Archive for the ‘General Fiction’ Category

The Shiksa Syndrome by Laurie Graff

In General Fiction on July 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Title: The Shiksa Syndrome
Author: Laurie Graff
Genre: Fiction/Chick Lit
Rating: ***/****
ISBN: 0767927621

Although I’ve labeled this a 3-star review, I’d say parts of this novel required the reader to suspend their belief at times. Yes, it’s fiction, that’s what happens, but how could a 39 year old proud Jewish woman transform herself into a shiksa? Isn’t that degrading, especially when she’s doing this for a Jewish man who is prejudiced against Jewish women? Okay, if you suspend belief there, it’s an entertaining novel, even if Aimee’s actions are not easily understood.

What I got from this novel is how difficult it can be in regards to Jewish dating. Jewish men have an easier time finding non-Jews willing to convert, whereas Jewish women are fighting a losing battle between compromising & possibly having a struggle to raise any potential children Jewish in a mixed marriage, & trying desperately to find a Jewish man who feels the same way about their religion & culture. I could sympathize a lot with Aimee, because every woman has her own difficulties in life in regards to dating & has to wonder if it’s worth it to lie a little here & there to make yourself more suitable to potential matches. (Bleached blondes do this all the time.)

I read a blurb about this book a few years ago, so what finally drove me to reading it was wondering what would happen to Aimee’s relationship once her Jewish man, Josh, found out his goy was more Yentl than Mary Sue. I won’t spoil the ending, but I found it to be realistic & inspiring in a way.

A warning though from reading other reviews from Jews & Gentiles alike, some found the stereotypes to be cruel. I was left wondering why Aimee’s shiksa friend Krista (who is dating a Jewish man) couldn’t understand why Aimee was pretending, seeing that she could observe throughout the novel very prejudiced statements from Jewish men directed at Jewish women. Also, her insensitive questions about the attractiveness of shiksas vs. Jewesses was insulting while giving Aimee full knowledge of her boyfriend’s low opinion of Jewesses was unbelievable. Even with my belief suspended, I couldn’t understand why Aimee didn’t smack the back of her blonde head for being so tactless.

One last thing: Who the hell gave the author the idea that non-Jews don’t refrigerate butter? Seriously.

One other last thing: She dyes her hair red, why did they make the cover blonde? Oh was that to make it more appealing in terms of what constitutes a stereotype of a shiksa? Nonsense.


Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

In General Fiction on July 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Title: Agnes Grey
Author: Anne Bronte
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 1848376081

I’ve never read anything by Anne, but I had high expectations since after all, it’s a work written by a Bronte. It’s a simple story on the surface, a poor daughter decides to become a governess to not only help her family, but to give her a sense of independence & accomplishment in the world. How she ends up being treated in her role as governess to two families is disrespectfully, making something like the ‘Nanny Diaries’ look like nothing. Spoiled children whose discipline is lax with parents, who undermine her efforts to improve their behavior. Agnes was hopeful at first, because she thought her place in a household would be one of respect, but governesses had more of an ambiguous social standing. Should they be treated like servants or not?

‘Agnes Grey’ doesn’t have the timeless quality that her sisters’ works do, but it does let the reader in how poorly a governess was treated in Victorian England. How they gradually came to be accepted by the children or families they worked with, but they still had to walk a fine line between employee & friend/companion. But the novel has a good message about staying true to yourself, about doing right by others, & there is a romance with a certain vicar, Mr. Weston.

I doubt I’ll ever re-read ‘Agnes Grey’, but I do recommend it to those who would like more understanding of the role of a governess & its historical insight into Victorian life.

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

In General Fiction on July 4, 2010 at 1:28 am

Title: The Cement Garden
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 0679750185

Ian McEwan is known for his seemingly effortless ability to make the grotesque seem normal, or really to force the question ‘what is normal?’ unto the reader. A mark of an excellent writer is that he/she can write about something that is disgusting to mainstream society without it becoming provocative or exploitative in a sense. Nothing was written in this book for a cheap thrill, even creepy aspect of action & characterization was necessary to understand & build the plot & theme of children left without their parents. It turns into a morbid story that changes into a tale about subversion of age & childhood/gender roles. They lose all footing once they lose their family structure.

The father has a heart attack one day in the garden & soon after, the mother succumbs to an unexplained illness after months of languishing at home in a stupor. What the two oldest children decide to do is keep their mother’s death a secret from the outside world. The eldest children Julie & Jack decide to put their mother’s body in a truck & cover it with cement in their cellar. They do this without much debate, as they do not want their family broken up & the younger children being put into orphanages.

