One-Minute Book Reviews

January 11, 2010

Sophie Kinsella’s Stand-Alone Novel, ‘Remember Me?’ — Milk of Amnesia, With Sugar

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:49 am
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What if you woke up after an accident and couldn’t remember all the important things that had happened since 2004, such as that Brad and Jennifer broke up?

Remember Me? A Novel. By Sophie Kinsella. Dell, 430 pp., $7.99, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Remember Madeleine Wickham? Unless you’re English, you probably don’t. But Sophie Kinsella wrote under that name – her real one – before she adopted the pseudonym that appears on her bestselling “Shopaholic” series. I liked the Madeleine Wickham novels I read, including A Desirable Residence, and hoped her new book would mark a return to their form – that of the quiet English novel of manners updated for the age of house lust and two-career couples. It doesn’t: Remember Me? is the literary equivalent of a fried Mars bar. But fried Mars bars are more filling than the handful of Sour Gummi Bears you often get from romance-novels-gone-mainstream like this one. And so it is with Remember Me?: If you have a choice between this book and a Danielle Steel novel at the airport, it’s no contest.

Kinsella has two virtues that are as apparent here as in her first Madeleine Wickham novels. Educated at Oxford University, Kinsella respects the language of King James and Monty Python. It is inconceivable that she would write, as Stephenie Meyer does in The Host, “It’s a voluntary choice.” If that seems slim basis for an endorsement, you probably walk right past all those books with embossed metallic covers each time you enter a bookstore.

Unlike many bestselling authors, Kinsella also knows how to plot. In Remember Me? she hangs her story on a creaky device – a young woman develops amnesia after a car accident – and her tale gets more improbable from there. Lexi Smart wakes up soon after a thump on the head in 2007 and finds she has forgotten all that has happened to her since 2004. The things she has forgotten include that a) she ditched her loser boyfriend and married a multimillionaire, and b) she evolved from a harried underling into the British carpet-industry’s equivalent of Faye Dunaway in Network. She also thinks Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are still together. As unlikely as it all of this is, it holds your attention — if it holds your attention — in part because the story has so many plot twists and moves so fast that you have little time to think about the absurdities. And Kinsella has control of her breezy and at times humorous tone – you never sense that she’s trying to be Doris Lessing or Hilary Mantel.

I can’t compare Remember Me? to the “Shopaholic” series, which I haven’t read. But I had less trouble finishing it than some novels that turned up on best-of-2009 lists, though this book had the least promising first line I’ve read in months. Remember Me? also had the welcome effect of drawing me back to the work of thoughtful Madeleine Wickham, who if we are lucky may still have a few books in her.

Best line: Lexi asks after learning that a sofa costs 10,000 pounds: “How can a sofa cost that much? What’s it stuffed with,  caviar?”

Worst line: The first: “Of all the crap, crap, crappy nights I’ve ever had in the whole of my crap life.”

Published: 2008 (hardcover), 2008 (trade paperback), 2009 (mass market paperback)

Furthermore: Kinsella also wrote, as Madeleine Wickham, The Tennis Party and other books. The recent movie Confessions of a Shopaholic was loosely based on the first two novels in the “Shopaholic” series.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter. She comments on books at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda and satirizes the American literary culture, such as it is, at www.twitter.com/fakebooknews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 23, 2009

She Promised Her Husband Sex Every Night for a Year for His 40th Birthday – But Her Book About It Left Out All the Good Parts

Filed under: How to,Memoirs,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:05 am
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Sex, but no sex

You know how I said the other day that I’d never heard of a book that Jonathan Yardley said “may well be the best baseball book ever”? Here’s another I’d missed: Charla Muller’s 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy (Berkley, 288 pp., $14, paperback), the #2 bestseller in the “Love & Romance” category on Amazon. It comes from a woman who promised her husband sex every night for a year for his 40th birthday, and if the comments on Amazon are right, Muller left out all the good parts. A reader-reviewer complained: “The author uses the premise to discuss almost everything except sex. There are almost no details about the sex-life of the author and her husband.” But Muller has started offering a free Bible study guide to the book.

February 13, 2009

Valentine’s Day Poems for Straight or Gay Lovers, Including Couples Getting Engaged or Married on Feb.14, With All the Words Online

Two poems that aren’t usually thought of as Valentine’s Day poems contain lines that would suit longtime lovers, including engaged and married couples.

Robert Browning’s classic “Rabbi Ben Ezra” begins:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:

“Rabbi Ben Ezra” isn’t a love poem but a meditation in verse on the life of the 12th-century scholar in its title. But countless lovers have inscribed its famous first two lines, both written in iambic trimeter, onto the flyleaves of books or Valentine’s Day notes and cards. And all three would work for straight or gay couples. The full text of the poem appears online at Bartleby.com.

