Monday, August 23, 2010

Jemima J

Jemima J is the first book I've read by by Jane Green. Green's name always pops up on Amazon when I look at books by authors I enjoy such as Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner, so I decided to give her a shot.

Jemima J is partially centered around internet dating. It was published in 1999. That makes it quite hilarious, in ways both intentional and not.

It's quite funny and amazing to think how far we've come in just over 10 years. Jemima and her friends are amazed at this shiny new thing called the internet and they can't wait to get on and try it out. Which takes a while since they're using dial up. No one in the book has a cell phone and they use calling cards for long distance. I remember thinking I was quite cool in high school because there was this boy I had a crush on who lived in Tulsa and got a calling card so he could call me. I thought it was all quite grown up. How much easier a long distance relationship between Tulsa and OKC would be today. I actually did have a cell phone at that time because my parents were totally paranoid about me driving by myself, but it didn't have long distance and I was one of the few teenagers I knew at that time that had one. That would have been my sophomore year of high school, 1997. Robbie and I also e-mailed back and forth with the few AOL minutes we had available. Which seemed so amazing at that time. I sit here looking at what I'm doing online right now and thinking about all of the other things we can do and it's just amazing how quickly it all exploded.

The first thing Jemima and her friends Ben and Geeraldine do online is look up porn simply because they're curious that it really exists out there. It's quite funny reading about them deciding what to type and then waiting patiently while a picture loads line by line. Remember when pictures used to load like that? Then they go to a chat room because that was about the only other thing you could at that time.

And yet how things stay the same. Once there, they create a profile for a young girl and promptly get hit on by an old man. Then Jemima comes back the next day and she and another guy start flirting and suddenly they are internet dating.

Jemima J is a rather large woman at the beginning of the book, but she doesn't want her hottie in LA that she's dating online to know that so they have the graphics guy at the newspaper they work for Photoshop the photo to make her skinny. Then of course the guy wants to meet her. What will she do? The book is about her struggle to lose weight and her huge crush on Ben, one of her coworkers, as well. Will she lose the weight? Will she choose Brad the internet hottie or Ben? Will she be happy?

You'll have to read the book to to find out. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but there was one thing that would occasionally make me want to reach out and slap Green or perhaps her editor. The book goes back and forth from first person narratives to a third person omniscient narrator. At times this was jarring and felt like Green just couldn't make up her mind on which way to go and did both and for some reason her editor didn't make her pick one. Other times, and especially as a got further into the book, this became quite enjoyable. I like getting both perspectives, and the third person narrator was usually quite funny. I usually like having multiple narrators, but it just didn't flow naturally for me in the beginning of this book. If that annoys you this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, it's a good, quick read that will give you some good laughs and perhaps motivate you to get up and exercise and eat a little better.

Have you read any of Jane Green's other books? Any favorites?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Mystic Lake

I really love my cats, but sometimes I really don't enjoy being a pet owner. My cats decided they HAD to eat at 5:30 this morning. That's even earlier than I get up during the week. I tried ignoring them, but they sounded like they were breaking the bedroom door down and scratching it so I gave in, then couldn't go back to sleep so I decided to catch up on some blog posts.

I read Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane last year and loved it so when I saw her On Mystic Lake on sale at The Strand bookstore in NYC in May I picked it up. It's a about a woman who drops her daughter off at the airport for a summer abroad immediately following her high school graduation and when she and her husband get home he promptly tells her he's leaving her for another woman. That's not a spoiler, it's on the back cover and happens on about page 3. Up until that point Annie had a seemingly perfect life and it all comes crashing down on her. She decides to leave LA while her daughter is gone and go back home her small hometown in the Pacific Northwest where she rekindles a romance with a boy from high school.

I read the first half of this book very quickly, on an airplace home from LA actually. At that point I was a fairly captive audience because the other unread books I had with me were more literary and it was very late at night and I couldn't concentrate on those. Once I got home though, the book sat untouched for two weeks. But again, once I picked it back up, I finished it quickly. It's got a nice story and you care about the small town characters. The problem was with Annie. I just didn't identify with her at all. I think most women would though, so take this with a grain of salt.

Annie is completed identified by her husband and daughter. She's lost who she really is and has no life separated from them. I absolutely can't identify with that, but I know that is a common issue for mothers, so this may be a great book for someone going through that. For me, I couldn't understand how she got to that point. I can't fathom losing my identity that way. That's one of the many reasons I don't want kids. This made it hard for me to emphathize with her. I could understand why her husband left, even though he was clearly a jerk and had a lot of other issues himself once we get to know him a little bit better. I'm certainly not saying that he was right to leave her, just that I understand wanting to. I wanted to leave her at several points. I do think a lot of moms would identify with her though, so I don't want to leave the impression that isn't worth reading. It just didn't work well for me. I'm still going to try more of Hannah's books, and I strongly recommend Firefly Lane if you haven't read it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Espresso Tales

I finished Espresso Tales on the way to LA nearly two weeks ago but haven't had a chance to write about it! Oddly enough, I read Alexander McCall Smith's first book in this series, 44 Scotland Street, on a plane as well. They are good for plane rides since the chapters are so short it's easy to find a stopping place for all the frequent interruptions you experience while traveling.

