Four books walk into a bar. (Tell me if you’ve heard this one.) A Rom-Com, a Chick-Lit, a Vic-Lit and a YA.
The Rom-Com has been telling jokes since they all packed into an Uber. Harback YA cracked a few, but they went over Rom-Com and Chick-Lit’s heads. Vic-Lit had simply smiled and shaken her head at all three of them, but she also did that eye-slit-look-to-the-side thing she learned from the YA novel in response to paperback Rom-Com and Chick-Lit pretending to get YA’s jokes.
The amber-lit pub they enter is crowded with every genre imaginable. Peacock feathers adorn glass panels. Pink runway lights illuminate the bar from below. All around, books lounge and sink into sumptuous, velvet-wrapped furniture. A couple of e-readers are embarrassing themselves in the corner, causing a fuss as they attempt to make a wireless connection. A long and distinguished table near the back is hosting a party of Novels-adapted-to-Screenplays for the newest member of that exclusive group: The Nightingale. She looks extremely honored to join the club. The members in a party of Fantasy novels are trying to outdo one another, counting their Hugo Awards and flashing their illustrated covers. And a collection of Non-Fiction books have taken over a row of booths, conveying their farewells to A Birds of America book about to become out-of-print.
No one notices the newcomers sidle up to the oakwood bar where Rom-Com orders a white wine, Chick-Lit orders a margarita, Vic-Lit orders a sherry and YA orders a beer – obviously hoping not to be carded.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you four in here together,’ the Merriam-Webster Dictionary tending bar says.
‘I’ve been trying to get the four of us together for ages,’ Rom-Com declares with a victorious smile as she and her book-friends clink a fine wine glass, a salty margarita glass, a tulip copita and a frosted mug together.
Sitting at the end of the bar, a Sci-Fi novel guzzling a Zima stops long enough to hold up her glass in a display of fellowship.
‘Are you celebrating anything special tonight? Did one of you win a Pulitzer?’ the Dictionary teases, swiping a towel across the bar top.
The four books look at each other and shrug.
‘Well,’ YA begins sheepishly, ‘I won the William C. Morris Award for Best Young Adult Debut of the Year.’
‘And made the Longlist for the National Book Award,’ Rom-Com adds with an enthusiastic pat along YA’s well-worn spine.
‘And Kirkus called Rom-Com a real winner,’ Chick-Lit offers in triumph for her friend.
‘Publishers Weekly compared Chick-Lit to the joy of eating a slice of cake,’ Rom-Com quickly shoots back.
‘And what about you?’ Dictionary asks Vic-Lit directly, seeming to flex the thickness of his volume. ‘You’ve been around a long time. How many awards have you received over the years?’
‘No awards have been officially bequeathed in my honour, dic’ she responds with a respectable amount of modesty in her voice while also turning back the edges of her gold-leafed pages.
‘Call me Web,’ he insists, leaning his bulk forward against the bar.
‘However, satisfaction is my reward,’ she continues as if not interrupted, ‘forever established as a well-respected classic of literature – Web,’ she intones, ‘even after one hundred sixty-four years.’
“Don’t be so modest, Vicki!” Chick-Lit exclaims while tapping on her glass for a second margarita. ‘You’ve been hailed as a novel more brilliant than Jane Eyre. No one can beat that kind of review. Heck, you’ve become one of the highest standards of Victorian Lit.’
Web raises his brows. ‘I must admit – more people are compelled to look up words from your novel than most others,’ indicating his basis for judgement. ‘Then there’s the French dialogue.’
‘Mais oui!” YA yelps looking up from his smartphone, then mutters, ‘I’ve been hanging out with Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu.’
‘Hey, Chiffrer! Come meet these books,’ Web bellows to the French Lexicon currently clearing the table being vacated by a rowdy group of Best-Selling Erotica novels who are each one drink past tipsy. One of them gives a friendly tug on his red silk bookmark before scurrying after her friends.
‘Bonjour, mesdemoiselles et jeune monsieur. Comment Chiffrer peut-il vous aider?’ the French Lex asks, presenting himself to the four novels.
Chick-Lit’s pink cover darkens a shade or two. Rom-Com bats a paper corner in Chiffrer’s direction. YA’s book jacket flutters against his binding before he hastily pops an Oreo. Vic-Lit holds out her own blue silk ribbon bookmark in salutation.
‘Ah! Villette!’ Chiffrer swiftly dumps his tray of empty whiskey glasses on the bar to take gentle hold of her bookmark. ‘Enchanté!’ he says with a kiss. ‘Je vous connais bien. Charlotte Brontë et moi sommes de vieux amis.’
