Book chat: ‘Food Whore’ by Jessica Tom

Food WhoreTia Monroe knows food.

That passion is what propelled her into New York’s fashionable, dirty, complicated, cutthroat culinary world. A young critic and baker once featured in the New York Times, Tia now hopes to gain an internship with a famed foodie at work on her next cook book. . . until that opportunity crumbles like a days-old cookie.

Left starting in the coat check (!) at an upscale restaurant, Tia makes the acquaintance of Michael Saltz: the Times critic known for making and breaking the city’s top establishments. Michael giveth, and Michael taketh away — until a strange medical issue threatens to take everything away from him.

Rich, powerful and well-connected, Michael Saltz needs Tia’s perspective — and her palate — to uphold the lavish life to which he’s accustomed. And Tia? She’s wooed by the promise of Michael finally connecting her to the mentor she wanted in the first place. (The pricey meals, expense account and hot chefs are a bonus.)

But can she get out from Michael’s grasp without getting burned?

Jessica Tom’s Food Whore was fast-paced, light and entertaining — everything I love in good chick lit. Comparisons to a foodie version of The Devil Wears Prada are pretty spot-on, but I liked Tia’s persistence and willingness to step out to reach her goals.

Even if that meant getting stepped on.

As a narrator, Tia could be frustrating, though. She’s frequently gullible, though I can’t pretend I would know better. The plot line with her college sweetheart was a little irritating, given dude was as interesting as plain vanilla ice cream (let him go, lady), but I liked the push-and-pull Jessica Tom established in Tia’s conscience: settle for the old, or strive for the new?

Though Tia is our main squeeze, Michael Saltz — and his creepiness — seep between every crack in the story. He presents himself as Tia’s savior, a one-man ticket to a better life, but I had the sense he was all bluster from the beginning. We know his intentions aren’t romantic (he’s gay), but his obsession with Tia as the one remaining tether to his lifestyle and prestige is . . . unsettling, to say the least.

Food Whore moves quickly — so fast I finished it in a few days, which is a record for this new mama who rarely reads more than a few pages at a clip. It often kept me up past my bedtime, and I found myself thinking about Tia and her madcap adventures throughout the day.

Fans of women’s fiction, tantalizing food descriptions, New York settings and speedy reads will enjoy Food Whore. I really liked slipping into Tia’s stylish shoes for this adventure through New York’s culinary culture — and I would return in a heartbeat.

4 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided for critical consideration

Book review: ‘Baby Proof’ by Emily Giffin

Baby ProofOh, I’m so torn about this one.

On one hand, it was very entertaining. Like all Emily Giffin novels, I raced through it — barely pausing between sentences, between chapters. It was interesting and often amusing and filled with (mostly) likeable characters, but . . .


It felt shallow. Ill-conceived (eh, pun intended). I wasn’t entirely comfortable with where the story was headed, and I definitely wasn’t comfortable with where it wound up.

But look. If you’re a Giffin fan, you’ve probably already tread down the path of Baby Proof — like, years ago — and don’t need me to tell you to grab it or not grab it. If you like women’s fiction, chances are favorable you’ve come across the author’s work — and I certainly have. This was actually the final book of her backlist I had to pick up, and I’m not sorry I read it.

Would I read it again? Nope.

The gist of our story: Claudia Parr thinks she’s happily married to Ben, a man with whom she shares a no-child vision for their lives; Ben decides that may not actually be the case; marriage crisis ensues. In the end, Claudia must decide if she’s secure in not wanting to be a mother — and if she’s comfortable with Ben going on to parent with someone else.

That’s it.

It’s a pretty long book centering on one precise issue, but I actually thought Giffin handled it well. Of course, because our narrator emphatically declares she does not want a child — and stands to lose her marriage because of it — she sees babies everywhere. One sister desperately wants to be pregnant, but can’t be; another friend thinks she is going to have a child with her married lover, but fate might have other ideas. Basically, it’s all the babies all the time in Claudia’s world . . . and everything gets complicated.

If this sounds like a read you’d enjoy and/or you like Emily Giffin, you’ll probably dig this one. It was not my favorite of her books — that distinction would go to Something Blue — but, you know, it was passable.

3.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2007 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘The Wedding Beat’ by Devan Sipher

The Wedding BeatThirty-something writer Gavin Greene is used to romantic settings, tearful vows and candlelit dinners — just not his own. As a wedding columnist for New York’s leading newspaper, Gavin attends intimate soirees, hob-knobs with the rich and recaps their events for readers. It’s an enjoyable gig — even when it can’t help but remind him of what he’s missing.

