Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Office Hours

Author: Lucy Kellaway
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Book Group)
Release Date: February 7, 2011
Genre: Women's Fiction

In Office Hours is a tragic romance, following two women, working in the same office though in different departments and at different levels, who each have a romance with a co-worker - in Bella's case with her boss, and in Stella's case with her assistant. Switching back and forth between the two stories, which intertwine at points, the book details all the steps of the relationships - from the first tiny buds to the dramatic end of each, and finally to the closure each woman attains when it's all over.

I love this book! Besides feeling like I got an accurate picture of what goes on in an office and how relationships and gossip work in this setting, I acutely felt the ups and downs of each saga. And there are many of both! It felt so real, each event following so naturally from the other, and the emotions feeling so authentic and so clearly portrayed.

The emotional roller-coaster both characters go though totally affected me. I felt along with each of them (so I guess it's a good thing that the arcs of the two stories follow each other pretty closely, or else I really would have been up and down and up and down...!). Even when they were doing things that made no sense and I was saying "no, no, don't do that!" I understood why they were doing such ridiculous things, and I could really feel how love makes you do crazy things that you would never do otherwise.

I like the structure of the book as well. The love and romance (if you could call it that) are grounded in real life, they don't exist in a vacuum - it's very clear how the affairs affect each woman's (and the men's) life at work and outside of work. The different parts of the story are so closely interwoven that all the various pieces work together to create the fuller picture of what's going on. I do like, though, that the outside world is marginalized, which gives the effect of magnifying the romances to epic proportions, which seems to be what the lovers would feel - obsessing with the affair to the point that everything else fades to be only a minor irritation, and disappears whenever they're with their lovers.

The e-mail technique works really well, too. The writing and thinking and re-writing and re-thinking and re-re-writing sounds so real, because that is what actually happens in real life - thinking about how each word sounds before hitting send, hitting send and then regretting it...

I kept flipping back to re-read parts of the book, because each page is filled with so much emotion, and I definitely will be reading this book again in the future! And it'll be released on my birthday!

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Book Group for providing a digital copy for review.

In My Mailbox 9

In My Mailbox is a meme started by The Story Siren, where bloggers post any new books they bought, received, borrowed, etc.

Once again, I succumbed and got a whole lot of books - although I've been stuffing in reading time wherever I can over the week, so it's not like it's totally pointless to get these books! The thing is, I feel an obligation to read and review books from NetGalley as soon as possible, so I have to keep renewing the library books (which I read on Shabbos [Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath] when I can't use my iPod) sitting on my shelf for weeks!
(Excuse the picture - I'm working on learning how to create a collage of all my new books, and this is the best I could do - so far! - in PowerPoint. I'll learn all the ins and outs soon, I hope!)

From NetGalley:
The Long Road Home, by Mary Alice Monroe
Against the Wind, by Kat Martin
Raider's Heart, by Marcia Gruver
In Office Hours, by Lucy Kellaway
What Can't Wait, by Ashley Hope Perez
Savannah Grey, by Cliff McNish
The Betrayal of Maggie Blair, by Elizabeth Laird
The Kiss Test, by Shannon McKelden
Fiona: Stolen Child, by Gemma Whelan
Drinking Closer to Home, by Jessica Anya Blau
Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

From the library:
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
The Ladies' Paradise, by Emil Zola

From my school's book sale (from which I hoped to get some good scholarly books but only found a chick lit novel!):
Cause Celeb, by Helen Fielding

So I've got a lot of good books! I started In Office Hours, and I'm really liking it. It's about two women, switching between each one's point of view, who work in the same office and who both have office romances.

I'm so looking forward to Unearthly  and Delirium! I've been reading so many good things about those two, and they seem right up my alley. Besides, who can resist such covers?

Ender's Game and The Ladies' Paradise are both old books and both were recommended to me by people in school, Ender's Game for its great science fiction and The Ladies' Paradise for its satirical imagery, so I'm looking forward to those as well.

Thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, HarperCollins, Carina Press, Gemma Media, Harlequin, Lerner Publishing Group, Hachette Book Group, and Barbour Publishing Inc. for providing free galley downloads for review!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lipstick Laws

Author: Amy Holder
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 4, 2011
Genre: Young Adult

This is Mean Girls, only better - much better! What I found lacking in the resolution of Mean Girls is addressed in The Lipstick Laws, and the plot - but I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's what happens:

April Bowers is not the new girl at school - she was last year - but she may as well be, for all anyone notices her. She is overjoyed when Britney Taylor, the most popular girl in the grade, invites her to sit with her group at lunch. Although Haley, who moved away last year, warns her not to get involved with Britney, April is too desperate for a social life to listen. By the time Britney presents her with the Lipstick Laws, April is in way over her head. And then when Britney kicks her out of the group for an infraction of the Lipstick Laws and proceeds to make her life miserable, April, along with fellow Lipstick Lawbreakers, vows to get even with Britney.

I love the tone of the book. It's fresh and open, almost conversation-like, as if April is telling you the story. (The use of present tense to tell the story helps with that!) You hear April's way of thinking underlying all the events, and seeing it from her perspective helps the complexity of the plot that I like so much.

Because the plot is complex - it's not just about hurt girls getting even, it's about character and social issues more than that. The peripheral characters are actually sort of integral to the plot, because April's interactions with each of them propels her thoughts and reactions about the main plot-line. That's great, because it makes the story that much fuller, and it makes it a worthwhile read, not just catfights.

I love the ending of the book. I didn't see it coming - I hoped for something like it, but the way it's written kept me hoping, not knowing what would happen. I like how Britney does get her comeuppance, but April doesn't do major damage to her character in the process.

All in all, a really really great book!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and to netGalley for providing me with a digital copy of The Lipstick Laws for review.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Mermaid's Mirror

Author: L. K. Madigan
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Release Date: October 4, 2010
Genre: YA Fantasy

This is a case where you can judge a book by its cover - it matches the cool, misty atmosphere of the whole book!

Lena is a normal girl living in her beach-side town - except that her father won't let her learn how to surf. And then she starts sleepwalking and finding herself on the beach, and she keeps reaching for something that isn't there. And then, on one of her solitary works along the beach, she sees a mermaid far off in the sea. Determined to see her again, Lena takes surfing lessons from her boyfriend's sister and goes surfing alone on the waves where she saw the mermaid - the most dangerous beach. There, the mermaid gives her a key, for which Lena sets about finding a lock. She finds out startling information about her supposed-dead mother, information that her father had kept from her all these years, and she goes to meet her mermaid mother when she calls for her. She joins her under the sea in the mer-village, but eventually has to make the choice between her land family and her sea family.

As I said, I love the atmosphere in the book. Fitting for a sea-side - and in-sea - setting, the feeling of mist in the air followed me throughout the story, adding to the mystical quality of the events. The tone is just so great. Especially the parts about Lena losing her memories - it happens so gradually, interwoven with the other events, that it feels real and natural.

And the characters in The Mermaid's Mirror are so real! Early on, I noticed that Kai has a distinctive voice and I could tell when he was speaking (or texting) without reading the dialogue tags. Although his is the most obvious, every character's personality is unique and fully developed, and I was able to feel along with them (or dislike them, in Max's case) the whole time.

The one complaint I have about this book is about the resolution of the problem. It seems to me that the main problem of the story, the one which everything else built up to and which seems to be the theme of the story, is solved very quickly without much explanation. It's a hard choice she has to make - stay with the mother she's been missing for so long or return to her father, stepmother, and little brother who are grieving so terribly - and I felt we should have seen her thought process more clearly.

Still, this is a book I think I'll return to, because even though I find it lacking in that way, I love the style and characters of the story!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy for review!

Trickster's Girl

Author: Hilari Bell
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: January 3, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal

Kelsa lives in 2098, but her life isn't much better ours today. Although the cars and technology are more advanced, and security is tighter even between states, the rate of deaths from cancer is on the rise with no cure in sight, and a terrorist-released bacteria is killing the trees all over. But on the night that Kelsa's dad is buried after he died from cancer, a boy appears - a boy who claims that magic is responsible for keeping the world going and that humans damaged this magic - and that Kelsa is the one who can help him put things right. Kelsa joins Raven on a trip across borders to revive the magic and stop the destruction, but their trip isn't all light - some of Raven's people don't want the humans saved and chase Kelsa and Raven, trying to kill them. Trying to stay one step ahead, Kelsa and Raven push on, strengthening the magic as they go.

