The Swan Gondola

Snap 2014-03-23 at 17.30.16My side book review gig, Snotty Literati, just reviewed The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert. The cover is beautiful (I mean just look at it) and that was a big motivator for us selecting it as our April pick. Yes, we were being a bit shallow. But in the end, it’s what is on the inside that counts. Read our review to see if this beauty goes beyond the dust jacket.

Read our review of The Swan Gondola now.








Snotty Literati Reviews The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

donna-tartt-the-goldfinch-book-coverWe like big books and we cannot lie! Well, some big books.

Take a peek before reading Donna Tartt’s almost 800-pager, The Goldfinch, and see if it’s worth your time.


Sunday Sentence: February 23, 2014

The Sunday Sentence is “simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.” author David Abrams.

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“What his son, Marty, never fully understood was that deep down there was an Ethel-shaped hole in Henry’s life, and without her, all he felt was the draft of loneliness, cold and sharp, the years slipping away like blood from a wound that never heals.”

From The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich and I run hot and cold. Having never met me, she doesn’t realize this. But it’s true.

My first experience with her was with my book club (The Book Babes) in 2007 when we read The Master Butchers Singing Club. It was stunning. It was full of nuggets, rich and hearty, that when consumed warmed your belly. Really.

“Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another. Not a single note is ever lost and no song is original. They all come from the same place and go back to a time when only the stones howled.”

Lovely, right?

In subsequent years we read The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and Love Medicine and some of the luster had worn off. All of her stuff is pretty highly acclaimed, but these didn’t have the same impact. I didn’t think they were as good and the Book Babes agreed. Well, except for two of them; there are always dissenters. And despite this, Erdrich’s The Round House popped up again for possible book club selection (and with very mixed emotions from the Babes).

There was a potential saving grace. The Round House actually won the National Book Award (NBA) for Fiction in 2012.

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I love NBA winners (and most finalists, Little No Horse, withstanding). The NBAs are like the fun, tipsy, true-color Golden Globes compared to the stuffy and uptight Academy Awards, or Pulitzers. So my hesitation turned to interest, and my interest turned to complete book club advocation when I realized I had mistakenly purchased The Round House while on my last outing to my favorite indie bookseller. Hmmm. Premonition? Or poor book grabbing habits while wandering the aisles? Regardless, I rallied and campaigned hard. I secured enough votes for it and it wasn’t even my month to host.

Are you riveted yet?

Are you on the edge of your seat dying to know what I thought?

Or are you annoyed and just wanting me to get on with it?


I loved it! I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s deserving of the highest praise, even in a year that had Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Ben Fountain, and Kevin Powers. The Round House rocked the house and Louise and I are back on.

So, where to begin? How about with this:

“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks.That had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose.”

The opening of Erdich’s thirteenth novel is foreboding, hinting of things to come. It’s 1988 on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where 13-year old Joe Coutts loses his innocence and his mother. Tribal enrollment specialist Geraldine Coutts leaves the house abruptly one Sunday afternoon to get a file from her office. After a disconcerting amount of time has passed, Joe’s father, tribal judge Bazil Coutts, asks Joe where she is. Unable to answer, they both become worried.

“Even if she’d gone to her sister Clemence’s house to visit afterward, Mom would have returned by now to start dinner. We both knew that. Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon, we were waiting for my mother to start ticking away on the evening.

And so, you see, her absence stopped time.”

Joe and his father crack the ice of frozen time and go out to find Geraldine. The good news is that they find her, driving back to their home on from the main road. The bad news is that when they return to the house, they learn she has been brutally attacked and assaulted. And at that moment, as Bazil helps her out of the car, Geraldine collapses; falling swiftly into an impenetrable depression. Unable to share any information about the attack, Joe and his father are  rendered helpless.

But not for long.

Joe’s sole mission becomes to solve this horrible crime against his mother. Seeking support from his three best friends, he makes his way to The Round House, a holy place on the reservation that he believes may be the scene of the crime. He searches for clues, uncovers evidence and presses his father for details as Geraldine is forced to open up. Complications arise. Jurisdiction and criminal oversight become muddied and Joe becomes more focused on understanding how this could happen and who could have done this horrible act.

