Tag Archive: reading challenge


Reading Challenge – The Paris Wife

Once again I picked up the challenge to read a chick lit book for the reading challenge set by Samantha at Chicklitplus. This month’s book was a bit more work as I went for historical fiction that focused on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. It is the second novel by Paula McLain called The Paris Wife.

 

Here is the description from Better World Books:

In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson, a quiet 28-year-old, meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris and become the golden couple in a lively group of expats, including Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. But the hard-drinking and fast-living cafe life doesn’t celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with self-doubt and jealousy and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the greatest romances in history.

Image from Better World Books.com

So we get to see inside the life of Hemingway and his first wife who had a few inheritances that provided for their life overseas. This allowed Hemingway to work without having to earn a living most of the time. He did work for a few publications but his temperament was not made for working in an office and playing politics.

What we see is Hadley’s viewpoint as a woman who believed that her love had real talent that needed to be worked at and tempered. As they move to Paris and begin to meet other writers, Ernest shares some of his conversation with Hadley about literature. That part is fascinating for me to see how Gertrude Stein influenced him.

What is heart-breaking is to see how Hemingway did not value Hadley as the story moves on. I could not tell if he actually felt guilt for the affairs, the crushes, the heartbreak he would cause Hadley. Then again, I am not sure he thought about much else than his own needs and wants.

Hadley describes how the man changes over the years that they are in Paris, how he goes from being neat and clean-shaven to a man proud to be in his shabby jacket and long hair. Perhaps by this time he felt like a real ex-patriot and therefore had to dress/look the part.  she is not comfortable with these changes but realizes that he is exploring a new persona as he develops his talent and grows in success.

Photo by Bob Perkoski, Image from Freshwatercleveland.com

This book is supposed to be about Hadley, her thoughts and feelings during her time as ‘the Paris wife.’ But what I found it to be was more about what Hadley thought about Ernest, how he did everything, how he saw things, how he was the center of her world. And that includes life after Bumbly was born.

But I have to keep reminding myself in what era this book was written. Women were not expected to have a ‘life’ outside of marriage. Considering the years Hadley spent being depressed after the death of a favorite sister and the suicide of her father followed by taking care of a sick mother, I am surprised she had any will left at all.

Strangely enough, once she meets Ernest and they fall in love, Hadley has the will the drive to live differently than what would have been expected of her by her family.

Paula McLain has written a book that captures the time period, the players, the emotions of the time. We can hear the music, taste the alcohol, and see the running of the bulls. In the beginning, we see how these two crazy kids fall for each other as they have both come from families with difficult histories.

While slow at times, I found the book to be very interesting as I entered a world I had studied but never quite understood while I was in school. The wildness of the era, the constant drinking, the need to be ‘bohemian,’ the talent that constantly flowed like a springtime mountain stream.

To be honest, I would read this book again. That is the highest compliment I can give it.

Some books I don’t care if I ever see again after the initial reading. This one makes me want to explore it again while listening to music from that era. Afterwards, I will find Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris just so I can look for the references I missed the first time.

Who wants to join me for a trip back to 1920s Paris?

Editor’s Note: While researching more about Hemingway and Hadley, I also read boards on “Hemingway and Gellhorn” which is a movie about his third marriage to the legendary war correspondent.  One poster stated that all of Hemingway’s wives latched onto to him for his fame and money. However, in the case of Hadley, it was Hemingway who latched on to her. She had some money and an emotional stability to help settle him while he was beginning his craft. She believed in his talent before he was published as a novelist or knew Stein, Ezra Pound or even Sherwood Anderson. 

I realize that Hemingway is a hero to many but he was a pill to live with – as we see in this novel and other biographical anecdotes. Maybe the later wives ‘latched on’ to him but it did not take much persuading either. 

Now for that favorite time of the month when I talk about the book I’ve read for the ChickLitPlus reading challenge.

Last month, I totally bailed on the reading challenge. Not that I meant to but July just passed by so fast.  I missed out on a bunch of things.

So I did what I do best. I watched a few more episodes of Ghost Adventures and rested my feet as they hurt, hurt, hurt. Then I got off my butt and started getting myself into gear.

I cleaned a few things, did some gardening, got ready for the rummage sale at church as well as the back-to-school chores. I still need to clean up the area around my bed but I have been throwing stuff out.

One of the rules for this reading challenge is to read two debut novels during the year. I have read one debut novel this year and jumped at the chance to read another that appears on one of Samantha’s blog tours.

Image from Barnesandnoble.com

So this month’s selection is Breaking The Rules by Cat Lavoie. This first novel from the Quebec province native is set in New York City and feels as if this is written by a native who knows their way around.

The story focuses on lifelong best friends, Roxanne and Ollie, who live together in a small but great apartment.

