Gossip Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Gossip Girl by Cecily von ZiegesarCecily von Ziegesar‘s Gossip Girl (2002) was an unprecedented sensation in the publishing world when it first came out. This first book in an eleven book series (eight if you’re only counting the ones von Ziegesar actually wrote) showed publishers that teen paperback series books were still viable–something no one believed possible since the Sweet Valley High books of the 1980s. Since then the franchise has spawned its own TV show, several spin-off books, and the inimitable and insane What Chuck Wore.

On the upper East side, the usual rules don’t apply. Life is a party and Gossip Girl is ready and waiting to tell you all of the scandalous details about every sensational guest. After all, when everything you’ve ever wanted has been given to you on a silver platter what else is there to do?

When glamorous and ethereal Serena van der Woodsen returns to her home from a failed attempt at boarding school, she is ready to return to the fab party life she shared with best friend Blair Waldorf. But Blair has gotten used to being the center of attention in Serena’s absence. When the two girls are reunited get ready for some catty conversations, an uneasy love triangle (or two!), lots of other juicy gossip.

Other thoughts:

After reading the first book in the series, I find myself torn as to my feelings about the series. On one hand, I find it strange that the author does not own the copyright, enabling the various spin offs written by ghost writers. On the other hand, it was a fun book.

My main problem with the books, and the reason I might not read the rest of the series, is that the characters were all a bit too ambiguous. Serena is adorably dim for most of the book but, really, is anyone ever that clueless? Even if they are insanely rich? I wanted to like Blair and root for her throughout the book but she was such a jerk to Serena that it became frustrating. Why not just explain things to Serena? Then there’s Vanessa who I wanted to like even more than Blair but then she got all petty while casting her movie. Way to compromise that artistic integrity! I’m not even going to waste time mentioning the guys because they were all losers.

Possible Pairings: Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green; Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley; Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor; Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee; The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee; Bliss by Lauren Myracle; The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle; Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen; Gossip Girl (television series); What Chuck Wore

How to Murder a Millionaire: A (mysterious) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Murder a Millionaire by Nancy MartinNora Blackbird was living the good life among the posh blue bloods of Philadelphia’s Main Line. True, she and her two sisters were widows, likely as a result of the Blackbird curse, but time heals all wounds–even the unexpected ones.

Unfortunately, as any good reader will know, the sins of the parents are always visited upon the children. In How to Murder a Millionaire (2002), Nancy Martin‘s first Blackbird Sisters mystery, those sins come in the form of tax evasion.

“To squander the last dollar left in the Blackbird family fortune, my parents threw a lawn party that would have made Jay Gatsby proud.”

Nora’s older sister, Libby, received the family furniture. Emma, the youngest Blackbird, landed the Blackbird art collection. Nora, our narrator, received the family homestead.

“Perhaps under the impression that I was the most responsible member of the family–which only means I’m the one who never entered a wet T-shirt contest–Mama and Daddy gave me the Bucks County farm. Then they blew the country for a sunny resort that catered to American tax evaders, leaving stardust in their wake and me with a delinquent property tax bill for two million dollars.”

Trained as a debutante, with little practical experience in anything else, Nora has a problem. Desperate for money to support herself (and funnel into IRS pockets), Nora gets a job as a society columnist for the Philadephia Intelligencer working as an assistant to Philadephia’s most-hated society columnist. It’s a change that surprises most of Nora’s wealthy friends and associates, but for most part, life as a society writer is stirkingly similar to life as a debutante, the main difference being the presence of a ubiquitous pen and notebook.

As Nora learns on her first assignment, the presence of a dead body is also different. When Nora finds the host of her first party assignment, a family friend and wealthy art collector, dead, Nora feels compelled to investigate. Complications arise when tough-talking Emma and free-spirit Libby decide to help.

Meanwhile, Nora is left to deal with the ever-present back taxes on her own as she contemplates her options (and the definitely sexy, possible mobster’s son, willing to buy up the farm’s extra property).

