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BOOK REVIEW: Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda


Jessica Luna’s life contains all the average troubles of a twenty-something living in Houston. There’s the man trouble cause by gifted and troubled artist Guillermo who is unable to “commit” and always seems to disappoint. Then there’s her “perfect” sister who married a white man and moved to the suburbs and seems to want to turn Jessica into a suburban clone. Then there’s her boring corporate job and now her parents are fighting. Where’s a girl supposed to turn for help?

Well if you’re Jessica, the signs or answers could be anywhere: her rearview mirror Virgin-de-Guadalupe; the card readings of psychic Madame Hortensia; or in the prophetic utterances of a TV talk show host. Now Madame Hortensia has confirmed that a change is coming in work and love, but Jessica isn’t sure that Jonathan, the rich and successful guy her sister introduced her to, is that new guy. But when Madame Hortensia refuses to come through with answers – and her life starts dissolving around her – Jessica realizes it’s time to figure some things out for herself.

Gwendolyn Zepeda’s debut novel is a fresh voice in the growing “chica lit” market. A sub-genre of chic lit, chica lit first gained notice with the publication of The Dirty Girls Social Club. Author Mary Castillo explains what makes chica lit different: “Family is always involved somehow.” “Unlike early chick lit that kind of created the image that it’s always about single women worrying about their shoes, in the ethnic books they’re trying to balance their ethnicity and being American. How can you be both? The issues seem to be a little deeper.”

It would be easy for people to dismiss Houston, We Have a Problema as a fluffy offering but Zepeda offers an important message about finding your place in the world, and within your own family. Anyone who has ever found themselves torn between two worlds or found themselves floundering and without direction will find reflections of themselves here.

While the writing is sometimes uneven and a few characters are rather two-dimensional, Zepeda shows great promise as a comedic writer. Madame Hortensia’s personality, flair and vibrancy fairly bursts off the page. Perhaps there’s another novel in her future?

ISBN10: 0446698520
ISBN13: 9780446698528

Trade Paperback
392 Pages
Publisher: Grand Central
Publication Date: January 2009
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney


Eva Kennedy started working in her uncle’s Dublin delicatessen to help out her family, but what began as a helpful gesture led to the abandonment of her artistic aspirations. Now her uncle is looking to retire and has offered her the opportunity to take over the shop. Eva’s in a panic- can she handle the responsibility and, if she accepts, does that mean she’s given up her dreams of being an artist forever?

When she finds out that her boyfriend Dermot was only taking her out in an effort to buy her uncle’s shop, Eva makes a snap decision which takes her to Melbourne, Australia to visit her old friend Lainey. While there she meets Joseph Wheeler and the sparks immediately fly. Unfortunately Lainey introduced Eva at a party as Niamh, a famous Irish singer and artist, and Joseph, who in reality is a famous London designer, is incognito as a British backpacker. With so much confusion can they trust the feeling that they are falling for each other and can they turn a holiday romance turn into something real?

It must be stated at the outset that the plot of Upside Down Inside Out is thoroughly implausible. Once readers accept that this novel falls into the category of “summer read” (fun, light reading), belief can be suspended and the novel enjoyed for the charming story it is, rather than beating it up for its weaknesses. Monica McInerney has created memorable characters in Eva and Joseph and set them within a wonderfully paced story. These flawed yet lovable characters will quickly capture the heart of readers.

Upside Down Inside Out bears many of the characteristics of an author’s early novel; underdeveloped, stereotypical secondary characters, subplots handled with a heavy hand, and uneven pacing near the novel’s end as McInerney tries to tie up plot points too quickly. Despite these flaws, McInerney’s talent with words is evident and she crafts some delightful scenes.

