Between the Stacks

Here you will find the good, the great and the fantastic of the library world. You will also find out how the library's materials and services connect to the larger community and enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Wilkes County.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

With the release of The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep as evil Miranda Priestly, we offer similar titles for your consideration:

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. Most recent college grads know they have to start at the bottom and work their way up. But not many picture themselves having to pick up their boss's dry cleaning, deliver them hot lattes, land them copies of the newest Harry Potter book before it hits stores and screen potential nannies for their children. Charmingly unfashionable Andrea Sachs, upon graduating from Brown, finds herself in this precarious position: she's an assistant to the most revered-and hated-woman in fashion, Runway editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. The self-described "biggest fashion loser to ever hit the scene," Andy takes the job hoping to land at the New Yorker after a year. As the "lowest-paid-but-most-highly-perked assistant in the free world," she soon learns her Nine West loafers won't cut it-everyone wears Jimmy Choos or Manolos-and that the four years she spent memorizing poems and examining prose will not help her in her new role of "finding, fetching, or faxing" whatever the diabolical Miranda wants, immediately. Life is pretty grim for Andy, but Weisberger, whose stint as Anna Wintour's assistant at Vogue couldn't possibly have anything to do with the novel's inspiration, infuses the narrative with plenty of dead-on assessments of fashion's frivolity and realistic, funny portrayals of life as a peon. Andy's mishaps will undoubtedly elicit laughter from readers, and the story's even got a virtuous little moral at its heart. Weisberger has penned a comic novel that manages to rise to the upper echelons of the chick-lit genre.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin. A blistering satire based on the real-life experiences of former New York City nannies McLaughlin and Kraus, this hilarious examination of the upper echelons of Manhattan society and the unlovable Park Avenue X family is flawlessly complemented by Roberts's limber, metamorphosing vocal performance. Depicted by the Academy Award winner's detached, patronizing tone, Mrs. X, a housewife, has little more to do than spend her adulterous, workaholic husband's seven-figure salary on manicures, designer clothes and floral arrangements. She delegates the care of her bratty four-year-old son, Grayer, and other small "errands" (e.g., shopping for a 50-guest dinner party) to an NYU grad student, Nan. Highlighting the disparity between the decadent, insular world of the Xs against the underpaid, disrespected one of the hired help surrounding them works especially well in audio, as Roberts acutely captures neglected Grayer's temper tantrums, piercing whines, inconsolable cries of "I want my mommy" and the hesitant tones and broken English of his playmate's caretakers. When the babysitter's "level of commitment" to the job is questioned and a developmental consultant is called in to handle the "deleterious self-esteem adjustment" her charge may have been set up for after failing to make it into a prestigious school, Roberts conveys Nan's struggle through readings alternately sarcastic, angry and falsely cheerful. This is a witty and thoroughly enjoyable production.

Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. In a way, Candace Bushnell's Lipstick Jungle picks up where her career-defining book Sex and the City left off, in the money-soaked, power-hungry, beauty-obsessed jungle that is New York City. This time around, the ladies are a bit older, a lot richer, but not particularly wiser nor more endearing than Bushnell's earlier heroines. Lipstick Jungle weaves the stories of Nico O'Neilly, Wendy Healy, and Victory Ford, numbers 8, 12, and 17 on The New York Post's list of "New York's 50 Most Powerful Women." But this is 21st Century New York, and to get ahead and stay ahead, these women will do anything, including jeopardizing their personal and professional relationships. Take for example Nico, editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine, who betrays her boss to rise to the top of the entire magazine division at media mega-giant Splatch-Verner. As president of Paradour Pictures, Wendy may be poised to win an Oscar for her 10-year labor-of-love, Ragged Pilgrims, but her marriage is in shambles and her children care more about a $50,000 pony than their mother. And for single, 43-year-old fashion designer Victory, pleasing tough critics may be more important than ever finding the real relationship she's convinced herself she doesn't need. This racy tale of women behaving badly manages to shrewdly flip the tables to show us how gender roles are essentially interchangeable, given the right circumstances. Whether that was Bushnell's intent when crafting this wicked tale is another story.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. If you've ever paid off one credit card with another, thrown out a bill before opening it, or convinced yourself that buying at a two-for-one sale is like making money, then this appealing novel is for you. In the opening pages, recent college graduate Rebecca Bloomwood is offered a hefty line of credit by a London bank. Within a few months, she has exceeded the limits of this generous offer, and begins furtively to scan her credit-card bills at work, certain that she couldn't have spent the reported sums. In theory anyway, the world of finance shouldn't be a mystery to Rebecca, since she writes for a magazine called Successful Saving. Struggling with her spendthrift impulses, she tries to heed the advice of an expert and appreciate life's cheaper pleasures: parks, museums, and so forth. Yet her first Saturday at the Victoria and Albert Museum strikes her as a waste. Why? There's not a price tag in sight. Eventually, Rebecca's uncontrollable shopping and her "imaginative" solutions to her debt attract the attention not only of her bank manager but of handsome Luke Brandon--a multimillionaire PR representative for a finance group frequently covered in Successful Saving. Kinsella's debut makes excellent fantasy reading for the long stretches between white sales and appliance specials.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding. Considering the number of writers who've tried, and generally failed, to do plummy Bridget Jones one better, it only makes sense that Fielding should take a vacation from the genre she spawned and seek (sort of) greener pastures. Her new inspiration? Think Ian Fleming. Fielding's ridiculous, delicious, wildly improbable plot goes something like this: freelance journalist Olivia Joules ("as in the unit of kinetic energy"), formerly Rachel Pixley (her whole family got run over when she was 14), gets bumped from the Sunday Times's international coverage down to the style pages thanks to the titular imagination (e.g., a story about a "cloud of giant, fanged locusts pancaking down on Ethiopia"). In between ducking twittering PR reps and airheaded blondes at a Miami face cream launch party, she uncovers what looks like an al-Qaeda plot, headed by a dreamy Osama bin Laden look-alike, who is either (1) a terrorist, (2) an international playboy, (3) a serial killer or (4) all of the above. Languid, mysterious Pierre Feramo returns Olivia's interest, and thus begins an around-the-world adventure that has plucky Olivia eventually recruited by MI6. In addition to the fun spy gear (e.g., Chloé shades fitted with a nerve-agent dagger) there are kidnappings, bomb plots and scuba-diving disasters. Olivia is slim, confident and accomplished; ostensibly, she's "painstakingly erased all womanly urges to question her shape, looks, role in life," etc. But she still has her bumbling Jonesian moments, and though she may not need a man, she'll get one in the end. What's wrong with the book: two-dimensional characters, dangling plot threads, the questionable taste of al-Qaeda bombings in an escapist, comic spy novel. What's right: girl-power punch, page-turning brio and a new heroine to root for.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot. Bag the tiara and get out the gun: Heather Wells, former teen idol, turns detective in the cute debut of a new mystery series from bestseller Cabot. After the 20-something Heather's rocker boyfriend dumps her, and her mother and manager flee with her earnings, she becomes an assistant director of an undergraduate residence hall at Manhattan's New York College (read: NYU) in hopes of free tuition. When students start to die mysteriously while "elevator surfing" in the building, weight-conscious, romance-obsessed Heather goes on a crazed hunt to uncover the truth—with an unwavering sense of style. As Magda, Heather's dorm cashier friend, says: "Even if the rest of your life is going down the toilet... at least your toes can still look pretty." Cabot delivers Heather's amateur sleuthing adventures in a rapid-fire narrative that may leave some readers begging for time-outs to control sudden laughing fits.

Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner. It is temping at first but unwise to assume Candace Shapiro is yet another Bridget Jones. Feisty, funny and less self-hating than her predecessor, Cannie is a 28-year-old Philadelphia Examiner reporter preoccupied with her weight and men, but able to see the humor in even the most unpleasant of life's broadsides. Even she is floored, however, when she reads "Good in Bed," a new women's magazine column penned by her ex-boyfriend, pothead grad student Bruce Guberman. Three months earlier, Cannie suggested they take a break apparently, Bruce thought they were through and set about making such proclamations as, "Loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world." Devastated by this public humiliation, Cannie takes comfort in tequila and her beloved dog, Nifkin. Bruce has let her down like another man in her life: Cannie's sadistic, plastic surgeon father emotionally abused her as a young girl, and eventually abandoned his wife and family, leaving no forwarding address. Cannie's siblings suffer, especially the youngest, Lucy, who has tried everything from phone sex to striptease. Their tough-as-nails mother managed to find love again with a woman, Tanya, the gravel-voiced owner of a two-ton loom. Somehow, Cannie stays strong for family and friends, joining a weight-loss group, selling her screenplay and gaining the maturity to ask for help when she faces something bigger than her fears. Weiner's witty, original, fast-moving debut features a lovable heroine, a solid cast, snappy dialogue and a poignant take on life's priorities. This is a must-read for any woman who struggles with body image, or for anyone who cares about someone who does.

Wild Designs by Katie Fforde. The appealing British heroine of this delicious romantic romp is Althea, who loves her house, her three rambunctious teenagers, her dog, and her garden. At 38, she loses her job, faces the return of her disagreeable ex-husband, and tries to cope with her impossible younger sister. Always a bit distracted by the pressures of daily life, she doesn't welcome the arrival of the architect who buys a nearby mill in whose greenhouse Althea has been surreptitiously raising plants. Patrick is rich, extremely attractive, and attached to the perfect musculature of a woman named Topaz. Althea, who hopes that winning a gardening competition will enable her to do something she loves and still keep her family financially intact, rings such glorious changes on the themes of motherhood, the bliss of gardening, friendship, and sibling relationships that we almost forgive her for wildly missing the cues of Patrick's interest and for her knee-jerk response to putting what she thinks are the children's interests first. In the end, she gets to keep home, garden, and love interest, although not in ways she might have expected. As pretty a piece of wish fulfillment as can be imagined; enchanting withal.

Spin Doctor by Leslie Carroll. Dirty laundry gets cleaned, dried and aired in the newest women-in-the-city soap opera from Carroll (Play Dates), an exuberant ode to friendship among women and the need for affordable mental health care (at least in New York City). When a Manhattan psychotherapist decides to offer pro bono counseling in her apartment building's laundry room, her lucky neighbors jump at the chance to wash away "the emotionally damaging detritus of their lives" while they wash away stains from their whites. Dr. Susan Lederer thinks of herself as the ultimate mother hen, dividing her time among her detergent-scented community work, her paying gig at the women's health center and her more literal motherly duties: taking care of a husband, Eli, their two children (aged 11 and 16) and an incontinent dog. That Susan's laundry room patients eventually join together to help Susan through her own domestic crisis is no surprise, but Carroll handles her material with wit and wisdom.

Faking It by Jennifer Crusie. Bestseller Crusie (Fast Women, etc.) takes readers on another smooth ride in her latest romantic caper. At the wheel this time is fab art forger Matilda Goodnight, whose chance encounter in a closet with cute con man/thief Davy Dempsey leads to madcap mayhem and breathless romance. He's trying to steal back the money he filched from Clea Lewis, ex-girlfriend (and possible husband killer), who had taken it right back. Tilda just wants her last "Scarlet" painting, which Clea has bought to impress Mason Phipps, her rich art-obsessed beau. It's the last of six forgeries Tilda did for Tony, her now deceased gallery-owner dad, and Tilda is determined to preserve her newly squeaky-clean reputation. Confused yet? It gets wackier, because the whole Goodnight clan and supporting cast are as enormously engaging as the loopy plot. There's Tilda's mother, Gwen; her sister, Eve/Louise, a split-personality teacher/diva; her gay ex-brother-in-law, Andrew; and her precocious teenage niece, Nadine. Add a host of shady characters and would-be hitmen, and the breezy plot thickens and puffs up like the light airy doughnuts all Goodnight women are attracted to but eventually forsake for muffins: "Muffins are for the long haul and they always taste good. They don't have that oh-my-God-I-have-to-have-that thing that the doughnuts have going for them, but you still want them the next morning." Finally, defying all odds, Crusie answers the burning questions she poses can liars and thieves fall in love, live happily ever after and stay out of jail while confirming the dangers of dating doughnuts.

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