Posts Tagged ‘chick lit’

On the one hand, this one is off the beaten path for Rock Fiction, so that rules. But is it too much like Chick Lit in its heyday to be unique and different?

Single. Inept at flirting. But at least she’s got talent and a sense of humor. The problem is, she’s often the punch line. Despite her difficulties, Ellen Blum is proud of the cred she has earned serenading brides down the aisle with her harp. Doesn’t being 27 and paying her rent on time prove she’s a grown-up?

Not so much, according to her personal chorus of critics. As she dodges the barbs and petty crimes of her bosses and copes with a family crisis, she feels more like a child than ever. She has her heart set on silencing her critics and teaching them — and maybe herself — a new tune. But becoming more than the person described on her business card is even trickier than moving her harp.

Either way, this sounds like fun, and I’m always up for fun. I’m definitely always up for Rock Fiction being used in different styles of writing and subjects, so it’s kinda nice to take a break from all that romance to let Ellen find herself. Because let’s face it: romance goes a lot better when we know who we are before we start looking for a good person to love.

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This book is chick lit with a big sense of humor and 1989 hairsprayed bangs.

Start with backbeat cover

I spotted Start with the Backbeat by Garine Isassi on a Coveting post on this blog, and was intrigued by the setting—1989, a girl attempting to discover Gangsta rap bands—and the fact that it billed itself as “A Musical Novel” not a romance. I love a rock star romance, but I’ve seen the gritty gangster beginnings of the rap industry in Straight Outta Compton, and I thought this had potential to be a nuanced discussion of a cool epoch in musical history, which it turned out it kinda was.

It was also chick lit, which I didn’t expect. The genre’s a bit out of vogue these days, so that’s probably why it isn’t labeled as such, but it has all the hallmarks: the romance is a subplot rather than a main plot to make room for more challenges with the MC’s career and friends and family. There are lots of disasters, lots of comedy, and a would-be young professional girl sort of thrashing her way to where she wants to be. I loved all these features of chick lit, and it occurs to me in a lot of ways, it was the precursor of New Adult.

I came for the 80s setting and I wasn’t disappointed. Cassette tapes, a music industry in an entirely different time. Plus, it was just painful to watch Jill and her other white middle-class co-workers tiptoe into some rough NYC neighborhoods, looking for “gangstas” to sign, while trying not to get mugged and trying to judge what might be “authentic.” The class and racial lines here are shows with a wince-worthy comedy of errors rather than a preachy tone, which makes for the kind of read that makes you cringe and nod as you recognize real life.

The supporting characters are fun, from the sprawling Armenian family to the sleazy company vice president, and all the very different officemates who end up very loyal to each other. I will say LaKeisha seemed a touch stereotypical to me, but other than that, I enjoyed the variety of personalities all whirled together.

The romance was fun too—Jill ends up going after a computer geek named Alejandro, whose name no one ever gets right, and whom she wasn’t attracted to at all at first (I blame the khaki office pants. I mean, whose ass DOESN’T look saggy in those things?). Seems like everybody starts romances these days with OOH-he’s-so-hot and I have a great time when it starts a little rougher. Alejandro was truly a gentleman, and it showed despite their many missteps.

Where this book really shines (other than the 1980s details and band references, which I LOVED) is in all the moments where you can’t help but recognize real life. The suburban mom crying off her eyeliner because she wants her husband to help more around the house, but he doesn’t do the dishes quite right, so she can’t let him do that, and she can’t leave for the night because of course he couldn’t take care of their baby the way she can and…yeah. So familiar. And Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book, the sound guy that can get them in the backdoor of every club, but who disappears when he’s on the road with a band, even though he SWEARS he’s being faithful.

This has a fun, romantic comedy feel with an 80s twist and a gangsta rap punchline, with amazing lyrics and characters throughout. Four stars.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

It was my mother, of all people, who told me to take Meg Cabot’s Size 12 Is Not Fat out of my TBR mountains and read it. The lead character, Heather Wells, is a former pop star turned amateur sleuth. Doesn’t that qualify for Rock Fiction?

Well, yes and no. Cabot’s former pop star is trying to go incognito, shrinking and demurring when people think they recognize her. There’s music in these pages, mostly in the form of ex-fiance Jordan Cartwright and Tania Trace, but the music doesn’t come alive and breathe the way the best Rock Fiction does. We’ll have to call this one a glancing blow.

The most striking part of Size 12 is how closely it resembles a Chick Lit novel. Heather’s not very worldly, for all that she’s been around the world and lived in an environment that probably deserves its own episode of Shark Week. She’s not very confident, for all that she stood in a spotlight and sang in front of (presumably) thousands (but possibly only hundreds; it’s not clear) of teenyboppers. With a background like this, she’s lacking in a lot of areas I wouldn’t expect her to be lacking in — like self-confidence in front of others. Oh, and for someone who’s 28, she sure acts like she’s 18 a lot of the time…

Overall, this is a cute book about a woman trying to figure out where she fits in the world. She’s working in a residence hall, hoping to make it to the six-month point at which she can enroll in classes, seeking some sort of degree that she hasn’t figured out yet. She’s living with her ex’s brother, who she’s got a massive crush on but can’t bring herself to do anything about. And then a girl goes and falls off an elevator, spinning this story into a cozy mystery.

Truly, Cabot bends genre here. Rock Fiction, chick lit, cozy mystery. She does it well, and the mystery unfolds with a sort of ramshackle grace that fits the genre-bending. The prose is fun. Heather, despite her many flaws, is a welcome character to spend time with. I hope as the series develops, so does Heather. Watching her grow from an ugly duckling into a swan will be quite the treat — if Cabot can keep Heather from following in the usual Chick Lit style to make it happen. I don’t want to see Heather lose weight and become a size eight again. I want to see her stay a 12, to be comfortable within herself, and even to embrace her music and find her power as a songwriter. I suspect it’s there, lurking, and once she and Cabot find it, this will, indeed, be Rock Fiction.