- The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick
This was a typical Quick novel, I'm learning. Strong, linguistically-blessed heroine meets domineering alpha male. Then they have adventures fixing some problem with a bad guy. The plots are interchangeable and fairly predictable, although she does hold out on identifying the villain until the latter half. What makes AQ a real standout is her writing and her heroines. They rock, and they rock all the more because she creates an authentic world with her writing. AQ has mastered the Regency historical's language and style, without sacrificing wit or believability.
- Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow
You know, I really want to like the French. I learned the language and still retain more than I have any right to considering I prefer German and only fudged French in high school. Still, the country, the history, the language - they're all so romantic and inspiring. So why do the people and their way of doing things rub others the wrong way? This book, which is deeper than a travelogue but not really an academic text, is a crash course in all things francais.
I think I respect the French more having read Sixty Million Frenchmen, although I'm not one iota closer to liking them. It is extremely difficult to empathize with the French side because there is no compromise in their stance. This was not helped by the authors' nearly belligerent tone towards the US in any comparison with the French. Perhaps they were writing for their audience with a view they can relate to, but I got the impression that they used the US as a model when it showed France to an advantage and the former in a negative light. I understood and even admired the French ways, but rarely agreed with them. At any rate, Nadeau and Barlow embrace the idea of French superiority, but are mostly objective because they are bound by historical facts to prove their points.
The development of the French national personality is a product of many tumultuous years, from the amalgamation of tiny ethnic groups to the Revolution to WWII and to the colonial conflict in Algeria. Their obsession with federalism, linguistic purity, and Paris is explained in a cohesive way. The political and educational aspects of French society are explored in great detail, but was a bit tedious. I've been reading this intermittently since May, but found the subject fascinating enough to keep at it, even through the dry patches. All in all, the theories they put forth about understanding the French character and spirit are built on sound logic and offer an illuminating, if smug, read. I can honestly say, Vive la France!
Friday, July 30, 2004
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Saturday, July 24, 2004
- Save Karyn by Karyn Bosnak
Very readable. Also very scary in a way. Every girl has probably done the whole shopping rationalization hurdling: "Ooh, I'll own it longer if I buy it now at retail and from a daily cost point of view, that's really saving money!" KB took it to an absurd level, but I felt her pain. Well, when I wasn't being turned off by her utter lack of self control. The excessiveness didn't totally work against her, though. She gets points for being honest...and funny! Her writing is a little unpolished and valley-girl-ish, but it improves as the book goes on (and the bills start piling up). I identified with her on shopping on a basic level, but the second half is what earned this little memoir its stars. She struggled through joblessness, depression, 9/11, massive criticism, but came out of it all a better person for it. The old Karyn was cute, fun chick like any number I have known, but it's the new one that is worth knowing.
- Splendid by Julia Quinn
This is JQ's first novel. The infamous one she started a month after graduating from Hahvaaahd. And it shows. Though it's fairly good for a debut, her grasp of the Regency era's language and customs is a bit shaky. Actually, the dialogue is terrible. It kept throwing me off to hear/read, too often, contemporary expressions. The story arc (damsel in distress interlude) isn't my favorite either, although the author definitely kept it plausible, for which I thank her. What saves this book is its foundations. The plot is pretty good and there are some very memorable characters - ones I would look forward to seeing/reading about again. Stay tuned for more retro JQ.
Monday, July 19, 2004
Thursday, July 15, 2004
- In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang
Engaging and surprisingly wise. I would like to think that chicklit is slowly headed toward something like this, somewhere between literary and fluff. It was doubly interesting to me because many of the characters, including the protag Ginger, are Korean Americans. The struggles of Ginger felt very familiar. I loved that while she lives through all the normal issues of twenty-somethings, she also comes to an evolving understanding of her identity and ethnicity. It's a bittersweet hand that the second generation gets dealt. What makes this great reading is how well Hwang combines this with the lighter elements of finding love and friends and living in the City. Stereotypes and stock characters are well avoided in most cases, with the presence of complex and unexpected personalities. In an Amy Tan vein, the interactions with Ginger's mom are sweet and funny and poignant. Hwang is also a better writer than most novices out there, so while the topics could be weighty, the overall tone of the book is bright and hopeful.
Monday, July 12, 2004
- Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
Okay, I remember that I once said I'd never read another Kinsella after those car-crash Shopaholic books (horrid protag, but perversely readable), but like that (now regrettable) instinct that told me that I should get Olivia Joules while it was available on the library shelf, I just did. Fortunately, this is a vast improvement over Becky Bloomwood and her entirely self-absorbed delusions of grandeur. And it goes almost without saying that it's light years from Helen Fielding's last offering. Can You Keep a Secret? seems like what Fielding wanted to do with Olivia Joules. It's fairly typical chick lit and has a romance-novel arc (boy meets girl, conflict, happily ever after), but all the characters were original and fun, which is really pretty rare these days.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
Saturday, July 10, 2004
- Olivia Joules and Her Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding
Good God, where to start. A massive disappointment? That might be strong enough. Or let me put it this way, I only got through a third of it before I just flipped/skimmed through it for the mediocre bits - and I obsessive-compulsively read everything to the bitter end! The premise was bizarre and illogical (which I could deal with, having read her Bridget Jones books after all), but the writing was very self-conscious, uneven, and unsophisticated. Her stereotypes were also bordering on the racist. It read like a hackneyed romance novel and also like how a middle-aged woman imagines cool, single people live (lots of cloying and annoying clothes/setting descriptions). What a gulf from her wonderful debut (Cause Celeb), and even the last BJD, which was borderline schizo, but still amusing. Oh sadness.
Thursday, July 08, 2004
- Spotted in France by Gregory Edmont
I've never been one for Dalmatians, but this made me want to go out and get one. Or at least a dog as brilliant and blessed as JP. I loved how Edmont and his dog traveled through France (no small patch of land) on a Vespa. Besides the fact that I love those weird little mopeds, I think the image of JP riding on the footrest with goggles on is too adorable. Edmont's methods are odd - top notch restaurants and cheap lodging - but their adventures, such as being arrested, aided by a coven, and sent to a doggie bordello, really take the cake. Rationally, I know that no one has as many coincidences as the pair seem to have, but part of me knows it can happen. It made the whole book a surreal pleasure from the moment I got hooked by the precocious and, at times, prescient JP's adoption by the financially strapped Edmont, to the utterly perfect ending, complete with wedding.