The imagery in this book is what struck me most - so it wasn't so surprising to read on Amazon that the author made the trip that Kelsa and Raven take herself! The changes in weather and the landscapes are so beautifully described that I felt like I myself was on the trip with Kelsa. The details of camping and supplies are also really real, so aside from the plot, the book felt like a travel book at many points! That's not to say there was no plot - on the contrary, the plot is just as detailed as the nature, and just as real-sounding.

The dynamics between Kelsa and Raven are really authentic. Although Raven is supposed to be a god of some sort, he acts like any know-it-all teenage boy, and Kelsa responds as a self-assured teenage girl would. Their bickering sounds so real, and the way they stand up for each other and look out for each other even after fighting is also true to life. Kelsa and Raven are both really likable for themselves, and I got attached to Kelsa - too bad it looks like she won't be featuring much in the next book!

I would have liked to see more of Kelsa dealing with her grief for her father and her strained relationship with her mother. Those points are mentioned, but they're sort of glossed over until the end. The rest of the story, though, is told in a way that pulls you along and leaves you breathless, leading up to the fast pace of the final scenes and the end of the book.

I was very intrigued by the end of the book, and I'm looking forward to Traitor's Son!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and to NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of Trickster's Girl for review.

The Summer I Turned Pretty

Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Released: April 6, 2010 (paperback)
Genre: Young Adult

Belly (Isabel) spends every summer at the beach with her mother, her mother's friend Susannah, and Susannah's two boys, Conrad and Jeremiah. She's been in love with Conrad since she was ten, but he still treats her like a little sister. And this summer, he's surly and keeps to himself so that Belly hardly sees him. A new boy, Cam, distracts her from Conrad as they develop a relationship, and Jeremiah also notices Belly for the woman she is turning into. But no matter how hard Belly tries to get over Conrad, her heart still belongs to him. With all that happens over this summer, Belly still hopes that Conrad will return her love.

Belly is one of those characters that has major flaws but you love her anyway. She doesn't come off looking very good with how she deals with Cam, who seems like a nice boy, but as a reader, you totally understand her feelings and forgive her, hoping that she gets clarity, and gets what she wants. Conrad is a bit mysterious, but you can see why Belly loves him through the many flashbacks throughout the story.

I love the way the flashbacks are done. Woven into the story at places where events happening in the present would trigger them, they don't intrude on the story but fit seamlessly into the arc of the summer's tale. Lacking in-text markers except for "Age 11" etc. at the chapter opening, it's clear when the chapter is memories from the past, and they always illuminate what's going on in the present. It's a tricky technique but done with great skill and style!

I have the next book, It's Not Summer Without You, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Jenny Han's wonderful writing!

In My Mailbox 8

In My Mailbox is a meme started by The Story Siren, where bloggers post any new books they bought, received, borrowed, etc.

I can't help myself. It must be an addiction. I have books and books piled up, waiting to be read, and no time to read them, and yet I continue getting more books! Three of the four books I got from the library are books I had put on hold before I got crazy busy, and one I picked up as I was waiting in line to check out - it looks funny and good. So here they are:

By Jenny Han:
The Summer I Turned Pretty,
which I'm almost done with (why I started the book I got most recently before reading the books that have been on my shelf for weeks is beyond me...)
It's Not Summer Without You

 Once a Witch, by Carolyn MacCullough
I got the sequel to this, Always a Witch, as an ebook from the publisher, so this might be next on my reading list.
Bite Me: A Love Story, by Christopher Moore
This one looks really good - it has a wacky tone, which I could tell just from the flap, and the plot seems utterly ridiculous and funny. 