Ollie is leaving soon to take a new assignment in London as a Green architect.   Roxanne plans to stay in her position as personal assistant to a Public Relations maven. She dreams of owning her own restaurant and is a great cook.

On his last night in New York, Roxanne throws a farewell party and manages to forget to invite Ollie’s girlfriend. Roxanne’s boyfriend shows up outside but does not join the party because he does not like any of Roxanne’s friends.

The morning Ollie leaves, he has to tell Roxy she cannot come to the airport because Rachel, the girlfriend, does not want her there. So she sees him off and before Ollie gets in the cab, they share a stunning kiss that makes them re-think everything.

However, life cannot stop. Ollie gets on the plane and Roxy goes back to work. One night she comes home to find both of her sisters at her apartment. Izzy is a lawyer having a mid-life crisis. Steffi is six months pregnant and refusing to talk about the father.

Roxy also receives a slight promotion at work, helping to publicize the new restaurant of a star chef. And her fiancee, Ethan, has different ideas about their wedding than she does. Oh and there is the looming mother-in-law who uses her nose to look down at Roxy.

With all of that action, there is plenty of drama to draw on. Roxy’x bad boss, her battle-ax future-mother-in-law, rollicking best friends and a boyfriend that is a jack-ass. Why does the slightly over-weight girl always find the one guy who treats them like crap?

Author Cat Lavoie; Image from Chick Lit Plus

Anyway, once I started reading it was really difficult to stop. I stayed up way later than I should have because I enjoyed being with Roxy and her sisters. Roxy is fun, an admitted procrastinator and someone who feels stuck in life. She loves food, is a loyal friend but also lives on the river of Denial. In other words, she is a lot like most of us who has a domineering sister, a cute baby sister and parents who try to have their girls be as independent as possible.

The writing is lively and interesting. And when the twists start coming, I thought they were imaginative and real. Most characters are developed well and we understand why Roxy hangs with them. Why she is in love with Ethan is a mystery.

This was a great book to read for relaxation and I would recommend it. Cat Lavoie has a good ear for dialogue and how bad people act in various situations.

I also need to mention that this was my first time with an e-book. If Lavoie’s book had not been a good read, I would have given up on it. I am not a fan of reading from the computer with the light in the back ground and my having to sit up the whole time. I like to read in bed while lying down and this was not a good experience for me.

You are probably wondering how it all ends. Do Ollie and Roxy figure out their feelings? What is going on with Izzy and Steffi? What happens with the bad boss?   Is Ethan really involved in this relationship? Well, you know how it goes, read the book to find out.

This is Cat Lavoie’s debut novel and it can be found at Barnes and Noble in a nook version for $2.99.

Finding a book for this month’s challenge for the Chick Lit Challenge was difficult.

I am a mystery fan as well as a chick lit fan. I became an adult during the Nora Ephron era of great romantic comedy films.

That means I expect a lot from my books and movies. I want crisp dialogue, commentary on pop culture, and sincerity from the main characters.

After a recent visit to my mother’s house, I came back with a pile of books. She belongs to a mystery book club and gets three new mysteries every month. These mysteries tend to have women as the lead characters. I thought for sure I would find something in the pile. There was a book about a woman finding her husband who disappeared and a grad student who solved mysteries in between classes. And yet none of them made me excited.

Image from Harlequin.com

Then I get to the latest Biscuit McKee mystery,  Indigo As An Iris by Fran Stewart.

What I like about this series is that it feels like a small town in the way people interact with each other. I would say this town has a population of about 2,000 – 3,000 people judging by the variety of businesses it can support. Biscuit is the librarian who came to the town a few years back and married the police chief. I am not sure if she solves the mysteries as much as she is our eyes and ears, our entry into the small town in Georgia.

In this book, we learn that some one has been kidnapped. It is a woman with beautiful hair and the possible candidates start piling up – figuratively not  literally. But it takes a while to reveal the motive and the acts of bravery amidst real life happenings of dying spouses and sibling arguments. And then there is the cat who manages to tie everything and everyone together. You cannot help but begin to love Marmalade who seems to know when things are happening very far away.

That is what I love about this series.

What I do not love are some of the stupid comments made by Marmy to appear as if she is always involved or how much others comment on how it appears the cat is replying to or asking various questions. Sometimes the action is slow in a bad way of slow. The topper is Biscuit’s husband Bob always saying “woman” when he talks to her. I hate it and it sounds derogatory although it is meant differently. We are told to make allowances for Bob because he is a Vietnam vet who still gets nightmares. I try but that “woman” thing gets on my nerves.

For those looking for a book set in a small town, for those who do not mind a slow pace meant to mimic a small southern town, for those who can handle the slow burn this is the book you have been looking for.