Joe visits the community’s clergy, Father Travis for guidance.

“The only answer to this, and it isn’t an entire answer, said Father Travis, is that God made human beings free agents. We are able to choose good over evil, but the opposite too. And in order to protect our human freedom, God doesn’t often, very often at least, intervene. God can’t do that without taking away our moral freedom. Do you see?

No. But yeah.

The only thing that God can do, and does all of the time, is to draw good from any evil situation.”

And you know, even early on, that good does come of this. Joe is a grown man telling this story. He’s married and a practicing lawyer. Getting from that horrible day to the present had to mean good was drawn out of evil.

As with her other stories, Erdrich tackles issues faced in Native American communities, and doesn’t shy away from the topics of good, evil, spirituality, and morality. Her narrative construction with Joe as an adult reflecting on this life-altering summer worked. She captured the male voice and perspective of a boy who loves his mother and a man reflecting back on a horrific time. Filling out the story, Erdich has created a cast of characters that extend beyond the Coutts family, and run the gamut of being endearing, appalling, hilarious and frustrating, with the suspect hiding out on the fringes of it all. It’s at times nerve-wracking and in the end wholly satisfying. While the attack on Geraldine was brutal and shocking, the conclusion will take you by surprise as well. But as I closed the book and allowed the story to settle, I found it wrapped up in what might be the only way the Coutts family could move forward, patching up the cracks in the cement foundation of their home and their family.

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction


Fight Club: The One-Two-Punch Book and Movie Review

Before we get started, I have a few rules about reviewing Fight Club.

1st Rule: I will talk about Fight Club.Snap 2013-07-21 at 22.12.14

2nd Rule: Not only will I talk about Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, I will spill and spoil and tell all the secrets because they have both been out for well over a decade so I am surely the last person on earth to consume these morsels of pop culture. If by the slim chance you haven’t read or seen it and you think you will, then you do not want to read any more. Trust me. The twist is a great one and I would never forgive myself if you weren’t properly warned and forewarned. Well, I would, I mean it’s just a bookmoviething.

Okay, so quick book synopsis:

The book is narrated by an unnamed male in his late twenties who is suffering from insomnia. Working for “the man” he’s meandering through his life on autopilot with no purpose except to spend the money he’s earned, acquiring a wealth of things but nothing meaningful. And he’s literally exhausted. To combat this, he sees a shrink who refuses to medicate him; rather, the doc recommends that he attend some support groups to see true suffering. Dropping in on a testicular cancer group, our protagonist lets his guard down, breaks down and breaks the cycle of his sleepless nights. Attending support groups multiple nights per week becomes his Ambien.

Enter Tyler Durden, our narrator’s new BFF. Durden is anti-establishment and questions our guy’s meaningless life:

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Tyler is brash, bold and seductive in his quest to challenge our narrator:

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think every thing you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.

And he’s successful. If not a bit enigmatic. And our guy is baited–hook, line, sinker:

I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not.

A friendship sparks and the two form a profitable union–making luxury soap and bankrolling underground Fight Clubs. You know, what anyone would needing a change of pace would do… set up places where you can go after work, forget who you are, and just beat the shit out of someone. The next day, your life is normal. As normal as a life heading into the boss’ office with a bruised eye, broken lip and cracked rib can be. But for these men, it becomes their anthem, their purpose… to break out of the demands of society and have no expectations placed upon them.

We want you, not your money.
As long as you’re at fight club, you’re not how much money you’ve got in the bank. You’re not your job. You’re not your family, and you’re not who you tell yourself.
You’re not your name.
You’re not your problems.
You’re not your age.
You are not your hopes.
You will not be saved.
We are all going to die, someday.

And then you know what happens?


It comes out of nowhere, like some guy’s left hook into your gut (don’t I sound like fighter, here? Consider it my official “research”).

We learn that the narrator is Tyler Durden.