And that would be . . . someone like Melinda. After a brief encounter at a New Year’s party, Gavin is smitten with the “young Sandra Bullock” lookalike — a woman with an adventurous spirit and winning smile. He loses his gumption before asking for her number and, in classic New York fashion, she disappears into the crowd. Determined to find her, Gavin sets out on a cross-town adventure — and discovers her in an unlikely place.

Devan Sipher’s The Wedding Beat is, if you’ll pardon the term, dude lit. Chick lit with a goatee. Sipher’s male narrator brings a refreshing change of pace to the classic city love stories I gobble whole — and I couldn’t help but fall for the cute, sweet and occasionally clueless Gavin.

This quick read is the sort of story I escape into during periods of extreme stress, you know? When you need something light, frothy and fun. Though the story meanders into deeper issues at points (the state of journalism, for one), the fast pace keeps you moving through Gavin’s adventures around New York — and into the ballrooms of the city’s fabulous brides. Those who love weddings will find plenty of details to pour through via Gavin’s assignments, and it was hard not to get in a bell-ringing, engagement-seeking mood. It’s obvious why Gavin, a single guy in his late thirties, would find listening to others’ love stories tedious after a while . . . and why he’d feel like “a wedding beat” was continuously pounding in his psyche.

Though never specifically named, Gavin’s paper is obviously The New York Times — and his attempts to survive cutbacks and lay-offs felt alarmingly familiar. The author’s modern touches — like the staff’s need to blog and tweet, aimed to keep our industry from becoming obsolete — were interesting and true. Delving into the author’s background, surprise: Sipher is a Vows columnist for the Times.

James Marsden in 27 DressesSo, you know, Gavin is basically Sipher. And Sipher is Gavin. And rumor has it James Marsden’s character in “27 Dresses,” pictured at right, is based on him — a plot also woven into The Wedding Beat. So the plot thickens.

If you’re a fan of those types of movies (and I totally am), you’re going to eat this one up. With just enough romance to keep me hooked, Gavin is a quirky but loveable guy — a character you can’t help but want to be happy. Though he takes a few missteps in his quest to find the ever-elusive but unforgettable Melinda, he’s a genuine guy — and a very charming one. It was fun to read a romance from a male perspective — and penned by a male author.

So yes, The Wedding Beat:  fun, quick and very enjoyable. I listened to the audio during three days of a super-long commute and wouldn’t have wanted to pass the time any other way.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451235797 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library

About the audio: Narrator Peter Berkrot plays an excellent Gavin: a guy who is simultaneously confident and anxious, worried and in control. It’s a quick listen — just over seven hours — and a humorous one.

Book review: ‘In The Bag’ by Kate Klise

Armchair travelers rejoice! Kate Klise has penned a funny, light and speedy read transporting readers through Madrid and Paris with two love stories entertaining enough for me to devour the whole thing on a three-hour train ride. And I have no regrets.

“A successful chef and single mother, Daisy Sprinkle is on vacation with her teenage daughter, Coco, who picks up the wrong duffle bag at the airport. That situation is not improved by the note Daisy finds tucked into her carry-on, apparently from the man in 13-C. Daisy is in no mood for secret admirer notes or dinner dates. Or even men, for that matter.

“Andrew doesn’t know what possessed him to do something like that. Hitting on strange women on airplanes is definitely not his typical style. But there was something about the woman in 6-B that could not be ignored. Of course, now he has no time to think about her, since his son Webb seems to have made off with a budding fashionista’s luggage.

“Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Daisy cooks up a plan to calm her daughter’s panic over the lost bag with a week of fabulous food, shopping, and museum hopping. Andrew is busy working on his latest project and hoping Webb finds enough to entertain himself. Little do they know the teens are making their own plan. . . one that will ultimately reunite Ms. 6-B and Mr. 13-C.” (Goodreads)

If In The Bag sounds like a kooky novel relying on uncanny coincidences to further the plot, you’re right — and I liked it. Though far from unpredictable, it’s easy to see how fate plays a role in joining together four people; the whole novel has a sort of “Sleepless In Seattle” feel to it. You know what I mean? Like everything is destined to work out, but only the audience can see it. And we’re along for the ride.

Good thing I love “Sleepless In Seattle.”

Though Coco’s typical-teenage-character whining (“Mooooom! You’re ruining my life!“) nonsense took a while to stomach, I eventually took a shine to her. Both Coco and Daisy are struggling to sort out their roles in the mother-daughter dynamic, especially as Coco gets older and prepares for college. Their trip to Paris is supposed to be a chance to reconnect and recharge their batteries, especially for Daisy, but nothing seems to be going their way.