ISBN10: 0345506243
ISBN13: 9780345506245

Trade Paperback
362 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: June 24, 2008
Author website:


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BOOK REVIEW: Hooked by Jane May


Clarence “Woody” Woods is the assistant dock master at the Trade Winds Yacht Club, an exclusive enclave that serves the elite of Miami – some with more money than sense. A good natured man, Woody dreams of fulfilling a promise made to his Grandfather and fulfilling his dream of sailing solo around the world on the boat he’s painstakingly restored.

All his dreams change when he sets eyes on Romanian Madalina Dragoi, the new waitress at the Club. It’s love at first sight for Woody but unfortunately Madalina is infatuated with Todd Hollingshead, a wealthy Club regular. All hope appears lost until Woody meets “The Prince,” an enchanted fish he catches during an afternoon excursion. In exchange for his freedom, The Prince promises to make all Woody’s dreams come true. Can a talking tuna help him win the girl of his dreams?

Jane May’s newest book, Hooked, is a 21st-century retelling of the classic Grimm’s fairytale, The Fisherman and His Wife. Woody will be granted all his wishes if he releases the talking tuna. At first uncertain about accepting, Woody’s initial wish is simply a date with Madalina but simplicity ends once she discovers The Prince’s abilities. Soon the wishes are spiraling out of control as Madalina demands a South Beach lifestyle.

It is when Madalina becomes a stereotypical greedy immigrant that May’s story turns from charming to disappointing. May eschews character development for caricature, keeping Madalina and Todd cardboard cutouts. Tension and drama could have been added to the fluffy plot with minimal effort, making this more than a forgettable read.

Hooked is perfect for an entertaining afternoon on the beach or when you’re in the mood for brain candy. Unfortunately, it will be quickly forgotten rather than being the morality tale the Brothers Grimm intended.

ISBN10: 075821362X
ISBN13: 9780758213624

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: September 25, 2007


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BOOK REVIEW: The School for Husbands by Wendy Holden


Sophie and Mark had the perfect marriage; that is until Mark was made redundant and Arthur arrived, changing their relationship dynamic from couple to family. Now that Sophie has returned to work and Mark must prove himself as the new Director of Sales at Charlatan Publishing, the stress of parenting is tearing apart their marriage. Mark is working long hours and Sophie is convinced he is having an affair, especially since he misses her birthday dinner for a work function.

When Mark fails to come home one night, Sophie’s controlling Mum Shirley whisks her daughter and grandson away. Working in cahoots with Simon, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend (now a multi-millionaire banker from the City), Shirley is determined to see the back of her disappointing son-in-law, and convince her daughter to upgrade to Simon.

Mark however; is not so ready to be dismissed. He still loves his wife and hasn’t been unfaithful, merely thoughtless. In desperation he signs up for the “School for Husbands,” operated by Charlatan’s bestselling non-fiction author Dr. Martha Krakenhaus. He now has two weeks to save his marriage by transforming into the perfect husband, but will it be enough to win back Sophie?

Wendy Holden’s sixth novel, The School for Husbands, further explores the territory mined in Wives of Bath; that is, what happens to a marriage when “baby makes three.” Dr. Martha’s “School for Husbands” presents Holden with limitless opportunities for humour and my favourite scene is the one where the husbands are sent out to exorcise their emotional constipation by telling the residents of Royston Vasey “I love you.”

The School for Husbands works because Holden has refused to fall into the cliche of casting Mark as a villain. He is lovable, if clueless, and she develops his character with understanding. Mark means well and is desperate to provide for his family, throwing himself fully into his work with the result that Sophie is left to manage her own career and Arthur on her own. By showing both sides of the marriage and allowing readers to feel empathy for both characters, Holden allows readers to enjoy the humour and laughter without feeling guilt at liking Mark.

While Sophie, Mark and Simon are the focus, Holden, as usual, has crafted many memorable secondary characters. Sophie’s father James is perfectly drawn. He eludes the machinations of his wife by retreating into the unfashionable hobby of genealogy – digging up ancestors certain to send his wife into a swoon if they ever become public knowledge. Holden’s cutting wit is on full display in Shirley’s reactions to James’ revelations.