Right about now I am looking for a quickly paced action-adventure story.

What are you reading this month?

 

Book Cover Image from IMDb.com

It is that favorite time of the month when I talk about a recent Chick Lit book that I have read for the reading challenge sponsored by Chick Lit Plus.

I have enjoyed this challenge as it has forced me out of my comfort zone of reading only Jane Austen. I love Jane, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes you have to force yourself to read other authors.

This month I decided to delve into a vampire novel. I walked around my favorite used book store and picked out something that appealed to the eye. Real Vampires Don’t Diet by Gerry Bartlett.

So this time around our vampire protagonist is a girl who wears a size 12. She has curves with real breasts and hips. Gloriana is also 400 years old and currently mentoring a new vampire who happens to be a rock star.

In this series, vampires cannot eat or drink, they will get a huge hangover if they do. And they must sleep when the sun comes up otherwise they pass out where ever they might be and the sun, yep, it can do damage.

In this book, Glory’s boyfriend is gone in order to save his daughter and Glory must handle Ray the rockstar when he decides to go on a Jack Daniel’s Binge. So she has to babysit the man and help him recover. In the meantime they get mixed up with a siren who forces the duo to bring her three males vampires or they are burning in hell forever.

I guess I was expecting a good romp, some vampire action,  and snarky dialogue. I read reviews of this book at Barnes-and-Noble which raved about what a fun read this book and others in the series were, how they were addicting. When I went over to Amazon, I could have sworn I was reading the exact same reviews.

But here is what they did not tell you.

Every other sequence is about sex. Maybe it is one character trying to seduce the other or wishing for the other or imagined sex or actual sex. But there is a lot of sex in this book and it gets a little graphic at times. After a while, it was boring. Ho-hum, she is lusting aster Ray but resisting because she loves Jerry. Ho hum, she is about to have sex with Jerry. Ho-hum, she is meeting other handsome vamps and thinking about having sex with them.

Then there are the actions sequences which are quick but nearly deadly. And yet, Glory wins every time except with the Siren. Watch her take out bad guys, watch her constantly hunt mortals, watch her fight off advances from guys who want to have sex with her.

The reviews raved by the fun banter in this series but what I found was drivel. If it wasn’t a bunch of complaining, it was sex talk or drooling over whoever was the sexiest body in the room. By page 20, I was bored with the characters. By page 70, I began shifting around the book to see how it progressed. I have not finished the book, I am not going to finish the book. But I am putting it on the pile of books that are going to the used-book store.

This was a sorry excuse of paper and Gerry Bartlett owes me an apology. If I am promised witty banter, that is what I want  and not the soft porn or half-assed action that I got instead. Would I recommend this? Only if it was the only thing available while at a summer resort before heading to the beach. You won’t mind ruining this book with water, sand and sunscreen because those three items are more interesting than this book.

Have you been disappointed by a book lately?

It is that time of the month again to talk about books that one would classify as chick lit.

I have been doing this reading challenge set up by Chick Lit Plus and it has been a blast to make myself read some new books. Thanks to Samantha for hosting this challenge.

This month, I chose It Takes a Witch By Heather Blake. Heather is a part of the Deadly Divas, a group of mystery writers who know how to put on their boas and have fun. I get regular postcards with book covers on them. I think they make great art for my refrigerator so I will remember to go buy the books.

While this book is not by a new author, it is the first in her new Wishcraft mystery series. Heather normally write under the name of Heather Webber.

Book cover image from Barnes&Noble.com

The story takes place in Salem, Mass, home of all things wonderfully witchy. What visitors to Enchanted Village do not know is that this is one of the few places where crafters live together, knowingly.

Merriweather sisters, Darcy and Harper, have recently moved in with their Aunt Ve after learning that their mother was a crafter. It was a fact their father never wanted the girls to know. But since his recent death, Aunt Ve told the girls the truth about their mother –  and themselves. They decide to leave Ohio to live with Aunt Ve and figure out the next part of their lives.

We meet Darcy as she is to play the tooth fairy, complete with a pink tutu and glitter. But soon Darcy is on the heels of a mystery when a prickly young woman is found dead in the back alley and the mayor of the town is holding the gun. That he is also Aunt Ve’s boyfriend makes things more personal.

Darcy is slowly learning the ways of a wish crafter, making new friends, and working out clues in order to save her aunt’s beau. A complication in all of this is Nick Sawyer, a former police officer Darcy wishes she was not attracted to because she is still recovering from her divorce of two years back.

I read this book in a day and loved every moment. Ok, most moments but I wanted to read more. The characters were fun, and the witchiness was not played too cutely, although when the whole town is set up for it, how can it not?

