitness Junkie appeared on my radar (thanks in large part to Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books), I was very excited.

And it delivered in so many ways!

fitness

Janey Sweet and her childhood best friend, Beau, have started a couture wedding gown business, B. Janey’s the business brains behind the operation, while Beau comes up with the incredible designs that make their gowns the champagne standard for brides. Beau has become increasingly obsessed with size – his gowns no longer come in sizes bigger than a 6. After a tumultuous year, Janey is a little heavier than she used to be and Beau is horrified when she is photographed enjoying a bruffin (a brioche muffin) in the front row at Fashion Week. Beau is blunt: lose 30lbs or Janey is out at B.

Janey finds herself with all the time in the world to follow every crazy health and fitness fad out there: eating nothing but clay, a barre fitness class where tiny ballerinas hurl abuse at you, water with a single stem of broccoli in it. The list goes on. Her quest for wellness brings her into the orbit of Stella, an actual shaman, and Sara Strong, who has come up with the most perfect solution called simply The Workout.

As Janey comes to terms with her own body, she has to decide what to do about her friendship with Beau and what that could mean for her business.

Listen, I recently went to cancel my gym membership and found that the location had moved and I didn’t even know it. So one might say that I’m not leading a super active lifestyle. I wondered if this book would have anything for me, besides some serious eye rolling.

Oh but it did!

For one thing, I will always get behind a heroine who is in charge of her own destiny. A woman who is in love with her work, who has built something of worth, and doesn’t necessarily know who she is without this work to define her. I’m always about a book where the main relationship isn’t necessarily romantic but no less serious. Often friend breakups are more devastating than romantic ones and Sykes and Piazza lean in on this angle HARD.

I also really appreciate a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This book is definitely glossy – there is the fashion angle of course, and Janey herself comes from money (her family has a chocolate empire!). But that allows the book to have fun – to throw in a thinly veiled Gwyneth Paltrow and Tracy Anderson dynamic that had me turning page after page.

For a book about fitness, I found that this book had a positive body message. There’s one point where Janey’s other best friend, CJ, a woman completely obsessed with maintaining a certain body, sighs that she thinks women just want to be told that they are acceptable:

You know…I think it’s a lie that all women want to be skinny. I think we just want to be told its okay to look the way we look.

Ultimately, Sykes and Piazza have given us another introspective, self-aware heroine intent on defining herself by her own terms and I am here for it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an unfinished copy.

14

Batch reviews: Chick Lit

We all know that books categorized as “chick lit” get a bad rep.

They aren’t taken seriously, written off as fluff or easy reading, relegated to beach totes or justified as guilty pleasures.

But I think these books are great. Often they are about the emotional lives of women, of the struggles to find a partner, or trouble within romantic relationships, how difficult it can be to navigate life at the office, or falling out with a good friend. These books are necessary to showcase these facets of female lives!

So.

Here are some “chick lit” titles I read recently that I really enjoyed.

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

after i do

Laura and Ryan have been together for over 11 years and are sniping at each other about everything. They decide to take a break for one year, no contact and after that, re-evaluate. Laura stays in their house and starts trying to live her own life, figure out what’s important to her, talk to her friends and family about life and marriage. As time goes on, she finds it difficult to be apart from Ryan and rethinks her ideas about love and marriage.

This book packed an emotional punch I wasn’t expecting. Really quickly, you get caught up in the lives of Laura and her entire family – her sister who is starting up her own business, her younger brother who has catapulted into marriage and family at a dizzying speed, her mother who is in a new relationship. And while all this happens, Laura misses that one person she used to share all this with. After I Do was honest, and funny and when I finished it, I was sad to leave Laura et al behind.

After You by Jojo Moyes

after you

So I wasn’t going to read this follow up to the devastation of Me Before You. I was of the opinion that the story was complete and I wasn’t super interested in what came next. I was wrong. Louisa Clark has taken the money that Will Trainor left her and bought an apartment for herself. But she hasn’t done anything to make it hers, she works in a terrible job at an airport bar, and spends her evenings alone and tipsy, until she has a fairly serious accident of her own. In the aftermath of her own injury, Lou moves home for a bit, where everyone but her seems to be moving forward. And when an unexpected relation of Will’s shows up, Lou’s life is turned upside down again.

Moyes does a great job with this portrait of grief, of a young woman coming to grips with her new reality. Lou is taking baby steps away from Will and the life she imagined she might have, while also taking on complications from that former life. She’s never been someone that’s able to think about herself before others and this new stage in her life is challenging the belief that she doesn’t matter. If you read and loved Me Before You, don’t hesitate in reading After You.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

hating

After a merger brought two competing publishers together, Lucy is forced to work near Joshua. Each is the assistant to the CEO from their respective publisher and spend their days finding ways of tormenting each other. When a new restructuring creates a new role, both of them want it. Their games escalate and suddenly, Lucy starts to see Josh with new eyes.