Two characters deserve special mention: Helen, Sophie’s new friend from daycare who is the perfect foil for all the determined “Yummy Mummies,” and Jeremy, the perfection-seeking manager of Winterton Hall. Both have a certain “je ne sais quoi” and hopefully, both will appear in future novels.

If you visit any of the North American online booksellers (, Barnes & Noble, etc.), you’re sure to notice that the publisher’s description for The School for Husbands lists the main characters’ names as Sarah, Neil and Colin. I’m not sure why such a glaring error has been made by Holden’s publisher; hopefully someone soon will ensure it is fixed. It is exactly the sort of mistake that Persephone, the inept PR person from Mark’s publishing firm, would make.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0452285887
ISBN13: 9780452285880

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: January 30, 2007
Author Website: Wendy Holden


BOOK REVIEW: Swimming Upstream, Slowly by Melissa Clark


Sasha Salter is on the fast-track to success. She has her own hit children’s TV show Please Pass the Salter, she’s being profiled as one of the “20 under 30-Ones to Watch”, and she’s living a life she loves. So the news that she’s pregnant, even though she hasn’t had sex in more than two years, is completely unwelcome. Quickly her life spins out of control: the specialist she’s sent to wants her to track down every man she’s ever had sex with; Melanie, the writer profiling her for 20 under 30 is determined to ferret out all her secrets; and Sasha doesn’t know if she’s ready to be a mother. Are “lazy sperm” going to make her the poster girl for medical anomalies, or will the journey down the rabbit hole turn out to be a blessing in disguise?

Swimming Upstream, Slowly takes as its basic premise an unlikely occurrence – lazy sperm – and then explores the painful ramifications of such an event. The confusion, denial and painful outcomes experience by Sasha are to be expected; however, Melissa Clark pulls to the forefront the comedic elements which prevent Swimming Upstream, Slowly from becoming just another “poor me” chick lit novel.

Beginning novelists are advised to “write what they know” and Clark has taken that to heart. The creator/executive producer of the award-winning children’s show Braceface, Clark’s knowledge of the inner workings of children’s programming clearly shows in Please Pass the Salter. This solid framework of verisimilitude makes the plot device of “lazy sperm” more believable, preventing readers and critics from dismissing Swimming Upstream, Slowly as too extreme or silly. The strong base of reality allows doubt to creep in for readers and renders Sasha’s fears more potent and sympathetic.

Like most first novels, Swimming Upstream, Slowly has a few uneven moments. The character of Melanie comes off a bit forced at times and occasionally the pacing feels off; however, these minor glitches will smooth out with time as Clark’s writing continues to mature.

Read the review at Front Street Reviews.

ISBN10: 0767925262
ISBN13: 9780767925266

Trade Paperback
240 Pages
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication Date: September 2006
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing


Zoe Rose isn’t a typical girl. Ever since the little girls in kindergarten tormented her for not sharing her “Annie” wig (it was her own hair), she has been fascinated with girl behavior. She’s spent her life trying to understand what makes a normal girl and why they’re cruel to the girls who don’t understand the rules. And who exactly sets those rules?

Now she’s been hired as the editor of Issues magazine, a bastion of all that is girly and fashionista and she’s made it her crusade to reform women, starting with the readers of this notorious magazine. Can Zoe help Issues readers stop being girls who behave badly toward other girls, and turn them into a strong, united force of women that succeed in the male-dominated world? And will she finally understand what it means to be a girl?

Starting with the question “What would happen if a left-wing, radical feminist was suddenly appointed deputy editor of an ultra-girly fashion magazine,” Stephanie Lessing’s Miss Understanding looks at the world of fashion from a slightly different angle. It’s a refreshing break from mainstream chick lit, although the bitchiness factor is very high between the staff at Issues.