So that's what I've got - what I've added to what I've got - this week.
What've you got?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Haint Misbehavin'

Author: Maureen Hardegree
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Released: July 1, 2010
Genre: YA Paranormal

Haint Misbehavin'  started off with a bang and didn't let up right through the last words!

Heather Tildy has it rough - she has hypersensitive skin, she's seen as a weirdo by just about everyone in her neighborhood, the guy she has a crush on doesn't know she exists, her older sister hates her and is out to make her life miserable - and now, to top it off, along with her period, she gets her own ten-year-old, mischievous ghost! Heather wants to help Amy move on, but Amy doesn't seem to want to. With lots of laughs and wacky scenarios, Heather and Amy both learn some lessons from their time together.

The multi-layered plot of the book works really well. The different elements - the possible romance, the older sister problems, the weirdness problem, the parent troubles, and the ghost - all fit together seamlessly to create a really realistic-sounding story about a "regular" girl trying to fit in and learning that the best thing is to be yourself. The two guys in the story actually works really well, too. I've heard that the two-guy thing is starting to get on people's nerves already (think Twilight), but in this case, I think the author did a great job of it. Both guys are nice (though I'm rooting for Xavier) and it'll be interesting to see what Heather does about them in the next book(s).

The pace of the book is amazing, too. Partly because of all the different parts of the plot, I guess, things are always happening. But the amazing part is that there is no downtime in this story - every single scene makes a difference to the characters and plot, and my interest was never lost through the whole book.

I love the snappy, sassy tone of the book, and it's constant throughout. The style of the writing is so great that, while I didn't notice it while reading - another plus, that the goodness of the writing is unobtrusive - when I think about it now, the tone is modified at each scene to fit the mood and what's going on. But still, the snappiness and sassiness is pretty much constant, since Heather is a sarcastic-thinking - in a nice way! - kind of girl. The writing drew me into the story completely, to the point that when Heather finds the answer that will help Amy move on, I smiled so widely and felt a warmth spreading throughout my heart. (OK, so that sounds cheesy, but good books do that to you! Or to me, anyway.) And the very last line made me laugh out loud!

Hainted Love - now there's a sequel I'm really anticipating!

Thanks to Bell Bridge Books and NetGalley for providing me with an e-book for review!

In My Mailbox 7

In My Mailbox is a meme started by The Story Siren, where bloggers post any new books they bought, received, borrowed, etc.
Despite my valiant attempts to stay away from acquiring new books after 1) not having had more than an hour's worth of time to read over the whole week and 2) having signed up for NetGalley and loaded up on books that way, I visited my sister-in-law and she piled me up with some books as well! So I've got a nice large haul this week, but I'm still working on last week's and will probably not get to this week's for at least a month!

But anyway, here are the books I got now:

Two Nora Roberts books - one I've been wanting to read for a while as it's the second two books of a quartet, but I could never find it! Waiting for Nick and Considering Kate.
And Winner Takes All,  including Rules of the Game and The Name of the Game.
I might have read this one before, but I'll find out when I start reading it!
Also a Jude Deveraux book: Return to Summerhouse.

Also from my sis-in-law:
Cry Wolf,  by Tami Hoag
Fatal Tide,  by Iris Johansen
Shall We Tell the President,  by Jeffrey Archer

And this one I won directly from the author and got it autographed with a personal note!
A Knot In the Grain, by Robin McKinley

And then a whole bunch from NetGalley:

Haint Misbehavin by Maureen Hardegree
The Mermaid's Mirror, by L. K. Madigan
The Crepe Makers' Bond, by Julia Crabtree
The Last Full Measure, by Ann Rinaldi
Always a Witch, by Carolyn McCullough
The Lipstick Laws, by Amy Holder
Trickster's Girl,  by Hilari Bell
Alchemy and Meggy Swann,  by Karen Cushman
The Year Money Grew On Trees, by Aaron Hawkins

Pretty cool load! Thanks to Houghton Mifflin, Milkweed Editions, Bell Bridge Books, and NetGalley for the free digital galleys! I'm getting used to reading books on my iPod now - not sure if I like it, but a post about that will likely follow at some point.

