One Great Lie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“She will imagine a ghost library of all the other books that aren’t there, and will never be there. All the voices and stories of women behind one kind of wall or another. Voices and stories stolen by thieves.”

One Great Lie by Deb CalettiWinning a scholarship to a writing workshop should be a dream come true for Charlotte Hodges. The workshop is led by Luca Bruni, Charlotte’s favorite author of all time at his private villa in Venice.

Being in Venice also gives Charlotte the chance she’s longed for to look into her ancestor Isabella Di Angelo. For generations, Charlotte’s family has held onto the knowledge that Isabella wrote a very famous poem that’s taught in just about every school now. A poem that’s always been attributed to a man. Without concrete proof, the true authorship is more family lore than fact. Charlotte hopes this summer she can change that.

Arriving in Venice, Charlotte finds the city more picturesque than she could imagine. But the villa is also more secluded–isolated, really. Bruni is even more charismatic in person. More brilliant. But he’s also much more erratic and, as Charlotte and the other young women on the retreat begin to realize, much more unsettling.

With help from an Italian grad student named Dante, Charlotte begins to uncover the truth about Isabella and the stolen poem. But as some secrets are revealed, Charlotte will have to decide if she wants to speak out about others about Bruni in One Great Lie (2021) by Deb Caletti.

Find it on Bookshop.

One Great Lie is written in close third person following Charlotte’s perspective. Charlotte is white as are most characters although there is some diversity among the other students at the retreat. Each chapter in the book is prefaced with a brief epigraph detailing a different female writer from the Renaissance and the reasons why her works are not as well known as they should be or, in many cases, as they could be.

From the beginning the prose is so charged–the foreshadowing so deliberately ominous–that are immediately drawn in waiting for the ground to fall out from under Charlotte; knowing that it’s only a matter of time before a writing retreat that seems too good to be true is proven to be just that.

Charlotte’s work dismantling her admiration for Luca Bruni after witnessing his predatory behavior firsthand connects well to Charlotte’s efforts to prove Isabella’s authorship of a poem previously attributed (and stolen by) a prominent male Renaissance poet. Themes of feminism play out in both plot threads as Charlotte sees firsthand the damage Bruni has wraught while researching the ways her ancestor Isabella’s poem was stolen.

A sweet romance with Dante and Charlotte’s growing love for Venice tempers the otherwise tense narrative.

One Great Lie is a tautly paced novel filled with evocative settings and suspense as Charlotte unearths the truth and tries to right an historical wrong.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

The Secret Life of Prince Charming: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb CalettiThe Secret Life of Prince Charming (2009) is the latest book from critically acclaimed writer Deb Caletti. Some have suggested that the cover art is misleading, suggesting to readers that they will find a peppy, romantic comedy type of book inside. If, however, the cover is taken more in terms of generalities, it is a perfect visual representation of this book’s core–a meditation on love, truth, family and, of course, relationships.

Seventeen-year-old Quinn has grown up in the shadow of bad relationships. She knows all the gory details of her aunt’s numerous breakups, the story behind her grandmother’s two collapsed marriages. Quinn and her little sister Sprout are also intimately familiar with their mother’s divorce from their father. Despite all that knowing, Quinn is still desperate for her father to be a part of her life.

Still, in order to combat all of those poor choices, Quinn has made herself into the responsible girl who makes good and wise decisions. That facade begins to slip away when Quinn starts to look more closely at her life and the objects that inhabit it. Quinn already knew that her father wasn’t perfect. Charming, witty, fun Barry can also be selfish, irresponsible and vindictive. When she realizes that Barry has amassed trophies from every one of his ex-girlfriends, Quinn knows she has to take action.

Such is the start of the road trip at the core of The Secret Life of Prince Charming. With the help of the half-sister she doesn’t know and the little sister who might see more clearly than either, Quinn sets out to right her father’s wrongs and return the objects to their rightful owners. What starts as a simple delivery mission turns into something more as each stop brings Quinn closer to the father she never really knew.

This book handles a lot of things in a masterful way. First and foremost the writing throughout the novel is, frankly, stunning. Quinn’s narrative is interspersed with snippets of advice from the women in Barry’s life talking about love and their own past relationships. In total this amounts to about half a dozen different narrative voices in one novel. The characters are all well-realized and truly unique.

Caletti also provides an interesting window onto the reality of divorce as seen by the children when no one is watching. Most of all, though, this story deals with what it really means to have an estranged father. Despite all of the evidence, Quinn loves her father and in many ways idolizes him at the beginning of the story. As the plot moves forward, Quinn is forced to address her mixed feelings for her father and acknowledge that the truth about him might be very different from the image she created over the years. (The idolization of father figures is not always something that makes sense to me but Caletti carefully examines the subject from all angles and integrates it well into the storyline.)

The Secret Life of Prince Charming is not a lot of things. It is not action-packed. It is not, in some ways, much of a romance. It is not fast paced. But this book is compelling and beautiful and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee