The Fakest Romance Novel You’ll Ever Read

I recently read The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale, and it’s kind of hilarious. Not usually when it’s intended to be, but still, I had plenty of giggles.

actor and housewife

When I read the blurb on the inside cover, I immediately thought to myself: Hm, this sounds like at least half of the stories on Wattpad. I was right. This is the story of a plain, overweight Mormon housewife who keeps coincidentally crossing paths with the hunkiest hunky-hunk Hollywood hearthrob, and then they become BFFs!

In my mind, he looks like this. Particularly since his initials are F.C. and he's British. #ontoyouHale

In my mind, he looks like this. Particularly since his initials are F.C. and he’s British. #ontoyouHale

She ends up writing a rom-com (oh, yeah, she’s a screenwriter when she, you know, is bored b/c the kids aren’t around wrecking the house), which sells, and then she stars in it with her BFF Felix.

You guys, I'm not even joking.

You guys, I’m not even joking.

They both go through a tough time, and then Felix’s wife leaves him and Becky’s husband dies (remind you of another novel I’ve reviewed?), and then, THEN, Becky’s oldest child Fiona explains that God introduced Felix into Becky’s life so she could still get laid when God decided to rip the love of her life out of her life prematurely:

What if God knew that? What if he arranged for you and Felix to meet all those years ago, so that you’d be best friends, so that he’d be here for you after Dad’s death, and its be too late for you to shut him out? So that you could have someone to be with now, so that you could keep feeling lovedso that you don’t have to be lonely. I think that’s something God would do.

Hale, Shannon. The Actor and the Housewife. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 307 [emphasis added]

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHAHAHAHAHA *giggle* *snort* *chortle* Why don’t you recommend mom get a bikini wax while you’re at it, Fiona? I bet Felix isn’t used to hair down there.

bikini wax interesting

The grammar and writing is generally a tad better than the majority of what you see on Wattpad, although the ending is either going to cause you to feel relieved or disappointed, depending on the kind of reader you are.

reader

I recommend this if you’re looking for a frothy beach read. It’s enjoyable enough. You might want to get it from the library, or via cheap e-book deal if that’s available, because I don’t know if you’re likely to want to read it again.

Try not to incur library fees; it's not really worth it.

Try not to incur library fees; it’s not really worth it.

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Dreams & Demons & Other Normal Teen Nonsense

Sappy movies based on fairy tales tell us that our dreams really can come true, if we are very good little boys and girls, and we want them badly enough. But what if you wanted your dreams badly enough to summon a demon? This idea provides the backdrop for Kerstin Gier’s Dream a Little Dream, the first book of the Silver Trilogy.

Personally, I think this is a terrible cover. & why are you showing me the protagonist's face? That's what I have this little thing called "imagination" for...

Personally, I think this is a terrible cover. & why are you showing me the protagonist’s face? That’s what I have this little thing called “imagination” for…

Olivia and her sister are constantly having to move for their somewhat selfish mother, a traveling professor, whose most recent gig is at Oxford. Arriving from the airport to discover their mother has been getting bizz-ay (bom chicka wow-wow) in their absence with an older, balding gentleman, while they’ve been in Switzerland enjoying stinky cheeses with their dad, Olivia and Mia are, to say the least, not happy about it. The book reads quickly and easily, but it’s just a bit bland. Bland The storyline’s actually not that bad. Liv moves to London, and meets a group of super hot upperclassmen who are just normal popular guys. You know, good at basketball, flirting/teasing/ignoring all the girls, and, oh yeah, getting drunk and summoning demons. You know, just boring, normal activities that teenage boys engage in.

...no big thing

…no big thing

Protagonist Liv is really annoying. Although she’s supposed to be a teenager, she often talks like a middle-aged woman. She fits in well with this demon circle because she can access this funky dream hallway and she’s never held hands with a boy, much less had sex with him.

Briefly seen in this other cover version, which I like much better, and hope they use.

The dream hallway: briefly seen in this other cover version, which I like much better, and hope they use.

