Through what can only be viewed as a quirk of fate, I found myself in a situation where there were only two books on my desk. Setting aside the fact that someone cleaned my personal space without my express permission – I am now unable to find anything – I was in a quandary. It was time to select my next review vict— book. Choices? A book called Viva Las Bad Boys! versus a book called Scoop.
For professional as well as personal reasons, I went with the latter book.
These days it’s difficult to trip over a pink covered book without hearing talk of chick lit’s death. But, how fatal is this death? Is it the same sort of plague westerns fell victim to, when a genre that was once all powerful disappeared from bookstore shelves? Or, is it more like the nuclear winter Hair Bands of the 80s faced when a glut of pretty boy groups perished under Seattle’s influence with only a couple of bands proving to have talent and staying power?
What hope is there for this admittedly bloated genre of fiction? While the one-thousandth retelling of a plucky single girl in the city, who drinks trendy cocktails and lusts after an obvious cad doesn’t hold appeal, the much boarder spectrum of chick lit does. There are still stories to be told, and, quite simply, there is a need for a fictional medium for irreverent young women and the third wave feminism issues they face.
Chicklit gets a bad rap because over-zealous acquisitions editors went crazy with “single girl looking for love and high-paying jobs in the city” stories. The commensurate market saturation left a bad taste in many a reader’s mouth (not to mention creating much fodder for dissing an entire genre). I suspect a lot of readers were like me – desperately seeking fiction with a romantic edge, realistic stories, and smart writing (oh, for more smart writing).
I suspect a lot of readers were like me and dropped out of chicklit game because finding the good was damn hard work.
I dedicate this review to those readers. There is hope.
Romance and chick lit are not art forms that succeed or fail on originality. Readers and authors alike might chafe at the notion that every romance is the same, save for the hair color of the hero and heroine, and one chick lit novel is only distinguishable from another by the shade of pink on the cover, but those sentiments hold a lot of truth, even if the verbiage is meant to demean. And that truth — that plotlines like Cinderella’s maid to princess tale are told over and over again — is really OK. Really. There is a certain comfort in knowing what a book holds before the first page is read. What isn’t known, and where romance and chick lit have the opportunity to succeed or fail, is with what each author will bring to well used constructs. It’s the reworking of the familiar and injection of freshness into the staid that makes a twice (or more) told tale something that stands out. Without those elements, romance and chick lit become caricatures of themselves.
Alesia Holliday’s Seven Ways to Lose Your Lover is intended as a lighthearted romp through the minefield of personals relationships. Its goal isn’t any loftier than to entertain. The end result is decidedly mixed, as it’s too easy to see the well worn elements and not easy enough to see the freshness.
HelenKay: Bad break-ups are nothing new in romance and chick lit novels. Loser males dump these strong, smart and vibrant women all the time. Just as often (if not more so) these strong, smart and vibrant women dump their loser male mates after finding them naked and horizontal with the Maid of Honor/woman’s best friend/woman’s younger sister. The action then picks up at the dump or post-dump and follows the woman as she struggles to find a new life and new love in a world seemingly filled with male losers.
A book titled Your Big Break suggests the ultimate in dumping books. In some ways, it is. It follows the life and career of Dani Myers as she navigates through a world of unwanted relationships. The difference here is that Dani plays the role of professional dumper, not dumpee.
I am, or so I believe, a great proponent of escapist fiction. I’m not particularly opposed to reality in my fiction, but it’s not really a big issue for me. If I can, for example, settle into a coach seat during an east-to-west coast flight, open my book, and not notice “Everybody Loves Raymond” on the monitor, it’s a good flight for me.
So, yeah, when I was anticipating the flight home from Washington DC after BEA, I sorted through my loot for the perfect escapist read. Being one who found the first “Shopaholic” book quite entertaining, I chose Cocktails For Three by Madeleine Wickham aka Sophie Kinsella to be the book in my lap as we taxied down the runway. Alas, I should have recalled that the subsequent Shopaholic books were lacking that certain je ne sais quoi.
Which is to say that I found them unreadable.
HelenKay: Books centered on kidnapped children know no genre boundaries. Missing and endangered children are as plentiful in fiction as they are in life. Mysteries and thrillers are logical places to find these fictional children in peril. Romantic suspense and literary fiction often provide fertile ground for this plot as well. While some books like Lovely Bones explore this subject from a fresh angle, many others travel the same path. This relative sameness drains some of the emotion from the suspense aspect of the read. Kate Pepper avoids the read-this-all-before feel in her book One Cold Night by focusing less on the kidnapping than on the desperation and uncertainty of those left behind. The result is a full and engaging exploration of loss, love, deceit and faith.
Every first novel has an interesting story of its road to publication. Interesting, at least, for the author. Few have a story that would interest anyone else. Of the tens of thousands of works of fiction that come into the marketplace every year, few have a tale like A Confederacy of Dunces which was published eleven years after author John Kennedy Toole’s suicide (a suicide widely attributed to Toole’s publishing failures) and only after the book was championed by Toole’s mother. Once released, it won a loyal and rabid fan base, and went on to take the Pulitzer. In the end, it’s a success story, the rarity of which authors everywhere should be thankful for.
Caitlin Scott-Turner’s journey to publication doesn’t rival Toole’s, but it is worth repeating. Her first novel, The Queen’s Fencer was written two and a half decades ago. At the time, it was very nearly published, only to fall through the cracks. After years of languishing, the novel was self-published before finding its way to the small press Five Star. Yes, more than a quarter century later, Scott-Turner’s novel was published.
Have you heard? Chick lit is dead. The plucky heroine? Over. Tales of life among the single in the big city? Gone the way of Studio 54; the business records have been seized and threats of jail time for tax evasion loom. Variety, a publication devoted to reporting about the film industry, said so. They even used phrases like “as out of style as last year’s Jimmy Choos” and “jumped the shark.” The focus of contemporary women’s literature, Variety claims, is a more grown up, post-Sex and the City phase of life, the literary equivalent of “disco sucks.” Can any of this be true? Is it safe to trust a Hollywood publication’s take on publishing? Sure, if you don’t mind following pronouncements that are so far behind the curve that what they declare as old has had time to become new again.
It is into this 70s-like hangover that Liz Ireland’s The Pink Ghetto arrives complete with its plucky twenty-something heroine, who lives in New York, works as a book editor and is chronically unlucky in love. It’s almost like the “chick lit is dead” memo didn’t get wide circulation, or more likely well written stories continue to be published in defiance of trend watchers.
HelenKay: Loving a new author can be a dangerous thing. You hear about a book, take a risk and buy a hardcover by an unknown, enjoy the debut, recommend the book to everyone you know and sit to wait not-so-patiently for the next in the series to arrive in the bookstores. When that second book arrives, you’re excited and a bit apprehensive. The worry? Book #2 may not live up to Book #1. The release of Passion, Betrayal And Killer Highlights carried with it that level of excitement and that twinge of danger. It is the follow-up and second in a series by new author Kyra Davis. Her first, Sex, Murder And A Double Latte, was one of those books. One hyped and highlighted in magazines and Big Newspaper reviews. Davis’ first book hit the shelves with a significant amount of fanfare and excitement. Passion, Betrayal And Killer Highlights enjoyed a quieter release but one still highly anticipated. The good news is that Davis’ second book does not disappoint.