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I hemmed and hawed over my choice for this week’s Casting Call Friday.  I had zero inspiration for what to cast this week until, perusing my bookshelves, I stumbled upon an old favorite by Megan Crane.

Here’s a quick summary (via Goodreads)

Meredith McKay has gone to a lot of trouble to create the picture-perfect life for herself far away from her troublesome family, thank you. When her fathers car accident forces her back to her hometown, however, she soon discovers that there’s no running away from family issues —there’s only delaying the inevitable. Can anyone sort out a lifetime of drama in one hot summer? Throw in a hot guy from back in high school with an ax to grind, a best friend turned enemy turned soon-to-be-sister-in-law, and of course, the sometimes irritating, sometimes delightful members of her own family, and Meredith is on her way to figuring out that a trip through the past is the best way to move forward. With one revelation after another coming to light, Meredith must reexamine all the things shes ever believed, including the truth about herself. Could it be that she isnt the picture-perfect good girl she always thought she was?

Meredith McKay – Meredith is your classic “good girl” that always tries to make everyone else happy. Growing up with her brother and Jeannie, she’s always been the nice girl, apologizing for their antics.  After moving away she finds a job she doesn’t really like and falls into a relationship with a guy who’s seemingly perfect for her, but she doesn’t really love.  It’s not until she’s forced to move back home to care for her injured father does she realize that she needs to start living the life she wants.

Rachel McAdams has the perfect “the girl next door” attitude and ability to play an adorable frazzled, put upon Meredith.

Scotty Sheridan – The former butt of the McKay family’s jokes, once gawky and the class “loser, Scott has grown into a confident, clever county prosecutor.  He’s had a long-time crush on Meredith, but has a lot of resentment for the way she, Jeannie, and Christian treated him.

Matthew Goode would be fantastic as the tall, dark, handsome Scott Sheridan, quietly pining over Meredith, but using his snarky sense of humor to push her buttons.

Jeannie Gillespie – Meredith’s former best friend and soon-to-be sister in law, Jeannie likes to be in control and the center of attention.  She’s funny, confident, and fiercely loyal to the McKay family.

Katherine Heigl is the perfect Jeannie.  Controlling, slightly passive-aggressive and sometimes she can be catty, but Jeannie would do anything for her friends and family.

Christian McKay – Meredith’s handsome lawyer older brother is a type-A personality and, like Jeannie, is used to Meredith going along with most of his plans (including taking a sabbatical from her job to take care of their father).  Christian doesn’t take surprises well and is used to getting his way.

Adam Scott has the right kind of sarcastic attitude plus the ability to play both characters that can be jerks (see Stepbrothers/Leap Year) and characters that are sweet and sympathetic (see The Vicious Kind/Parks and Recreation)

Hope McKay – The youngest of the McKay clan, Hope is the antithesis of Meredith.  Hope does what she wants, others be damned.  She’s got a dry, quick wit and tries to break Meredith out of her passive, “good girl” shell.

Mae Whitman has the disaffected youth personality down pat and would be awesome as the irreverent, hilarious Hope.

Father McKay – I couldn’t find a name for the patriarch of the McKays, since he’s mostly referred to as Dad, but he’s quiet and unassuming, and it’s easy to see where Meredith gets her eagerness to please.  He’s got a basement aquarium that he spends most of his time and energy on, much to the dismay of his children.

Richard Jenkins just is this character in my head.  He’s perfect for this sweet, but kind of sad character.

What do you think?  Agree/disagree?  I want to hear your thoughts on who would be perfect for this fun, charming book.

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Summary (via Goodreads): Everything seems just perfect in Grace’s life. She’s got a great job, a lovely house, a handsome boyfriend – and she’s pretty happy with it all.

Except that Grace has got a secret. She has a family. One she ran away from when life got too tough. Not to mention John, the only man she ever truly loved, who she left behind as well.

So when her sister finally tracks her down – to announce that their estranged father is in hospital – Grace has to make a decision. She can stay in the safe little world she’s carved out for herself, or she can go home. To face the music. But going home really isn’t as easy as it seems. Especially when the music seems to be playing a funeral march, her siblings are beyond furious with her, and their father’s second wife is behaving very strangely indeed….