The virginal aspect, while a common theme in at least literary demonic rites (I’ll be honest, I’m not very knowledgeable about real ones), also really annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with a girl waiting to have sex, but I also don’t have a problem with a girl having sex. This aspect of the book felt a bit slut-shaming to me, which I did not appreciate. Our protagonist is not a “good” girl because she’s never been kissed before; she’s a girl who still pretends boys have cooties. Again, this is fine, it just doesn’t make her a better person than a girl who likes to go on dates and kiss her lipstick off.

Not advocating changing for a guy; just saying that both Sandys are equally lovely.

Not advocating changing for a guy; just saying that both Sandys are equally lovely.

The book picks up in the last twenty pages or so, ending on a cliffhanger that can be seen from a mile away, but resolving the main mystery rather nicely (except for further madonna-whore complex bullshit). The entire book, the protagonist has been fighting the idea of the existence of demons while simultaneously being able to invade the dreams of others via the dream hallway, so how do we reconcile this? Well, it’s not entirely reconciled, because this is a series, after all, and Gier has to keep you reading. Still, the ending was a bit above the rest of the book.

cliffhanger

On my arbitrary scale of book ratings, I give this book: melted ice cream. It’s okay, and I’ll still read it, but it’s not as delicious and far more messy than I would prefer.

Meh. It's okay.

Meh. It’s okay.

Holy Shit, Y’All

On a terrible impulse, I purchased Tumbleweeds, by Leila Meacham, from the Barnes & Noble bargain section. And on an even more terrible binge-read, I actually finished the book. It looks like this:

tumble

Tumbleweeds is the long, rambling saga of three best friends, who meet around the tender age of 11, and form the inevitable love triangle. Except that only one character is likable. And he ends up becoming a priest, which means he doesn’t even get sexy times.

Even these ladies thought the punishment a bit exorbitant.

Even these ladies thought the punishment a bit exorbitant.

Tumbleweeds reminds me of the YA sagas I used to read, particularly the Sweet Valley High editions that gave a delicious, soapy, long history of a family within the Sweet Valley world in an attempt to cash in on the already wild imaginations of teenagers and supposedly give background and greater meaning to characters with whom those teenagers were already acquainted.

As a preteen, I read a lot of stupid shit.

As a preteen, I read a lot of stupid shit.

I don’t ordinarily read family sagas, because they’re generally not my cup of tea. I like salacious gossip regarding real and imaginary people as much as the next gal, but there is often an element of authenticity that is necessary but missing from the saga novels. So instead of feeling connected to the characters, I generally feel like I’m just wading through scenes to get to the sex, much like a romance novel.

engorged

There is nothing wrong with liking the predictability and steaminess of the romance novel, I’m just not much of a romance reader. Although, of course, a well written book is a well written book.

Unfortunately, Tumbleweeds is not a well written book. It’s a romance novel, replete with the predictable plot lines, but with hardly any sex.

omg

If you like the predictability of a romance novel, but are not a fan of the sexy scenes, you might want to pick up Tumbleweeds. Otherwise, I suggest passing up this novel in lieu of other fare. Even as fluffy beach reads go, there are so many better novels out there.

PassLogoOn my indeterminate scale for rating novels, Tumbleweeds earns the status of a used bandaid. #notafan

Ew.

Ew.

Avoiding M. Night Shyamalan

Like many people, I really enjoyed The Sixth Sense. Cute kid, Bruce Willis, suspense, Bruce Willis, a twist I didn’t see coming that brought the whole movie together in a coherent way while helping the viewer feel a sense of closure and finality, and, of course, Bruce Willis.

I might kind of have a thing for Bruce Willis.

I might kind of have a thing for Bruce Willis.

The Sixth Sense, to me, provides proof that the “twist” can be an effective ploy, and that it would be incorrect to say that an author cannot effectively build an entire work around one. I will venture to say that I don’t think this ploy should be utilized very often, and that when it is used, often results in a shallow work, with little substance, that isn’t very enjoyable to read.

Unless you're dancing, avoid The Twist.

Unless you’re dancing, avoid The Twist.

The latest book I have read using this ploy (poorly) and convincing me that the Twist should generally be avoided is The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon.

This book.

This book.

