Girls in White Dresses

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Continuing my interest in reading wedding-related stories, I found Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer E. Close. Her most recent book The Hopefuls wasn’t my favorite, but I decided to give this one a try.

From it’s title, I expected Girls in White Dresses to be a story about friends being bridesmaids in a mutual friend’s weddings. Instead, I found a series of vignettes that involve the same group of friends from college. The short stories cover several years of their lives, including moving out of their houses and to New York City, experiencing  relationships, getting married and having kids.

I did find some of the topics to be relatable. Reading about being in your 20s and watching friends and classmates get married and have kids describes a majority of my life right now. But that was really the only part of the “novel” that I liked. The female characters were one-dimensional and boring, and they all seemed to blur together after awhile. They were constantly described as uncertain about whether they like their boyfriends or not, and their passive attitudes drove me crazy. Not to say that people aren’t like that in real life, but I’m not sure if every single 20-something feels that way, which is what Close seemed to imply. I’m pretty sure that if you are to marry someone, it should be based off of how you feel and not what others tell you.

I would recommend borrowing this one from the library like I did.

 

 

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The Wedding Date

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Now that it’s May, wedding season is in full bloom. Since mid-to-late-20s seems to be the age people get married, my Facebook and Instagram feed are full of pictures of friends’ and former classmates’ weddings and friends tagged in pictures of their friends’ weddings. I myself am set to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding three weeks from now, which I am excited about. Feeling in the wedding mood, I picked up The Wedding Date, the debut novel of Jasmine Guillory, from my local bookstore.

This book is about two strangers, Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols, who meet by chance in San Francisco when the hotel elevator they’re in breaks down. Drew is in town from Los Angeles to be a groomsman in his best friend’s and ex-girlfriend’s wedding, while Alexa is in from Berkeley visiting her sister. Not wanting to show up to the wedding minus a plus-one, he asks Alexa if she’ll be his date to the wedding. Although it’s supposed to be a fake date, the two soon find they are attracted to each other.

The story employs just about every cliché of the romantic genre. The meet cute, ex-girlfriends, one-night stand, the subsequent sort-of relationship and conflicting feelings that follow, complete with the confidante friends that each person spills their guts to. In this case, Alexa and Drew do a long-distance deal that means flying back and forth each weekend, something I didn’t find too realistic (wouldn’t it drain their bank accounts?)  The plot has definitely been done before, in different forms. The elevator trope has even been done before too, like in the Hallmark movie Elevator Girl, which follows a similar storyline.

Guillory did add a unique aspect by making the relationship interracial, with Alexa being African American and Drew white. But I was hoping for some more originality, like the ending not being super predictable.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this book like I did, but if you like cute clichéd fluff, it might be worth checking it out.

The Wedding Date

Stalking Susan

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“Write what you know.” is a quote I thought was from Stephen King, but is actually from Mark Twain. Basically, write about a subject that you’re interested in, passionate about or something like that. News producer-turned-novelist Julie Kramer wrote a book about a broadcast journalist following a mystery in her debut novel of Stalking Susan. 

Riley Spartz works as a reporter for Channel 3, an affiliate station in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Bored with her assignments and still coping with the recent death of her husband, that all changes when a source of hers drops a cold case file in her lap. The case involves a serial killer who has murdered women named Susan over the course of several years. Riley works to piece together the cases and find the common link between them.

Since Kramer is herself a news producer, her inside knowledge of the business helped her write Riley as a realistic character. She (Riley) describes working with her photographer, assignment editor, news director and the CEO of the station. Having interned at a news station myself, I could easily visualize the characters. I liked how Kramer took the time to describe the people who are essential to the news business. All viewers usually see are the anchors and reporters, but it takes an army of people to successfully create a television broadcast. Terminology used in the news business is also mentioned.

I would classify the story as a whodunit mystery from the perspective of broadcast journalism. In a way, reporters are like detectives when they investigate stories and get to the bottom of a lead. Riley works to solve the mystery by making profile boards, doing research and so on, similar to a detective. As some who’s obsessed with Law & Order, reading a mystery from the perspective of a civilian was different, although Riley does consult her cop friend for some help.

There is more to the story than the mystery though. Riley is also navigating life as a young widow after the untimely death of her husband. The memories she has sometimes affects her actions. This added depth to her character, and shows that there can be a whole story and person behind the reporter and anchors you see on the television news. Their lives are not flawless.

I recommend this novel to anyone who wants a fresh take on the mystery genre.

Ask Me Anything

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Living in big cities can make for an interesting experience, full of opportunities and meeting people from all over the place. There are a whole genre of novels that center around characters in the big city. Ask Me Anything, by American author Francesca Delbanco, falls into that category.

New England native Rosalie Preston lives in New York City and aspires to be an actress. She is a part of a theatre troupe called the First Borns that consist of her and several of her college friends. Rosalie also has a day job as a love advice columnist for a teen girl magazine. Life In New York City also means love triangles among the group of friends, though Rosalie’s experience goes a different direction when she falls in to an affair with her best friend’s father.