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Irish Hearts: Irish Thoroughbred

Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Silhouette Books
Released: 2007 (originally 1981)
Genre: Romance

Usually I would wait to read both books in a "double-feature" like this one, but with the way my schedule has been lately, I don't know when I'll get a chance to read Irish Rose (and besides, I have some new books waiting, thanks to NetGalley, so I'll put off re-reading favorites for a while), so I figured I'll post my thoughts on it now!

Adelia Cunnane is coming from Ireland, having lost her aunt and her farm in a series of crushing blows, to stay with her uncle on Travis Grant's horse farm. She doesn't count on falling for the imperious, handsome Travis and doesn't expect him to return her love when she does. But when fate brings them closer together than she dreamed of, though Travis still remains distant, she has a chance at true love with the man of her dreams.

This is Nora Roberts's first novel published, and I loved seeing her earlier work before she started writing complex romantic-suspense novels. It's proof of her amazing talent that her first published novel, though mainly following basic romance conventions, still manages to have fully three-dimensional characters with real plot and emotions. Adelia is a sort of prototype for Nora's later heroines, who are usually feisty and independent, and the same with Travis, who is strong, totally masculine, and loves Adelia's hot temper. The plot is detailed and not there simply to further the romance, but actually makes sense on its own as well. And yes, the romance is a large part of the plot! But still, every part of the plot, connected to the romance or not, is there for a reason and is not at all contrived. I love romance, but I love romance that makes sense - and this book delivers in every single way!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Songs That Strike A Chord: KT Tunstall - (Still A) Weirdo

I decided to expand my blog a bit, because books are not the only thing I love talking about. I interact with and respond to movies (which I already started blogging about this week as an extension of the books I read) and music. So I get to chatter about those too now!

Every so often (or more than that, actually, but you know what I mean) I hear a song that means something to me, that seems to apply to me somehow. Yesterday, I heard KT Tunstall's new(ish) album, Tiger Suit, and I immediately bought it. It has so many great songs! The one that "struck a chord" and actually made me laugh at myself a bit is "(Still A) Weirdo." Here is is:

What made me laugh is this: You know the girl in books and movies who's always trying to fit in with the cool crowd, wearing what they wear, etc., like Claire in The Clique? Well, that was me - sort of. My group of friends was not the in-crowd, and never dressed like them. But I wanted to look like them, so when I shopped, I always tried to get clothes that I imagined one of the in-girls would wear. I was always wrong. And I ended up looking like a wannabe. By now, I know I'm "never quite elegant, (Still A) Weirdo after all these years." OK, so not a weirdo, but not fitting the uniformity either. I stopped trying to conform and started figuring out what my own style is - and I like it! But what brought this to my mind now was the combination of hearing this song and seeing my little 13-year-old sister coming home after going shopping with my mother - with all the latest styles and fashions! And I'm past wanting to look like that (mostly) but it rankled a bit, in a funny, laugh-at-myself type of way, that my sister finds the "in" stuff so effortlessly, when I, who grew up with the same mother shopping with me, could never quite get it! Ah, well - I'll get more comfortable with my own style as I live in it more, I guess!

Monday, October 11, 2010

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows

Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Released: Jan. 2009
Genre: Middle Grade

When I started reading this book, I was looking out for whose children Ama, Jo and Polly were. I thought, because of the subtitle, "The Sisterhood Grows," that this would be set after the original four had kids, and their kids get together. So I was a little thrown when I couldn't see any connection. After everything is explained though (on page 28), I got really into the story for itself.

Ama, Jo and Polly live in Bethesda, where they've heard about the legendary foursome held together by the magic of a pair of pants that fit them all perfectly. They have been friends since third grade, but recently their friendship has been falling apart as Ama and Jo find new friends and go in different directions. They want to stay together - they value the friendship they've created - but it seems they have nothing in common anymore. The summer before they enter high school, the three of them each have their own adventures, but at the end, they realize that some friendships will not die no matter what happens.

