Book Review – Modern Lovers

Book Review – Modern LoversModern Lovers by Emma Straub
three-stars
Published by Riverhead Books on May 31st 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Chick Lit
Pages: 353
Source: Purchased
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Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the New York Times‒bestselling author of The Vacationers, a smart, highly entertaining novel about a tight-knit group of friends from college—their own kids now going to college—and what it means to finally grow up well after adulthood has set in.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.

Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adults’ lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.

My review:

I really wanted to love Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers for a number of reasons. First of all, the title Modern Lovers hints that this will be a sexy and entertaining read. Second, it has been on pretty much every 2016 Must-Read book list that I’ve come across. And third, just look at that bright, fun cover – all by itself, it’s practically guaranteeing a light, fun read.

Sadly, as ready as I was to fall in love with Modern Lovers, it ended up just being an average read for me. I liked it enough to finish it, but overall I found it to be somewhat underwhelming, especially when compared with all of the hype surrounding the book. Maybe all that hype had built up unrealistically high expectations in my mind, but I was fully expecting this to be one of my favorite reads of 2016 and it didn’t come close.

Let me start off by mentioning a few things that I did like though because the book definitely has aspects that I enjoyed.

1. I love that it was set in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. New York City is my favorite place in the whole world, but I get so distracted by all that Manhattan has to offer that I have yet to make it across the Brooklyn Bridge to visit Brooklyn. Modern Lovers makes me want to hop on the train and head up there right now and do just that.

2. Short, easy to read chapters. Even as I struggled with whether or not I actually liked the book, the chapters were so easy to breeze through that my “Okay, I’ll give it one more chapter to see if I change my mind” quickly turned into “Oh wait, I’m already at the end!”

Okay, so on to what I had issues with…

I tend to enjoy books where I can connect with the characters in some way. I consider myself to be the target audience for this book as I am in the same age range as Elizabeth, Zoe, Andrew, and Jill, and I thought that I would totally be able to relate to their post-college lives and their ever-evolving friendships with one another. Although I did enjoy how Straub drew each character as flawed and therefore completely realistic, I just unfortunately found them all to be, for the most part, unlikeable and because I didn’t like most of them, it was hard to care about or connect with anything they were going through. For me, there was nothing sexy or fun about these “Modern Lovers.” Elizabeth, a real estate agent, seemed like she could only really relate to the lives of her friends and neighbors in terms of what kind of real estate deals she could make if they were to break up and need to sell their home and buy new ones. Zoe, while more likeable and more relatable than Elizabeth, was incredibly frustrating at times because of the unnecessary drama that she seemed to be creating for herself and Jill. Andrew, by far, was my least favorite character in the book. He was a walking hippie-wannabe mid-life crisis and I just wanted to scream at him to go get a job. The only adult character I even remotely cared for was Jill, who I did sympathize with because as the only one of the group who didn’t go to Oberlin College, she is on the outside looking in a lot of times and it can be awkward for her. It makes her more vulnerable and more interesting than the other three characters.

About the only thing I found interesting about this group of adults was the drama regarding their old college band. One of their former members, Lydia, went on to become a famous singer but ultimately died at the age of 27, thus joining the infamous ’27 Club’ of other famous musicians who tragically died at the same age (Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, to name a couple). Someone wants to make a movie about Lydia and her life, so there’s a lot of drama surrounding the face that Andrew, Zoe, and Elizabeth have to give permission to use their music and for there to be characters modelled after their lives as members of the band. I actually found this part of the story so interesting and Andrew, Zoe, and Elizabeth so much more interesting as these rock-n-rolling college students that I found myself wishing that there was a book about them instead of these humdrum middle-aged versions of themselves.

Okay, so I clearly didn’t care for the adults in Modern Lovers. That said, however, I will add that I very much enjoyed seeing their children interact. Ruby, who is Jill and Zoe’s daughter, and Harry, son of Elizabeth and Andrew, have a budding maybe/maybe not romance that begins when they end up in an SAT prep course together. Harry is a sweet kid, naïve for his age, and in that sense, may perhaps be the most likeable character in the entire novel. Ruby is much more experienced and takes it upon herself to educate Harry in the area of romance. While her motives and how much she truly likes Harry might be unclear, their flirtation and budding relationship does stand in refreshing contrast to the mundane middle-aged drama of their parents. Seeing what was going to happen between Ruby and Harry was probably what kept me reading until the end. For me, this probably would have been a stronger read if the narrative point of view had just been through the eyes of Ruby and Harry, maybe with the parents just on the periphery. Having the story filtered through 6 points of view was a little much for me.