The conflict within Miss Understanding comes from the tension between fashion and feminism, representing the fight many women feel played out within their daily lives. Does Miss Understanding answer the questions Lessing raises? The short answer is no. The long answer is that she raises some important questions and she may help some readers start some inner reflection. This reader found Zoe’s psychosomatic illnesses detracted from Lessing’s key messages but that does not undermine the pure enjoyment factor of Miss Understanding.

Stephanie Lessing is a former Copy Chief at Mademoiselle, and has freelanced for Mademoiselle, Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, and Self. Miss Understanding is her second novel.

ISBN10: 0061133884
ISBN13: 9780061133886

Publisher: Avon Trade
Publication Date: November 2006
Binding: Trade Paperback
Author Website:


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BOOK REVIEW: The List : A Love Story in 781 Chapters by Aneva Stout


We all work from lists: to do lists; the books you’d take with you to a desert island; the criteria for a perfect mate. In The List: a Love Story in 781 Chapters, Aneva Stout has taken the novel, distilled it to its essentials, and the result is this quirky novel of love, dating and the humour that can be found in male/female interactions.

258. You’ll write a poem for your lover.

259. Your lover will write a poem for you.

260. You’ll think he’s e.e. cummings.

261. He’ll play the guitar for you.

262. You’ll think there’s no end to the man’s talents.

263. He’ll get dressed in the morning.

264. You’ll think there’s no end to the man’s talents.

265. You’ll love the way he shaves.

266. You’ll love the way he eats.

267. You’ll love the way he drives.
a. This will be the first to go.

Stout has perfectly captured the heady rush of infatuation, where everything your boyfriend does is miraculous and perfect. The List caused numerous outbursts of laughter and two segments where I had to quickly call up a girlfriend to read her a funny bit and say, “isn’t that so true?”

This slender volume may be short on words but the veracity of what is there is sure to delight most women, who will find reflections of past relationships and themselves within its pages. By addressing the “chapters” to you, Stout has invited women to cast themselves as the heroine of this condensed tale.

I completed The List in just under an hour (including the time to call my friend twice) and, while it may not be the most original plot, it is a book that has already been passed to another girlfriend as a “must-read,” always the hallmark of an entertaining read. I expect to see its fuchsia cover on many beaches this summer for The List is the ultimate summer read.

Hint: If you think you might want to keep this for coffee-table reading, you may want to buy your girlfriend a copy of her own. You probably won’t get yours back – she’s sure to lend it to someone else.

Aneva Stout trained as a ballet dancer before attending Loyola University, where she studied writing. She is the mother of a teenage daughter and lives in Evanston, Illinois, where she works as a waitress. The List is her first novel.

The List: a Love Story in 781 Chapters by Aneva Stout
Workman Publishing

ISBN10: 0761142169
ISBN13: 9780761142164


BOOK REVIEW: Innocence by Kathleen Tessaro


As the title implies, Innocence is about three young women in London, learning about themselves as they leave home for the first time and attend acting school. Fourteen years later, as Evie faces a turning point in her adult life, she flashes back to the days of “innocence” that lead her to where she is today.

When she is on the mark, Kathleen Tessaro writes prose you want to roll your tongue around and savor like fine wine. It is dense, delectable and begging to be spoken aloud–“In summer, the fig tree drops its heavy fruit to form a thick, gooey compote on the pavement below….” Her gift for descriptions draws you in, setting the mood for her characters, “It’s like a house in a Victorian play; overflowing with life, busy with knowledge and experience. Even the dogs lolling about on the oriental carpet are engaged in battles of good versus evil.”

I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel, Elegance, but in my mind her sophomore effort, Innocence, is the more fulfilling read. This is most likely due to Evie who, from her impassioned defense of love at age eighteen–to her contemplation of her co-worker: “Each week, I marvel in fascination at the fragments of R. Fitzroy’s life as they unfold before me.” Evie reminds me of myself.