Although the girls in the story are almost in high school, I'd call this a Middle Grade book because the friendships and relationships seem to be from a younger girl's point of view. The girls are in the process of growing up, and they retain some of the characteristics of younger girls - though by the end of the story, they each have grown in different ways so that they could be considered young adults! I love how each one goes through a journey to sort of discover herself. Each experience seems so real, and I felt along with the characters as they experienced despair, sorrow, joy, and exhilaration.

I love how Ann Brashares did this, the same way she did the Sisterhood books, that there are three separate stories, which intertwine at some points, and especially at the beginning and the end of the book. In 3 Willows, there are not many letters back and forth because they're not passing around the pants or anything like that, and besides that, because this friendship is one that needs saving, not one that only needs strengthening. It's a very different perspective on friendships than in Sisterhood: there it was about the beauty of friendship and the ties that hold true friends together. Here, it's about the effects of time on friendship and the ties that hold true friends together. OK, so there is a common theme - but from different angles.

One thing I don't understand - if this is meant as a sequel to the Sisterhood books, it seems a little backwards. Readers and fans of the original four were teenagers when they read them, so by now they're adults - not middle grade girls! I just don't understand why a sequel would go back in time.

But anyway, I loved the book for itself, so that's that!

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - The Movies

After I read through the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series again, I of course wanted to watch the movies again. Because this is one of the only cases I've found where the movies are just as good as the books. They don't follow the books exactly, especially since the books cover events happening in four years and the movies jump from year one to year four. But they stay true to the characters and to the overall themes - of the entire series, and of each girl's experiences. I think it's very rare for that to happen - that a movie so perfectly matches my image of what happens in the book that the two become blended together in my mind, and when I read the books, I "see" scenes from the movies in my mind.

I love how the second movie, simply titled The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, weaves together some stories from different books, particularly with Bridget and Carmen. They do it so seamlessly that if you haven't read the books before seeing the movie, there's no way you could tell that they were supposed to be separate.

And while I'm discussing the movie, I have to mention - the four girls' acting is so so so amazing! They're one of the main reasons I felt the movies are true to the books - these girls obviously really knew their characters before they started to act, because every motion, every inflection, every wrinkle of the forehead is so in character. And the way the four of them fit together - it seems so natural, as if we're really just listening in on a real foursome's conversation. Take the first scene they're in in the first movie - they're walking down the street, window-shopping. Their voices overlap, they jostle each other, they tease each other with a word or a look - it's so real. They make the whole story come to life!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In My Mailbox 6

In My Mailbox is a meme started by The Story Siren, where bloggers post any new books they bought, received, borrowed, etc.

I went to the library on Friday to pick up (and return) a book I had on reserve, and since that meant my bookshelf was empty now (though I had absolutely zero minutes to myself to read over the past week), I went to browse the shelves and see if I could pick up some new books. To my surprise! The first place I always go is Nora Roberts, though by now it's pointless because I've read all the books that my branch has. But this time, I found four books I have not read yet! Plus another book I haven't read in a while, so it's good re-reading. I felt a little guilty emptying the shelves of all the Nora Roberts books, because that means someone else coming to look for them won't find any, but oh, well. Sometimes you gotta be selfish and that's all there is to it!

So here are the books I have on my shelf now (I won't include the GRE book I picked up and have yet to open...):

Books One and Two of the Bride Quartet: Vision In White and Bed of Roses. I read the third book already, Savor the Moment, and I look forward to reading more about these characters!

Where the Heart Is, containing From This Day and Her Mother's Keeper
Irish Hearts, containing Irish Thoroughbred (Nora Roberts's first novel!) and Irish Rose

I love two-for-ones, don't you?

And finally, a meatier, more romantic suspense than pure romance novel, Black Hills:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Dell Laurel-Leaf (Random House)
Released: 2001-2007
Genre: YA

After reading some adult Ann Brashares (The Last Summer (of You and Me) and My Name Is Memory), I went back to the books that introduced her to me - the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I loved the characters of this series from the first time I read the books, and I've re-read them individually a few times since then. But now I got all four books and settled into a Sisterhood marathon. And it was great! Reading them in order, all at once, made me see how the four friends really grew and developed over the years - and how the Pants did too!