What they believe is that they can manage the family, but it soon turns into chaos even if they do not recognize what is happening. The first sign of instability is how Jack has become sexually attracted to his sister Julie, though there were signs before the parents’ deaths that an unhealthy attraction existed. Jack also does care for grooming anymore, nor schooling. Julie has become fixated on an older man & is acting like the mother of the youngest, Tom, who has reverted to a toddler state & has decided to become a girl. Even the second oldest daughter in the family, Sue, supports his transition, asking why is it wrong for the child to dress this way.

I found that part particularly intriguing, as it gives a good commentary on what may be the reason why women can adopt masculine clothing & men cannot adopt feminine clothing without feeling degraded. McEwan puts in a feminist inspired commentary about it possibly being related to women being degraded by men, being seen as lesser beings. At the least, the reader will question why this is & ponder over it, despite being disturbed for the child in question. Tom’s main interest at first is dressing up as a girl to avoid bullying, but it later changes into a gender role reversal as he & his playmate dress up & pretend to be Tom’s parents or Julie & Jack as they are being seen as a couple even in the eyes of a young child.

What really intrigued me about the book was how it showed the unhealthy aspects of their grieving. It was as if they did not focus upon it at all or rather too much at times. Sue would seal herself up in her room, reading & writing in her diary to her dead mother. Jack would linger in a depression, withdrawing into himself. Tom regressed to a toddler state. Julie tried to play matriarch, but was caught between having a healthy relationship with a boyfriend & turning to her brother Jack for comfort.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski

In General Fiction on July 3, 2010 at 2:41 am

Title: This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Author: Tadeusz Borowski
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 0140186247

Borowski’s collection of short stories are autobiographical, dealing with his & others’ experiences in the holocaust. What hits you is that the writing is not overtly sentimental in the least, though it deals with the haunting realities of loss, despair, & looming death in Auschwitz. What is most striking about this book is how it shows the reader how desperate a situation it was in the camps, how survival came to matter more than anything else. How empathy became a liability & luxury you could no longer afford.

The prisoners would find themselves in situations after transports, that they would be more concerned with the fact of packages, shoes, clothing, etc. than the people themselves, who were destined for the gas chambers. In their indifference, Borowski speaks of how they could never forgive themselves for the part they played in the demise of others. Surely, they could not have stopped the SS from exterminating the untermenschen, but had they not willing complied somewhere along the lines so that they could live another day?

It’s a haunting read & it proves once again the power of fiction, that it can illuminate a tragedy like the holocaust in a way that even the best of nonfiction & even some memoirs cannot.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

In General Fiction on July 2, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction/Children’s Fiction
Rating: ***/****
ISBN: 0060530928

This is my introduction to the world of Neil Gaiman & I was surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. It’s a story about a boy named Nobody Owens who is adopted by a ghost couple (The Owens) in a cemetery after his family is brutally murdered. Well, that was a mouthful & considering it is written for children (at their reading level), it may come as a surprise that the book itself is not scary. In fact, I can believe most children could read this without much assistance from an adult & wouldn’t lead to any nightmares. It’s focused upon Nobody’s growth, his magical abilities in the cemetery, & how he seeks to find out more information about his family’s murderer.

What Nobody learns amidst all the death is the value of living your life fully. It’s a charming story that should be read by everybody.

I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif

In General Fiction, Romance on July 1, 2010 at 5:56 am

Title: I Can’t Think Straight
Author: Shamim Sarif
Genre: Fiction/Romance
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 0956031617

This is a wonderful short novel by Shamim Sarif who also directed the film version which I recommend. It’s the story of two women learning to recognize the truth about themselves, after they fall in love. One is Tala, a Palestinian who is working on her fourth engagement & the other is Leyla a British Indian trying to endure work life while following her passion for writing fiction.

The novel deals a lot with the expectations of both their religious & traditional families (Tala a lax Christian, Leyla a Muslim). But it does offer insight into how these conservative views are not shared by everyone in their respective cultures e.g. Leyla’s sister Yasmin, Tala’s ex-fiance Ali. It is a short novel, which doesn’t allow for a lot of build-up before they both make their decision on how to live the rest of their lives, whether in truth or denial, but overall it’s an excellent piece of fiction with engaging characters.

The Year of Living Famously by Laura Caldwell

In General Fiction on July 1, 2010 at 5:47 am

Title: The Year of Living Famously
Author: Laura Caldwell
Genre: Fiction/Chick Lit
Rating: ****/****
ISBN: 0373250754

Delving into another chick lit novel after a long break ended up being one of the best reads I’ve had all summer. The story centers around the life of amateur fashion designer Kyra living in Manhattan. She’s had a bit of success here & again with her designs, but she’s mainly stuck working as a temp. She has friends, but they are mainly concerned with their marital problems or living across country. Kyra is a strong woman, but she’s wondering when it will all change for her.

