A girls best friend

For women of a certain age it does seem that diamonds are shoved in your face from every angle. It’s the thing you’re supposed to want most from a man, the thing you aspire to buy for yourself, the things that should be passed from mother to daughter, grandmother to grandson to new bride. If you are anything like me (ie: fall into the key demographic for the diamond engagement ring) they pop up in Google and Facebook ads on the daily.  They are everywhere, a symbol of status from where and how it’s worn to how big, how it’s set and how perfect it is. The subject of many a song, tag line and catchphrase, diamonds are FOREVER!

Book# 23- The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

the-engagementsRating: 3- it was a good book

Synopsis:  Meet Frances Gerety: a young advertising copywriter in 1947 working on the De Beers campaign. A young woman in mans world. All she needs is a signature line, but she has procrastinated as usual so, on the night before her meeting as she falls into bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

Evelyn has been married to her second husband for 40 years, and is now dealing with the breakdown of her son’s marriage to the best daughter-in-law she could have hoped for. Delphine has been married for 10 years to the same rather predictable man, and has left him to run away with a 24 year-old violin prodigy. James is a paramedic up to his eyeballs in debt with two kids and a wife who probably believes she could have married better. And Kate is partnered with Dan, not married, because after having been to every imaginable wedding, seen every kind of bride and heard horror stories about diamond trade, the only vow she ever made was not to get married.

Their stories are layered together across time, families and cities. Linked by diamonds in truly unique ways, all because Frances worked her entire career to create the perception that diamonds symbolize everlasting love.

My Impressions: After struggling to follow all of the stories for the first part of the book, the jumping around slowed a little and I was able to invest in the characters and their stories and really enjoy the book. The underlying theme of diamond and diamond sales was a very interesting one. I appreciated a narrative based on a real person and true events. And I liked that Frances was a bit of a  trailblazer for independent women in the workforce. Each of the women in the book were a caricature of the time period they were set in; representing a specific kind of woman, a relatable set of circumstances, familiar choices. And while each are uniquely different, if put together in a room they’d likely find an understanding of each other.

If I were to pick a favorite, I think Frances was the most enjoyable story line, just because of her strong sense of self, followed by Evelyn ,then Kate, then Delphine, then James/Shelia. I enjoyed the historical story lines more, because the characters had a stronger point of view and more forceful personalities, where the later characters are a little more subdued and passive. Their feelings about diamonds are each unique. For Frances, they are her bread and butter, for Evelyn, it’s a representation of her first and second husband and her life with them. For James, the diamond is a symbol of everything he doesn’t have, for Delphine, it’s a symbol of the life she chose and left behind and for Kate, it’s a representation of everything she loathes about the tradition of marriage.

“Time rolls on, And youth is gone, And you can’t straighten up when you bend. But stiff back, Or stiff knees,You stand straight at Tiffany’s. But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”- Marilyn Monroe

Why you should read it: This was a unique take on the chick-lit genre, even if it does make me feel a little like a target for marketing and nosey questioning (When are YOU getting married?) I think it would make a great beach read for anyone taking a warm weather vacation this spring!

Read if you liked: The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Fannie Flagg),  Chasing Harry Winston (Lauren Weisberger)

Book #23 in the Bag!

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” ― Philip Pullman

 

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Forget me not

I really love the concept of a book that asks the question: “what would life be like if this one thing were changed?” Characters go back in time and undo a wrong, or turn left instead of right and then fast forward to see where life has taken them instead. Or someone (something?) comes to them from the future to show them who they will become if they continue down the current path and gives them the opportunity to change (thank you Charles Dickens). Many of us have wondered before what would my life be like if I… I don’t think I’ve mentioned here before, but I’m a huge fan of the show Friends. (Seriously, super-nerd, can quote it line-for-line.) (It’s a little sad.) (Don’t judge!) One of my favorite episodes is The One That Could Have Been (see?) where they imagine what would happen if Monica were still fat, Chandler quit his corporate job, Joey were still a Soap star, Phoebe worked for Merrill-Lynch, Rachel got married and Ross didn’t get divorced. They’re still the same people a the end of the day, but they behave differently and have a different definition of happiness because of the choices they made. Instead of wondering what you like would be like in the future, what if you just showed up in it?

Book #22- What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty

Alice Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Alice and Nick are newlyweds who have bought a massive fixer-upper house and know they are in over their heads, but at least they are in it together! So imagine Alice’s surprise when she finds out she a Nick are getting a divorce! Poor Alice has hit her head on a spin bike at the gym and thinks it’s 1998, when she and Nick were 29 years old, deliriously happy and expecting their first baby. Only it’s actually 2008, she is about to be 40, she has 3 kids and gorgeous remodeled house with a pool and is in the middle of a nasty divorce. Some other things she is surprised to find out: she is quite thin, she has chic hair and fancy make-up, she drives a monster SUV (whatever that is), she is a super-mom at her kids school, her own mother is remarried (to Nick’s father!) and she has a boyfriend, apparently! The problem is, Alice has no memory of the last 10 years whatever. She doesn’t even know the names of her 3 children. Every time someone reveals information about her life and her personality, Alice struggles to connect to this outgoing, organized, upper class woman they describe. How could she possibly like coffee? How could she ever stand up in front of all the other parents at school and lead meetings? How could she possibly ever hate Nick and let go of their marriage?