Four friends about to go separate ways for the summer, the first time they've ever been apart from each other, find a magical pair of pants that fits all of them, despite their very different shapes. They name them the "Traveling Pants" and mail them back and forth over the summer in order to stay in touch with each other. At the end of the summer, they gather and record their summer experiences - on the Pants! They continue doing this for four summers, through the summer after their freshman year at college, and the Pants travel as far as Greece and Turkey and as close to home as - well, home. They see many different kinds of experiences, from the very happy to the very sad. And they help the girls learn lessons about love, about life, and mostly about friendship.

The girls' friendship is a great one to read about. They're four entirely different girls, with different views on life, different attitudes, different aspirations. But isn't that the way real friendships go? Of course, there are girls who gravitate toward other girls who are just like them, but real, true, long-lasting friends are a mix of differences. (Take a superficial example of my friends - one is Sefardi, one is Lubavitch, one is total Yeshivish, one is total Lakewood, and then there's me. And we've been together since first grade, and we're still going strong!)

As individuals, I liked each of the girls, too. Their personalities stay constant over the course of four books (no mean feat for the author!) even as they change and grow. I love each girl, different as they are, for a different part of her personality - Tibby's sarcastic outlook, Carmen's cheer and bubbliness, Lena's quiet grace, Bridget's vivacity and liveliness. And I could see parts of myself in parts of them, so I totally related to all the things they go through. And the things they go through - what a range of experiences! And such difficult situations, too. Thank goodness they had the Pants to keep them grounded and on track!

The device of the Pants connecting them works wonderfully throughout the four books. In the first book, it's a pretty strong character - the first time each girl gets the Pants, something bad happens, and the second time, something magical happens. By the fourth book, the pattern is less obvious and there's less stress on the Pants (until the end, that is). But that makes sense, considering what the Pants teach the girls in the fourth book.

It's a great growing-up series, dealing with so many issues. I love the series, and I'm pretty sure this is not the last time I'll be reading it!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Twenties Girl

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Random House (UK - Bantam Press, USA - Dial Press)
Released: July 2009
Genre: Chick Lit, Comedy

Lara Lington is a mess. She hasn't gotten over being dumped by her boyfriend, Josh, her business is failing as her partner has disappeared on a long vacation, and her concerned parents make keeping up appearances quite difficult. And then, at her great-aunt Sadie's funeral (which is not very well-attended, considering Sadie spent the last part of her life in a nursing home with no visitors, not even her family), Sadie herself appears to Lara in the form of a very demanding, party-girl ghost! Sadie does not want to be cremated without her precious dragonfly necklace, which has gone missing, and she enlists Lara to stop the funeral and start searching for the necklace. Along the way, Sadie tries to have one last fling before she goes (though, as Lara keeps pointing out, she technically has gone already), and Lara indirectly learns a few lessons from Sadie.

The flap of the book praises its "charm and humor." Me, I call it its craziness and zaniness! I love how Lara does the most ridiculous things, and her life doesn't come crashing down around her. From stopping a funeral by crying murder to barging into a conference and asking out a man she's never seen before, Sadie makes Lara do the craziest things and somehow everything always works out in the end.

Lara is easy to sympathize with, even though she is totally obsessed over someone who obviously doesn't care about her and besides sounds like a "nothing" sort of guy for the first large part of the story. She's funny and plucky (OK, yes, this is a British book, and I find myself thinking British-ly) and she rolls with the punches. Sadie is a great character too - completely different personality than Lara, and it's hysterical to see how the two of them get along.

Ed is absolutely delicious. At first, because Josh seemed to be Lara's love interest, I thought that the book might be falling into the trap of fully characterizing the girl and giving her a flat boyfriend. But the second Ed entered the scene, I realized that Sophie Kinsella knows exactly what she's doing. Josh is supposed to be flat, because there is nothing to him, but Ed - Ed is full of character, and you can see it from his very first introductory lines! Besides, he's like the perfect boyfriend. I loved going out with him (so I was like Sadie, counting on Lara to get me dates with him!).

I love this book. Its snappy dialogue, its madcap humor, its complex and fascinating characters... I laughed and loved all the way through it.