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Reading & Reviewing | 2011
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R&R 129 | The Undomestic Goddess

Sophie Kinsella
The Undomestic Goddess
First published in: 2005
This edition: Black Swan, 2006
ISBN: 9780552772747
Genre: chick lit
Pages: 416
Cover illustration by Gavin Reece; design by Stephen Mulcahey

R&R 129 | The Undomestic Goddess

I'm fine with books that aren't perky and happy. I'll read those that move me to tears. But I need some laughter and fun at times, too. I stocked up on chick lit the first weekend of April, and read one immediately. I needed it (as well as a glass of red wine). Sophie Kinsella is usually a safe bet if you want giggles and enjoyment.

THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS offers plenty of humor, as Samantha Sweeting finds herself in a rather silly situation all of the sudden. A smart – with an IQ of 158 – and driven lawyer, Sam is up for partnership at London's most prestigious law firm… but then there's The Error. The one Sam made, costing the firm 50 million pounds, most likely costing Sam her job. In a humiliated daze, Sam flees the city, taking a train to some obscure town in the Cotswolds, where she's quickly mistaken to be the applicant for a new job as housekeeper for the Geigers. Sam figures her life in London is as good as over. Why not… start somewhere fresh? So, she takes the job.
There is just one catch. Sam has absolutely zero, NIL experience at housework. She can't even make toast. Needless to say, the Geigers' new housekeeper is anything but the domestic goddess they believe her to be…

Yes. This one's very silly indeed, but it offered me what I needed at the time, which is several giggles. Sam is, despite some inconsistencies which I'll get to in a moment, a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed her story, generally, because of her likability. She does remind me of SHOPAHOLIC's Becky Bloomwood, but Sam's far less irritating and you know, less crazy. She has more of Becky's better qualities.

The setting is lovely; I'm a fan of rural England, especially the Cotswolds: utterly charming and visually stunning. I could picture being there. Kinsella did make me feel like I was completely in the Cotswolds zone during this read.

And then there's the romance, which is predictable – The gorgeous gardener? Hello Captain Obvious – but very, very cute nonetheless. There is chemistry between Sam and Nathaniel. I simply took a shine to him, because he seems to be a great guy and a fine love interest. Not too perfect, not too confident, a quiet one. I liked that he owns a pub, too. His mother Iris is a warm character I instanly adored. Even the Geigers are somewhat likeable, though they are a handful at times.

I never have high standards when I read chick lit, that would be unreasonable, but several things about GODDESS bothered me.

For one, Sam uses her real name while on her rural hideout from the world, but in this day and age of Google – and her Error being all that's talked about online – surely… I mean, the Geigers strike me as the Curious Kind, and they do own computers. Sam should've used a fake name to make the story a bit more believable.

But either way, the story borders on ridiculous at times; Sam is supposed to have an IQ of 158 but I was convinced throughout the book that she's actually dumb as a doorknob. A lot of housework isn't so much about being a full-on domestic who's handy with everything, as it is about having common sense. It's trial and error, and usually you catch on quickly enough. But not as quickly as Sam catches on the art of cuisine. In a few weekends she can bake the perfect double-layered cake and cook her way through French cuisine. For a girl who didn't know how to boil an egg properly to become Britain's master chef over the span of a few weeks, now that's equally doubtful.

A supersmart lawyer doesn't know how to make toast, thus is actually an idiot; several weeks later said idiot is the new Julia Child, thus is actually a genius. I could not suspend my disbelief in either case.

But you can kind of see it coming, a book entitled THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS – of course at the end of it all, she's a rockstar in the housekeeping department. The book is generally predictable: I knew what the deal was with Sam's Error immediately.

I also noticed a bit of a black and white view of London/city versus the countryside. London career life is soul-sucking, unsocial, lifeless, pale skinned miserableness – while life in the country is pure and good… blah blah. Career women have lives too, though admittedly women like Sam who live and breathe for partnership may be taking it a step too far. But it doesn't mean that life as a domestic in the country is all contentment either. It depends on who you are and what you want out of life and what makes you happy.