Wait! What?

You double back. Start to lose your balance and you stand up and say out loud to no one, “What the fuck does this mean?”

Well, if you’re me that’s what you did.

And then you read to the end. Your head is swirling. Palahniuk has written a darkly bizarre, yet highly readable novel. You don’t know what to think of this wild and graphic story that was perversely, surprisingly good.

And then if you are me, you rented the movie in search of some additional clarity.

Enter Fight Club, the MovieSnap 2013-07-21 at 22.13.12

Okay, if there’s something I love almost as much as books, it’s movies. So it’s kind of crazy I hadn’t seen Fight Club. But it’s true; I didn’t think I couldn’t handle it. I don’t do violence really well. But I remember seeing the trailer and being torn. REALLY. TORN. You see, I love short-haired A River Runs Through It, Ocean’s 11, Se7en and Meet Joe Black (yes, even horrible MJB) Brad Pitt, not long-haired Legends of the Fall Brad Pitt. And here he was being all short-haired Brad. I know, I know. I am in the minority here on which Brad is hotter and I am okay with that. Add to the fact that I ADORE Edward Norton and will see him in anything and I was torn to pieces. I knew I couldn’t handle it. Good friends saw it and said, “Yeah, you can’t handle it.” So I didn’t see it.

But now I had the book under my belt and did okay. So I rented the movie from Netflix and it arrived the next day. It sat on my counter for a week. When I went to play the disc, it was totally cracked. A giant slice down one side. Super dramatical. Super ridiculous. Super over-anticipation. I got a replacement and you know what? I totally handled it. The movie, directed by the amazing David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), followed the book very closely and actually made the whole narrator/Tyler Durden mystery a little more clear to me.

Oh yes, Tyler and the narrator are still the same person. Total hallucination. Tyler Durden is a sociopath or schizophrenic or whatever the correct medical diagnonsis. And in the magic of movie making he’s able to exterminate his bad self, saving his good self and the girl in the process. Oh, yes, there’s a girl; I told you I would spill everything. The movie is really good and not nearly as violent as I thought it would be—I actually found the book more violent. I expected throbbing injuries, amped up sound as teeth and bones cracked and an unrecognizable leading cast, but that was not the case. It was classic Fincher, dark shots, cool spotlights, unique opening sequences and closing credits and just visually interesting. Fights, yes. Violence, yes. I won’t sugar coat it—it’s tough stuff. I guess I am just a bit tougher.

In the end, Fight Club in both of its forms has become a classic. It put Palahniuk on the map, if not initially. Fincher’s film version didn’t initially wow. But both iterations have found massive followings in their DVD and paperback forms and even on facebook, a medium not yet here when Fight Club hit the pavement. Palahniuk’s book encouraged men to read—I know! Men! Younger Men! Reading! This is a good thing. The book and film have amassed a massive cult-like following of Tyler Durden and his in-your-face philosophies, and may even cause you to stop and think about the race you are running, and if you are the rat following the masses or charting your own course. Or maybe that’s just too much critical thinking.

I think If I am wrong about the whole Tyler diagnosis, I am not sure I want to know.

Wait. Yes I do.

Of course I do.

I want you to tell me what you thought if you saw it or read it.

Tell me in the comments below.


Fight Club the book: 4 Stars

Fight Club the movie: 4 stars

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of WonderI think by now everyone knows how much I adore Ann Patchett. Every book of hers that I read, I thoroughly enjoy. Plus, she’s so dang smart, and literary, and she opened her own bookstore, Parnassus Books in Memphis and was one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People last year. I mean, what CAN’T this woman do?

Well, she couldn’t write a book that all the Book Babes agreed on—gasp! I know. Really. Shocking. Stuff. Here’s how it went down:

January’s host mandated State of Wonder for our book club read. All of us were thrilled, knowing how much we loved Truth and Beauty and The Magician’s Assistant. It was clear we all were eager to start.  Personally, I was even more excited to read it knowing that my mother, stepmother and good friend Deirdre—all solid readers whose book opinions I trust pretty much without reservation—loved it. 