Another classic with lines that would suit gay or straight couples is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation from the German of Simon Dach’s “Annie of Tharaw.” It includes the rhyming couplets:

Oppression, and sickness, and sorrow, and pain,
Shall be to our true love as links to the chain.

As the palm-tree standeth so straight and so tall,
The more the hail beats, and the more the rains fall, –

So love in our hearts shall grow mighty and strong,
Through crosses, through sorrows, through manifold wrong …

Though forests I’ll follow, and where the sea flows,
Through ice, and through iron, through armies of foes.

“Annie of Tharaw” sounds less sophisticated than many contemporary poems, in part because of its anapestic meter, commonly found in children’s poems such as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” But Dach’s words may speak more directly than some of their modern counterparts to couples facing serious illnesses such as AIDS. Their sentiments implicitly ratify and amplify the “in sickness and in health” of wedding vows, so they would also suit anniversaries. The full text appears online at Litscape.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 11, 2009

Three Pick-Up Lines to Avoid If You Want a Date for Valentine’s Day

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:00 am
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In an age of hookups and friends-with-benefits, Valentine’s Day can inspire an atavistic craving for an old-fashioned date. If you’re looking for one, some pickup lines won’t help your cause, Caroline Tiger says in How to Behave: Dating and Sex: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged (Chronicle, 2006). Tiger suggests that you avoid:

1. Are you free tonight, or will it cost me?
2. Is it hot in here, or is it just you?
3. I’m going outside to make out. Care to join me?

There, now don’t you feel better-equipped to face the gym and bar?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 25, 2008

A Warm and Sunny Novel in Letters About an Offbeat British Book Club in 1946 — ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:12 am
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A new life begins for a single female journalist in London when World War II ends

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Dial, 278 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

Juliet Ashton realizes as 1946 begins that she can’t finish the book about English foibles that she has promised her London publisher. She knows she should have no trouble writing about groups like the Society to Protest the Glorification of the English Bunny. Hasn’t she found a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators’ Trade Union marching down the street with placards shouting, “Down with Beatrix Potter!”?

But on the first page of this warm and sunny novel in letters, Juliet confesses to her publisher that she has lost interest in the anti-bunny-glorifiers. Four days later, with the remarkable luck that will follow her through the story, she gets a letter from a pig farmer who found her name and address on the flyleaf of a secondhand book of essays by Charles Lamb. Dawsey Adams lives on Guernsey, a Channel Island recovering from its occupation by Nazis, and asks if she can recommend a London bookshop.

Julie begins to correspond with Dawsey and the members of his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and arranges to visit them, although a handsome American publishing tycoon wants her to stay in London. As she becomes enmeshed in the islanders’ lives, she learns she can’t escape the effects of war as she had once longed to do: “The war is now the story of our lives, and there’s no subtracting it.”

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society lacks the natural charm of books it superficially resembles, such Helene Hanff’s memoir 84, Charing Cross Road and Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s novel A Woman of Independent Means. But the book has an earned sweetness that comes close to it — it’s the equivalent of suitor who may lack charm but sends you so many flowers that you almost forget that he does.

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows evoke well the hardships of islanders who made do with wartime rations of one candle a week and cooked their vegetables in seawater for lack of salt. The authors also offer many well-chosen quotes and anecdotes about an eclectic group of poets and writers: Chaucer, Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie, the Brontë sisters. And in the age of Dr. Phil and Twitter, it’s refreshing to meet characters like the book-club member who finds comfort in the words the Roman orator Seneca: “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.”

Best line: “I don’t believe that after reading such a fine writer as Emily Brontë, I will be happy to read again Miss Amanda Gillyflower’s Ill-Used by Candlelight.” — Isola Pribby in a letter to Juliet Ashton

Worst line: Julie writes to a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: “I no longer live on Oakley Street, but I’m so glad that your letters found me and that my book found you.” Would someone who had always lived in England say “on Oakley Street” or “in Oakley Street”?

Recommendation? This novel has no sex or, as parents say, “bad words.” I gave it to an aunt for her 85th birthday. But it’s also likely to appeal for many younger readers, including some teenagers. And it is much more intelligent than many books popular among book clubs.

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society appeared on this site on Nov. 25, 2008, in the post that directly preceded this one.

Editor: Susan Kamil

Published: July 2008 www.guernseyliterary.com

About the authors: Mary Ann Shaffer became ill after selling this novel to the Dial Press and died before it appeared in print. Her niece, the children’s author Annie Barrows, shepherded the book through the editing process www.anniebarrows.com/.

