Pumped Up On Reading, Again

Since my last book-lover-y post, I've read a dozen books. I think. I lose track.

Mostly, I've stuck to my chick-lit-loving roots, but I have strayed here and there. (Don't judge, lest you be sent the bad self-help tomes stacking up in Le Receptionist's office.)

My mom used to marvel at how quickly I read books, yet she always found a way to feed that particular beast. Instead of a mall rat, I was a library rat. And if I finished the stack I brought home weekly before the next trip, I would borrow from my mom's stash. As I grew older, I would put aside books I thought my mom would enjoy.

After the break, you'll find 100 words or less on the titles I've most recently pilfered, in somewhat-random order — and whether Mom should check them out. . .


First, the novels:

The Blonde Theory by Kristin Harmel: Gorgeous, intelligent, successful brunette is unlucky in love because . . . she's a smart girl with brown hair? Um, yeah. She's also pretty self-centered, but that's beside the point. She and her (of course) gorgeous blond friends experiment with the idea that if the protagonist acts like a blond bimbo, she'll find herself a man. I didn't have to read ahead to know what happens. [Spoiler alert: When she drops the act, she gets a man.] The little epilogue twist didn't quite save this one from being as formulaic as the theory itself. Oh, and a note: If the quote on the front cover is about the author's previous work, that doesn't exactly bode well for this one. The author's previous novel may have been “hilarious,” but The Blonde Theory was not.

Frenemies by Megan Crane: Stuck-in-college-mode librarian finds her plan for growing up (a.k.a. turning 30) dashed when she discovers her new boyfriend kissing her sometime-friend. Her best friends forever don't fully support her vengeance. So now what? Some very early clues let you know exactly what's going to happen here. (I can't be the only girl who knew exactly why a character in the first chapter was forgoing alcohol for the evening because it's her hubby's turn to be the designated drinker.) Despite all that, it's a breezy read.

The Continuity Girl by Leah McLaren: Script supervisor with a perfectly consistent life shakes things up by impulsively leaving her job — and the country — to pursue life as a “sperm bandit” in the hopes of getting knocked-up. A fun stew of people inhabit McLaren's world, making for an enjoyable page-turner.

Slacker Girl by Alexandra Koslow: Leisure artist flounders to save the career she didn't know she wanted. All for the attention of the nerdy-cute boss. And all the way, I couldn't help but scream, “Grow up, already! Please!” She doesn't, by the way. Excuse me while I go find a perfect little café at which I can avoid my life. . . .

Left Bank by Kate Muir: Perfect Paris-society couple (beautiful American movie star and celebrated philosopher) lose their neglected, precocious daughter at PlayWorld (think EuroDisney). Jump back in time to see how it all fell apart, then catch up to the here and now to discover how things cannot stay the same. Engaging read despite the predictable “happily ever after” ending.

Sparkles by Louise Bagshawe: Old-fashioned, Sidney Sheldon-style romance novel with all the best Dynasty touches. Seven years after the powerful head of a jewelry firm disappears, his wife has him declared deceased so she can get everything in order for their only son, who will inherit everything in just three years. Why does she choose to do so three years in advance? Who cares? All the dysfunction of the powerful family comes crashing down, and secrets are revealed. It's dishy and fun and . . . I'm so recommending this one to my mom.

Golden Country by Jennifer Gilmore: Beautifully told multigenerational tale, tracing three Jewish-immigrant families through several decades. The American Dream is realized and reimagined, with all the accompanying heartache and triumph. Loved this book. Another one I'm telling my mom about.

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward: Driven, “gonzo-style” journalist careens from heartbreaking South Africa to bone-breaking Mexico to heart-saddening Massachusetts and back to South Africa. The brutality of apartheid is explored, as is the brutality of the amnesty hearings that followed. The novel jumps from past to present to past, and one time line threw me a bit when I figured out the point-of-view it was told from. I needed a box of Kleenex nearby — and Mom will, too.

Now, the memoirs:

House of Happy Endings by Leslie Garis: Intriguingly, Garis tells the tale of her literary family as though she is the age at which things happen. We see her new family home and her debonair parents as though we, too, are 5. Her prolific grandparents (Howard authored the Uncle Wiggly books and co-authored with wife Lillian tales of the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift and Judy Jordan) move in, and we can sense the fear of her grandmother and adoration of her grandfather. Father Roger deteriorates with frightening speed once his parents move in, and mother Mabel struggles to keep the family from fracturing beyond repair. If the events had happened in the present, diagnoses of ADHD and bipolar disorder would be bandied about. Instead, there's a sense of ah, what we did not know! The book loses a little momemtum in the third part, when Garis steps out of her time-appointed voice to quote from medical reports, but overall, it's an engrossing tale of growing up in the shadows of fame and brilliance. It'll make Mom cry.

I, California by Stacey Grenrock Woods: Meandering memoir that's supposedly “brilliant” (at least, according to The Know-It-All author A.J. Jacobs). I got lost trying to keep up with Woods' train of thought. My favorite chapter was the one titled “One Indulgent Melody.” It was also the most cohesive. When I turned the last page, I felt something akin to relief. Maybe I'm just not ready for Woods' brilliance.

Dark at the Roots by Sarah Thyre: Poignantly humorous, Thyre's memoir of growing up poor in the South was actually brilliant. Maybe instead of my mom, I should send this one to Stacey Grenrock Woods. . . .

Patrice Marsters started at OC Weekly as an intern, just before the first issue was published. She is now the associate editor of the paper, serves on the board of the Orange County Press Club, and mentors aspiring writers and editors at Newport Harbor High School. In her spare time, Ms. Marsters co-leads a multi-level Girl Scout troop, creates baked goods, and rants at inanimate objects (including her computer) about her grammatical and writing pet peeves.

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