‘Enchanté,’ she returns. ‘Je vous ai donné beaucoup d’affaires?’
Chiffrer directs a charming smile toward her friends and switches to his accented English – always a killer. ‘Not of late, ma beauté. Not since publication of the annotated versions. Will you introduce me to your adorable companions?’
‘Oh, no,’ Chiffrer cries, awarding Rom-Com a courtly bow. ‘Should you not be called The Lovers Game?’
‘My main character has a theory,’ Rom-Com rushes to explain, growing still further pink. ‘Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them. She spends a lot of time comparing love and hate.’
‘But love conquers all in the end, mais oui?’
‘Oh, yes. Oui,’ she whole-heartedly agrees.
Chiffrer turns his attention next to YA. ‘And you are?’
‘Je m’appelle Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda par , mais vous pouvez juste m’appeler Simon.’
‘Your French is impressive, Simon. Did you study abroad?’
‘Nope. Learned it in good ol’ high school,’ he confesses with a youthful-yet-secure-with-his-manhood rush of blood to his cheeks.
‘And I’m Beth Harbison‘s Shoe Addicts Anonymous,’ Chick-Lit jumps in with the rescue, hopping down from her bar stool, ‘but I’m not only about shoes. I’ve got blackmail, phone sex, personal finances, agoraphobia and infidelity. I’m kind of like Confessions of a Shopaholic, except on overdrive . . . and my characters aren’t quite as smart – or outrageous – as Becky Bloomwood. If my personality changes during the course of the evening, it’s because I have four women to balance, so you’ll have to cut me some slack. I mean Simon and Villette and Rom-Com over here are all first-person narratives. That’s not to say their romantic interests aren’t equally important,’ she quickly adds when Simon, Villette and Rom-Com simultaneously cast wtf? looks her way. ‘And what’s with Paul being the big hero, I want to know? He’s such a chauvinist,’ she says to Vic-Lit. ‘And could you really not see how much Josh didn’t hate you the entire time?’ she asks Rom-Com. ‘By the way, he’s much hotter than the guys in my book, so I think I mighta tried to work another angle a lot sooner. And Simon!’ she yells, almost making him drop his phone, ‘you and Blue are so freaking adorable. I read you twice!’
The small party is silent when Chick-Lit finally stops talking. Web breaks the hush with, ‘Okay, sounds like you just cycled through every character in your book and then some.’
‘Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever written an English paper that long,’ Simon adds with a snort.
‘Oh, my gosh,’ Chick-Lit goes on as if not noticing the interruptions. ‘I just put two and two together. Vic-Lit and Rom-Com both have a Lucy and they both start out with antagonistic feelings, especially when the dudes go through their desks. Is The Hating Game a sort of modern retelling of Villette?’
‘Uh, no,’ Rom-Com says before Vic-Lit can answer. ‘But all the classics are great reference material.’
And that is the truth, I say. Classical literature offers a great means of escape and amazing source material – double bonus. Villette was a book I’d never heard of, even though I’d read Jane Eyre. I picked up a copy for $1 at a local Half-Price Books store, along with Shoe Addicts Anonymous. What can I say? I love shoes, as anyone who follows me on twitter can attest.
Immersing myself in a good book always helps to jumpstart my writing groove. I love to bounce from one genre to another, rather than idling in one environment. I first chose The Hating Game by Sally Thorne because I like comedy mixed in with my romance, and the excerpt for this book was pretty cute.
Without giving away too much, Lucy Hutton and Josh Templeman share an office as assistants to co-CEOs in a merged publishing house. She hates him and he hates her. It’s told in first person, so we have to go with what Lucy thinks even though we can see for ourselves Josh doesn’t really hate her. Sorry if I ruined the story for you, but hey, it’s a romance novel. Like you don’t know how it’s going to end.
The story starts out from a fresh perspective. I was looking forward to watching their hate turn into love. That’s not quite how it unfolds. I have to report, I enjoyed the first half of the book better than the second half. Sally Thorne stretches out the cat-and-mouse game played between the romantic interests and drives down a juvenile alley one time too many. The characters start out as professional adversaries, but as their relationship becomes more personal their collective maturity dips down a bit. Lucy comes off as a teenager at times and a tart at other times, then reverts back to a publishing professional in a way not entirely convincing to this reader. Josh’s character is more evenly developed, but I don’t particularly believe the shy side of his personality.
In general, The Hating Game is a fun and breezy read – I suppose what you’d call a beach book. The writing is better than what I find in most books of this genre, and I was kept entertained from beginning to end. If you’re looking for a quickie romance, give this one a try.
