Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-Second Book Review: “Shopaholic to the Stars” by Sophie Kinsella

“Shopaholic to the Stars” by Sophie Kinsella is the latest in the Shopaholic series featuring the infamous Becky Brandon née Bloomwood. I was extremely excited when this book came out and couldn’t wait to start it. But I ended up putting off starting the book because I wanted to wait until I had time to devour the whole book in one sitting. After having the book in my possession for weeks I finally broke down and dove back into Becky’s world.

The premise for “Shopaholic to the Stars” involves Luke, Becky, and Minnie moving to L.A. for a few months so Luke can expand Brandon Communications to cater to celebrities. Becky takes quickly to the L.A. scene and soon finds herself shopping for exercise outfits and of course hilarity ensues when she finds herself stuck in an outfit. Instead of taking it back off, she decides to wear it home. “As soon as I get back to the hotel room, I’ll cut the whole thing off myself with a pair of nail scissors and dispose of the remains in a public bin so Luke doesn’t find them and say What’s this? or You mean you bought it even though you knew it didn’t fit? or something else really annoying.” (Shopaholic to the Stars, pg 9). I thought this was very typical Becky-behavior. Her interactions with Luke are one of the most ridiculous parts of the Shopaholic series. Becky’s imagination frequently runs away from her and she tends to get frustrated when Luke inevitably reels her back into reality. “This is typical. Luke always lets practical plans get in the way of creative inspiration.” (Shopaholic to the Stars, pg 57).

As a wife Becky is pretty ridiculous, but as a mother…she’s something else. Minnie has proven that she has a strong personality in the previous book in the series “Mini Shopaholic” and she continues to exhibit hilarious behavior. “For a long time, my daughter’s favorite word was “mine.” Now, after intensive training, we’ve got her on to the word “please.” Which you’d think would be an improvement.
I swivel around wildly and finally spot Minnie. She’s balanced on a stone bench, tussling with Suze’s son Wilfrid over a red plastic truck.
“Pleeease!” she’s yelling crossly. “Pleeease!” Now, to my horror, she starts hitting Wilfrid with the truck, yelling with each blow: “Please! Please! Please!”
The trouble is, Minnie hasn’t really absorbed the spirit of the word “please.”” (Shopaholic to the Stars, pg 78). I loved this; Minnie is such a funny character.

Becky’s interactions in L.A. are intriguing. Because of what Luke is trying to accomplish, Becky finds herself in a position where she is able to meet celebrities and attend red carpet events. Suze and Tarquin come out to the West Coast to visit with Becky and Luke and end up tagging along for some of these events. It was pretty ridiculous reading about Tarquin meeting and chatting with some of the Hollywood personalities. “Luke has been bursting into laughter a lot – especially when some studio executive asked Tarkie what was his view of the American Pie franchise and Tarkie said, gosh, he wasn’t sure – was it similar to Starbucks?” (Shopaholic to the Stars, pg 206). In “Shopaholic to the Stars” a lot was happening including Becky’s old rival Alicia Bitch Long-Legs comes back into the picture. Although there is a lot that happened, especially in the second half of the book, I don’t want to give away the whole book. I will say that one things built upon the other and it made for a very exciting second half.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, although I was disappointed with the fact that things were not wrapped up as neatly as the previous Shopaholic books have been. I always enjoy reading about the many adventures of Becky Brandon née Bloomwood and I usually find myself laughing aloud throughout the book. That wasn’t the case right away with “Shopaholic to the Stars”. There were some moments that I thought were funny, but I didn’t find myself laughing aloud the same way that I have in the past. I’m still very much looking forward to the next book in the series, especially because I cannot wait to see what happens! Sophie Kinsella has assured me that she is working on the next book, so hopefully it will be out soon.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman

“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman arrived on my doorstep last week and I spent several minutes wondering how I ordered books that I didn’t remember putting in my basket. I thought there must be a conspiracy and then I remembered the dangerous button ‘one-click-ordering’ on amazon.com. Luckily, upon picking up the book, I saw a ‘happy birthday’ note from my (soon-to-be) brother-in-law underneath. So I wasn’t ordering books in my sleep! With relief, I picked up the book and decided to put it on my short to-read list. The next day I picked it up after I was done with work and settled in to read until FH got home. Well, he was running a bit late and before I knew it I had read the entire book in one sitting. That’s a pretty decent way to gauge if a book is any good, right?