If you like this book, you might like: A Woman of Independent Means us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/woman_of_independent_means.html.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and the former book critic for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

© 2008 Janice Harayda
www.janiceharayda.com

November 24, 2008

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,’ a Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Filed under: Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:53 pm
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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Early in 1946, Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a pig farmer who found her name and address on the flyleaf of a secondhand book of essays by Charles Lamb. Juliet writes back to Dawsey Adams and learns that he belongs to an offbeat book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, on a Channel Island once occupied by Nazis. She begins to correspond with club members and, after deciding to visit them, becomes enmeshed in their lives – though a handsome American publishing tycoon is courting her back in London. Juliet had been hoping to put the war behind her. But on Guernsey, she gains a deeper awareness that she can’t escape history: “The war is now the story of our lives, and there’s no subtracting it.”

Questions for Discussion

1 The obvious question first: What did you think of the title of this novel? Did you pick up the book despite or because of it?

2 How well did the novel-in-letters format work? Why do think the authors chose it? What do we gain from reading the letters that we might not get from a more conventional narrative?

3 Many critics gave this novel raves. But Wendy Smith qualified her generally favorable review in the Washington Post by saying that the book has a “contrived” premise: “The authors don’t even bother to suggest how Juliet’s discarded book turned up in Guernsey, and the neat way its literary society fits into her Times assignment is highly convenient.” www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=9780385340991 Did you find all or part of the plot contrived? Does it matter whether it is?

4 Juliet has two men interested in her, each of whom has appealing traits, just as the heroines of many romance novels do. Is this novel essentially an intelligent romance novel? Why or why not?

5 Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows weave many details about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey into their story. For example, Eben Ramsey says that late in 1944: “We were rationed to two candles a week and then only one.” [Page 64] Novels based on historical research sometimes read more like term papers than fiction. Did you ever feel that way about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? If not, why? How did the authors keep their research from slowing the pace of the story?

6 Juliet’s parents died when she was 12. [Page 45] Dawsey is an adult orphan who lost his father when he was 11 and his mother just before World War II. [Page 232] Many beloved novels, from Jane Eyre to the Harry Potter books, involve orphans. Why do you think this is so? How does The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society resemble other orphan novels you’ve read?

7 A book club member named John Booker quotes the Roman orator Seneca: “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” [Page 150] What did he mean? Booker was talking about grief for concentration camp victims, but could the quote apply also to people in this novel? Does it express a theme of the book?

8 “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books,” Isola Pribby writes to Juliet. [Page 53] Is this true? Or are books like food in that a lot of us can savor a five-star meal and still hit the Fritos Scoops during the Super Bowl?

9 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society has many amusing lines and scenes. Which did you like most? What role does humor play in the novel?

10 The authors salt their story with quotes or anecdotes about well-known writers. Did these make you want to read some of the authors’ books? Which, if any, would you like your book group to read?

Vital Statistics

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Dial, 278 pp., $22. Published: July 2008 www.guernseyliterary.com and www.anniebarrows.com

A review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on the day this guide did.

About the authors: Mary Ann Shaffer became ill after selling this novel to the Dial Press and died of cancer in February 2008 before the book appeared in print. Her niece, the children’s author Annie Barrows, shepherded the book through the editing process.

Your group may also want to read:

A Woman of Independent Means us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/woman_of_independent_means.html.

The “Epistolary Novels” page on Wikipedia, which talks about the types of novels-in-letters and gives old and new examples of the form en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel.

The “Orphan Novels” page on Wikipedia, which gives an overview of these en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and book critic for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. She wrote the comic novels The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks.

Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear on One-Minute Book Reviews often but not on a regular schedule. They often deal with books for which publishers have provided no guides or guides that are flawed – for example, because they encourage cheerleading for books instead of thoughtful discussion. They are also intended to be more comprehensive than publishers’ guides. To avoid missing the them, please bookmark the site or subscribe to the RSS feed. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from authors, editors, publishers, agents or others who have a financial stake in books, and all reviews offer views that are not influenced by marketing concerns. If you would like to see the guides continue, it would be extremely helpful if you would link to them.

You can find more Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides at wordpress.com/tag/totally-unauthorized-reading-group-guides/. Thank you for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda

July 21, 2008

Jodi Picoult’s ‘Change of Heart’ – Looking for Jesus in All the Wrong Places

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:04 am
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Miracles occur in a New Hampshire prison after a man ends up on death row for crimes that occurred when he was a 33-year-old carpenter

Change of Heart: A Novel. By Jodi Picoult. Simon & Schuster/Atria, 447 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Change of Heart is the best novel I’ve read in a long time about religious gobbledygook. After 15 books, Jodi Picoult still cares enough about her craft to leave most of the Da Vinci Code knockoffs behind in a cloud of incense. She’s a more careful and interesting writer than Dan Brown and at times shows an appealingly droll wit. And she has more substantive concerns than off-the-wall ecclesiastical conspiracies, including the case for abolishing the death penalty. Picoult is also a conscientious researcher. For this book she visited a lethal-injection chamber and, when she needed to learn about the Gnostic Gospels, got private tutorials from Elaine Pagels, one of the country’s foremost scholars on the subject.

