Worth a Thousand Words

We all know wine gets better with age. Emily Giffin’s following that mantra. Don’t get me wrong, the OG, Something Borrowed, still ranks high on my list of Giffin greats, but there’s no denying that her writing has become more skilled — and her themes deeper — over time. Her newest novel, All We Ever Wanted, illustrates that point, and it’s something she echoed in a Q&A on June 26 to celebrate the release of her new book (also the place where I committed some massive fangirling while meeting her).

In her latest, Giffin tackles the most pressing matters that families face in today’s world. By broaching issues such as rape, sexual assault, social media, technology, etc., she demonstrates that they’re all related and can exacerbate one another. All We Ever Wanted gives us a world where everyone carefully documents their lives through a lens, aka 2018, and where that can have detrimental consequences.

All We Ever Wanted

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Back to the Tuscan Sun

Give me some historical fiction, a strong heroine, and some Italia, and, really, nothing can go wrong. Am I right? Or am I right?

Although being in Italy this past February was the best nine days of my life, it had some consequences: a serious post-vacation funk. Yes, my vacation to this beautiful country was so fabulous that it left me feeling depressed that I ever left. My friend Dana knew the cure.

Thank goodness she brought Sarah Dunant’s 2003 hit, The Birth of Venus, into my life three months after returning to the States. I might still be in a post-Italy funk (honestly, it’ll never end), but this novel allowed me to indulge in a few of my favorite things. Now that’s amore.

The Birth of Venus

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If I Were a Boy

  • What: Still Me
  • Who: Jojo Moyes
  • Pages: 388
  • Genres: Contemporary fiction; chick lit
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

If you’ve been following Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You series, by now you know the premise surrounds a brilliant and quirky young woman, Louisa, who is trying to maintain her spunky personality through love, loss, and unfathomable decisions. (PSA: If you haven’t read the series, I advise you start now.) Moyes’ threequel, Still Me, doesn’t wander far from this theme, but it does introduce a caveat with new complications. The book isn’t just about finding yourself or staying true to that person. It’s also about the unique challenges women face in this scenario. In the words of Ruth Dewitt Bukater, “Of course, it’s unfair. We’re women. Our choices are never easy.”

Still Me

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A Case for Chick Lit

Quality is the most subjective characteristic when it comes to literature. Sure, every reader loves great symbolism, those masterpieces that speak to cultural moments, thorough and exact research about a time or place, those books that really hit home and move you. Sometimes, though, you need a break from the real world. You need something that will make you laugh or cry irrationally and believe that fairy tale love actually exists.

As someone who reads about overcollateralization, subordination, and tranching all day, while trying to parse legalese that makes you want to stab out your eyes, I know firsthand the importance of a feel-good and easy read. So it’s with great honor that I present to you my case for the novels that give you the best of feels (despite some of the harshest criticisms): chick lit.

Chick lit

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So Much for My Happy Ending

  • What: Miss You
  • Who: Kate Eberlen
  • Pages: 433
  • Genre: Chick lit; romance
  • Published: 2016
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Let’s get one thing straight: A happy ending isn’t always sunshine and daisies. Sometimes they don’t end up together; sometimes the person with the terminal disease doesn’t miraculously pull through; sometimes questions are left unanswered. For me, a happy ending doesn’t mean being overjoyed; it simply means it’s powerful. It proves that sometimes a story ends with a little roughness around the edges because not everything in life is so cut and dry, perfect and jubilant. As long as the storytelling ends on a solid note, I’m a content reader.

I’m not sure Miss You got that memo. Because I read this 2016 novel en route from Florence to Rome and then to New York, I had a lot of uninterrupted time to become acquainted with the characters, to really dive into their lives. I felt a connection, like I was walking through life with them. That says a lot about the writer, Kate Eberlen, and that’s also why the ending seemed to serve such an injustice to 400 pages of beautiful writing and character development. I’d spent 16 wonderful years with these characters before a too-perfect finish skewed my opinion of the book.

Miss You

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Guest Reviewer: Perfect Illusion

By: Dana Tong

The Specs

Do you ever have those days when you’re scanning through channels on TV and you hit upon How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and even though you’ve seen it 200 times, you turn it on anyways? That’s how I feel about Sophie Kinsella books. I know how they go; I’ve read several of them multiple times, but I get sucked in with every read. Chick lit earns a bad rap, but honestly, do you want to read something depressing and dark every time you pick up a book? I love a good thriller and a good sob as well (Cutting for Stone elicited one of the Great Cries of 2013), but I also love a warm and fuzzy, funny, silly book just as much.