I pulled out my signed copy that I picked up last May and dove right in. From page one I was immersed in the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmacy researcher under the employ of Minnesota drug manufacturer Vogel, who is sent deep into the Amazon to check up on a colleague. Dr. Annick Swenson, an OBGYN researching the possibility of the next miracle in fertility medicine, has been away from the lab for years. She has been completely out of touch with Vogel, working on her own timetable with no respect for shareholder goals and the company’s schedule.

There’s a significant problem with Marina’s trip. The previous Vogel employee, a trusted colleague of Marina’s that was also sent to find Dr. Swenson, is now missing. The other issue? Dr. Swenson is Marina’s former boss (former because of a horrific accident that Marina never wants to relive). It is with this fear, uncertainty and insecurity that Marina takes what turns into a life-changing, life-saving journey.

Sounds interesting, right?

Actually, it was pretty interesting and three of the other Book Babes agreed with me. We each gave the book an A, citing the beautiful writing, strong character development and the complicated, yet engaging plot. Two were in somewhat close agreement with us and decided a B was fitting. Two were lukewarm, citing frustration with some of the characters and directions the story took and one questioned whether she read the same book we all did after firmly announcing her grade of an F. Her rationale was that she didn’t connect or have interest in any of the characters. Not a one. Wow. Really?

I told her that she was entitled to her opinion, even though it was wrong.

And then we laughed, thank goodness, because we are that kind of group.

State of Wonder is by far, after almost 10 years of reading, dining and dishing, the most controversially discussed book by our group. I wouldn’t have expected it in a million years. And even though our impressions were all over the board, I have to say it was one of the best discussions we have ever had. Patchett creates an Amazon environment full of challenges, intrigue and drama. There are no easy answers for the characters, and it’s very interesting to see the choices they make and the consequences they experience.

It’s because of this discordance in our views on State of Wonder that I want even more people to read it. I found the subject matter so interesting that I would love other opinions on it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money; patronize your local library. I can’t promise you will enjoy it. However, I can promise it’s an astutely written story like nothing you have read before.

If you do check it out, check in here and let me know your thoughts.

Rating: 4 stars

Pages: 386

Genre: Fiction

If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta

“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not.” ~ Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird

And if you are 13 year-old Jack Witcher, you can’t pick either.

Jack Witcher may be the smartest boy just outside of El Dorado Hills, Virginia. But Jack is poor. His alcoholic and habitually out-of-work Pop, his achingly unattractive mother and his pot smoking, bullying, brother Stan are the family he can’t shake. It’s because of this band of misfits, to which he only seems connected by DNA, that he can’t make his way or any friends.

Now add in the complications of pretty Myra Joyner, the equally smart classmate Jack has eyes for and her super-jock brother, Gaylord, who leads the call in Witcher ostracizing and you have the makings of a good story. Place Stan Witcher as the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of Gaylord Joyner and what you have is a suspenseful, page-turning novel.

Set in 1967, If Jack’s In Love is a timeless story. Jack is like any other boy navigating life and love. Innocence is lost, lessons are learned and there’s a lot of angst. And all these little phrases I have rattled off could make If Jack’s In Love sound like something you have read before; I promise you haven’t. Author Stephen Wetta’s element of mystery breathes fresh life into the boy-meets-girl story line. It also helps that Wetta captures Jack’s persona and voice so very well. Jack is bright and insightful, unflinchingly certain about Myra, yet unsure his brother didn’t in fact murder Gaylord. He wants help with Myra, yet doesn’t know to whom he can turn.

“There didn’t seem to be a soul I could confide to. Mom had been burned too many times to think any good would come of love. Her hope was that I would find some nice, ugly girl, after I turned thirty. As for my going with Myra that would be reaching for the stars, and she’d never encourage such overweening vanity… and Pop was too manly to have much regard for feelings. So I locked up my dreams and walked alone.”

