Mini Reviews: Sushi For Beginners, Last Chance Saloon, The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

Sushi For Beginners Last Chance Saloon Other Side of the Story

I read all of these books in July, and since I pretty much read them one after another they’ve slightly blurred together into a hodge-podge of insecure women trying to find a) men, b) financial security and c) a personality. I’ve made them sound somewhat awful, but actually they were quite wonderful books that I’m keeping around to reread when I feel ill and/or when I need to feel like it’s summer (in the dead of winter, for instance. Not that it gets very winter-y in New Mexico).

I don’t mention it in every review, but Ms. Keyes’ books aren’t so much about getting the guy as they are about the female protagonists figuring out how to make their lives better, often without men involved except perhaps on the sideline. The happy relationship ending is just a bonus– but a delicious one. Anyway, I really like that about her books, and though all the characters don’t work for me all the time, I like most of them and that’s an accomplishment when each book has at least three protagonists (and a few other POVs sneaked in).

All her books also have immense character growth (or sometimes not, in the case of one character), and it’s exciting to read about someone figuring out what they need to do to stop having such a crappy life. I wish I could do that! (Not that I think my life is particularly crappy.) Her sex scenes aren’t vulgar but they are a bit embarrassing to read on the bus, so I tended to skim past them, but I’ve skimmed worse. And, as a true bonus, I’ve learned about five new alcoholic drinks from reading her books as well.

I’ve written a bit more about each book individually below (well, more than a bit more for some reviews), and since I’ve tried to keep them light on spoilers they’re a bit vague and useless. If you don’t want to read my reviews (they’re short, if that helps), I heartily recommend Sushi for Beginners most out of all three of them.

Sushi For BeginnersSushi For Beginners
Publication: HarperTorch (April 27, 2004), Mass Market Paperback, 560 pages / ISBN 0060557257
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Read: July 2009
First sentence: At Femme magazine, something had been in the air for weeks, a feeling that they were living on a fault line.

This is probably my favorite Marian Keyes book so far. I loved the characters, even the neurotic ones– well, wait. I didn’t love Clodagh, the leech, betrayer, and all-around horrible friend. Her ending was only slightly satisfactory in that she got a bit of comeuppance (which makes me think Ms. Keyes wanted readers to hate her?). I felt sorry for her mostly, as she didn’t seem to be the type of person who’d learn from, uh, anything that happened to her in the book. The other two characters, however, Lisa and Ashling, I truly enjoyed reading about. And Ashling’s surprise romance at the end! I was so sure she’d end up with someone else, and then Ms. Keyes pulled a switch on us. I love it when authors do that and can still make it seem plausible.

That was properly vague and practically spoiler-free, I think, so I’ll move on to the next book now.

Last Chance SaloonLast Chance Saloon
Publication: Avon (April 30, 2002), Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages / ISBN 0380820293
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Read: July 2009
First sentence: AT THE CHROME-AND-GLASS Camden restaurant the skinny hostess ran her purple nail down the book and muttered, “Casey, Casey, where’ve you got to?”

Here’s the thing. I don’t like or agree with the whole idea behind a “Last Chance Saloon”, which is that once you reach 30 you’re effectively dead. You can’t get a boyfriend, you’re stuck in your job, and any change is chaotic and ruinous. Ms. Keyes doesn’t seem to agree with that idea either, but at least one of her characters in this book does, and believing in it royally screws her life up. Because she kept harping on about how she’s forced to stay in an abusive relationship because she’s in her 30’s and won’t ever get another boyfriend again really bugged the crap out of me. Not even her turnaround at the end of the book made me feel better– because how many women feel like she did? That because they’re “old” they can’t change anything for fear of having to “start over?”

It’s a horrible idea, and I wish Tara (for that’s her name) would have had an even stronger realization that counteracted her earlier, mistaken beliefs. I think I would have liked the book more, as I was so focused on her and her situation that the other characters, Katherine and Fintan, fell to the background (though Fintan didn’t get much of the spotlight anyway). They were nice to read about, and I grew to like them immensely, but I spent much of the book waiting for Tara to come around.

Though I was worried a lot of the time while reading Last Chance Saloon I still laughed out loud in some parts and cheered for the ending, which was all-out happy in part and slightly melancholy in others. I don’t like it as much as Sushi for Beginners, but neither do I hate it.

Other Side of the StoryThe Other Side of the Story
Publication: HarperTorch (March 1, 2005), Mass Market Paperback, 624 pages / ISBN 0060592060
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Read: July 2009
First sentence: Susan, you wanted news.

I can’t talk about this book without having a summary handy, so here’s one from Amazon:

Energetic, ambitious, and sexy, literary agent Jojo Harvey combines Jessica Rabbit’s body with a mind like a steel trap. As if watching her back while on the corporate ladder and making million-dollar deals wasn’t difficult enough, Jojo’s having a relationship with her boss. Her married boss.

Tall, slender, and blond, bestselling author Lily Wright, one of Jojo’s clients, worries about bad karma and the second novel she can’t seem to write but must deliver — she’s already spent the advance. Anton, the Love of Her Life, persuaded her to buy their dream house.

Events organizer extraordinaire Gemma Hogan was best friends with Lily — until the willowy blonde stole Anton, a.k.a. the Love of Her Life. Juggling the demands of her newly separated (and desperately needy) mom, Gemma’s social life is flatlining — a mortifying situation that makes for hilarious e-mails to a friend. Tales so funny, they come to the attention of top literary agent Jojo Harvey, who takes Gemma on as a client …

It sounds a little overly complicated, but actually reading it wasn’t hard at all, and in fact, I liked looking at each character’s side of the story, and how their lives outside of that story all tie in together as well (cheater, cheatee, cheated, for instance). And although I don’t like stories where the protagonist(s) are having affairs, I really liked reading about Jo the publicist and how she finagled book deals with editors and such. I don’t know how true it is, but my little geeky heart leaped every time something like that happened in the story.

And it wasn’t just Jo! The other two protagonists were involved in book-related things as well! SPOILER ALERT, kinda: One, Lily, had already written one book and needed to come out with another bestseller, another, Gemma, had gotten a surprise book deal, written a book, and watched it flop. Obviously you can see where more of my attention was while I was reading The Other Side of the Story— but I really, really liked it. Even if everyone’s having affairs left and right.

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0 thoughts on “Mini Reviews: Sushi For Beginners, Last Chance Saloon, The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes”

  1. My fav Marian Keyes is also Sushi for beginners! And I definitely read them when I’m feeling low about things. Like you said, there’s definitely a lot of character growth in these books! My favorite character is probably Lisa. And I absolutely hate Clodagh.

    1. Oh good! I’m glad I’m not the only one that hated Clodagh. I’m still not entirely sure why she’s a main character except to show how selfish and horrible some people are. I didn’t see any character growth in her at all– it was more like character decay than anything else.

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