This novel has recently been adapted into a movie, which is part of the reason it came up on my radar. I wanted to make sure to read it before I saw the movie and I was thrilled at how quickly it came to be mine after I added it to my amazon wish list. “If I Stay” begins with a car accident that leaves a seventeen-year-old girl Mia an orphan in a coma. The story follows her as she struggles to understand what happened to her, what happened to her parents, and what happened to her younger brother. Mia is following her damaged body around, from the scene of the accident to the hospital to surgery to the ICU and back. It was a very interesting take on what a person goes through after a traumatic event. The story is told in a series of flashbacks where we get background on Mia and her family with present-day Mia trying to make sense of it all.

Personally, I enjoy stories being told in this fashion. I like finding out about a character in bits and pieces. It helps to explain how she is coping with her current predicament and how she got to where she is now. One thing that is quickly learned in “If I Stay” is that Mia is an accomplished cellist, a fact that is a little unusual considering her dad was a ‘rock and roll’ musician and her mom a groupie to his band. On the same page of “If I Stay” it is established that her parents are not big fans of classical music, which is what Mia primarily plays, and that she often wonders about her choice to go in a different musical direction. “I know it’s silly but I have always wondered if Dad is disappointed that I didn’t become a rock chick. I’d meant to. Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class – it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing. It’s been almost ten years now and I haven’t stopped.” (If I Stay, pg 8). The passion with which Mia describes her music I found to be intriguing. I have never experienced that kind of thirst when it comes to playing an instrument. I have always enjoyed playing piano, however it isn’t something that I feel I would be incomplete without. That is the impression that you get from Mia with regards to her cello, that without her music her life would be incomplete.

In addition to learning about Mia’s passion with music during the flashbacks, we also are able to see how much love there is in her household. I loved the subtle humor that was included in “If I Stay”. Her parents’ joking was great. ““You were like an experiment,” Dad said. “Surprisingly successful. We thought it must be a fluke. We needed another kid as a kind of control group.”” (If I Stay, pg 85) Without it, the book would have been unwaveringly depressing. It was still a depressing book, obviously. It’s about a girl in a coma trying to decide to live or die. But there were some moments that were lighthearted and I appreciated that. I also enjoyed how her parents spoke to her. At this point she is seventeen and her parents are straight with her. They’re not overly protective, but rather they deliver blunt truths to Mia, especially in regards to her boyfriend, Adam. There are some unique challenges of being in love with a musician whose band is gaining popularity and being at the age where Mia is planning her own future in college. “But I’d understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch.” (If I Stay, pg 211). Very eloquently put.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think it was well done. I think that Gayle Foreman put forth an intriguing story. Mia is faced with a choice that is impossible to make and it was really interesting to read about her trying to put things together, to make sense of an impossible situation. It was an easy read – I got through it in a few hours – but it was one that made me want to keep turning the pages. This is the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eightieth Book Review: “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron

“Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron was yet another Wall Street Journal Book Club pick in 2014. It did take me quite a bit to get through it although it was well written. I just found it difficult to spend so much time on such a dark subject. It isn’t a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I think it challenged me as a reader and really made me think about different aspects of WWII.

Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, chances are that you know the gist of what “Sophie’s Choice” is about. Before starting to read the book, I suspected that it would be disturbing and upsetting. I have yet to come across a book written around WWII that wasn’t both of those things. William Styron did not disappoint with his novel. What I found to be truly interesting about this book is it showed the war in flashbacks and through the perspective of Stingo – the narrator. He told the tale that Sophie told him and it made for an interesting read.