According to this book’s Goodreads page, at least amongst the readers who rated the book, I am in the minority here. So it’s definitely possible that I missed some of the charm of this novel, particularly since I read it while working an accounting internship that generally spanned at least 60 hours per week. Or (more likely) that I am a picky reader, and found fault with a book that is supposed to be flimsy beach read. Or (most likely) that I should stop reading historical fiction novels, because they almost always disappoint me.

& now I feel like Marnie.

& now I feel like Marnie.

I didn’t feel like Lawhon worked especially hard on building up a twenties atmosphere – which personally, I liked. Often, when a writer does historical fiction, so much loving, careful, wonderful research is done, that the book feels a little claustrophobic. When a writer focuses too much on historical accuracy, I usually have trouble getting into the story. & when Lawhon did sneak a twenties reference into her novel that I noticed, it was generally because it felt forced and/or pissed me off. In a particular scene, the Wife wears a Coco Chanel dress that is “the latest fashion,” but allows herself to feel sad that she can’t have kids when another catty politician’s wife remarks that she is “the type” who can pull off that look. Since the whole point of Chanel and flappers was that women didn’t have to adhere to constricting societal stereotypes, it was really disappointing to me that an act of potential female strength and “I don’t give a damn” was turned into a scene of “My boobs aren’t big enough and I’m a bad homemaker because I can’t bear children.” As a woman, and not a prize sow, I would like to think my boyfriend keeps me around for more than my childbearing hips.

This is a sow, not a woman. #Iknowthiscanbeconfusing

This is a sow, not a woman. #Iknowthiscanbeconfusing

The history revolves around the mystery of a NY judge who disappeared (for realz) in 1930. The fictional aspects primarily revolve around the 3 women closest to Justice Crater – his wife, his maid, and his mistress – and what they knew about the judge, as well as what they possibly did to assist in his disappearance.

There is a twist regarding these three women and their involvement near the end of the book, which the book was obviously built around, and which is ineffective, as well as boring. The twist is explicated in a letter written by the mistress to the maid, which makes NO FREAKIN’ SENSE. If you are writing a letter to someone you are in collusion with, you don’t explain the actions of a third person you were also in collusion with and the reasons for that third person’s collusion because, you both already know that. It’s the equivalent of my writing to you: “As you know, this is my blog that you’re reading. I am currently typing on a fancy shmancy laptop computer keyboard to get these letters into WordPress, from whence I will publish this blog post, so that you can read it. Which you are doing right now.” I do not need to write these things to you. You already know them.

I will stop complaining about this, and just leave you with this picture.

I will stop complaining about this, and just leave you with this picture.

And, since I’ve already been spoilery enough, let me discuss one of my favorite scenes. This scene is when the Mistress has fled NY to go back to whatever farm-hick town she’s from, and the husband she abandoned, because she’s preggers and homesick. The husband seems like a decent guy – he takes her in, though the child is obviously not his. And she’s upset b/c he’s sleeping on the couch and she misses him, and also being pregnant and having a baby is hard. Then, shortly after the baby is born, her hubby crawls into bed with her, and they have sex. With the baby sleeping on the bed right next to them. This sounds irresponsible beyond belief. I mean, if you flee NY to protect yourself and your baby, why would you endanger your baby’s life through sexy times? Can’t you guys do it on the floor or something? Just… what? Also – have you seen a new mother? That dazed expression, the glazed over, red eyes, the slow comprehension of anything? Lack of sleep makes a woman look and act really sexy #sarcasm.

This is what Ariel looked like after she had her daughter.

This is what Ariel looked like after she had her daughter.

So I will thus end my spoil-ridden review of this ARC I received, but sadly, did not enjoy. And I leave with these parting words:

free glitter text and family website at FamilyLobby.com
free glitter text and family website at FamilyLobby.com

Book Review: Okay, It’s Official. I love Rainbow Rowell.

I read Fangirl in two days.

Fangirl is a bit fluffier than Eleanor & Park – which was nice. I was looking for a fluffier book to help me escape a bit from the stresses of school, grad school applications, and child-raising. I was looking for a fluffier book, but still a well-written book. I found what I was looking for in Fangirl.