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents is a heartbreakingly funny story about life, loss and what it really means to come home.

Review: I have to get one thing off my chest before I really get into this review.  Something bugged me about this book from one of the first few scenes and has stuck with me every time I think about this book that I just have to address with Liza Palmer.

Liza, love you, but the game Sorry, isn’t played with dice!  It’s played with cards.  Sorry, the long-time-Sorry-playin’-OCD-freak in me just needed to get that off my chest.

Phew.  Now that’s done, I can talk about how much I enjoyed this book.  It starts off a little slow and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to love Grace in the beginning, but all my reservations flew out the window as we meet the rest of the Hawkes clan.  I realized as the novel progressed how much the Grace I met in the first scene was a shadow of herself without her family around.  Palmer has a way with characters; each of the siblings felt very real and well-rounded.  Grace’s younger brother Leo is downright adorable.  He’s a giant skinny, lovable, genius puppy that I just wanted to hug throughout the entire book. (In my head, he’s basically Lee Pace)

The sibling relationship are complicated, messy, but full of love.  Palmer weaves flashbacks in with the present seemlessly giving me the feeling that I’ve grown up in this family, too.  Palmer dispenses with Grace’s boyfriend fairly quickly and without much explanation, but it doesn’t matter because the second John and Grace are on the page together they have such chemistry I  kind of forget about the boyfriend altogether.

Palmer creates a good balance between the emotion and the plot, creating one of the more odious step-families since Cinderella.  I was constantly torn between tears and spewing outrage on the Hawkes children’s behalf.

This is a quick, enjoyable read like I’d expect from Palmer, whose first novel Conversations with the Fat Girl is one of my chick lit favorites.  A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents is emotional but hopeful tale of family, love, and knowing it’s never too late to go home again.

Lit Snit Verdit: B+

Dissatisfied both with writing a “Single Girl on the Edge/ Ledge/Verge” lifestyle column and with her boyfriend (who has a name for his car and compulsively collects plastic bread ties), Ruby Capote sends her best columns and a six-pack of beer to the editor of The New York News and lands herself a new job in a new city.

In New York, Ruby undertakes the venerable tradition of Poker Night—a way (as men have always known) to eat, drink, smoke, analyze, interrupt one another, share stories, and, most of all, raise the stakes. There’s Skorka, model by profession, home wrecker by vocation; Jenn, willing to cross county lines for true love; Danielle, recently divorced, seducer of at least one father/son combo in her quest to make up for perceived “missed opportunities.”

When Ruby falls for her boss, Michael, all bets are off. He’s a challenge. He’s her editor. And he wants her to stop being quippy and clever and become the writer—and the woman—he knows she can be. Adding to Ruby’s uncertainty is his amazing yet ambiguous kiss in the elevator, and the enjoyably torturous impasse of he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not.

What happens when you realize that Mr. Right has his own unresolved past? Where does that leave the future you envisioned? Ruby knows that happy endings aren’t for cowards, and she hasn’t lost hope that there are risks worth taking. As smart as it is laugh-out-loud funny, Girls’ Poker Night is a twenty-first-century His Girl Friday and a refreshingly upbeat look at friendship, work, and love.

Hmmm.

Based on the title and summary, I thought this would be a book about Ruby’s relationships, both romantic and platonic. I expected something along the lines of Sex and the City, where all of Ruby’s wild and wacky antics would be neatly summarized in Ruby’s version of SATC’s Sunday brunch, which in this case would be girls’ poker night.

Not so much.

We learn that Ruby goes through life playing it safe. By playing it safe, she’s found herself unhappy in her 2 year relationship with Doug but she sees no point in ending it as she doesn’t want to deal with the confrontation.  When Ruby gets the perfect out, new employment requiring her to move from Boston to NYC, she still doesn’t end it because she doesn’t want the confrontation. It’s easier to stay.

I get why the author has titled this book Girls’ Poker Night. I get that she uses this night to demonstrate how much Ruby likes to play it safe. Ruby doesn’t take risks in poker because, as in all aspects of her life, she doesn’t like to lose. I get it. Fine.

