On Deb Caletti’s “Honey, Baby, Sweetheart”

Image result for honey baby sweetheartDeb Caletti’s 2004 novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart was selected as a National Book Award finalist, which was, I must admit, my primary motivation for reading it. I’m compelled to read any book that has a certain amount of gravitas or esteem surrounding it; I’m always fascinated by what others consider “good” or even “great” literature. And if I don’t see the good in it, does it mean I have better taste than most people, or does it mean I’m a bad reader.

I was forced to ask myself that question in the middle of Caletti’s novel, which expected to finish in a day or two, but which took me nearly a week. It started of promising enough, but I found that the buildup to Ruby’s relationship with Travis Becker was so abrupt, it nearly gave me whiplash. That being said, Caletti does an admirable job at delving into the reasons why women remain committed to relationships that are bad for them. Because it can’t always be as simple as walking away.

Personally, I had a difficult time with that concept, though I think Caletti’s exploration is what made the novel such a critical success. Growing up, I was always encouraged to rage fiercely against any type of entrapment or persuasion by a significant other. When I was old enough to date, I found myself in a situation where I felt like I was being pushed into situations and interactions that went against who I was as I person, and eventually I raged against that person. I’ve lost all the people I’ve dated to that particular rage, and I’m not the least bit sorry. And because of that, it was strange to see Ruby and her mother give themselves away to it when they knew, and felt, that it went against who they were.

Caletti has moments of brilliant writing where the insights she showcases are genuinely intriguing, but for the most part, her writing was a little heavy-handed. I can imagine that many readers are attracted to that style of writing, but I’m drawn to sparse prose in which writers say a lot through a little. In fairness, I probably would have loved this book when I was a teenager, but my tastes have changed.

I did appreciate the humor of the “Casserole Ladies” who let loose some seriously funny jokes and pranks, but their antics weren’t enough to raise the above the standing I gave it.

For young people out there, or parents who are looking for a book for their child, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart is a worthy choice. It’s an important book for you women to read even though the execution might be a little off-kilter. It’s wholly enjoyable and full of well-developed characters. In terms of summer reading, it’s perfect.

On “Suite Scarlett” by Maureen Johnson

scarlett
courtesy of goodreads.com

Like I said earlier: the craze continues. This time, with a novel that is more similar in tone to The Bermudez Triangle, though not quite as edgy. I imagine this would have been the perfect summer break book for me when I was younger. It has all the right ingredients:

  1. Teenage siblings brought up in an unusual environment (i.e. a hotel in New York City).
  2. An off beat hotel guest who shakes things up.
  3. A complicated love interest.
  4. Money problems.
  5. The streets of NYC in the summer.

All good things. Johnson kept Suite Scarlett light and fun–perfect for a teenager on his or her summer vacation. While I thought the novel got off to a slow start, the author quickly showed just how talented she is at designing characters and developing their interpersonal relationships, especially the dynamic between the Martin siblings.

And–while almost all YA novels contain a love interest at their core–Scarlett’s relationship (or lack of one) with Eric introduces a complexity that many lack. Oftentimes, boy and girl fall in love and run along happily ever after, but Johnson consciously introduces a three year age gap that changes everything for them.

Personally, I was so done with Eric after his and Scarlett’s rendezvous on the Empire State Building. But, first love is a bitch to be reckoned with. The complications that arise knowing that Eric will go to NYU and almost inevitably change makes their doomed romance relatable to many a young person out there. I would like to have read this book when I was 14/15 and half in love with a senior boy who I wouldn’t stop bugging. Unfortunately, I had no concept of “cool.” Yes, I was an embarrassment to myself.

Furthermore, I love resourceful teenagers in a sort of masochistic way. I sure as hell wasn’t witty, sharp, cunning, or helpful when I was Scarlett’s age. I just existed and did school related things sometimes and read a ton of books. It was a fun day when my mom realized that reading a lot does not translate into academic intelligence. Good times.

Though Suite Scarlett isn’t on the same par as Johnson’s Shades of London series, it is definitely worth a read for young people around 14 or 15. It’s fun, relatable, and contains all of the author’s trademark humor.