After a luggage mix-up, they’re linked to Andrew and Webb, a handsome father-son pair, and it’s not complicated to see that Teen Girl A will feel a spark with Teen Boy B. Communicating exclusively through email, In The Bag focuses often on the role of digital courtship versus the more traditional ways of getting to know someone (like, you know, in person). Daisy is wary of technology while Andrew embraces it; Coco and Webb are, of course, glued to whatever Internet cafe they can find abroad. I liked the explorations of “modern” courtship — they made sense, and Klise wasn’t heavy-handed about it. The whole “OMG people don’t really talk anymore” overtures popping up in contemporary fiction are getting stale.

Those who love a side of scenery, French food and wicked descriptions of Europe with their love stories will definitely find plenty to enjoy in In The Bag. Flipping between sunny Madrid and romantic Paris, it’s the sort of novel that will have you wanting to pack a bag immediately. (Just hope it doesn’t get lost.) Though I got more of a sense of France than Spain, that’s probably because Webb spent his time in Madrid talking to Coco in Paris — so we see less of the city through his eyes. Still, the travel aspects were fun, and I enjoyed the “Americans abroad” perspective.

In The Bag definitely has crossover appeal. Adult readers and chick lit lovers will relate to the harried-parents-doing-the-best-they-can relationship between Andrew and Daisy; teens have plenty to get their blood pumpin’ regarding the sweet but flirtatious evolution of Webb and Coco’s emails. By the time the pair meet face-to-face, I was grinning — I mean, who wouldn’t root for those crazy kids? And when things don’t go exactly as planned, I could sympathize. For as much as I had to suspend disbelief at points, Coco and Webb’s meeting was painfully realistic.

Though I sometimes get twitchy about labeling something a “summer read” (it can just seem dismissive), that’s exactly how I would describe In The Bag: light-hearted fiction that can be easily consumed while working on a tan. It doesn’t demand too much of you. It can be read in chunks and set aside for days or gobbled up all at once; either way, it doesn’t lose its charm. It’s fun and frothy. And that cover is too cute.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062108050 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Ready for a Jennifer-filled summer

I’m back from New York City! What a weekend. A full report (complete with plenty of photos) will be coming your way tomorrow, but until then . . .

I was reading chick lit long before I ever knew it was chick lit. In my late teens, authors like Jennifer Weiner accompanied me through the murky waters of starting college, beginning and ending relationships and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

Novels like Weiner’s Good In Bed (not quite what it sounds like!) gave me perspective in some messy personal situations, and I’ve closely followed her work since I first stumbled across one of her books in an old Waldenbooks (remember those?). A coworker had recommended her work when I was searching for a “must read” author, and she didn’t steer me wrong.

When I really love an author, nothing excites me more than a new release on the calendar — and Jennifer rarely lets us down. Though recent releases like Best Friends Forever didn’t have quite grab me like earlier favorites, I’m always eager to see what she’s out with next. Her most recent book, Then Came You, will be released in paperback tomorrow — May 8. Also out tomorrow is Swim, a new ebook short story available for free to all you lucky ducks with e-readers. And the schmucks like me, trying to read via the Kindle app on my iPhone. (It’s so tiny.)

Years back, I met Jennifer at a signing in Virginia — and she couldn’t have been funnier or more gracious. Filled mostly with women and the occasional boyfriend (including my own brave guy), Jennifer’s audience was captivated by her anecdotes and stood patiently to have their books signed. I brought along my original copy of Good In Bed to grab her signature, which is now in a place of honor in my bookcase.

Jennifer will be touring again in support of her next release, The Next Best Thing, out July 3. See if she’s coming to a city near you! (And if you’re in New York City, don’t miss her team-up with Jen Lancaster in June. Jealous.)

Book review: ‘What Came First’ by Carol Snow

In their quest to become mothers, three women find their lives intersecting in unexpected ways in this novel of family — the ones we have, the ones we create — and love.

Carol Snow’s What Came First follows Laura, Vanessa and Wendy as they grapple with issues both familiar and foreign to many mothers. Laura and her bright, kind-hearted son, Ian, love their lives in suburban California. Born after Laura’s visit to a sperm bank nearly a decade before, the two-unit family would like nothing more than to welcome a third . . . but Laura, perpetually single, isn’t sure how to make that happen. Posting on a website designed to link families who may have conceived children from the same sperm donor, she eventually “meets” Wendy — a harried mother of twins.

Wendy’s son and daughter have major behaviorial issues, a problem that drives her to seek out potential biological siblings to compare notes on her kids’ temper tantrums. After Wendy and Carol exchange notes and start their own research into their children’s DNA, they eventually find an answer to some of their questions — which leads them to Vanessa, a twenty-something trying to get a diamond from her live-in boyfriend. Ready to start a family of her own, Vanessa waits desperately for an engagement ring . . . but Eric seems no closer to committing than he did when they met.