But in Change of Heart Picoult serves up characters with some peculiar traits or, rather, non-traits. They live in New Hampshire, but none has a credible New Hampshire accent or other characteristics that reflect the state or even New England — they might as well live in Nebraska. The oddest character is a 33-year-old carpenter who is sentenced to death for murdering a young girl and a policeman, then performs apparent miracles in a state prison. Shay Bourne cures the sick, brings a dead bird to life and feeds seven men with one piece of Bazooka bubble gum. Halfway through the book, you’re wondering what he could do it they ever ran low on the spelt bread and tilapia at Whole Foods. Bourne also wants to donate his heart after his execution to the gravely ill sister of the girl he killed. To do this, he needs to persuade a court that his religion requires such an action. And that effort pits him at different times against the mother of the dead child, a priest who has a crisis of faith, and a female lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union whose only recent dates have been court dates. All of them run a footrace against time his scheduled execution approaches.

Behind all of this lies a larger question than whether Bourne will be able donate his heart to a girl who needs it: What is a religion? Picoult treats traditional faiths respectfully. But one of her themes surfaces in the words of an inmate with AIDS: “Religion was supposed to be a blanket drawn up to your chin to keep you warm, a promise that when it came to the end, you wouldn’t die alone – but it could just as easily leave you shivering out in the cold if what you believed became more important than the fact that you believed.”

Change of Heart has many lines that one that are so vague that they could be used to justify almost any kind of religious hokum. And in age of anything-goes spirituality, that may help to explain why the book sped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Picoult has cross-bred three popular genres — the courtroom drama, the religious thriller and the romance novel — in package much easier to digest than the arcana of The Da Vinci Code as long as you don’t expect too much plausibility from the plot. A telling scene occurs near the end of the book when a doctor suggests to the priest and the civil-liberties lawyer that they call the governor in an effort to break an impasse in Bourne’s case. When they don’t respond, he says, “Well, isn’t that what happens on TV? And in John Grisham novels?” You might think that Picoult is engaging in bit of self-satire here, signaling her intention to take her plot in a direction Grisham wouldn’t, but two pages later, her characters are breezing through the metal detectors at the statehouse.

Best line: Maggie Bloom notes that having a body wrap requires her to disrobe and pay a stranger to handle her body: “Was it just me, or was there a great deal that spa treatments had in common with prostitution?” Then why have the wrap? “The problem was, you never heard anyone say, ‘Wow, check out the brain on that babe.’”

Worst line: Convicted murderer Shay Bourne explains why he doesn’t go to church: “Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?” Later, after a correctional officer survives a deadly assault by an inmate, a priest asks a doctor: “You don’t think it’s possible that Mr. Smythe was … well … resurrected?”

Published: March 2008 www.jodipicoult.com

One-Minute book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 26, 2008

Should This Line From the ‘The Devil in the Junior League’ Make the Shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:50 pm
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Here’s the kind of question I’ve been wrestling with while compiling the shortlist for the annual Delete Key Awards that will be announced Friday: Should the following line from The Devil in the Junior League (St. Martin’s/Griffin, 341 pp., $12.95, paperback) appear on the list? Linda Francis Lee writes in this comic novel about backstabbing Texas socialites:

“Sure, I wanted the chance to explain why I had been less than mannerly to him, but that didn’t mean I wanted all those overly feelingish feelings he had an uncanny ability to make me, well … feel.”

Why it should be on the list: Would you buy this novel if the book flopped open to this line while you were looking at it in Borders?

Why it shouldn’t: No. 1: The writing on the Delete Key shortlist tends to be unintentionally funny. This line is – I think – supposed to be funny (and, if delivered by the right actress, could be). No. 2: The Devil in the Junior League is pop fiction that’s up against heavier-hitters like On Chesil Beach. No. 3: Would I libel the state of Texas by suggesting that this is how women there think ?

I’m leaning against it. Lee may be just too good for this shortlist.

The finalists for the Delete Key Awards will be announced Friday in separate posts that will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Time and appear at about 30-minute intervals throughout the day. The full shortlist will be posted by the end of the day.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day on Love (Anne Enright, ‘The Gathering’)

“There are so few people given to us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given to us to love and they all stick.”

Anne Enright in her novel The Gathering (Grove/Atlantic, $14, paperback), winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 12, 2008

Do Love Stories ‘Give Love a Bad Name’? Quote of the Day (Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.”

Jeffrey Eugenides in the introduction to the new My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, From Chekhov to Munro (Harper, 587 pp., $24.95) www.harpercollins.com, which he edited, as quoted by Moira Hodgson in “The Puzzle of Love,” the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9–10, 2008 online.wsj.com/article/SB120251134693455033.html?mod=2_1167_1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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