Apparently the author doesn’t either.

I feel like Davis spent this entire book playing it safe. The friendships, referenced to in the title, aren’t really explored. Hell, the poker night provides realizations for everyone BUT Ruby. The attraction between Ruby and her editor, Michael, is touched upon but not in-depth.  There is no ‘loves-me, loves-me-not’ because from what I can see, the editor clearly wants to be with her. It’s Ruby being insecure, whiny and afraid of becoming emotionally involved.  Even the small twist that takes place towards the end of the novel isn’t really explained either. None of this makes sense to me because the novel definitely has more than its share of necessary dialogue.

With all of that being said, it’s still an interesting and amusing read. Written in short, journal-like entries, this book has a few laugh out loud moments & some great quotes.  At the very least it’s quick and entertaining read. It’s not the best book I’ve read, nor is it the worst.  It’s just, well…blah,.

LitSnit Verdict: C

What if you were to meet the number-one person on your laminated list—you know, that list you joke about with your significant other about which five celebrities you’d be allowed to run off with if ever given the chance? And of course since it’ll never happen it doesn’t matter… Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity heartthrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky’s husband is pretty cool about it. Her children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

After settling in for what I thought was going to be a quick, breezy read I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this novel has some depth.

Very rarely can you read a book where the main characters are of the opposite sex and just friends. Nothing more, nothing less.  Heck, I won’t lie…I really don’t ever want to read one of those novels. I enjoy my romance and my women finding their happily ever after.  So I picked this one up because I was intrigued by Becky, a married & Mormon pregnant woman who gets to meet  Felix Callahan, this fictitious world’s version of George Clooney. Their chemistry is immediate & the banter between Becky and Felix is clever, quick and, at times, laugh out loud funny.  She’s not intimidated by his sunny, golden-boy good looks and he’s intrigued by her honesty and her complete lack of awe.  

Hale has created complex, wonderful and lovely characters (both main and surrounding) that make even the unlikeliest events in this book tolerable. I found myself often rooting for them to get together; despite the fact that Becky was married with children (this makes me a creep!). I’m not entirely sure I can blame Hale who, in tackling the question “Can men and women be just friends?”, takes great care to reinforce Becky’s love for her husband and children, to show Felix’s lack of belief in Mormonism & to continually remind us of how different these two really are in life, beliefs and values.  On the other hand, Felix and Becky get to be such good friends that the intimacy between the two makes you feel a little uncomfortable when remembering Becky’s aforementioned family. I was left torn, hoping that Becky would remain true to her family and yet still wanting these two to provide my happy ending.  So while the issue of platonic relationships between men and women is explored, nothing is resolved.  

I will say this book is not for everyone. Some parts of it are so sweet and sappy, it’s ridiculous. Also, I ‘ll admit that I don’t know much about Mormonism, so certain things struck me as odd. Still, it’s a pure, fun story and sometimes that’s all you need.

LitSnit verdict: B

A conversation in the comments of Janelle’s review of Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married got me thinking: is chick lit dead?

Six or seven years ago we seemed to be drowning in chick lit.  From Kinsella to Bunshell, Cabot to Weiner, chick lit was a force to be reckoned with.  I remember reading anything Red Dress Ink, published (a company, which, by the looks of it hasn’t published anything since 2008) and dreamed about writing for them myself one day.  Chick lit was everywhere.

What happened?  Sure, there’s still some out there, but the good stuff (in my opinion) is harder to find, and the pickings are slim.

An article last year in Slate cites the recession as the cause of decline in chick lit, and while the recession hit all book sales, I find it hard to believe that the recession killed an entire genre.  Are we supposed to believe that women can’t write fun, smart novels without talking about shoes and shopping?  Look at the novels of Jane Green and Megan Crane; none of their characters were especially wealthy or clothes obsessed.  Yet, it’s been over two years since Crane published a novel. (I’m aware she’s publishing under a pseudonym for Harlequin, but romance and chick lit are two very different genres)

NPR posted a sort of response to the Slate article saying that chick lit isn’t dead that the “shoe lit” of Kinsella and Bunshell was never an accurate portrayal of the genre despite receiving most of the attention and sales, which is true. 