But I do understand that Sam needs to figure out what she wants, and what she wants isn't the career and city life anymore. She needs to see the good in the other side of things. (Sam, thankfully, does evolve and learns a lot in this story.)

Finally, the ending, I won't give it away, but it is disappointing because it's all over the place. The book "ends" several times, at least that's how it feels. But then Kinsella has a change of heart and inserts another plot twist. And another, and one more. The reader feels kind of pulled in every direction.
I do wish Kinsella would have made the ending less of a roller coaster, and focused her energy and pages instead on providing closure on other storylines and characters which had been left somewhat in the balance. What happens to the Geigers, what happens to selected people from Sam's law firm, Sam's relationship with her mother…? It would have been better if GODDESS had been a bit more neatly wrapped up. It's hard to explain this one, because I can so easily give something away, but I'll just say that GODDESS would've been a more satisfying read had Kinsella allowed her characters to go through with some necessary confrontations.

Overall I did enjoy the book. I was looking for breezy and funny and I got that, of course I did. THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS is a fun read, perfectly light, but it's not without its flaws. But I wasn't looking for much, and its cuteness makes GODDESS alright enough for me.

R&R 128 | Chasing Harry Winston

I'm back. With a vengeance. First review in a while, and it's delightfully snarky.

Lauren Weisberger
Chasing Harry Winston
First published in: 2008
This edition: HarperCollins, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-00-726271-7)
Genre: chick lit
Pages: 278
Cover design by: unknown

book128-winston-1000px

As I'm gazing outside the window of my Amsterdam-based windmill home, overlooking the tulip fields while sipping milk from my Delft Blue mug and nibbling on a chunk of Gouda, I find myself applauding Lauren Weisberger's keen knowledge of Dutch people. My wooden shoes are a worthy rival to any female Manhattanite's Manolo's, perfectly matching my milkmaid outfit. A fat joint completes the ensemble. I really should head out soon and stick my finger in a dike, so I will hurry up and continue this book review.

CHASING HARRY WINSTON is about three best "friends" (yes, quote unquote) whom each decide something about their lives should change. Brazilian socialite Adriana figures that at 30, she really should get married. Emmy, recently dumped by longtime boyfriend Duncan, feels the opposite is true for her: she needs to have sex. Lots of it. And Leigh, well… she doesn't really know what needs to change, until she meets author Jesse Chapman, a well-known player and the only person who seems to get Leigh to loosen up a little.

You're probably wondering what's with the intro. Well, suffice it to say that Weisberger's need to throw in THE single most irritating stereotype about my people no later than page 3 is the reason why CHASING HARRY WINSTON is officially the book I felt the need to throw across the room quicker than any other irritating book. "Since everyone knew Dutch people wear clogs," Weisberger insists. Lame.

The only thing that's even more lame about this book is its poor attempt at recreating a successful story: three "close" girlfriends, each very different from the other, discuss their sex lives / relationships with one and other in Manhattan. Sex and the City, anyone? (Candace Bushnell even gets a plug in the end of the book.)

Oh and I say "close" and "friends" quote/unquote, because while Weisberger tries to convince us readers that Leigh, Adriana and Emmy are besties, I'm thinking these women are sooner jealous of one and other, thinking their catty thoughts, rather than super tight. I liked Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. All of them different, all of them with their flaws, but all of them sympathetic – and actually close to one and other. Believable friends, and believable characters. Any woman can relate to one of them (or a combination). I could not relate to any of Weisberger's leading ladies.