But Jack does find a confidante, in the unlikeliest of people, and his plans to win Myra’s love take shape. Meanwhile, community pressure mounts to arrest Stan and Pop’s desire to protect his son grows with a vengeance. When Jack raises even the slightest possibility that Stan was involved in Gaylord’s disappearance, he’s completely shut down. “Witchers aren’t snitchers!” Pop roars. It’s then that Pop and Stan begin an internal campaign to keep Jack quiet and now Jack is being bullied outside his home and within.

If Jack’s In Love expertly captures themes of alienation, desire for connection, and ultimately, resilience. My only complaint with If Jack’s In Love is out of Wetta’s hands. This gem of a book has been marketed as Young Adult fiction. Certainly, I love any effort to get younger folks reading! However, there seems to be a new practice of shelving books in the YA category because the protagonist is a child. This may be appropriate, yet I fear great books will miss the broader audience they deserve.

There’s a lot of great YA fiction out there that doesn’t involve vampires or sci-fi-fantasy. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and now Stephen Wetta’s If Jack’s In Love are all worthy of readership by anyone who enjoys reading.

Rating: 4 Stars
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

I acquired Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as a free Kindle download sometime this summer. I don’t take every free book that comes my way, but this one struck me as potentially worthwhile. But due to the stack of books silently beckoning from my e-reader, my bookshelves and my nightstand, it had to wait in the wings.

Then it was nominated for the National Book Award.

And I don’t know about you, but I am a super fan of the National Book Awards. I think the NBA’s are a much better arbiter of success, accessibility and readability than those snobby Pulitzers are. Let’s just say I’ve liked a number more NBA winners than I have Pulitzer Prize winners. Yeah, I said it. So that endeared me even more and there you go… I was reading it.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk centers on Bravo Company, an Army unit being heralded for surviving an intense firefight with Iraqi insurgents at the “battle of Al-Ansakar Canal.” The battle, captured on film by an imbedded FOX news team has made the young men of Bravo national heroes and stars of their very own brief U.S. victory tour before heading back to the Gulf.

Bravo’s victory tour, and Fountains novel, takes place predominately in the stands, breezeways, and skyboxes of the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium on Thanksgiving Day in a match up against the Bears. Escorted by Hollywood movie producer Albert Ratner, the man convinced Bravo Company’s story is made for the big screen, the young soldiers are corralled through a bizarre and dizzying day of awkward fan encounters, a halftime show theatrics, physical altercations and constant negotiations.

Fountain excels crafting a wholly accurate picture of this young band of brothers. Bravo Company is what we would expect of an Army unit—brave, brash, loyal and humble. Their dialogue is sharp, witty, foul and even tender at times. In one moment these testosterone-charged men are thrilled at the prospect of meeting their halftime show partners Destiny’s Child, mingling with the Cowboy’s cheerleaders and closing in on a deal that will bring their life story to the big screen. They can go from wobbly uncertainty to a full about face at a moment’s notice. The military teaches you that.

“Billy felt his stride going wonky, his arms starting to flail, but a quick glance at Dime settled him down. Shoulders square, eyes forward, head tipped six degrees as if dignity was a shot glass you balanced on your chin… Fake it till you make it, he reminds himself. This is how he’s survived Army life so far.”

The man faking it is the star of the show, Specialist and Silver Star William Lynn. The 19-year old Bravo Company member grapples with his own ‘celebrity’ while internalizing conflicting feelings of faith, family, love and his own military service. Billy isn’t old enough to vote, but he’s old enough to die defending freedom—this reality is not lost on him or the reader.

Fountain didn’t win the National Book Award for Fiction this year (it went to Louise Erdrich). That’s okay. Billy Lynn is his first novel. What he has done though, is brought to life a character that a reader can instantly identify with, connect with and root for. He’s created a story that hits close to home in an important and necessary way. Add in the expertly woven themes of patriotism, politics and propaganda and he’s created a story as funny as it is heartbreaking.

