July 26, 2010

Book Review: Pieces of Happily Ever After by Irene Zutell

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 9:07 am by The Word Jar

Pieces of Happily Ever After, Irene Zutell’s latest novel, isn’t a fairy tale. It’s about real life, where you can be banished to the far-off land of Suburbia to occasionally play the role of wicked (step)mother to your own daughter, while the evil (and beautiful) Queen of Hollywood steals your husband instead of simply sending you a poisoned apple.

Alice Hirsh is the newest star of this anti–fairy tale. Alice’s husband, Alex, shatters their simple but lovely life together when he’s swept off his feet by Hollywood’s latest “It” girl. Once Alice realizes that it is now just her and Gabby, her daughter who is obsessed with all things princesses and happy endings, she finds herself in relationships she never would have dreamed of before her husband left her in Suburbia for another woman.

Zutell creates a compelling supporting cast of characters who feel like they could be found in any woman’s circle of acquaintances, friends, and relatives. An uptight neighborhood chairwoman obsesses over the neighborhood’s annual Christmas lighting display. A former adult film star tries to literally erase her past. The domineering head of an adult care home evicts Alice’s mother, who recently started cursing like a sailor. Round it out with an ogre of a paparazzo, a charming ex-boyfriend who reconnects with Alice via email, and a group of mothers who look like they have it all together on the surface and Pieces of Happily Ever After easily balances out Alice’s heavy loss with these eccentric characters who help Alice take care of herself as she struggles to take care of everyone else.

Pieces of Happily Ever After is about more than just the husband/wife relationship. It’s a charming read about the relationships women form—as mothers, daughters, friends, spouses—that help get them through both good times and bad. More importantly, it’s about the relationship women have with themselves. It’s about what they expect for and from themselves in relationships, what they’ll put up with and what’s worth leaving behind. Because when you finally determine what you are worth to yourself, you can appreciate the random moments in life—being your daughter’s knight in shining armor, spending one final moment with a loved one, learning to take a chance on yourself—that are the true pieces of happily ever after.

(Be sure to check out A Few Words With…Irene Zutell!)

(Review copy source: St. Martin’s Griffin via LibraryThing)

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April 7, 2009

Book Review: Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 12:18 am by The Word Jar

Everyone is BeautifulAs if being the harried mother of three young boys wasn’t enough, Lanie had to pack up her life and move halfway across the country for her husband’s career. She’s left behind her mother—her only lifeline—and every park she and the boys had ever known. At this point in her life, she is wearing her husband’s clothes, she’s mistaken as a pregnant woman, and her new (and young, of course) landlord has already seen her naked. And that’s just the beginning of Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center.

A wonderful addition to the mom lit genre, Everyone is Beautiful follows Lanie, a devoted if not outnumbered and defeated mother of three, as she tries to regain her “self.” This quick and easy read manages to address the very real issue of moms who give practically everything over to the people in their lives—kids, husbands, friends—leaving nothing for themselves.

Center has a good eye for the minutiae of motherhood, and her deft characterization of Lanie gives readers a protagonist they can both cheer for and cringe with. Because of Center’s witty yet touching writing, readers feel the joy and pain as Lanie navigates her new world—new playgrounds, new people, and new chances to find herself.

The secondary characters are equally well written and entertaining. Josh (Lanie’s single landlord), Nora (the widowed downstairs neighbor who is not-so-secretly referred to as “The Witch”), and Nelson (Lanie’s divorced photography teacher) all offer Lanie a glimpse of what her life could be like if she weren’t married to her husband.

Center weaves into the narrative Lanie’s memories of how she met her husband and the story of their courtship. These insights show readers how things used to be, and we anxiously cross our fingers and toes, hoping that Lanie’s relationship with her husband hasn’t changed as much as she thinks.

Moms of all backgrounds will relate to Lanie. It’s possible you may even run into Lanie at your local playground. If you do see her with her greasy hair in a ponytail, diaper bag overflowing, and quite possibly a nursing boob hanging out, don’t rush to judgment. Just ask her if she needs any help.

(Review copy source: Public Library)

March 26, 2009

Book Talk—Mom Lit

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , at 9:47 am by The Word Jar

After the decidedly heavy Night Work, I’ve switched reading directions. I’ve started reading Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center. I would classify this book as “mom lit,” a sub-genre of chick lit that deals with the lives and livelihoods of mothers. At this point in my life, mom lit speaks to me much more directly that chick lit in general.

For me, the main difference between general chick lit and mom lit is that a general chick lit story usually only impacts the main character—whether it’s her search for the perfect man or a perfect pair of shoes. By definition, the story of a mom lit book will also affect the children. There may even be a husband or boyfriend thrown in. That makes it a bit more weighty, and more appealing to me, than general chick lit, where the main problems seem to be buying too many things that you either can or can’t afford or trying to find Mr. Right. I’m not a big shopper, and I’m not in the market for Mr. Right.

I’m really enjoying Everyone is Beautifulso far (and from the talk I’ve seen on other book blogs, a lot of people like this one). The reading is fairly light and quick, and I should be able to post a review soon.