Shoe Addicts Anonymous. I’ll tell you right off, this book was not for me though I did finish the entire thing. Chick-Lit seems to encompass a wide variety of books, so I can’t say I’m not a fan of Chick-Lit for fear of excluding some favorites. Perhaps I’m not the best person to review this book because I don’t consider myself part of the target audience. Or maybe I am. I don’t know. Just because I’m female doesn’t mean I have to like it.
My main problem with the book is the characters. I don’t actually like any of them, except maybe Sandra Vanderslice – resident agoraphobe, phone sex operator and shoe addict.
Helene Zaharis is a senator’s wife for whom we are supposed to feel sorry because she’s stuck in a miserable marriage with a man having no scruples – politically, ethically or romantically – but is good in bed and keeps her in expensive shoes, until he pulls the plug because she doesn’t want to have his baby.
Lorna Rafferty is a barmaid who somehow has enough credit to afford Jimmy Choo’s and Christian Louboutin’s and Salvatore Ferragamo’s. She’s kind of like Becky Bloomwood except instead of selling her shoes, she offers them up in trade by creating and advertising a shoe club on the internet. All women in the D.C. area who wear size 7.5 and own ridiculously expensive shoes are welcome.
Jocelyn Bower is an au pair who doesn’t wear 7.5 and doesn’t waste her money on expensive footwear, but she needs someplace to hang out on her evenings off to avoid her tyrannical (and looney-crazy) boss. She likes the two boys she cares for (well, at least one of them) and is so principled when it comes to her year-long contract, she continues to allow herself to be berated, accused and threatened on a daily basis.
I’ve already admitted to loving shoes, but I’m not a consumer of ultra-expensive footwear which look too uncomfortable to wear anyway. But we all have our vices, so I’ll let it go. What I can’t let go is the choices these characters make. Helene stays with a man who is obviously cheating on her. He’s demeaning, controlling and demanding. She doesn’t even feel worthy of him. Lorna is the most comical character, given the financial choices she makes. As this is a comedy, I can’t jump all over her for that but perhaps shifting her addiction from $1500 a pair shoes to $50 (or less) shoes would have been a wise way to go. Also, I don’t get wearing mile-high Jimmy Choo’s to wait tables in a bar. Maybe it’s just me. Sandra’s character is the most interesting. Frankly, I would have preferred a story involving only her arc. Gosh. I sound really mean. I thought about not including this book because I don’t care for book bashing. I hope that’s not what I’m doing.
Shoe Addicts Anonymous starts out interesting (which is what kept me going for a while), but the choices the women continue to make are annoying. I want to shake sense into them. Helene, leave your husband. Jocelyn, quit your job and take one of the many offers you’ve received. Lorna, quit spending money you don’t have on shoes you don’t need. Sandra, keep doing what you’re doing.
In the end, I forced myself to finish the book which concludes with a bright, red bow on the last three chapters. Miraculously, the women start their own shoe company despite knowing nothing about the shoe business and having terrible financial sense. The weight falls on Jocelyn’s business-minded shoulders, but she takes it like a trooper because she wins a hot, sexy Italian boyfriend as a bonus. Given the number of books available to read, I can’t in good conscience recommend adding this one to your TBR pile.
Final note: Back in 2010 the book was reported to be in motion picture development starring Halle Berry as Sandra, but the project seems to be stuck there. The casting of Halle Berry makes me think the adaptation may be a loose one.
And now we come to Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (links to free version on amazon).
Like Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Villette is a much analyzed novel. The narration and dialogue in both masterpieces are rich in description and colorful in their language. Lucy Snowe is a unique heroine and not at all what I expected from a character in a Victorian novel.
Passionate is a word often used to describe Brontë’s writing. As a result, I found myself re-reading paragraphs multiple times simply because of their beauty. The way she describes a setting or the physical and/or intellectual depiction of a character can be just as exquisite as the way she describes a feeling:
So little had I hoped, so much had I feared; there was a fulness of delight in this taste of fruition – such, perhaps, as many a human being passes through life without ever knowing. The poor English teacher in the frosty garret, reading by a dim candle guttering in the wintry air, a letter simply good-natured – nothing more; though that good-nature then seemed to me godlike – was happier than most queens in palaces.
or the passage of time:
Time always flowed smoothly for me at my godmother’s side, not with tumultuous swiftness, but blandly, like the gliding of a full river through a plain.
Of course, I could go on and on with examples, but you get the picture. So, let’s talk about Lucy.