Upon beginning the book I was impressed with William Styron’s writing. He drew me in with his effusive stream of words. I found Stingo to be an intriguing narrator and it was definitely fitting to have him be a struggling writer. The words that flowed across the page were reminiscent of a creative soul trying to break through. I enjoyed reading about his struggles with writing. “How simultaneously enfeebling and insulting is an empty page! Devoid of inspiration, I found that nothing would come, and although I sat there for half an hour while my mind fiddled with half-jelled ideas and nebulous conceits, I refused to let myself panic at my stagnation; after all, I reasoned, I had barely settled into these strange surroundings.” (Sophie’s Choice, pg 37).

I think that William Styron did a good job at developing characters. Stingo was the first we meet as he is the one telling the story. Then there are two other main characters – Sophie and Nathan. From the beginning, it is clear that Nathan is not exactly an upstanding guy. He physically, emotionally, and verbally abuses Sophie on a semi-regular basis. The mood swings that he goes through are astounding. I began to really hate Nathan as I read “Sophie’s Choice” while at the same time I just did not understand Sophie and how she could not only put up with him but constantly find a way to forgive and excuse his behavior.

I believe that this quote helps to shed some light on not only how Sophie and Nathan’s relationship affected each other but how it affected Stingo too. “Yet beneath my grand mood I was able to sense that there was something wrong. The terrible scene between Sophie and Nathan the night before should have been warning enough to me that our chummy little get-together, with its laughter and its ease and its gentle intimacy, was scarcely true of the status quo as it existed between them. But I am a person who is too often weakly misguided by the external masquerade, quick to trust in such notions as that the ghastly blow-up I had witnessed was a lamentable but rare aberration in a lovers’ connection whose prevailing tone was really hearts and flowers. I suppose the fact of the matter is that deep down I so hungered for friendship – was so infatuated with Sophie, and attracted with such perverse fascination to this dynamic, vaguely outlandish, wickedly compelling young man who was her inamorato – that I dared not regard their relationship in anything but the rosiest light. Even so, as I say, I could feel something distinctly out of joint. Beneath all the jollity, the tenderness, the solicitude, I sense a disturbing tension in the room.” (Sophie’s Choice, pg 73). It is like this for all interactions with Sophie and Nathan that Stingo witnesses. There is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship.

It is really a combination of the two individuals, both with baggage and both with emotional problems that combine together to form a highly dysfunctional relationship. I think Styron puts it well in this quote. “And I also began gradually to understand how the turmoil that was grinding them to pieces had double origins, deriving perhaps equally from the black and tormented underside of Nathan’s nature and from the unrelinquished reality of Sophie’s immediate past, trailing its horrible smoke – as if from the very chimneys of Auschwitz – of anguish, confusion, self-deception and, above all, guilt…” (Sophie’s Choice, pg 203).

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. It was certainly well written and a good read, but at the same time it was a lot to take in. It is not a happy book by and standard and although I enjoyed the different insight into WWII and the aftereffects of the war on individuals, I don’t know if I would really push the book on anyone else. It was a good read, but it was a lot to get through. William Styron is a great writer and I would probably pick up more of his work, but I definitely felt the need to read something light and happy after reading “Sophie’s Choice”.

Becky’s One Hundred and Seventy-Ninth Book Review: “Shots Fired” by C.J. Box

“Shots Fired” by C.J. Box is a collection of short stories that I was given access to through Penguin’s “First to Read” program. The way the program works is you submit your interest in a book that hasn’t been released yet and in a raffle-like system you may be chosen. You get access to the ebook version for a few weeks. I have been so eager to be picked to read a book first that I stopped reading the synopsis for books and just started entering my info. Finally, after many entries I got picked to read “Shots Fired”.