The Hating Game is a delightful old school romantic comedy. It’s like a book of The Proposal crossed with Ten Things I Hate About You. I loved that it was set in the workplace, that Lucy has ambitions for herself but is also kind of flailing around in her personal life. I didn’t expect this little book to be quite as steamy as it was! Nice little bonus if you ask me! I totally went into The Hating Game with certain expectations and it turned out way better than I thought it would be!

17

Sophie Kinsella strikes again

When I started reading Sophie Kinsella’s latest, My Not So Perfect Life, I took a second to look through the list of Kinsella’s other books.

I have read every. Single. One. So I guess you could say that Kinsella is one of my favourite authors.

But even though she’s a favourite, I wouldn’t say that I had unnaturally high expectations for this book. I’ve read all of her work, but I haven’t loved it unconditionally across the board. There were some misses in the middle of the Shopaholic series, Wedding Night was pretty terrible actually and I remember being underwhelmed by The Undomestic Goddess.

So when I tell you that I loved My Not So Perfect Life, know that I mean it and it’s totally worth your time!

kinsella

Cat Brenner is trying to make a go of her London life. Ever since she can remember, it’s been her dream to live and work in London, despite the fact that it’s kind of breaking her Somerset farmer dad’s heart. So even though she has no money, lives in a terrible flat with heinous roommates, and has a shaky hold on a job at a branding agency that comes with a vile commute, she would never admit that her life isn’t going exactly how she planned. She can’t even remember to answer to her chic new name and constantly introduces herself as Katie.

But then, Katie gets fired and she can’t find another job. She finds herself back home at the family farm, to the delight of her father and stepmother. And they actually have a  great idea – to turn the farm into a glamping vacation destination. Katie decides to help get them up and running while she keeps up the search  – and doesn’t tell them that she lost her job. She’s on a sabbatical!

When her former boss, Demeter, shows up with her family and starts to divulge personal information to Katie, her perspective on everything changes.

If you’re familiar with Kinsella’s work, you should be able to see that it has classic Kinsella elements. There’s also a tall, dark and handsome successful man for Katie to maybe get involved in. But right now, the fact that this book is classic Kinsella, is exactly what I needed. I needed to laugh about crazy roommates, misunderstandings and hi jinx, even some physical comedy.

And in the end, Kinsella rewarded me with a different kind of love story. One where our plucky heroine comes to admire a strong, clever, ambitious woman and finds some of those same elements in herself. A book where the goal is to get a career on track, to fall in love with the work that she’s doing, and to constantly learn from the other brilliant women she works with.

After reading about orphans, backstabbing queens, difficult women and sexual assault, My Not So Perfect Life was just what the bibliotherapist ordered.

(What? That’s a real thing)

6

Reading All The Books: Liane Moriarty

Since I seem to be having such a hard time posting reviews, let’s try something different today.

Liane Moriarty.

For months a friend of mine was on me to read The Husband’s Secret. Taking book recommendations is still something I’m working on so I didn’t. Then book club read Big Little Lies.

And I was hooked on Liane Moriarty.

I read The Husband’s Secret. Then The Hypnotist’s Love Story. What Alice Forgot. Three Wishes. I’ll read The Last Anniversary and then I will wait for Moriarty to write something else!

I’m sure that some of you have seen her books and assumed that they followed in the grand tradition of sugary, superficial chick lit and you want no part of it. But Moriarty is much more in line with Marian Keyes than Emily Giffen. Moriarty’s characters are fully formed women with secrets and dreams and careers and families. They are sisters and friends, PAC moms and business owners.

Moriarty’s ability to write women and their relationships to other women are what set her apart. In Big Little Lies (soon to be a miniseries with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman), it’s mommy wars of a kind. Friends and acquaintances pitted against each other to figure out what is going on at the school – which of the kids is hurting a little girl? Everything comes to a head at the annual parents’ night out with shocking consequences. The Husband’s Secret follows the lives of three women decades after something tragic happened to one of them – she never got any answers but she has her suspicions. When the truth comes out, there are ramifications for everyone involved.

These books are funny. They are sharp. And clever and absorbing and wonderful. These are the kinds of books that make me forget that I’m on the bus. I’m surprised to look up from these books and discover that I’m nearly at work because I’m so completely engrossed in the lives of Moriarty’s characters.

I’ve loaned these books to friends and recommended them to people for long haul flights, beach vacations, weekends away, something to shake up their reading ,given them as gifts. One friend told me that Big Little Lies was exactly what she was looking for and she loved it so much. She has since read What Alice Forgot and is awaiting delivery of Three Wishes.

all-the-books

Do yourself a favour and pick up one of Moriarty’s books. I recently picked up a blind date book at my library and unwrapped it at home to discover it was Big Little Lies. Maybe a sign that I should read it again?

