I read two light, fluffy books recently—one I loved and one ... not so much
I had so enjoyed my first Penelope Lively book, Family Album, that I was eager to read her latest, How It All Began, and it didn't disappoint. "How it all begins" is when Charlotte, a retired English teacher, is mugged. She falls and breaks her hip, which sets off a chain of events—she goes to stay with her daughter and son-in-law, which causes her daughter to rearrange her work schedule, which causes her boss's niece to offer to help him out, and so on. Nothing earth-shattering happens to anyone, but I was captivated by each story line. Lively writes in a very gentle, engaging style, and I found all the characters to be believable and fully fleshed out. I really liked this.
I regret that I can't say the same for Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon. This is the story of Alice, who is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Of course she loves her job, her husband, her kids, her dog, her friends, and so on, but she wonders if that's all there is. She receives an email asking if she'd be willing to participate in a long-term survey on marriage, and she agrees. She is given the identity "Wife 22" and is assigned randomly to "Researcher 101," who will evaluate her responses to the various questionnaires. They end up emailing quite a bit beyond the scope of the survey, revealing much more to one another than required (or even allowed). I liked Alice well enough, and some of the other characters were interesting, but I found most of the dialog to be flat or just not believable. The author repeatedly hits us over the head with the message that we are letting Facebook and texting and email and the rest of our online/smartphone habits take over our lives. But worst of all is that I guessed the "surprise ending" almost immediately (I'll bet you're guessing it right now, just from my description) and was furious that I had to read the whole thing just to get to the most obvious "plot twist" ever. If you're staying at a beach house next summer and this book is the only thing there, by all means read it—parts of it are fun—but please don't run out and buy it.