I didn’t realize that “Shots Fired” was a collection of short stories when I entered my info, but I was excited to read something in an exclusive sense that I didn’t really care. Then I remembered why I am not such a huge fan of short stories. As soon as you start to get into the story it ends. That being said, I did enjoy C.J. Box’s writing and I found myself reading stories that under normal circumstances I would never pick up.

Although they really weren’t westerns, these short stories reminded me of westerns. Maybe that is just because they took place in Wyoming. Some of the stories were a little duller than the others. For example, I didn’t really enjoy “Every Day is a Good Day on the River”. I didn’t feel that the characters were all that well developed and the end was rather abrupt and obvious. The story before that one, “The Master Falconer” was pretty entertaining and definitely different from what I usually read. With these being short stories, I feel like I cannot say much about what the plot was about, so excuse the brief explanation. Four of the stories feature Joe Pickett whom I have come to learn is the main character in C.J. Box’s series of which there are at least eighteen novels. I found Joe Pickett to be an intriguing character. It is nice to know that I can read a lot more about him.

Overall I thought that the writing was exceptional and upon investigation I did find out that C.J. Box is an established author with multiple novels to his name. After getting a taste of his writing, I would pick up another work by him as long as it was full length. I really am not a big fan of short stories in general and this collection did not stand out as anything special. That being said, I do think C.J. Box has talent and I would be interested to see if I react differently to one of his novels. I wouldn’t recommend this collection of short stories to most people, as I know few that appreciate the short story. Still, I do like getting a taste of an author through a short story. You can get a feel for if you like their writing without investing a ton of time into their work.

Becky’s One Hundred and Seventy-Eighth Book Review: “Secrets of a Shoe Addict” by Beth Harbison

“Secrets of a Shoe Addict” by Beth Harbison is a kind of sequel to “Shoe Addicts Anonymous” and quite a fun read. I really enjoyed the first book, so I was excited when I found out there was a sequel. There are a few similar concepts and one of the characters from the first book is in this one, but the three main characters are all new and instead of strangers getting together to swap shoes, this group of women are already friends that come together to solve a pretty big problem. I really liked how this was set in the same world as “Shoe Addicts Anonymous” but without focusing on the same characters. It made for an entertaining read.

Abbey Walsh, Tiffany Vanderslice Dreyer, and Loreen Murphy all find themselves needing fast money in the amount of $10,000 apiece after an adventurous school trip in Las Vegas. Loreen calls her sister in an attempt to find a job with her startup shoe company and Sandra proposes a slightly unconventional solution:
“…Sandra could picture Tiffany sitting straighter on her square of linoleum, listening for the potential answer to her problems.
And maybe Sandra had it. “There is one thing I can think of, one way to make good money fast….If you’re really serious, that is.”
“There is?” Hope was clearly rising fast. “What is it? Does it take some special skill or education or something?”
“N-no. Not really. Just a willingness to…put yourself out there.”
There was a pause. “Sandra, you’re starting to make me nervous. What is it?”
“Keep an open mind.”
“Sandra—”
“I mean it. I don’t want you throwing this back in my face later. It’s a perfectly legit way to earn money, and I even did it myself for a while.”
“Do not tell me you were a prostitute.”
Funny how quickly she’d come to that conclusion. “No!”
“Thank God.”
Sandra took a short breath then continued. “Have you ever thought about the possibility of being a phone sex operator?”” (Secrets of a Shoe Addict, pg 69-70).

Once Abbey, Tiffany, and Loreen realize that there really isn’t any other legal means of making money to pay off their huge debts, they decide to give it a try. Hilarity ensues of course as you watch these soccer moms try to keep a big secret from their families and the judgmental mothers they know. I think that Beth Harbison does a great job of developing each character and really making you care about them.

Would I recommend this book? Yes – it is a light, fun read that would certainly appeal to the women out there looking for a beach read. I personally think that there are some men whom might appreciate the equivalence of a chic flick in a book, but the book is definitely geared towards a female audience. I have a few standalone novels by Beth Harbison that I look forward to reading.