9

The Woman Who Stole My Life

I’ve always liked the work of Marian Keyes. I’m sure that her sparkly, candy coloured covers have turned some readers off, believing them to be nothing more than shallow chick lit, filled with heroines who’s biggest problems are marrying the right guy and having enough money to buy shoes.

But those readers would be wrong. Keyes’ work is actually a lot more serious than I think she’s given credit for. Her heroines are often struggling with addiction, mental health issues, the death of a loved one, or abusive relationships. They are absolutely sprinkled liberally with laughs and some truly ridiculous escapades but I’ve never had trouble finding something of worth in her work.

So I was excited to read The Woman Who Stole My Life. This latest effort was vague on plot but I assumed that it was because giving too much away would ruin it. To an extent, I suppose that’s true. All I knew going in was that there was this man that Stella Sweeney met that would make all kinds of things happen.

The Woman Who Stole My Life was not what I expected from Marian Keyes at all but it didn’t exceed my expectations either.

In the very beginning, Stella is going on about karma and how she’s a big believer in it even though her artist husband, Ryan, thinks she’s nuts. As she’s driving around town, she slows to let a man in a range rover merge and ends up getting rear-ended and t-bones the car she was trying to help out.

Then it’s years in the future and Stella is back in her little Irish house with a surly teenaged son, worrying about money and staring at a blank computer screen, willing some inspiration to strike so that she can write her new book. The rest of the book is supposed to fill in the blanks.

And it does. There’s a bizarre medical situation with a rare neurological disorder that basically leaves Stella a prisoner in her own body (basically my nightmare) and her neurologist is the only one who can communicate with her, the same man, of course, who she t-boned that day months earlier.

The back and forth in time narrative didn’t work for me. Normally I’m up for that – I like seeing where a character has ended up as a way of trying to work out what happened to the earlier version. This time, it seemed unnecessary and confusing. It added pages and pages to this book that didn’t need to be added. I went through the whole book thinking that the title referred to Stella herself but the end revealed something completely different. Again, I would have been more than ok with that (I love when an author outsmarts me) but it seemed forced, rushed, like the proper foundation hadn’t been laid for me to get to this point.

I have come to expect plucky, cheeky, smart heroines from Marian Keyes. They can be kicked around by life but they always have something to redeem them, something that sets them back on their right path. Often they are surrounded by their hilarious supporting cast family (I’m thinking mainly of the Walshes, have you read any of the books to feature the Walshes?). I’m not used to a broken, self-pitying heroine who married a perfect twit and lets all the big decisions in her life be made by a man. I’m not used to it and I don’t accept it from Marian Keyes.

8

There’s a New Shopaholic Book Out!

Have you heard? Becky Bloomwood is back!

shopaholic

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Shopaholic to the Stars and I can say that   this book is totally on par with the best of the Shopaholic books. It’s about time that Becky Bloomwood found her way to Hollywood! This latest installment is classic Kinsella filled with misunderstandings, mix-ups, and ridiculous situations that only Becky Bloomwood would find herself in. But there better be a follow-up coming out soon because there are some serious unanswered questions about that ending!

But this isn’t about the new Shopaholic book. I was reading Karen’s confession style post (which you can [and should] read here) when I realized that when it comes to Sophie Kinsella, I have a lot to say. I thought it might be fun to run some of that down for you guys.

1. Sophie Kinsella is the undisputed queen of Chick Lit. I am a staunch defender of the genre and there’s no one better at it than Kinsella. When she’s not entertaining us with stories of Becky Bloomwood or any of her other standalone heroines, she’s writing under her real name, Madeleine Wickham and those stories are also compulsively readable, full of hijinx and hilarous.

2. My favourite of her standalone novels has always been Can You Keep a Secret? Emma is a nervous flyer and on a flight home she regales her seat partner with all of her most embarassing secrets. Turns out he’s the new boss coming to inspect the UK division and he remembers her and all her secrets. You can imagine the hijinx that follow. I also love Twenties Girl about modern day Lara who ends up spending time with the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie. Sounds a little far-fetched but I remember it being loads of fun and kind of moving. And I’ve Got Your Number was really excellent too.

3. I thought that the Shopaholic series took a dive somewhere in the middle and I was concerned that either I’d outgrown the genre or Kinsella had exhausted the character. But then Mini Shopaholic (even Shopaholic and Baby was a massive improvement over the previous two books) really redeemed the series. And Shopaholic to the Stars is really very good.

4. The Shopaholic movie was a disaster but I wish that someone would adapt one of the standalone books. I’m fairly confident that The Undomestic Goddess, I’ve Got Your Number or Remember Me? would all make excellent movies.

5. I have read every one of Kinsella’s books and I probably always will. So keep ’em coming Sophie!

Shopaholic to the Stars is out in Canada today!