As little snapshots and whiffs and voices begin to fill back in, Alice has a hard time deciding what is real and what is memory. Over the course of a week she goes on pretending to be 40 year-old Alice and lives the life she is supposed to, but with one goal in mind; she must stay married to Nick. When her memory comes flooding back to her, Nick knows immediately, just by the way she looks at him. And the spell is broken that quickly. But Alice can’t forget what happened while she forgot who she was and she must sort out who she is; young Alice, old Alice, or just this Alice.

My Impressions: I always write a longer synopsis when I like the book! And use excessive exclamations! I really enjoyed the concept of this book the most- what would happen if you woke up one day 10 years into your life with no memory of it? Panic probably. But the character structure of the story was so good too. Alice of course has a bit of a split personality from who she was and who she is. Her sister serves to be a bit grounding for her, as she was when they were young. But she is really quite a mess and it seems their roles have reversed over the years. Her mother and stepfather are comic relief. There is the outsider perspective of Frannie, the grandmother, and the voice of reason and wisdom. Her children are tension and interest and conflict. And then there is the dichotomy of Nick and Dominick (the boyfriend) also representing Alice’s past and present. And then, buried in Alice’s memory is a character (Gina) that had much to do with how her life turned out, and Alice has no idea who she is! The beauty of all of this is that the story could happen in any city, any (modern) time period, and it would still be the same because of the network of characters surrounding Alice.

I also just really liked the premise of this book. What would happen if you could hit reset and forget about a stressful chunk of time? Or go back to when you were just blissfully ignorant, or stupid happy? Even if things weren’t perfect, you hadn’t yet managed to foul them up so completely. I like the idea of a do-over. Not entirely a you-live-you-learn senario, but if you could examine your current life with the innocence of youth, what would you think of who you’d become? That’s a lot of what this story is about and it poses an interesting philosophical question for the reader.

Why you should read it: I was accused this week of only reading chick-lit and nothing that a guy would be interested in; could I please read a little sci-fi? Maybe next time; this is pretty much chick-lit through and through! But it takes a unique approach and it’s definitely a good all-girl book club pick. Open up the sauvignon blanc and get chatting!

Read if you liked: Skipping a Beat (Sarah Pekkanen), The Violets of March (Sarah Jio), Before I Go to Sleep (SJ Watson)

Book#22 in the bag!

“Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.”― Stéphane Mallarmé

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

I always appreciate a book that takes me out of my comfort zone but still manages to draw me into to the story. Usually for a book to do that, it has to be well written with intriguing characters and a compelling plot (just like all books really). But it also has to contain subject matter that challenges me in some way; a topic that I’m not familiar with, subject matter that is borderline taboo, a writing style that is outside the norm (2nd person narrative for example), or based on real events. So, when I read 50 Shades of Grey- unfamiliar and taboo subject matter, yes. Well written and compelling, not so much! But A Game of Thrones,(the dark, fantasy, murder  and malice) not my usual cup of tea, and still I enjoyed it enough to read the 2 that came after it. That said, there is something about a book with a controversial plot that could potentially be real that makes it slightly more uncomfortable, as it starts you questioning the darker side of human nature…

Book #21 The Dinner, Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett, narrated by Clive Mantle

the dinner Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: This will surely be a dreadful evening- a restaurant where it’s impossible to get a reservation unless they know you, pretentious food in tiny portions presented by the server (as if you can’t figure out what’s on your plate), and worst of all, Serge. Serge, the up-and-coming politician who requested this dinner so they could all discuss their children. Paul is dreading every minute. Mostly because he can’t stand the way his brother must make a show of everything, but also because he wants to avoid this conversation. Paul, his wife Clare and their son, Michel, have a happy little life; why can’t they keep it that way? Serge, his wife Babette and their 3 children are in the public eye as Serge prepares to run for Prime Minister of Holland. Their oldest son, Rick, is the same age as Michel, and they are the children that must be discussed. After sitting through several insufferable courses, they get down to business.  Only it’s really a matter of who-knows-what and how much of their hand they are willing to show. Everyone seems to think they know best, or have the kids best interests in mind. What will these parents do to protect their children and who is willing to go a little too far?

My Impressions: It’s hard to root for the bad guy, but it can be easy to sympathize with him after he’s told you all of the “bad” things that the good guy has done. It’s a bit more than sibling rivalry that keeps Paul and Serge from being friendly, but because of the point of view narration, it’s really hard to pick a side. In fact, it is this point of view narration that has you questioning right and wrong throughout the book. Obviously there are some very real, very extreme wrongs, but the line is a little fuzzy for some situations. This is a very hot debate through most of the book, and by the end you’re still not really sure if you’re on the side of right in the end. This book explores some interesting moral themes that may cause you to question your own position on some sociopolitical issues.

The book was well written and the mix of present events and flashbacks added intrigue to the story and helped propel the plot to its conclusion. The characters are really quite fascinating as their natures are revealed. And the overall subject matter is truly different than anything I’ve ever encountered in books or film. Actually you could make a case for a very interesting and rather dark movie to made based on this book.

Why you should read it: I did find this book easy to listen to. I’m a bit of a sucker for a British narrator. But it was really the unusual approach to the story and the taboo subject matter that kept my interest. I would definitely recommend this for book club lists and potentially for a literature study.

Read if you liked: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Book #21 in the bag

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” ― Abraham Lincoln