Rating: 4 stars.
Pages: 307
Genre: Fiction

Run: Family Secrets Revealed by Ann Patchett

I am going to brag for a bit. I got to meet author Ann Patchett this year. She was on a book tour for Small Wonder and talked to the riveted audience, myself included, for over an hour and then talked to us individually. I was mesmerized. I swooned. It was a pretty big deal.

She was so cool—like rock star cool. She talked about her love of books and writing. She talked about writing as a labor of love and time and you aren’t ever quite sure how it will be perceived. It’s clear she’s a lover of storytelling and the written word. So much so, that her gift back to her community was the establishment of Parnassus Books in Nashville, “An Independent Bookstore for Independent People”. She also talked about the honor she received being named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012 – not for her writing accomplishments which are many – but for opening a brick and mortar bookstore in what others have called the age of Amazon and the death of books and reading as we know it.

Books aren’t going away. Don’t let ‘they’ and ‘them’ fool you. There are too many good stories to tell, and thankfully, we have artful tellers like Patchett to share them in a great book like Run.

Run spans just 24 fateful hours in the life of former Boston Mayor and widower Bernard Doyle, a white Irish Catholic and his two adopted black sons Tip and Teddy. Bernard has failed in his relationship with his biological son, Sullivan, and feels his only chance at redemption is with the Tip and Teddy. The elder, sensitive Teddy, dreams of a life in theology and the academically minded and Thoreau-inspired Tip wants to study Ichthyology (fish). Despite these dreams, Bernard remains hopeful he can steer one of them into a life of public service by regularly exposing them to life in politics. This night, it is to hear Jesse Jackson speak at Harvard. This is the night their lives will be forever changed.

The night is cold and blustery, one of the snowiest nights on record, which could explain Tip not seeing the car coming; but single mother Tennessee Moser did. Leaving her 11-year old daughter Kenya on the sidewalk, Tennessee pushes Tip out of harm’s way (save a broken ankle), leaving herself the victim of a head-on collision.

And here’s where the story takes off running, if you will. Who is this woman? Will she survive? Why did she risk her own life for that of a stranger? What is Bernard to do with this 11-year old girl while ensuring Tip is okay? What are they to do with this 11-year old girl whose only family is the woman now lying in a hospital bed awaiting surgery?

Run challenges the reader with important issues like race, class, family and our often inherent assumptions about them. Is family a construct of blood relation, shared skin color, like beliefs and the four walls that surround us? Does it extend further to include those we allow in? What lengths will we go to in protecting our family—even those whom we love, but don’t like; those we love but don’t know?

Patchett paints a vivid picture of difference between these two seemingly disparate families. The Mosers are poor and living in a small Boston housing project that is forever dark with any views blocked by the next apartment wall. You couldn’t beg the light to come in. Just a few streets over, the Doyle’s home is spacious and open with cathedral-style windows so large the sun pours through the panes in excess.  You couldn’t keep the light out. But for all their differences, they have a number of similarities. Secrets, failures, successes, a desire to be loved and accepted. And at the end of the day, isn’t that true for all of us?

Run may give us more questions than it answers, which makes for great discussion, while leaving us with a desire for more. It helps that the characters are as interesting as the issues. I could keep reading about them and actually hope there’s another chance to do so. In fact, if Patchett returned to the Doyle men and told us more about Sullivan, the son cast aside, I would definitely pick it up. If she took us back in time to Bernard and Bernadette’s courtship, his Mayoral run and the successes and failures that are just a footnote in RUN, I would read that too. If she chose to chronicle Kenya Moser’s likely rise to meteoric running fame, and her own family challenges as further secrets are revealed, I am certain I would read that too.

The truth is I would read anything by Patchett. It doesn’t hurt that when it was my turn to get my books signed and I told her that I loved her, she told me she loved me too. It doesn’t hurt that she hated the same critically acclaimed book that I loathed (and no, I will never tell which one). It doesn’t hurt that she takes her craft seriously and never sells a book before she’s written it. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s just a damn good writer.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction

Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel

I’m just going to say this right now: I know Jennifer Spiegel. I have known her for 20 something years having met in college, losing touch and reconnecting a couple of years ago via Facebook. She asked me to read her book, but she’s asking everyone. She should. If a writer can’t or won’t promote his or her own work, who will? It’s her first published novel and this is a pretty super freaking big deal if you ask… well, anyone. What she didn’t ask me to do, however, was review it. But as I read it for this month’s book club pick and talked it over with The Book Babes, I knew I would. It’s really so very good.