What I’m starting to realize, the more I think about the present state of chick lit is that the genre has grown up.  The writers whose tales of fun and conflicted twenty-somethings once drew me in, now write about fun and conflicted marrieds with children and dealing divorce or marital issues, something I, as a still twenty-something myself, can’t relate to (maybe it says more about my life choices that at this point in my life I’m still eating ramen and worrying about both paying rent and buying groceries this month, but I have a feeling I’m not the only one).

There doesn’t seem to be a new generation of chick lit writers coming in to fulfill what I want in my chick lit:  stories that don’t pander to me, but represent a reflection of where I am in my life (while also satisfying the romantic in me).  At least, without the main character being a witch, vampire, werewolf or other fantastical creature (I love those books, too, but they’re not what I remember as the “golden age” of chick lit).  Perhaps its because chick lit is no longer seen as viable market, so publishers are buying up more YA, the current publishing craze.

Now, I read a lot of different genres and I know that an entire genre isn’t just going to “die,” despite my initial hypothesizing, but there is a definite absence of fun, smart women’s fiction these days.

Since I feel like I’m on the verge of rambling, I turn to you, my fellow chick lit lovers, am I wrong?  Am I simplifying (or complicating) things?  What do you think about the current state of chick lit?

And, most importantly, have you read some new, good chick lit lately?

Summary: When Layla Brennan married her high school sweetheart, Brett Foster, she finally got the big, loving family she’d always wanted: his. Now she’s closer to Brett’s parents than he is, partners with his sister in a successful pet-photography business, and confidant to his younger brother. She couldn’t be more of a Foster if she’d been born one.
There’s just one problem: Brett wants a divorce. Stunned and heartbroken, Layla turns to the Fosters for comfort, only to realize that losing Brett means losing them as well. What else can she do but sue him for the most valuable thing he’s got–namely, his family. Breaking up may be hard to do, but for Layla and Brett it’s even harder to undo.
Fresh, funny, poignant, and brimming with insight into what makes modern families tick–and what can blow them apart –
Family Affair proves that in love and war, everything’s relative.

Review: I was a huge fan of Crane’s first novel Stupid and Contagious so I was looking forward to this book and perhaps had too high expectations.  Not being married myself I had a little trouble connecting to Layla and Brett.  Crane does a good job of making you understand their frustrations with the marriage, but their marital issues seemed to go from “he/she drives me crazy and annoys the hell out of me, but really I love her/him” to “I want a divorce” in about two pages without any real explanation as to their motivations.  I found myself irritated with Layla from the get-go.  She’s too perfect (which every other character reminds you constantly), a bit bland, and a bit too nice for my liking (what can I say I like my characters with a little bit of snark).  Brett, on the other hand, is an overgrown man-child who whines about his perfect life and is fairly selfish.  I initially couldn’t really side with either of them, but I think this was Crane’s intent.  We come into this marriage already frustrated with each person and don’t really warm to the characters until later.

There’s a nice twist halfway through that you see coming, but I was surprised how it changed the entire course of the book for me and how I viewed both characters.  I sympathized more with Brett and Layla and it thankfully gave them a reason to grow up and stop acting like spoiled children.  I was a little disappointed that things wrapped up a little too neatly in the end, but I understood the motivations of Brett and Layla so it worked for me.

As with Stupid and Contagious, I enjoyed the split point of view chapters, but I felt like the POV chapters from the other family members and friends were jarring and unnecessary.  Crane’s dialogue can get a little too heavy with exposition sometimes, but she captures the complicated dynamic that is sibling relationships well.  I found myself wishing for more scenes between Trish and Brett who seemed to have the most interesting relationship in the Foster family.

LitSnit Verdict: B-

Critically acclaimed and award-winning — but hardly bestselling — author Georgina Jackson can’t get past the first chapter of her second book. When she receives an urgent email from her agent, Georgina is certain it’s bad news. Shockingly, she’s offered a commission to complete a newly discovered manuscript by a major nineteenth-century author. Skeptical at first about her ability to complete the manuscript, Georgina is horrified to know that the author in question is Jane Austen.