– Adriana is vain, shallow and full of herself; Weisberger stresses this by pointing out ad nauseam how every man lusts after her and how fabulous she is. If you thought the Dutch stereotype was annoying: Weisberger does not do the Brazilian woman justice, either. I wonder if Gisele goes around saying "querida" every ten seconds, too.
– Leigh is cold and selfish in a way. There's no personality there. I have nothing to write about her, even.
– Emmy is the only one I felt a remote interest in initially, despite her "Tour de Whore". Which is another problem I have with this book. It seems that either Emmy is a prude for having "slept with ONLY 3 (?!) men in her entire life" (it's just not normal!!! Something must be wrong with her), but when she sleeps with 3 more men in this book, she's prostituting herself. I don't even understand why Weisberger is putting her character through it. It's so obvious that Emmy hates the whole thing, craving a steady relationship, that ring around her finger. It makes her seem rather pathetic and desperate at times, clinging to her one-night stands, becoming whiny and unlikable as a result. Pity. Am I to believe she really changed at all?

None of them really change or grow up. Not in a worthy way. What is the point to this book? I really couldn't find one. CHASING HARRY WINSTON is just a bad book. Not only is it shallow and vapid, but the writing itself is appalling.

It's disjointed and lazy. One moment the characters are enjoying (well…) their vacation in Curacao, and just when it gets a bit interesting, BAM!, we're back to Leigh in New York some time later, where she's waiting for a client. It threw me off. Why not finish the Curacao storyline? Why even bring it up if you're not going to follow through with it? The writing is lazy in other aspects as well, an example being that Leigh is at one point in the book referred to by Weisberger as "Leah". Every character (except Adriana, obviously) favors "sweetheart" over any other term of endearment.

Why did I even finish this book? Because I didn't want to abandon yet another one.

I liked THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and enjoyed EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING, and I'll stand by my reviews of each. But I'm tired of Weisberger's attitude. Hanging out and playing poker with mechanics (p. 156) is somehow beneath the fabulous life of limos and movie stars and fame. Emmy's either a prude or a whore. There's the typical idea that women should spend hours daily blow-drying their locks. (I'm sorry, but ughhhh, the vanity in this book.) Otis the parrot is apparently too fat and needs to have a makeover. (No joke. This is actually in the book.)

And finally, Weisberger completely offends Rosie O'Donnell, stating that in a Who Wore it Better? stand-off, there wasn't even a 0% to 100% outcome when comparing Rosie O'Donnell, who in my opinion is fucking FABULOUS, to Petra Nemcova, a supermodel (Weisberger clearly insinuating that it should have been 0 to 100). See? Shallow. Okay. I got one for you.

Who Wrote it Better?
Candace Bushnell, 100% – Lauren Weisberger, 0%.

>> On a different note, please visit my revived personal blog Miss-Cellophane.com 🙂

R&R 121 | Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs
Running with Scissors
Dutch: N/A
First published in: 2002
This edition: Picador 2002
ISBN: 0-312-42227-X
Genre: memoir
Pages: 304
Cover photograph: Jan Stromme / Photonica
Cover design: Steve Snider

121-scissors-1000px

In a nutshell?

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS used to be on my wish list, and then I kind of forgot about it until I found this copy at a book fair, and figured, why not? I was still up for a "hilarious" memoir full of "funny" stories.

Augusten Burroughs recounts his strange late childhood, a period preceded by his parents' nasty divorce. Dad doesn't want anything to do with him and his mom Deirdre is an erratic famous-poet-wannabe regularly trapped in her own narcissistic psychoses, and thus pre-occupied with herself rather than with raising and disciplining her son. So, Augusten finds himself living with the Finch family, the patriarch of which is none other than Deirdre's eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.

Early on, I developed a feeling of unease when I realized Burroughs was writing this book as his memoir, but it was mostly about other people. And these other people – The Finches, Burroughs's mom – are not painted in a very positive light, and it makes me wonder: are these people all really that horrible? Or did Burroughs use them and embellish their flaws for the sake of providing his readers with interesting reading material? (It's the memoir-debate again: people remember events differently. Is what's true to Burroughs really true to the Finches?)

I don't much mind a book about eccentric and erratic people. I can be amused by this material. But it's hard to be amused by anything or anyone in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, because this book is full of unsympathetic people doing unsympathetic things.

I didn't like Deirdre or any of the Finches, except for Natalie. Half of them don't know squat about right from wrong (which I will get to shortly), the other would-be-sympathetic half are impossible to really like because Burroughs describes them as filthy, crazy dog food eaters and living room crappers, their dialogue largely consisting of name-calling and cursing.