While this was ultimately a disappointing read for me because it didn’t live up to all of the hype, I would still recommend Modern Lovers to anyone who is looking for an easy read, perhaps for their vacation. I clearly did not connect with these characters and their lives, but perhaps you will.

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Emma Straub

Emma Straub is from New York City. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Modern Lovers, The Vacationers and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and the short story collection Other People We Married. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Vogue, New York Magazine, Tin House, The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, and the The Paris Review Daily. She is a contributing writer to Rookie. Straub lives with her husband and two sons in Brooklyn. A more illustrated version of this appears at M+E.

Book Review – The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger

Book Review – The Singles Game by Lauren WeisbergerThe Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger
three-half-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on July 12th 2016
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

Goodreads Synopsis:  The new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Wears Prada and Revenge Wears Prada—a dishy tell-all about a beautiful tennis prodigy who, after changing coaches, suddenly makes headlines on and off the court.

Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines.

After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price.

Lauren Weisberger’s novel brings us exclusive behind-the-scenes details from all the Grand Slam tournaments: the US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. Charlie Silver jets around the globe, plays charity matches aboard Mediterranean megayachts, models in photo shoots on Caribbean beaches, walks the red carpet at legendary player parties, and sidesteps looming scandals—all while trying to keep her eyes on the real prize. In this sexy, unputdownable read about young tennis stars who train relentlessly to compete at the highest levels while living in a world obsessed with good looks and Instagram followers, Charlie must discover the secret to having it all—or finally shatter the illusion for good.

 

My Review:

I wanted a light read to take with me on a recent weekend getaway.  I saw Lauren Weisberger’s The Singles Game on Netgalley and immediately requested it because I remembered how much I had enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada when it came out years ago.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, Simon and Schuster, and Ms. Weisberger for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this novel.

Let me start off by saying that The Singles Game fit my initial criteria for selecting it perfectly.  It was very entertaining and I easily breezed through it while on my weekend retreat.  If you’re looking for a fun weekend or beach read, I would highly recommend this one.  It’s like binge watching a show on Netflix – once you start, you won’t be able to stop. And I had no idea how racy the world of tennis could be!

 

What I Enjoyed about The Singles Game:

The Underdog Protagonist – Charlotte Silver, or Charlie as she is better known, is definitely my kind of protagonist.  I was hooked on Charlie and in her corner from the moment she went down on Wimbledon’s Centre Court with what could easily have been a career-ending injury.  The spunk and determination she displays as she fights her way back from her injuries and prepares to make her comeback on the pro tennis circuit is truly admirable and I couldn’t help but cheer her on, especially once I got a taste of Natalya, Charlie’s biggest rival on the circuit and about as nasty and conniving as they come.  Once you meet Natalya, you’ll want Charlie to make mince meat of her on the tennis court.

What I also liked about Charlie though was that she makes lots of mistakes along the way.  There’s no attempt here to make her a flawless heroine; she’s human just like the rest of us and like most of us, her judgment can be questionable at times.  As much as I cheered her on, there were also many times when I wanted to throttle her.  Her relationship with Marco is probably at the top of the list, followed by the crazy Warrior Princess image overhaul suggested by her new coach.  I really couldn’t believe she went along with that one – a tiara and a black bedazzled tennis outfit? I don’t know much about tennis, but do players actually wear outfits like that when they play?  All I kept thinking of was watching Katniss Everdeen getting outfitted for the Hunger Games ceremonies.  Weisberger does a very good job here of making me invested enough in Charlie that I want to jump in the book and yank the tiara off her head because I’m embarrassed for her.

Again, because it makes her human and relatable, I like that Charlie stops to re-evaluate her comeback as she begins to feel less and less comfortable with the direction she has taken and some of the choices she has made, and especially when she senses that her father is disappointed with some of her off-court antics.  I think losing sight of oneself is something a lot of us can relate to.  Is what we think we want worth all of the sacrifices we have to make in order to get it?