Torn between pushing through or fleeing home to America, Georgina relies on the support of her banker-turned-science student roommate, Henry, and his quirky teenage sister, Maud — a serious Janeite. With a sudden financial crisis looming, the only way Georgina can get by is to sign the hugely lucrative contract and finish the book. But first she has to admit she’s never actually read Jane Austen!

Review: Spoilers Ahead

I’ve been sitting here for the last fifteen minutes trying to find a pretty & poetic way of saying: I didn’t like it. At. ALL.

Aston’s Writing Jane Austen has the potential to be a lovely tribute to the subject and her work, but with undeveloped characters, rushed plotlines and lack of conflict, this story falls flat.

The protagonist herself spends nearly the entire first half of the book whining about how she can’t accomplish the task she’s been given because she’s not familiar with Austen’s work and has no desire to be. After a few pages of her finally reading and falling in love with the books, she spends nearly the entire second half whining about how she can’t recreate Austen’s voice and that she’s suffering from writer’s block. She suffers from no particular conflict. There are no obstacles in her way. She just doesn’t want to do it.

Oy.

The cast of characters surrounding Georgina make the story a bit more interesting and that may be a slight exaggeration. They each have their own problems. Her landlord, Henry, has a cheating girlfriend referenced to, but never confronted. (We actually never meet this character at all.) His little sister has runaway from boarding school because she’s ‘different’…how exactly, we don’t know. Throw in the cook & her sudden romance and you have a bunch of story lines never fully explored.

All in all, this book dragged and dragged until the last fifteen pages, where it seems Aston realized she’d better wrap it up. At this point, everything is tied in a messy little bow. Nothing explained, nothing given.

Verdict: D–The potential for a great story is there but after reading Georgina whine about Austen for nearly an entire novel, I almost didn’t want anything more to do with Austen OR Georgina.

Sick of vampires? So is Meena Harper.

But her boss is making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them.

Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die (not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does).

But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side . . . a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

The problem is, he already is dead. Maybe that’s why he’s the first guy Meena’s ever met that she could see herself having a future with. See, while Meena’s always been able to see everyone else’s future, she’s never been able look into her own.

And while Lucien seems like everything Meena has ever dreamed of in a boyfriend, he might turn out to be more like a nightmare.

Now might be a good time for Meena to start learning to predict her own future . . .

If she even has one.

Review: Let me start of by saying if Meg Cabot’s name wasn’t attached to this book I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance.  I’ve been a big Meg Cabot fan for years, reading all the Princess Diaries (even suffering through the last few in the series), most of her young adult titles, and pretty much all of her adult fiction.

I was surprised to see Cabot covering vampire lore, which has become a pretty tired premise over the last few years.  (I believe my first thought was, God, not another vampire book.  And I like the vampire genre!) Cabot’s take on the Dracula legend has a few surprises, but isn’t anything that will change the vampire genre as you know it.  Yet, as always, Cabot creates fun, lively characters that make you forget you’ve heard this story many, many times before.  Cabot’s silliness works for the genre that’s become a little stale.  Never in my life did I think I’d be reading a vampire novel thinking, It’s Liz Lemon meets Bill Compton. Only Liz Lemon runs a soap opera and Bill Compton is a vampire that actually comes from Transylvania.

Being more of an Eric girl than a member of Team Bill, I found the relationship between Lucien and Meena a bit dry and not all that convincing.  But it didn’t matter because the second demon hunter Alaric Wulf (I know, I know, the names are cheese-tastic but it works for Cabot) came onto the scene Lucien kind of ceased to exist to me.

I don’t know if this is the first in a new series for Cabot (still have my fingers crossed for that fourth Heather Wells novel that we’ve been waiting years for), but it certainly seems like there are more to come and as long as it’s chock-full of witty, love you/hate you banter between Meena and Alaric I’ll be sure to keep reading.

Verdict:  B

Like I said, Cabot hasn’t revolutionized the vampire genre, but Insatiable is a fun, frothy read that you’ll enjoy if you’ve liked Cabot’s previous work or are a fan of either the chick lit or fantasy genre.

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