Unqualified by Anna Faris (2017)

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In this short, funny memoir, comedic actress Anna Faris details the major life events that led her to Hollywood and to her movie and TV career. These events are all filtered through her romance relationships; starting with her 3rd grade crush right up through her two, unsuccessful marriages.

Faris assumes that missteps and mistakes made in the name of love (or at least lust) are something that all readers have in common and writes her stories through that lens. While she has achieved a high level of success, she points out that fame does not stop her from making terrible mistakes in the name of love and romance.

Light-hearted and, at times, a bit raunchy, Unqualified takes us through bad relationships which supplied Faris with enough anger to propel her on to bigger and better things, and the good ones that helped her move toward her professional goals. She attempts to make sense of her life of celebrity by reframing her experiences through more everyday events.

Fun and funny, although not exactly profound, Faris is an endearing as a writer as she is on the screen.

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The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer (2010)

The women of Stellar Plains, New Jersey are preoccupied with sex: how much they are having, who they are having it with, whether they are enjoying it, and what to do to get more. From teenage girls who are just beginning their sexual lives to long-married women for whom sex is a distant memory; it is on the minds of the women of the entire town this December. (To be fair, sex is on the minds of the men in town too, but given that this is true most of the time, the thoughts the male residents of the town have about sex are less important in this story.)

The intimate lives of the women in town are heading for a shake-up, although in the opening pages of the book none of the female characters in The Uncoupling suspect what they are in for.  It is only when the high school drama teacher selects the Greek play, Lysistrata, that a cold wind begins to blow into the bedrooms of every woman in the story.

In the play, the women of ancient Greece are sick of the decades-long war that has stolen their husbands away, some forever, and decide they only have one weapon left: sex. They will withhold sex from all men until the war is brought to an end. In The Uncoupling, it is as if the ideas from the play begin to cast a spell one woman after another, causing each to inexplicably and irrevocably refuse to have sex.

It becomes clear that each woman’s refusal of sex has a deeply different cause from that of her neighbors. For sixteen year-old Willa, it is as if she is suddenly doubting whether love is real and whether she has let sex have too much power of her relationship. For Ruth, a mother of two toddlers and a newborn, the respite from her husband’s lackluster nightly sex sessions allows her time to set some guidelines for self-care which include stopping sex until her husband makes it worth her while. For Leanne, pausing all three sexual relationships she is in forces her to take a hard look at whether causal sex is really all she wants as she approaches 30. For forty-year-old Dory, it is the first time is more than 20-years of marriage that sex has not been at the center of her marriage and her sudden refusal shines a light on what the rest of her relationship with her husband brings to her life. For Bev, whose recent weight gain has led to conflict in the bedroom, the refusal to have sex is a demand to her husband: love me as I am (not as I was) or get out.

Wolitzer tells her tale with laugh-out loud humor as well as deep insight into the social forces that influence who a woman sleeps with and why. The book sheds a light on the various paths to sexual fulfillment women follow and attempts to remove the shame women feel about their bodies and their sexual appetites. A wonderful book that I highly recommend, even if you have found Wolitzer’s other works to be difficult to read.

Hardcore Twenty Four by Janet Evanovich (2017)

Two other books in the Stephanie Plum series have been reviewed on this site. To find them, click on the “Janet Evanovich” tag on the main page.

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Stephanie Plum, the inept but lovable bounty hunter, is back to solve yet another mystery with her unique brand of mediocre sleuthing. Hardcore Twenty-Four opens with Stephanie in her usual predicaments: running low on cash, juggling feelings for two men, and partnered with wildly unpredictable colleague who hinders her work as a bounty hunter about as much as she helps.

Trenton New Jersey is abuzz with gossip about a series of bizarre crimes: someone has been breaking into funeral homes and decapitating bodies awaiting burial. If that was not creepy enough, the police begin to discover other bodies all over town: some headless, some with their heads left on but their brains gone. The predominant theory:  a zombie horde has invaded Trenton.

When she is asked to track down a young man who blew up a building trying to cook meth (and missed his court dates), Stephanie finds herself drawn into the zombie mystery. While she tracks down her criminal, she keeps having run in’s with people who very well could be zombies — or at least people who look like the living dead. Rather than leave it to the police to solve the mystery, Stephanie feels compelled to keep tracking the so-called “zombies,” certain that if she can find her missing skip, she can get to the bottom of the strange string of crimes upsetting the city.

While Stephanie does get to the bottom of the things, she does so in her signature way: with plenty car crashes, explosions, gun fights, with help from all manner of crazy side-kicks. Hardcore Twenty-Four does not add anything new to the Stephanie Plum series, but it does not disappoint loyal fans either.

 

The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson

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One of our many, many books in the The Far Side Collection.

Around our house, in nearly every room and next to every comfy reading spot, you are very likely to find one of the many books that make up the collected works of the 1980’s and 1990’s cartoonist, Gary Larson. The one-panel strip is pure, comic genius: conveying in a few short words — often no words at all — an enormous amount about the hilarious absurdities of life or revealing the less desirable parts of ourselves that — when portrayed by Larson — are horrible and hilarious all at once. Despite the fact that the comics in the books are forty years old, the humor remains umdiminished. My family loves the books, we read them on-and-off, all year long. A rainy day, or a stressful week, might find any one of us flipping through one of the books and laughing out loud. Before long, the rest of us are drawn over to see what’s so funny and soon are all laughing.