While it isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, How to Murder a Millionaire is quirky and entertaining. Martin creates memorable characters, especially the sisters who unsurprisingly are at the core of the plot. Her prose is light and fast moving. Nora’s narration pulls no punches describing Philadelphia’s elite and all of their foibles. Other reviewers have suggested that this novel is unrealistic–not being a Philadelphia debutant I cannot judge that for myself save to say that everything seems as plausible as a fictitious story can.

If you enjoy this novel, the Blackbird Sisters make their next appearance in Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds.

Murphy’s Law: A (brief) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Murphy's Law by Rhys BowenMurphy’s Law (2002) is the first novel in Rhys Bowen‘s series of Molly Murphy mysteries. (Bowen was previously known for her popular Constable Evan Evans mysteries.) Set in New York City at the turn of the century (ie. the 19th century), this mystery is rich with historical details about New York and the immigrant experience while also being an entertaining, suspenseful read.

Although Molly Murphy dreams of leaving behind her small life in a small Ireland coast town, she never really thinks she’ll get away. Certainly not to bustling New York City. But, when Molly kills a man (in self-defense), fleeing the country seems to be her only option.

Traveling under a false name, Molly gets to Ellis Island only to become a suspect in the murder of a fellow immigrant. With the help of dangerously charming police captain Daniel O’Sullivan, Molly has to try to clear her name in this crime before her past catches up with her.

Having studied New York City history in college, I’m always interested in novels with historical New York as a backdrop. Bowen’s prose brings the city as it was to life from her depictions of Hell’s Kitchen to discussions of New York’s notorious Tammany Hall government. The city is brought to life as carefully as any of the books characters, and I might add, to great effect.

In 2002, Murhphy’s Law won the Agatha Award for best novel, and it shows in the writing and storyline. The cover art and titles add to this novel’s charm. Named for a popular saying (Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.) the title does, unfortunately for Molly, tie into the plot. The same goes for latter books in the series.

If you want to read more about this determined Irish redhead, she was next spotted in Death of Riley.

Pure Dead Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Pure Dead Magic by Debi GlioriDebi Gliori‘s novel Pure Dead Magic (2002) first caught my attention as a library page for two simple reasons: the unique title and the rather enticing plaid background of the cover (which also features a neat illustration by Glin Dibley). Before embarking on Pure Dead Magic, a work of longer fiction, Gliori had written and illustrated picture books for children. I have seen this book, the first in a trilogy, shelved both with children’s and young adult books. I’m more inclined to call it a children’s book although I also have no problem imagining teens who would enjoy it. That said, let’s talk about what happens between the covers of this book.

Twelve-year-old Titus Strega-Borgia and his ten-year-old sister Pandora do not live in what most people would term a normal household. Things are strange at StregaSchloss, the family’s house near the Scottish Highlands, even before their father Luciano mysteriously disappears. Dealing with an unwieldy household while completing her degree in advanced witchcraft, Baci Strega-Borgia is overextended. Enter Mrs. Flora McLachlan who tries to bring some order to the household along with fries that are crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and the occasional lullaby for Damp, the youngest of the Strega-Borgia children.

But order doesn’t reign for very long at StregaSchloss before things get out of hand. Thirteen baby rats go missing, followed soon after by Damp. Then the gangster in the rabbit suit shows up and everything gets even messier.

If any of the plot brought to mind the Addams family, it’s not a coincidence. I have no proof for this, but feel strongly that the Strega-Borgia’s might be distant cousins of Morticia and Gomez. Gliori pulls off a blend of humor and the macabre, with the odd man-eating monster thrown in, admirably and much in the style so common to the Addams family movie.

Needless to say this novel does require a willing suspension of disbelief, but once you get into the story it’s really fun. Gliori’s prose is straightforward and broken up into manageable chapters (usually four or so pages at a time) which make it a good pick for a reluctant reader who might not want to read a long chapter in one sitting.

The characters are also excellent. In addition to the family and staff, several mythical beasts and one hungry crocodile also add a lot of dimension to the book. Pure Dead Magic is one of those books that, if you can tolerate some fantastical elements, has something for everyone: a variety of characters, excitement, suspense, and humor. A well-rounded book for anyone looking for a story that will leave them smiling.