On a trip to Vegas (Vegas baby!) she meets Irish actor Declan McKenna who strikes up an e-mail relationship with her after their encounter. From e-mails, it turns into a date when he moves into the city for an acting gig & from there, it progresses into a real relationship which causes her to move across country to be with him. The novel could be said to be predictable, but it dealt a lot with the hardship of fame. The stalkers, the overwhelming amount of attention, the malicious gossip, & worse of all, the inability to discern when your partner is acting.

Overall a great book for the genre IMO.

In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan

In General Fiction on June 8, 2010 at 8:18 am

Title: In Between The Sheets
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Fiction/short stories
Rating: **/****

‘In Between The Sheets’ is a small collection of short stories published in 1978 by renowned English author Ian McEwan (‘Atonement’ & ‘On Chesil Beach’). In each story, McEwan examines dysfunctional relationships & sexual difficulties, with each becoming more bizarre as the collection progresses. Honestly, I will be the first to admit that some of it went over my (thick-skulled) head, with particular attention to the story ‘Two Fragments’ that left me confused even after two reads. Many of the stories have bizarre twists that are left unexamined, but whose effects may leave the reader lingering on the possibilities for some time. It’s all a confusing ordeal, sex & love, & it has the power to change us for better or worse.

However despite its faults or the faults of this reader, I did enjoy the macabre elements of ‘Pornography’ where a wayward two-timer pornographic bookseller becomes the victim in his own game & ‘Dead As They Come’ where a multi-millionaire who has lost interest in the opposite sex is suddenly struck by & allured by the beauty of a woman he sees through a shop window. In both stories the men are searching for their ideal relationship, ideal person really, but their uncompromising nature causes them to devalue the opposite sex on the basis of unrealistic standards they have set & eventually, these expectations drive them to the brink of madness or curiously, to become subjected & objectified.

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

In General Fiction, Romance, Vampire Novels/Series on May 30, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Title: Jane Bites Back
Author: Michael Thomas Ford
Genre: Fiction/Romance
Rating: ***/****

I stumbled upon this on the ‘new arrivals’ shelf at my library. My immediate reaction was ‘It was inevitable the two giants of the publishing industry, vamps & Austen, would be combined. I didn’t think it would be any good, but Michael Thomas Ford’s work really surprised me. It was written for Janeites. It poked fun at the Jane Austen industry (& the vampire novel industry), even poking fun at the book itself when you think about it.

Jane Austen is over 200 years old, she never died of Addison’s Disease at all. It was a cover. She’s been living in a small town in New York for ten years & unlike most vamps she can walk in the sun, but she does need a bit of blood every now & again. Being a lady of course, she doesn’t kill. The main story of the book is that Jane is trying to get her manuscript published, a book called ‘Constance’ that eventually ends up on the bestseller’s list.

But who will show up to spoil it all? This is where it gets a little funny to me. The one who turned her is a dashing Scottish poet, AKA the most romantic man in the world. Guess who? He’s trying to force her back with him, at the possible expense of her friends’ lives. There’s Anne, manager of her bookstore who reminds her of her sister Cassandra & Walter, a contractor always trying to get a date with Jane even though she feigns disinterest.

And just when you think it’s over, a rival shows up. I can’t spoil it, but every Janeite knows about this person & their opinion of Jane’s work. You will find it very funny!

In Her Shoes : A Novel

In General Fiction on May 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

Title:  In Her Shoes : A Novel
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Genre: Fiction/Chick Lit
Rating: ****/****

This book & I have a long history, well not so long anyway now… I remember searching for a new book to read on the internet one day & came across a book site which reviewed chick lit. Now, being an ignorant person that I was (& am still) I had no idea what chick lit was exactly.  Soon, I learned that it included ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ amongst other pastel covered books with shoes & other such things that I generally do not care about.  However, I wasn’t cynical about it despite the fact that I couldn’t relate to the genre’s heroines so I decided to read ‘In Her Shoes’.  I ended up enjoying the book though it didn’t cause me to delve deeper into the chick lit world at all.

So, considering that 2010 is the year that I read anything & it’s the year that I’ve officially started reading romance novels, I felt it was high time for a reread. The basic plot of the novel is that two sisters differing from each other in almost every way aside from their taste in shoes (oh come on, you know it had to relate somehow to the title) both deal with crises in their lives & are deeply affected by a tragedy in their childhood.  Maggie is the younger sister, drop dead gorgeous, unstable, & dyslexic while Rose is older, wiser, smarter, & a successful lawyer at a top firm in Philadelphia. There is sibling rivalry, & a betrayal, each character is faced to deal with their own vulnerabilities that have been growing inside them since they were young.

This is a novel more about healing & the importance of family connections. Also, it’s about how you can’t cover up the past, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen no matter how unpleasant it is.  ‘In Her Shoes’ will make you laugh at times, cry a little, & make you wonder if you’re in the right place in your life or not.