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The Far Side comic strip had a strong presence in my childhood as well, my family owned the entire The Far Side Gallery books and we were often saying to each other, “wait, wait, read this one!” When my teenage son became obsessed with following funny memes that pop up on social media, it occurred to me that he might enjoy our old copies of The Far Side books. I way, way underestimated how much he — and his brothers — would love discovering Larson’s work. The books now live permanently off the book shelves and on tables and bedsides around the house.

Since the work of Larson speaks for itself, I thought I would post of few panels that I personally love … and let them speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (2017)

On Turpentine Lane was a sweet, quirky novel with a bit of a “chick-lit” air about it, that I enjoyed on a lazy weekend afternoon. The novel follows Faith Frankel through several months of her unconventional, and at times very funny, life. A former New York City urbanite, Faith has recently moved back to her home town and taken a job at her old high school. Her boyfriend’s selfishness and free-loading nature comes to light after he borrows money and sets of on a cross-country trip to “find himself.” Feeling unsettled in a cramped apartment with a boyfriend gone for an indefinite period, Faith buys a crumbling, ancient cottage in town on a whim.

Almost immediately the house’s past begins to haunt Faith, when rumors of multiple suspicious deaths come to light causing her great unease. When an album with pictures of dead infants in it is found in the attic, Faith asks Nick, a male colleague, to move in so she has a roommate to keep her fears at bay. Soon a romance blossoms between Faith and Nick and the two team up with her wacky family to play amateur detective and learn what really happened in the house and who was to blame.

In the end, a house that had been very, very unlucky for its previous tenants proves to be filled with only good luck for Faith, Nick, and her entire family.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011)

I spent a windy, icy Sunday afternoon re-reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Upon finishing, I decided that this book is one of my favorite love stories: funny, touching, and romantic in equal measure. I dare you not to fall in love with Beth and Lincoln!

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Originally posted on May 14, 2016:

This is the fifth Rainbow Rowell book I have finished in less than two weeks. I think it is possible that I have moved from a fan of her work to a super-fan; a title I will proudly embrace. Since I have reviewed all of her books on this blog, I am giving her her own tag “Rainbow Rowell” so that other fans of her work can find all of my posts in one place. (Note: I purposely decided not to separate out her adult novels from her young adult novels since — speaking as the mother of a teenager — I believe them to be mild enough for teen audiences.)

Attachments is the story told from the point of view of Lincoln, a twenty-something man in Nebraska living in 1999, who is deeply lonely and unable to find a path to happiness. After weathering a staggering heartbreak in college, Lincoln largely closed off from socializing, choosing to focus on school and work. After finishing grad school, he moved home to live with his mother (a delightfully funny hippie) and slowly let go of the things in life that gave him happiness: friends, dating, sports…in short, fun.

It is only after taking a job at a newspaper office that has just upgraded its staff to computers that Lincoln’s life slowly starts to open up. Night after night, Lincoln comes to work well after the reporters are gone in order to read all of their email and report to the boss who is misusing their work-site internet access. Without having to build relationships with his actual colleagues, Lincoln is able to build fictional ones with them; coming to know them through their emails and web searches.

It is the close relationship between two female employees at the paper that most intrigues Lincoln and, even well past the point of propriety, he finds himself drawn to their email conversations. Lincoln comes to “know” Jennifer and Beth as funny, loving, kind women and he comes to learn of their most intimate moments: loves, losses, and heartbreaks while never once even seeing their faces. He longs to meet them, but feels trapped. Getting to know them after reading their emails for almost a year, he argues to  himself, would be starting out their friendship with a huge lie: like making money “off insider trading tips.” So he witnesses their friendship from afar and soon realizes that he is in love with Beth. And then, the magic starts!

What follows are a beautiful, if nontraditional, love story where the universe (or at least, the Internet) brings two people together who might have otherwise worked side-by-side without ever knowing one another.

Attachments is classified as a romance novel, but I feel that perhaps it is better categorized as a rom-com. Although the book is undoubtedly a love story, one of its most charming characteristics is its delightful sense of humor; and its quirky male narrator, Lincoln. In addition to being distinguished by its humor, the friendship/love story between Beth and Jennifer, which is central to the book, also lends more heartwarming appeal to what is already a unique and lovely novel.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich (2016)

Book #23 in the Stephanie Plum series (Book #22 reviewed here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-3x )

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Everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, is back for yet another ridiculous, hilarious, wholly improbable but none-the-less enjoyable caper. She has brought along her entire rag-tag team of companions — including but not limited to: Lulu, Connie, Grandma Mazur, Randy Briggs, Joe Morelli (yum!), and Ranger (yum! yum!) — along as she tries to round up skips and as she goes undercover in order to solve a string of murders.

In this book, Stephanie is helping Ranger piece together a bizarre series of crimes plaguing a local ice cream factory and its employees, including two grisly murders. Going under cover on the factory line, on the loading dock, and even as a clown in the ice cream truck; Stephanie does her best to solve the mystery and (as always) manages to do so in a wild, round-a-bout way.

I have to admit that I whole-heartedly enjoy this series and, even after twenty-three books, I still am happy to send a rainy evening reading about Stephanie and her outrageous exploits. While other series I have been devoted to have fizzled (see my latest review of JD Robb’s latest Eve Dallas book http://wp.me/p6N6mT-19D ) this one remains strong. The reason for this, I believe, that it is Evanovich’s humor and her commitment to absolutely ludicrous story-lines that make no attempt to be realistic. It does not hurt that Stephanie is still, after all these years, engaged in steamy relationships with both Morelli and Ranger.

A series that is well-worth reading, if just for a quick, funny break from the craziness of the holidays. Enjoy!