All three women have trials, difficulties; no one’s life is perfect. And that’s what I loved about Snow’s novel dealing with fertility, motherhood, what it means to be a family — and what I always appreciate about her warm, rich and true-to-life characters. I probably related best to Laura, a type-A go-getter who can’t accept her family won’t grow. Her desire to have another baby seemed enviable rather than desperate, and I definitely felt her frustration and pain.

Vanessa was probably my least favorite character, especially as events . . . transpired . . . (sorry, trying to be obtuse and non-spoilery here) and she failed to understand the importance of it all. I was sympathetic to her plight and felt her frustration regarding her relationship with Eric, too, but sometimes felt like she was just so young. Though her issues were no less important, Vanessa’s problems seemed to pale in comparison to Wendy and Laura’s. But then again, what do I know?

Where the story began and where it ended were completely different than I expected, and I love that What Came First surprised me from beginning to end. Though often light-hearted and very witty, Snow’s novel also raised questions about how families are formed and how love develops. In Wendy’s case, especially, I could see how difficult conceiving children who were not biologically “his” was for her husband, and these troubles were something I’d never considered before. I love a good slice of women’s fiction that also makes me think!

Fans of Snow — as I am, from books like Just Like Me, Only Better — will appreciate her take on love, relationships and moving forward. If you’ve never devoured a Carol Snow novel, you’re missing out — and What Came First is a great, feel-good place to start.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0425243036 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Insatiable’ by Meg Cabot

I have a writer crush on Meg Cabot. She’s fun and quippy, erudite and interesting — the blend of humorous chick lit I find so intoxicating. I began reading her Princess Diaries series as a teen and have followed her devoutly since, gamely picking up anything she scribbles.

Some have been hits; others have been misses. As I get older, my reactions to Cabot’s novels have gotten spotty and unpredictable. Despite going into Insatiable eager and excited to see her take on the recent cult of vampires, this book is going to flounder in the in-between category for me.

Television writer Meena Harper has her hands full. When she’s not unwillingly getting a glimpse of how others are going to die or picking up after her slacker brother in the apartment they share in New York City, she’s fighting off backstabbing coworkers and struggling to incorporate a campy new vampire plotline on “Insatiable,” the TV soap to which she contributes. Life gets a bit more interesting when she’s introduced to Lucien Antonescu, a charismatic European professor, and survives a near-death collision with a swarm of bats. Confused but thankful for Lucien’s heroics that save her life, Meena falls for the debonair Romanian.

Her love balloon is soon popped, however, by the arrival of Alaric Wulf, a man who has some startling accusations to level against Lucien. That he’s a vampire, for one — and that Alaric, a member of a secret Vatican guard, has been sent to kill him. And Lucien’s fate suddenly rests with Meena.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, it totally is. And at first I thought that was a good thing, you know, because Meena seemed like a normal, sane person. Even with the whole psychic powers thing. But as Meena became completely obsessed with a dude she met days ago and seemed to value his life more than her own, I got frustrated. And disinterested.

The weak beginnings of a love triangle form in Insatiable, but I didn’t really see how there was any contest between Alaric and Lucien. It’s the whole Edward/Jacob thing all over again — but I guess that, once I grew up and saw Edward’s stalker-like tendencies for what they really were, I got over the whole vamp thing. So I was Team Alaric, if you will, if only because Lucien seemed like a weirdo.

There’s a disturbing trend in literature that really gets under my skin, and I’m not sure we’ve coined a term for it. As such, let’s go with this:

The Undeserving Heroine.
• A female lead who, in mindboggling fashion, attracts the devout love of multiple men while seeming dull, boring, vapid or otherwise uninteresting. See also: Bella Swan.

Now, this is not to say that Meena was a total wreck. She wasn’t as brainwashed as Bella, that’s for sure, though her intense “love” for Lucien was eyeroll-inducing. Despite all this, I don’t mean to be a hater. I gotz the emotions, I swear, and know how ridiculous and squee-like we can all get during those heady early days of infatuation. But I guess I just don’t want to read about it.

Characters falling “in love” too quickly is a major pet peeve of mine, and sort of a literary deal breaker. It’s something I can rarely circumvent in my reading. Once I find both The Undeserving Heroine and a plot involving a too-quick-to-be-even-remotely-realistic love affair, I’m out. And that’s what happened here.

Fans of Cabot who have a penchant for humorous vampire tales might enjoy this one more than I did. Insatiable absolutely does tackle the whole vamp thing in a very light, tongue-in-cheek way, and Cabot never takes herself too seriously. The plot is a little trite but still compelling enough for me to finish, though I can’t see myself continuing with the series. Take that as you will.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061735086 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library