Evie’s confusion as she stands at the crossroads, unable to make a choice in any direction, can find resonance for all of us.

See the review at Armchair Interviews – Innocence.

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Chick Lit & Romance Book Reviews – Master List


In an effort to reduce the long list of reviews in my sidebar, I decided to create an entry of each of the category of books I review. That way I can update this entry and link to just this entry in the sidebar.

This is a list of the chick lit and romance novels that I’ve reviewed to date.

Chick Lit

  • Swimming Upstream, Slowly – Melissa Clark
  • Some Like it Haute – Julie K.L. Dam
  • Toss the Bride – Jennifer Manske Fenske
  • The School for Husbands – Wendy Holden
  • Miss Understanding – Stephanie Lessing
  • Hooked – Jane May
  • Upside Down Inside Out – Monica McInerney
  • The List: a Love Story in 781 Chapters – Aneva Stout
  • Innocence – Kathleen Tessaro
  • Romance novels

  • The Taming of the Duke – Eloisa James
  • Teeth in a Pickle Jar – H.B. Milligan
  • The Kiss – Elda Minger
  • Paranormal Romances

  • The Scot, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Annette Blair
  • Luscious Craving – Cameron Dean
  • Passionate Thirst – Cameron Dean
  • Even Vampires Get the Blues – Katie MacAlister
  • Just One Sip – Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Ashley, and Minda Webber
  • Light My Fire – Katie MacAlister
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot – Stephanie Rowe
  • Must Love Dragons – Stephanie Rowe
  • Damsel Under Stress – Shanna Swendson
  • Kitty and the Midnight Hour – Carrie Vaughn
  • Kitty Goes to Washington – Carrie Vaughn
  • Kitty Takes a Holiday – Carrie Vaughn
  • 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover & Hex Appeal – Linda Wisdom
  • BOOK REVIEW: Some Like it Haute by Julie K.L. Dam


    Alex Simons is in Paris on a plum assignment, covering fashion week for London’s The Weekly. Her dreams have carried her far from her big-hair days in Texas, landing a career as a fashion correspondent on first name basis with all top fashion houses’ PR reps. A sudden cat-walk collision with this season’s It girl lands Alex in the midst of a media feeding-frenzy which has her cowering in her hotel watching reruns of the debacle on Fashion TV. When she ventures out to a promising fashion debut she meets Nick Snow, a bad boy who spurns the fashion world but sends Alex’s pulse into overdrive. Will this fashion insider get her bad boy and the scoop of the year?

    This latest entry into the increasingly crowded genre of chick lit offers a breath of fresh air. Some Like it Haute has avoided many of the major minefields now infesting the genre: heroines stuck in their 20’s, overly whiny main characters and paper-thin plots. Julie Dam recognizes that the readers of chick lit have moved into their 30s and, while still concerned with fashion and romance, they also face serious worries about their careers. By moving her heroine into the next age category but leaving her single, the author has taken a courageous yet fresh approach.

    Within the context of haute couture and Paris’ fashion week, Alex’s obsession with clothes and footwear makes sense. The insider’s view of this closed society is enthralling and since Alex’s clothes obsession isn’t overblown, she shows readers an insider’s view into this elite world.

    One of Julie Dam’s main strengths is her ability to pen intelligent, rapid-fire banter: words delivered so fast that your head is spinning in admiration. Some Like it Haute contains some fabulous repartee between Nick and Alex, chock full of pop culture references and delivered with deadpan accuracy. Like the icons of old, the sexual tension leaps off the page as Nick and Alex play with words as easily as others toss dice.

    More style than substance, this light-weight confection has readers kicking off their kitten heels and curling their toes in longing for the Manolos casually tossed around by Alex. Dam has provided a window into a world guaranteed to delight any wanna-be fashionista, a stylistic fable that marries mystery and romance and wraps it all in a glamorous world filled with killer shoes.

    See the review as it appears at Armchair Interviews – Some Like it Haute.

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