Her story begins as a thirteen-year-old goddaughter to a Mrs. Bretton. Lucy is not described as a great beauty, but rather plain. She is also pragmatic, honest and always kind. While at Bretton, two pivotal characters enter her life – Graham Bretton, Mrs. Bretton’s sixteen-year-old son, and six-year-old Polly Home, temporary ward to Mrs. Bretton. Lucy spends much of her time observing Mrs. Bretton, Graham and Polly, their relationships, their actions – an outsider of her own choosing. She leads a somewhat lonely life at Bretton before returning home to her own family, shortly after Polly’s departure.
Not many women would strike out on their own adventure with little money, no plan and an uncertain future. Ten years later, that’s what Lucy does when she boards a ship and leaves England for France, a country where she knows no one and doesn’t even speak the language. Back luck and fortitude land her on the doorstep of Madame Beck’s boarding school for girls. Lucy at first takes a position as governess to M. Beck’s own children but is quickly promoted to English teacher at the school.
Brontë introduces several other female characters, including one Ginevra Fanshawe – a beautiful, spoiled, materialistic snob who enjoys bragging and pandering for compliments. Lucy befriends them all, whether she likes them or not. But she’s not a pretender. She’s patient and polite to a certain extent. She allows herself to be used by Ginevra to an annoying degree and is subjected to repeated humiliation at the hands of Monsieur Paul Emanuel, one of the more senior professors at the school. Despite all that, Lucy has a feminine strength I greatly admire and displays intelligence in the way she does stand up to both bullies. In other words, Lucy Snowe is a very complicated character who is burdened with a mysterious and painful past which is never quite revealed to the reader. The entire novel is packed with deceptions – both good and bad – divulged one at a time at Brontë’s (and Lucy’s) own pace.
Lucy is eventually reunited with Graham and Mrs. Beck in Villette – the town where she is teaching and they are now living as well. Her solitary life at the school is supplanted by their company. She is happy. She is welcome. She is in love. But the happiness offered is fleeting and unclear. Lucy wants financial security and permanent happiness on her own terms – unlike Ginevra who takes and takes and takes but never pays a price.
Polly also re-enters Lucy’s life. She is now a beautiful young woman of seventeen, devoted to her father and wrought of genuine sweetness. Lucy resumes her position as observer of Graham and Polly’s relationship, watching and encouraging their newfound love for one another.
When it comes to feelings, the reader shares Lucy’s pain. She is alone (yet again) and continues to make herself an outsider. She refuses to conform to the detriment of her own comfort and happiness. But just when you think poor Lucy will never be rewarded with a true love of her own, Brontë builds up the suspense and delivers a spectacular climax. For those who’ve never read Villette, I’ll stop here. No sense in ruining the ending completely.
You’ve guessed by now, I highly recommend this novel be placed at the top of your TBR pile. It may not be a fast read and you may have to look up several words in Web (I surely did), but it’s a delight to read – the imagery a feast for the eyes. Please enjoy!
The last book in my review quickly became a guilty pleasure. It was my intention to get back to work upon completing Villette, but the evening was late so I turned my attention to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – introduced to me through one of the daily goodreads deals. Because of the number of laudatory reviews, I checked it out from an e-library. Unfortunately, once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.
Simon and every other character in this book make me grin from ear to ear. I won’t spoil the story overmuch by giving away details because I want you to read it for yourself. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a love story – simple as that. It’s adorable. It’s funny. It’s down-to-earth freaking real. ‘s writing is perfectly charming and genuine. I loved being inside the mind of this seventeen-year-old kid. I want to go back to high school and be his friend. I want to beat up the kids who are still ignorant, intolerant and insensitive enough to show how ignorant, intolerant and insensitive they actually are.
This novel reminds me quite a bit of Dear Evan Hansen – the musical I mention in my review of La La Land. Both are stories of an awkward high school boy who uses emails as a method of liberating his feelings. Two of the biggest differences are: Simon is gay and has a huge support group, i.e. friends. While reading the book, I kept picturing a Broadway musical à la Dear Evan Hansen. As it turns out, the book is set to become a motion picture with principal photography scheduled to begin sometime this year.
Given my affection for this novel, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and am sponsoring a giveaway. Click here or on the picture below to enter a contest to win a free digital copy of the book. No purchase necessary. No following me on twitter necessary. No strings attached. Five random winners will be selected. Contest ends 16 February 2017. Good luck to all who enter!
Now it’s back to work. Next up on my TRB pile is Connie Willis’ Crosstalk. I can’t wait!