…and I really couldn't stand Augusten. His teen-aged voice is vain, spoiled, arrogant and emotionally detached. Natalie Finch seems to be the only person Burroughs even liked back then, so it irks me that he can't even spare her, but instead points out regularly how fat she was. This whole book just leaves a bad, unfunny taste in my mouth.

Perhaps it's me. A psychiatrist such as Dr. Finch – here goes – is not funny material to me. Yes, he wears a Santa hat at times and parades around the street covered in balloons. Quirky. Oh, but there's more.
He let's patients live in his own house. He feels the regular need to masturbate in between sessions with patients and has a little "Masturbatorium" available to him to relieve himself. In his office.
Hey, I admit, I kind of think Burroughs just made that one up. But I doubt he made up that Dr. Finch felt it is perfectly fine for thirteen year-olds (Augusten, Natalie – his own daughter) to have sexual relations with adults. Because, says Dr. Finch, kids are "adults" at age 13. Disgusting.

And how about "that time when" (bratty) Augusten didn't want to go to school anymore "because I'm not as popular as the Cosby girl, wa wa wa!" Dr. Finch got him out of school by helping Augusten fake a suicide attempt.

None of the above is ethical behavior for a psych-anything-but-o, and it bothers me tremendously. Ethics notwithstanding, most of you would agree with me that the (borderline) rape and subsequent "love" affair Augusten, aged 13, experiences with Dr. Finch's adopted thirty-three year old son Neil, is not funny. It's not hilarious.

The rape scene in question comes as a total shock: the reader is just starting to enjoy the book, when bam! Out of nowhere, page 111, explicit descriptions of Augusten being violated by Neil. I have nothing against these kinds of scenes in books but I wasn't expecting to find any here. Not like that. In a "funny" book. Was I supposed to have fits of laughter? Something must be awfully wonky with my funny bone for me to not find this hilarious.

…RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is a sad story. Though part of me doesn't know what to believe, I applaud Burroughs for finding a way to deal with his past by writing about in such a manner, light and trying for wit, a guy who rises above it all. I still don't like the guy or the book, but in that sense RUNNING WITH SCISSORS has that strength. Burroughs could have turned it into a crying fest of teen-aged angst and tragedy but didn't.
But some depth would have been nice. Augusten's detachment from the situation doesn't give the book the depth it could have had. It's kind of like, la-di-da he just violated me, now I'm going to dye Neil's hair. Oh! It turned out green, not blond. Giggles! The book falls short in both humor and emotional insight.

When there are moving moments (mostly between Augusten and Natalie), I can barely smile before I am instantly reminded of the fact that the real-life Finches, including real-life Natalie, have sued Burroughs for defamation (the case was settled; a victory, says Burroughs's publisher – a sad, sad ordeal, say I). Suddenly the moment Augusten finds emotionally important enough to include in his memoir is meaningless.

Burroughs did a phenomenally crappy job at obscuring this family's identity, and while I feel no pity whatsoever for the psychiatrist who allowed adults to abuse children, nor do I feel sympathy for Neil, I can imagine how it must have been for the other real-life Finches, having their dirty laundry out for all to see, their personal stories (Natalie's especially) told by someone else.

The reason is bothers me so much, is because Burroughs thanks the family in his author's notes, for "taking him in", only to crap all over them in the subsequent 300 pages. "Thank you", he should have said, "for being there for everyone to laugh at". Maybe then I would have at least respected the guy.

Failed to move, failed to amuse.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– Is a story about survival; at least Burroughs kept it light.

Cons:
– And yet, it lacks depth.
– Book is marketed to be funny, hilarious! But it deals with a boy being victimized (parental neglect, rape) and I don't find that funny at all. A light tone does not bring the lolz.
– Book loses flow in narration after about 100 pages: becomes a collection of Fun-Finch-Episodes, a poor man's David Sedaris, instead.
– … I just don't like the guy.