Semi-Spoiler Alert: Early on Love Slave’s heroine, Sybil Weatherfield, declares: I can write the pants off any man. Guess what? Jennifer Spiegel can, too.

Love Slave follows Sybil Weatherfield a writer in her early 30s as she navigates life and love in the Big Apple, circa 1995. A writer for New York Shock, Sybil heads up Abscess a column of rants and raves that generate quite a chatty and engaged readership but not enough money to keep her from temping during the day to make the ends barely meet. She’s in a relationship with financial analyst and pretty boy Jeff Simon who loves that Sybil’s life is artsy, bohemian and struggling. Sybil loves that he’s kind, smart, well put together and nice to look at. They love what they think the other represents, without actually loving each other. She celebrates her triumphs and disasters and romantic woes with gal pal Madeline, a perfect go getter to Sybil’s comfortable stay putter. And then there’s Rob, sexy, edgy, lead-singer-of-a-band Rob who’s still in love with his dead wife.

Can you see it coming? A love triangle. Every good love story has one and Love Slave is a good one for someone like Sybil, temping her way through work and life, struggling with who she wants to be versus who she actually is. Bring on the drama! Bring on the angst! Bring on a book that feels like it was written for me! And really for my generation, Generation X.

And that’s what I did. I brought Love Slave to my book club, The Book Babes, who actually read and discuss books each month and not just drink wine. But there is wine, trust me. And talked and talked we did, just like any smart women reading a smartly written book would do. The result was a lively convo that didn’t always end up in agreement—the best kind if you ask me. Here are some of the highlights.

On Sybil
We loved Sybil’s authenticity even though some of us found her insecurity irritating. “I wanted Sybil to have her life together by this point in her life,” lamented one. But so many people don’t, which was an endearment for me.

On Female Friendship
We love good female friendship in books and thought Madeline’s take-on-the-world attitude was a nice contrast to the slightly neurotic contemplator Sybil.But their relationship had some challenges, and while it added depth to the story, we were shocked by Madeline’s actions.

On Rocker Rob
We loved Rob. We hated Rob. He was passionate. He was a bit of a whore. He was probably a bit too real for us. “It’s real easy for guys to separate sex from love.”

On Resolution
We all liked how the book ended, which is a bit surprising. The Book Babe that always wants a little more, still wanted a little more. But for most of us, it ends at just the right spot in just the right way.

On What Kind of Book Is this Anyway?
We have a tendency to label books written by women, starring women and involving a love story as Chick Lit. And yet when I read Love Slave, I didn’t get a Chick Lit vibe at all. Love Slave has heart, but it also has more literary bite than typical Chick Lit fare. Spiegel has crafted a flawed, yet likeable, protagonist in Sybil Weatherfield, who is clever and witty behind her words, but a bit of a mess when she’s not. Sybil is perfectly imperfect like we all are, really. In Love Slave we get to experience writing that goes above and beyond the Top 10 Summer Beach Reads. Not that I don’t love a good beach read, but I loved this more and most were in agreement.

But there was a dissenter (there always is in good discussions). “It’s totally Chick Lit and I can see it being marketed to that group of readers. It has all the elements of Chick Lit.”

Despite some of our disagreements, we agreed on one thing: liking it. Love Slave gave us a lot to talk about, reminisce over and even shift uncomfortably as we saw some of ourselves in Sybil. But mostly, we agreed, it was refreshing to read such a smartly written contemporary love story.

On You
Now it’s your turn. Grab a copy a copy of Love Slave and form your own opinion. Take it to your book club or share it with a good friend and talk it over for yourselves. Even better? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy reading!

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 280
Genre: Fiction

This review originally appeared on on 10/17/12.