On “Sea of Monsters” by Rick Riordan

percy jackson
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is an incredibly funny and intelligent addition to any reading list, so if I find myself reading something that isn’t catching my attention, I turn to these books.

In my review of The Lightning Thief, I praised Riordan’s delightful sense of humor and effortless ability to integrate the stories of Ancient Greece and Rome into his narrative. The second novel in the Percy Jackson series–The Sea of Monsters–is no exception. Like Harry Potter and his friends in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Grover grow along with their expanding abilities. But they also find themselves hurling faster and faster towards an uncertain future in which Percy’s life could be at stake.

I especially appreciated the twist at the end when the reader find out that Percy might not be the only hero capable of fulfilling the Oracle’s prophecy. *SPOILER ALERT* Percy and his friends succeed in retrieving the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters in order to save Thalia’s tree–the only form of protection Camp Half-Blood has. What they don’t realize when they attempt to revive the tree is that Luke (who is now attempting to bring Kronos back to life and destroy the gods) intended for Percy to bring Thalia back to life the entire time. He believes that because Thalia’s father, Zeus, neglected her during her lifetime the way he’s been ignored by Hermes that she’ll join his and Kronos’ battle against Mt. Olympus.

Now it comes down to Percy and Thalia. Who will be fulfill the prophecy?

Of course, Riordan leaves us hanging at the end. The series’ next installment–The Titan’s Curse–is sure to bring along another heap of trouble for the heroes.

Until next time. Happy Reading!

 

On “Unmentionable” by Therese Oneill

unmentionable
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

Let’s imagine you’re one of those people who spends the weekend reading your favorite Bronte novel with a glass of wine in hand, followed by a long binge watching session of the new ITV series, Victoria. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Therese Oneill is all too keen to remind you that your weekend enjoyment is a 21st century luxury, and everything you love about the 19th century is pretty much a game of smoke and mirrors.

So I’ve been lied to all this time?!?! All those films, books, and television shows were a lie? I’m afraid so, mon amie. The 19th century was a bitch.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners serves as a time traveling machine, taking you back to the beloved years under Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Oneill is our sarcastic, all-knowing tour guide. She takes us through nearly every aspect of a Victorian woman’s life—that is, a wealthy, white Victorian woman, of course. A female from another race or class was practically living in a hell on earth.

In the book, the reader learns what a woman wore (crotchless undies, anyone??), how she spent her day, what was expected of her in the bedroom, and how her uterus is the only important thing about her, so sit down and shut up. It was such an amazing time…

Oneill, a go-to lady for lesser known historical facts, comes to us with a feigned British matron type of humor that serves its purpose fairly well. I particularly appreciated the captions she uses for the photographs and illustrations interspersed throughout the book. They’re often cutting, and witty, and vaguely meme-ish.

As someone who has the same Victorian era guilty pleasure as you good folks, I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book. I hoped/expected to be equally entertained and horrified by what I read. Turns out, many of the revelations weren’t so shocking.

If you’re truly interested in the era, or even come across any Victorian texts at school, you will probably already know many of the “ghastly” things in this book. The truly interesting bits of information involving how people bathed and the “scientific” ideas behind sex at that time were sometimes buried beneath forced humor or the poor integration of humor and fact.

It’s certainly a delicate balance to strike—one that she hits more often than not—but it was difficult at times to focus on some of the passages when her tone wavered.

One of the book’s best qualities, though, is its intrinsically feminist approach to what life was like for women at the time. Women of the upper classes had it a lot better than other women, but they were still held to unfathomable expectations. If, for instance, you had a husband who wasn’t fond of abstaining from sex to prevent the conception of children, your uterus was basically a baby-making factory until you a) could no longer bear children, b) you died in childbirth, or c) you suffered from a prolapsed uterus, and doctors had to pin your organs back into place. Nice, right?

If you didn’t have the fortune of being pregnant for most of your miserable life, you probably had the joy of contracting a venereal disease from your philandering husband who has sex with prostitutes in dank alleys.

Life was rough, but Oneill’s book is not. Anyone interested in the Victorian era, women’s studies, or feminism in general will probably appreciate this book. Sometimes the jokes aren’t all that funny, and it might get a bit tiresome, but it’s worth your time if these things interest you.