The protagonist of Fangirl, Cath, might be difficult for a lot of people to relate to. She is shy, inexperienced, and scared to break out of her shell. The shell is protective, and if she stays inside of it, she might not experience very much life, but if she breaks out of it, she might get hurt. This extreme shyness, almost an ability to live, will not make sense to many people. But it does make sense to me. I was also very shy when I was in high school, and when I was in college.

There are two flaws with Fangirl.

  1. Pacing. The book takes awhile to get started. It’s still enjoyable to read in the beginning, but at the same time, the reader kind of feels like Is this book going anywhere? But don’t worry, because it does. Keep reading.
  2. Of course, Cath meets people who help her break out of her shell. Yet, at the same time, the reader kind of thinks Yeah, right. Like Cath just happens to meet the people with enough slightly stalkerish persistence to keep trying to become her friend when she keeps pushing them away. And as a formerly extremely shy individual, I can say that yeah, that does seem unlikely. When you’re not open to meeting new people, you tend not to meet new people. At the same time, most novels contain at least one unlikely coincidence, and it wouldn’t be much of a novel without these likable people with stalkerish propensities, so I think we can forgive R squared for this one.

Rowell does a great job with Cath. In the beginning, the reader doesn’t hate Cath, but doesn’t necessarily really like her, either. As this shy, timid character begins to open up to new experiences and friends, the reader grows to like her more and more, just as her acquaintances do as they tend to become friends.

The supporting characters are well done, too. I was particularly a fan of Cath’s roommate, Reagan, whom you don’t see much, but who is a very funny, punk rock kind of gal.

Overall, the novel is well written, can be read quickly, and is full of awkwardness, mistakes, and learning not just to find yourself, but to open yourself up to new experiences. I highly recommend it. On the scale of suckage to awesomeness, this novel warrants five T-rexes and a unicorn.

Read It. Rawr!

Read It. Rawr!

Image Attribution:

By User:tlcoles (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By Billlion at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

By Stefano Bolognini (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Book Review: Hit the Road, Helen!

Let me preface this review by admitting that I am biased. My undergraduate degree was in Classical Civilizations, which, for those who don’t know what that means, means that I studied history and literature, with a focus on the Greeks and Romans. Thus, I have a soft spot for Greek and Roman mythology, but I am also annoyed by poor and/or boring representations of those myths.

Having said that, today I will be discussing Kate McMullan’s Hit the Road, Helen! This book will be available in September 2013, and is a re-telling of the Trojan War, written with a younger audience in mind. I requested this book expecting to be disappointed, but hoping to find an adaptation that my son might like when he’s a bit older.

hit the road, helen

To be honest, I was disappointed.

But, I appreciate what the author is trying to do.

McMullan re-wrote the story using more modern lingo, without the lists, without the graphic description, without the poetry. She wrote it trying to appeal to kids.d maybe it will appeal to kids more than some of the translations already in existence. I’m not sure.

I am sure, as the parent of a ten-month old who will need to read aloud to her child for some time, that I feel like an idiot reading this book out loud (And I can read the Seussian Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? with no problem).

Yet I don’t have a problem with the fact that McMullan altered some of the myths, etc. For the most part, rather than alteration of the mythology, her novel really feels more like an alteration of tone. The gods may be fickle, but the classical Greeks believed in them, at least somewhat, and there is an air of respect for them that is missing from this plebeian version.

I actually kind of like, in general, however, the idea of interpreting the mythology in new ways, thereby creating new myths. After all, there is no “correct” myth. The word “mythology” refers to stories that are malleable, not stagnant. Myths have notably been borrowed from other cultures, altered as time passes, etc.

Euripides’ Medea, for example, while an excellent play, utilized a version of the Jason & Medea myth which scholars commonly believe to have been very infrequently told. It is much more likely that, after Medea killed her husband’s new wife and father, the local townspeople were so upset, they killed her children. This latter version seems particularly likely since the Corinthian citizens burnt a sacrifice to Medea’s children every year – as if they had something for which they needed to atone.

Yet Euripides’ version has withstood the test of time very well, partially because it is so dark and disturbing, and partially because the careful reader cannot help but empathize, to a degree, with Medea. She perpetrated a horrible act, but did so in the belief that it was the only way she could truly punish her husband for his complete abandonment.

The Trojan War is surrounded with mythology. Much of it is told in the Iliad and the Odyssey, of course, but you cannot get the complete story without reading the Homeric Hymns that write down what most Greek citizens knew well enough that the most famous two poems could begin in the middle of the story.

An aspect of Hit the Road, Helen! which I enjoyed is that it compiles all of the Trojan war information into a slim, handy volume.

Overall, I would recommend avoiding Hit the Road, Helen! The irreverent tone of the narrator is annoying, and the myths are dumbed down to an undesirable degree. But maybe that’s just me being a Classics snob.

Book Review: eleanor & park

I literally just finished reading eleanor & park a few minutes ago. It is a book that I would recommend. It was well written, it featured two wonderful protagonists – named, fittingly, Eleanor and Park. It takes place in the eighties, a time period for which I have a soft spot.

Oh, '80s...

Oh, ’80s…

This book is a romance. High school romance, to be exact. Yet it also deals with much, much more.

First, let’s address the fact that, yes, it does deal with the “status” cliches that are abundant in John Hughes movies. Something that I loved about this book, though, is that even though it occurred in Omaha, it was still a multicultural book. It was refreshing to see black and Asian teenagers, as well as white teenagers, instead of only the rich white kid vs. poor white kid dichotomy.

Second, let’s talk about perspective. The book is told in third person, but primarily focuses on how Eleanor or Park perceives the situations occurring. While the book does frequently shift between the viewpoints of these two characters, it was very easy to follow along, and helped the novel flow well.

In particular, it helped provide breaks from some fairly bleak situations. Eleanor does not have the best living situation.

Warning: From hereon out, spoilers will ensue. Read at your own risk of finding out what happens, if you have not yet read the novel.

spoiler alert

The domestic abuse situation Eleanor and her family were in made me angry. Her stepfather is super abusive, and I understand that sometimes women don’t value themselves enough, so when he started hitting her mother, maybe her mother stayed, anyway. Because by that point, she was sucked in. And he was sweet, sometimes, etc., etc.

But when it’s affecting your kids? That’s a totally different story.

When you and your teenage daughter both feel that she needs to take a bath right after school so that she’s not in danger of doing so while your husband is home, there’s a problem. When your husband is shooting his gun to convince teenage boys to stop playing basketball, there’s a problem. When your teenage daughter can’t even talk to a boy without your husband getting weird and calling her a slut, there’s a problem.

The subtle insinuations that Eleanor is worried she will be raped, along with the obvious statements that she is worried she will be beaten or thrown out of the house, are not merely alarming. They are indicative of how much her mother is not caring enough.

As the mother of a beautiful boy who is almost one (!), this art Eleanor’s mother had perfected of pretending not to notice how inappropriate her husband is was not merely alarming, it was enraging. I was frightened for Eleanor, and I was so angry at her mother, I was almost crying tears of rage. If I even thought anyone was going to physically harm my son, that person wouldn’t see my son or I again.

This bird's got nothing on me...

This bird’s got nothing on me…

And I know that resources for mothers were not as good in the eighties. Now, we have Safehouse and ads and pamphlets that tell us repeatedly that women don’t need to live in situations like that, and that there is help. (Although the media also produces movies, songs, etc., that promote the idea that women are objects that are there to please men, insinuating just the opposite. Is it wrong to kick a chair? No. So if you promote the idea that a woman is just an object there to please men, you are promoting the idea that she is less than human, and therefore not worthy of the respect or treatment that “real people” (aka, men) deserve.  That song “Blurred Lines?” I hate that song. It actually says that “no” means “yes.” Robin Thicke & Pharrell? You are horrible, horrible people.) But it turns out, she could have called her husband and asked him to help her figure things out. Or her brother, whom Eleanor ends up turning to. Again, when it’s just you being hit, that’s one thing. But once you’re worried about your kids (assuming you don’t realize that once your spouse is hitting you, there’s a good chance he’s going to start hitting your kids at some point if you don’t leave), it’s time to talk to whoever you need to to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.