Most mysteries give away the clues and you are left catching up to the character. But this time, I was nowhere near to close. And there is a surprise at the end that you may not have guessed at all.

Since this is the first in a series, I know I am going to pick up more of these books as I can. When the next book comes out in September of this year, I will be ready and waiting.

Have you read anything new recently?

It is Reading Challenge time again and I am really excited this month.

My choice for this month features a writer who is a friend, we have worked together in the past, and she has guest posted on my blog. I am talking about Kim Strickland. I love her writing because it makes me laugh on a regular basis.

Now that I have the full disclosure done, let me say that Kim has a new novel coming out called Down at the Golden Coin – her second – and she sent me a review copy. I read it fairly quickly despite the fact I was seriously distracted by the Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio (which I will write about later). At first I was not too keen on the location – until we get hit with the sucker punch of …”Maybe I am the answer to your prayer.”

Cover Image from Eckhartz Press

The story starts and ends in a laundromat – The Golden Coin to be exact. It is not a yuppie laundromat with ferns and a bar next door. This one is hot and humid with a limited selection of drinks in the pop machine. Our protagonist, Annie, is going through a rough time and wishing to find a way to go. That is when she meets Violet, a cobalt blue-haired punker chick who is not as tough as she may appear, and states she is a messiah. Specifically, she is Annie’s messiah. She is here to help Annie get her life back on track even if things end badly. Which they tend to do for her.

As I and other patrons of the Golden Coin listen to their conversation, I can’t tell you how much I found myself agreeing with the conversation – from both sides. I understood where Annie was coming from and understood what Violet was teaching her.

I loved this book because I related to Annie. I know what it is like to get fired from a job, to lose that income and prestige, to feel like you are spinning your wheels but are helpless to do anything else. That is where our personal similarities end, but trust me, I know Annie.

I also enjoyed the writing. It was bright, introspective, unfailingly honest. Sarcasm is spoken well here. I am the type of person who reads for beautiful descriptive sentences. There is this one… “Like no other man I’ve known, Jake reeks of success.” It tells me everything I need to know about this guy, at least what he looks like – his confidence, his swagger.

I also look for characters to remain true to their basic personality traits. When a messiah comes along to give you a message, I wonder how any of us would act but I knew Annie was being real. She was scared but intrigued, as much as she said she wanted real answers the truth of her life frightened her. More importantly, I never felt that Annie, Violet or the other characters acted unlike themselves. They stayed true to themselves, stayed true to their codes which can be really hard when the writer is fighting for a happy ending.

The book was worth my time, a worthwhile read. If Kim tells me she has another book coming out, you can bet I am in line waiting for my copy.

Down at the Golden Coin is being released on March 20th. You can order your copy at Eckhartz Press.

Remember when I said I was participating in a reading Challenge from ChickLit Plus?  The rules are that I have to read a book of Chick Lit once a month and review it on the blog.

I think I picked a good one this month.

Book Cover Image from barnesandnoble.com

I went for a historical fiction romance novel called The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig that I found in Paperback Reader in Kankakee. This is one of those stories that is a book within a book, a story within a story. The overlying story is about a history graduate student going to England to research a historical figure known as the Pink Carnation. This takes Eloise to London and the home of a grande dame as well as in the way of a handsome lord.

The second story is set in the Regency period during the semi-peaceful era between France and England, this book sets to tell the tale of the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation.

These are fictional spies in the manner of the Scarlet Pimpernel who foiled the French as they try to kill off their aristocracy. In this book, the Purple Gentian takes over for the Scarlet Pimpernel, rescuing English aristocracy accused of being spies.

That means we get cold-war type action, gothic Parisian houses and maidens looking for action. Not sexual but as spies. Our heroine, Amy, gets both but not before she before she brings in an entire family when a rescue is needed.

The hero of our story, Richard, is a complex character who is trying to remember all of his duties to God and country while his mother is trying to find him a wife. His work is as a scholar with the French government, placing him in Paris most of the time.

Amy is the daughter of an English woman and a French Duke who lost his life to Madame Guillotine. But now her brother is grown up and needs a ‘lady of the house.’ So Amy plans to find the Purple Gentian and join his group to save her beloved France from Napoleon.

While Amy can grow tiresome – I swear the girl has ADD or at least too much energy and enthusiasm – other characters spring into action to bring reason and a plan into action. That is what keeps the book interesting. The story with Eloise could be interesting but it is really a wrapper for the Purple Gentian. By not giving it enough depth, I found I was not really interested in Eloise and her battles with the lord who did not want her looking at family papers and solving the mystery.

I think I would read this book again and I am currently thinking about getting the sequel, The Masque of the Black Tulip, which I also saw at the Paperback Reader.

Do you have any Chick Lit suggestions for my challenge?