McCall Smith's books all have a cozy feel to them. I sort of just want to hug them. The characters are all so wonderfully flawed and real. Although the coziness is broken by Bertie's evil mother, who I would take delight in torturing. I don't know how you can read about her without feeling the need to slap her on the back of her head. Fortunately Bertie's dad is beginning to stand up for himself, so perhaps the next book will feature her having to cave in on some things.

What's so awful about her? She has these firm beliefs in the fabrication of gender differences and so dresses Bertie in pink pants instead of jeans and paints his room pink. He goes to school for kids with crazy parents who name their kids things like Tofu. He's not allowed to do anything fun. Instead he learns Italian, takes yoga, learns music. He's six. Six! I'm all for focusing on education but wow she doesn't let him have any fun. And he can't go to a birthday party because it's at a bowling alley! Crazy.

And what's craziest of all? She takes Bertie to therapy. Where she and the doctor flirt and can't understand Bertie's problems. Because they all stem from his crazy mother and neither of them want to see that! It's all written so cleverly and is so funny though.

McCall Smith also just pokes in little asides on life and politics and consumerism and people in general that are hilarious. That's what I like most about the books, probably. I can't wait to check out the next one and I hope you all do too if you haven't read him before.

I need a little light-hearted reading right now - any suggestions of other funny books to read?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Anna Karenina

I finally finished Anna Karenina! It took much, much longer than usual for me to read, but I loved it! I already wrote a post on the first half if you'd like to check it out.

I think one thing that really struck me in reading the book at this is time is how everyone in it feels trapped. I felt trapped in my own life recently, made a job change, and started my own businsess on the side. You can check out my business and blog on content marketing over at I've also jumped on Twitter, so feel free to follow me on Twitter @sparksmarks.

One thing that stayed consistent from my first post is my love for Levin. Seriously, he's now one my most favorite characters ever. I'm a little bit in love with him actually. As he reminds me of my husband I suppose this is good! I love how he works in the fields alongside his workers and respects them and doesn't have the typical aristocratic attitude.

I mentioned last time how he and Anna are foils of each other, which intensified in the second half. Both long for happiness and are searching to find it and think they find it at one point but then realize the were wrong, then both feel trapped but choose very different ways of handling that.

Some spoilers, although I think most people know about the "big" spoiler:
Anna feels trapped in her marriage and finds something she thinks will make her happy in Vronsky. You emphathize with her at this point because she didn't choose her first marriage and you can't help rooting for her to be happy, although the choice of abandoning her son is hard to understand. But leaving didn't make her happy, and having a second child made things worse. I think perhaps she had post-partum depression, understandable as she nearly died in childbirth and was most likely struggling with loving this child when she had abandoned her first. This led to her not bonding with the child. This continued and grew worse, and eventually she loses her mind. She becomes paranoid and feels there's no possibility of happiness for her except in death, leading to her suicide.

Levin, on the other hand, pursues his happiness in his land. He tries to find happiness with Kitty, but she rejects him and so he focuses entirely on his land and tries to believe he can be happy this way. Eventually he realizes he cannot be happy without Kitty and after learning of her change of heart they unite. But even then he still struggled - with fear, with uncertainty, with questions. He too considers suicide at one point, but instead chooses to believe in God and finds happiness that way.

I was surprised at how uplifting the book was in the end since I knew about Anna's suicide going in. I was surprised that it had hardly a ripple affect on the majority of the characters. I was surprised that so much of the book was about Levin. I was surprised that Anna Karenina is now on my top 10 list of favorite books.

Interesting quotes:
"It used to be that a freethinker was a man who had been brought up with notions of religion, law, morality, and had arrived at freethinking by himself, through his own toil and struggle. But now a new type of self=made freethinkers has appeared, who grow up and never even hear that there were laws of morality, religion, that there were authorities, but who grow up right into notions of the negation of everything - that, as wild men."

That rings true to today as well.

"And it occurred to her how incorrect the saying was about a curse being laid upon woman, that in pain she would bring forth children. 'Never mind giving birth, but being pregnant - that's the pain." This passage goes on to have a woman talking about how she was freed when her child died. She was free from the work, the worry, the bondage. Darya is horrified at this, but then thinks about the horrors of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, sleepless nights, pain, cracked nipples, illnesses. I was surprised to see this addressed this long ago.