After a string of not-so-amazing reads, I picked up Sophie Kinsella’s My (Not So) Perfect Life. The story centers around Katie, a young 20-something trying to make it in the big city after a life on the farm, climb the career ladder, build a social life—and make sure everyone knows via social media how successful she is at all of these things. When Katie gets fired from her job by her constantly frazzled manager, she tries to keep up the appearances she has built while also helping her family turn a corner in their lives and build a successful glamping business.

Sophie

Source: Amazon.

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Lost Characters

 The Specs

  • What: Modern Lovers
  • Who: Emma Straub
  • Pages: 353
  • Genre: Contemporary adult fiction
  • Subgenre: Chick lit
  • Published: 2016
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

When a book takes place in a state, town, or neighborhood where I’ve lived, I always dive in (see my four-flame review for The Nest). I love the nostalgia that I feel and deciphering how accurate the author described the places I know so well. This is why I naturally gravitate toward novels set in New York. Outsiders might argue that too many stories have an empire state of mind. But the five boroughs are much too expansive and offer so many intricacies, odds, and ends that “too many New York stories” is just unfathomable to me. That’s like saying there are too many restaurants in the city. Just stop.

So when I read that Emma Straub’s third novel would take place in Ditmas Park, two blocks from and on the same street as my second New York apartment, I instantly put in a hold at the library. I shared a great three years with Brooklyn, and I wanted to see what perspective Straub would bring to my old ‘hood.

I have to say, she nailed the setting. The descriptions of the streets, residents, and vibes found in Ditmas Park resonated with me. It reminded me of the jokes my roommates and I would make of Church Avenue, of the Himalayan restaurant on Cortelyou that Brian discovered, of the giant Victorians that took you out of New York’s anxiety and speed. Nostalgia was about the only thing, however, that Straub nailed in my opinion.

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Nonguilty Intoxication

The Specs

I’ve never been one to hide my feelings toward chick lit. The last class of my advanced writing capstone during college focused on book recommendations, and of course, most of mine were in the often condemned category. I felt no shame, and my professor backed me up by saying her tenured, English professor father was also fond of the genre. And the Hinnants know their stuff.

So it’s baffling to me that literary critics can shun such great writing, yet I’ll be reading it until my eyes go bad. Sometimes such a gift is dropped into your lap that provides pleasure without a drop of guilt, and this is what Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney delivered in The Nest.

Sweeney’s debut novel has all of the juice that we crave from classic chick lit: the gossip, the hot-mess characters, the love connections, the DRAMA. But there’s something about her elegant writing that keeps any stigma at bay. It’s simply just a beautiful read with a clever storyline.

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The Oscars Effect

The Specs

The Oscars has one particular thing in common with the movies it rewards: takes way too long to reach the climax. I never really thought about it until this past February when, while watching the Academy Awards together, my friend Dana told me that one reason she thoroughly enjoyed Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water was because of the film editing. It didn’t consume three hours of her time for the sake of being an award-winning movie. This brings me to The Oscars Effect: when a movie knows it has the Oscar caliber so it must be ridiculously long and/or take an inordinate amount of time to climax.

As much as I love Liane Moriarty (the woman inspired the name of this blog after all), her 2016 novel, Truly Madly Guilty, falls victim to the Oscars Effect. The novel focuses on supposedly best friends, Clementine and Erica, whose friendship could be a story in and of itself. In addition to their troubled relationship, both women face complications in their marriages and careers and with their parents, children, and neighbors. These complications drive the back stories behind the main plot. In Truly Madly Guilty, a friendly barbecue among neighbors and friends turns life-changing after one accident. Sounds interesting enough except I don’t learn what this earth-shattering, tragic or nontragic, adulterous or PG-rated calamity is until two-thirds of the way through.

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Ranked: Emily Giffin

(Originally published in July 2017 and updated in November 2020.)

Emily Giffin is a major source of ebullience for me. She loves college football and the British royals, has a killer Instagram, and plays mom to one of the cutest Golden Retrievers to ever exist (who also, it’s worth noting, has her own killer Instagram).

Emily and I have been together since I was 16 years old. I don’t exactly know why I randomly picked up her first novel, Something Borrowed, at Barnes and Noble one day before volleyball practice, but I’m sure glad I did. Her books have brought me more laughter than most people in my life (and I know some funny people), and she’s the only author to make me cry. Her characters feel like friends, in both relatable and unfamiliar ways, and she paints a badass female lead like nobody else. Her books are topics of conversation among my closest literary ladies, and I truly idolize her work. With 10 published novels (yes, TEN), it’s time to rank the baddest biblio babe around.

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