Being a transplant myself who moved to a big city, I related to Rosalie’s experiences about what leaving home can be like. However, I felt like I’ve heard the plot line before: young columnist who lives in New York, has a group of diverse friends and is aspiring to be an actress. It reminds me of Sex in the City meets Friends meets Seinfeld. I’m not saying I have anything against those TV shows, but reading similar plot points made the story feel recycled and tired. Rosalie also interjects commentary throughout the chapters, but instead of adding to the story, I felt like it interrupted the flow. Delbanco created interesting characters, but there just wasn’t much of a story.

I later found out that Francesca Delbanco is one of the creators of the Netflix series Friends from College, which tracks the lives of Harvard graduates in New York City. After watching the first episode, I can definitely see the parallels between this novel and the TV show. I’m glad to see that Delbanco found success as a TV writer, which in my opinion, suits her more.

I do recommend this novel for a good read during a trip. I actually read this book during a bus trip to New York City, which did make for a relevant setting.

 

The Hopefuls

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Washington, D.C. has been the center of media attention since the beginning of this year. It makes sense, since we are in the first year of a new administration and all the newness provides countless stories for the press. The fact that I currently live here too gives me a front row view of what is going on. But there’s another side to D.C., one that has to do with the people and the culture. This is one of the plot points of Jennifer Close’s novel The Hopefuls.

Beth and Matt Kelly have recently moved to Washington, D.C. from New York City due to Matt getting a new job. While Matt settles into his new workplace, Beth, unemployed and stir crazy, struggles to adjust to life in a new city and to make new friends. Things get interesting when they meet Jimmy and Ashleigh Dillon, Texas natives who offer a new perspective on what moving to a new place has to offer. When Jimmy decides to move back to Texas and run for public office, they invite the Kellys to manage their campaign and live in Texas for the year. Though Beth and Matt are looking forward to an adventure, they soon find out that campaigning is not as easy as it seems.

I could relate to Beth on many levels. The adjustment to living in D.C. is a definite one. I never lived in New York, but it took some time to get used to all the people, navigating the streets and the grocery stores. The unemployed factor: I at one point did not work for over two months, and while it was nice at first, not having a job made focusing and maintaining and identity difficult.

Close did a great job of capturing the city’s essence, from people knowing each other’s connections to the nicknames of the Safeways. However, I felt like the setting was what made most of the story. There was no real plot, and the pages were mostly filled with descriptions of Beth’s experiences: what people were doing, where they were going, and so on.  There was some insight as to the stress and mental toll a campaign can have on those involved and some character development, but no major climax or anything like that. I found myself skipping ahead a couple of times just to see what would happen.

I recommend this novel for those who enjoy a perspective of D.C., but be prepared for a story that doesn’t have much substance other than that.

Edge of Black

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This book is part of the Dr. Samantha Owens series, written by J.T. Ellison. Last summer, I reviewed What Lies Behind, the latest in the series. Wanting to read the rest, I backtracked to the second novel.

In Edge of Black, Sam has just arrived in D.C. and is teaching forensic science at George Washington University. She is enjoying a fresh start in a new city with her new boyfriend and new house. However, when a foreign toxic substance is released in to the Washington metro system and sickens hundreds, Sam soon finds herself pulled into a national security investigation. With the help of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and her homicide detective friend Darren Fletcher, Sam follows the trail of the villain, not knowing what might happen next.

I really like how Ellison’s main character is a medical examiner, a change from the usual protagonists of detectives and lawyers. Sam’s medical perspective creates an interesting angle with investigating the crime, particularly with examining the victims’ bodies. I myself can’t imagine doing a job like that, but I admire those who do. I also appreciate that Ellison did her research for the scientific terms that are used in the novel.

Living in the same city as Sam, it was easy to picture the places she went to during her research. The plot was decent, but I felt like it was a bit more predictable than What Lies Behind. Even so, I do recommend this novel to people who want to read about crime investigations from a different point of view.

Still Alice

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Alzheimer’s disease is defined as a form of dementia that can cause issues with a person’s thinking, memory and actions, and is irreversible.

In Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, fifty-year-old Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Harvard University, discovers that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her diagnosis quickly begins to affects the lives of her, her husband John, and their three adult children. Set over a course of two years, the story follows the family’s experiences, their attemps to live normally and deal with Alice’s deteriorating condition.

Although the protagonist is twice my age, I found Alice’s voice to be very authentic. The story is written in third person format, but follows Alice’s thoughts and actions as she navigates her disease. Throughout the story, there is a gradual change in her voice as the disease begins to affect her thought process and how she notices details of her life. Genova, with her neuroscience background, did a good job of explaining the science part of Alzheimer’s.

I admit that I did watch a few clips of the 2014 movie adaptation before reading the book, but I liked being able to picture actors Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin as the characters of Alice and John and their interactions.

The best aspect of this novel is that it portrays a real-life disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a real condition that affects over 5 million Americans, according to alz.org. I definitely recommend this book.

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