The Obnoxious Antagonist – Of course I’m talking about Natalya here.  I do love a character that I can hate and Natalya most definitely fits the bill.  She’s evil, conniving, ruthless, and basically has no redeeming qualities other than the fact that she is an amazing tennis player.  Believe me when I say you will loathe this girl.  I lost track of how many times I wished she would trip and fall when she would strut into events where 5-inch heels.

There’s a full assortment of unlikeable characters, such as Marco and Charlie’s new coach Todd, but Natayla takes the crown for being most unlikeable.

Lots of Drama (but the fun kind!) – We’re not talking life and death drama here. This is Chick Lit, after all, but let’s just say that Weisberger’s world of professional tennis has just as much going on off the court as on it between who’s sleeping with who and who’s cheating on who.  These athletes keep the gossip rags and the paparazzi very busy and will keep you turning the pages to find out how it all plays out and to see who gets left out in the cold.  Do nice guys and gals really finish last?

Weisberger’s Handling of the Tennis – Not knowing much about tennis, I was a little worried going in the book that I might find it a little boring, but Weisberger does a fantastic job of accurately portraying the details of the sports itself without making it dry for those who aren’t necessarily interested in the sport.

 

Potential Downsides to the novel:

Overall, I thought this was a really enjoyable read. There were, however, a couple of questionable areas for me.

Too Similar to The Devil Wears Prada? –  There were moments along the way when I kept thinking about how much this book reminded me of Weisberger’s earlier work.  The premise is very similar – for those who haven’t read The Devil Wears Prada, the protagonist is a girl who lands herself in an enviable job in the fashion industry.  The job, however, requires her to undergo such a radical transformation that she doesn’t recognize herself anymore and starts to question if the job is worth the cost to her sense of self.  That said, I can’t say that the similarity really hampered my enjoyment of The Singles Game at all, but I could see it perhaps bothering other readers who want something more original, less formulaic.

Predictable Romantic Ending:  Don’t get me wrong — I loved the way the novel ends for Charlie and couldn’t have asked for better, but I predicted how it would end as soon as the two characters met.  Again, it didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the read, but I like a little more mystery and guesswork in my novels when it comes to romantic relationships and how they’re going to play out.

 

Would I Recommend The Singles Game?

Oh yes, definitely.  As I said earlier, I think The Singles Game is the perfect book to take with you on vacation or to the beach.  It’s a fun, fast read with plenty of dramatic and sexy twists and turns to keep readers engaged from cover to cover.

three-half-stars

About Lauren Weisberger

Lauren Weisberger was born March 28, 1977, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a locale recently made even more chic, if possible, by The Office. She was joined four years later by sister Dana, a.k.a. The Family Favorite, and moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, at age eleven. At Parkland High School, Lauren participated in all sorts of projects, activities, and organizations for the sole purpose of padding her college application, although she did genuinely enjoy playing varsity tennis (especially when the girl who should have played first singles incurred a season-ending injury and Lauren had no choice but to step in for the team).

Once matriculated at Cornell University, all civic-minded extracurriculars fell by the wayside. There, she focused her energy on securing a steady stream of fake IDs and dating boys from the right fraternities. After graduating in 1999 with a BA in English, Lauren moved home for the summer to save money and then traveled all over Europe, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Hong Kong. She carried a single small backpack and stayed in questionable places, further enriching her authentic cultural experiences by eating only Nutella and drinking Coca-Cola Light.

Lauren’s first job after returning to the U.S. and moving to Manhattan was the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour. Lauren became proficient in the language of stilettos and Starbucks before moving to Departures magazine, where she wrote 100-word reviews by day and took writing classes at night. The Devil Wears Prada, begun at the Writer’s Voice, was published in April 2003, and spent six months on The New York Times Bestseller List. It was sold in thirty-one foreign countries and made into a major motion picture by Fox 2000 starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Lauren has a half-second cameo in the film that even she is hard-pressed to locate after several viewings. Her second novel, Everyone Worth Knowing, was published in October 2005 and is also a New York Times Bestseller.