Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Book Review
Title: Spin
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Publisher: Harper Weekend
Release: December 20, 2010
Pages: 480 pages
ISBN-10: 1554687594
ISBN-13: 978-1554687596
Stars: 3.5

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go ~ Amy Winehouse

Celebrities in rehab…Theirs is an age-old, yet timeless tale that allows so many of us to feel better about ourselves when we witness that people who seem to have it all are every bit as screwed up as we are.  Certainly anyone who has watched Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH1 knows this.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin. Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for anyone who has ever woken up hungover and thought, ‘Do I have a problem? Yes–I need to find a greasy breakfast.’ And by that I mean everyone I know.” –Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

At the beginning of the critically acclaimed chick lit novel Spin by Canadian novelist and lawyer, Catherine McKenzie, 30-year-old wannabe music journalist and party girl Kate Sanford’s life is spinning out of control.  She’s a lying alcoholic who doesn’t acknowledge her own flaws until she’s presented with the opportunity to land the job of her dreams writing about music for The Line magazine.  Only there’s one big catch.  In order to prove to its publishers that she’s got the stuff it takes to be successful in a job that so many people want but few can do well, she has to go to rehab and she can’t tell anyone about it.

Katie’s sent undercover to spy on Hollywood “It Girl”, The Girl Next Door television star, Amber Sheppard and expose the truth about her struggles with crack addiction and her toxic, on-again, off-again relationship with the Young James Bond star, a caricature of one of many handsome, insipid, dickhead Hollywood celebrities: Connor Parks.  Predictably, Katie ends up genuinely liking Amber as she gets to know her in rehab, not to mention Connor Parks’ personal assistant, the strong, attractive, ginger-haired, silent type, Henry Slattery.  As convenience would have it, Connor decides to follow Amber into rehab to f**k with her head and can’t go anywhere without Henry.  (Entourage anyone?)  Here’s where the “will they get together, or won’t they?” scenario comes into play.

McKenzie seems to have done her research where the paparazzi, rehab, and AA meetings are concerned, and there is a genuinely touching moment when another young woman in rehab tries to commit suicide.  There is also a lot of humour in this novel and it was fun to read Katie’s music playlist at the back of the book.  I smiled at the references to my favourite band, U2, in the last chapter.  However, there is nothing interesting about the supporting characters including Katie’s geeky roommate Joanne, her Scottish party pal Greer or her anorexic BFF, Rory.  And although its characters may be honest, there is nothing fresh and unique about this story which is why it makes it the perfect fodder for a formulaic romantic comedy.  If I’m honest, I’d tell you that I’d watch that movie too, particularly if it featured a perfect specimen of man beast eye candy (say a young Paul Bettany) as Henry.

Although Spin is comic and poignant, it’s not heart-breaking.  It does explore the question “How far would you go to get what you always wanted?” as well as “How afraid are you to get what you’ve always wanted? (a relevant question in my life), and although Katie has been compared in the press to a 21st century Bridget Jones, she just doesn’t have that charm and je ne sais quoi that made Bridget Jones the character responsible for the billion dollar chick lit industry that we are familiar with today.  Many writers have tried to emulate Ms. Jones, but none of them have done so with major success and Catherine McKenzie hasn’t done it either.  I will give her full kudos for trying and I do admit that I read this book quite quickly and enjoyed every fun-filled minute of it.  But it’s no work of art.  It’s simply a decent read for a weekend at the beach.

Can any chick lit novel really be a work of art?  Writers can create enjoyable, compelling reads in this genre, and I’ve enjoyed many, but ultimately chick lit is the popcorn of literature.

If you want to watch a film that explores the ridiculousness of fame and the vultures that are the paparazzi, check out Tom DiCillo’s Delirious starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman.  It won’t take you as long to watch as it will to read Spin.

Heaping Spoonful by Shauna Glenn

Book Review
Title: Heaping Spoonful
Author: Shauna Glenn
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Released: 2008
Pages: 188
ISBN-10: 1434384535
ISBN-13: 978-1434384539
Stars: 2.0

I feel really bad when I offer to review a book for someone based on the fact that I think I’m going to like it and then it turns out that I don’t. It’s hard to give someone you like a less then favourable review for their hard work (work that many other people really liked!), but I do have to be honest about what I think.

As the story begins – in the short, often crass, silly and sometimes ridiculous novel Heaping Spoonful by Shauna Glenn – main character Claire has lost her young husband Bryan to cancer, 286 days before, and is left to raise her two small children, Chase (6) and Allie (4), and run her bakery business, Heaping Spoonful, without totally losing her mind. She’s dealing with her sister Lucy who seems to go through boyfriends like she changes her underwear and her mother Mary who is in a nursing home because she has Alzheimer’s. The only people in Claire’s life who seem remotely stable are her poor, tired father, Fred and the man who is the brains behind her business, Ben.

Right off the bat, horny Claire, who hasn’t had sex since before her husband died, jumps on Lucy’s current boyfriend, Drew: a handsome surfer dude who almost runs her down with his car that morning while she’s out running, after which she angrily and immaturely hurls a rock through the back of his windshield. After meeting him again at Lucy’s dinner party and declaring that they loathe each other, before you know it, and “all of the sudden” (I always thought the saying was “all of a sudden”) Claire is throwing herself at Drew, shags him silly and proclaims herself to be the worst sister in the world…and she says this more than once. I’d say so! I mean, who would sleep with their sister’s boyfriend?! Not me!

I thought it was appropriate that Claire didn’t have any other friends because she is not only self-absorbed, rude, sarcastic, and bitchy, but downright mean to Lucy and she certainly didn’t win a fan in this reader. I didn’t like Claire and although I had a bit of sympathy for her, she acted histrionic most of the time and when she meets her best customer, Mrs. Sugarman’s handsome grandson, Henry, she turns into a bumbling, goofy idiot. Having a main character who is a person that I would never want to be friends with, and I can’t imagine many intelligent women would, isn’t a good way to sell a story. It’s really hard to believe that someone like Claire deserves a happy ending. She may be a talented baker but when it comes to social interaction, she’s totally inept.

“I turned back to Lucy and snapped, “Look, little sister, I appreciate that you’re concerned, but, really, do I need to get advice from a girl, who until recently, thought that a long term relationship was anything over two weeks? Or from a girl whose idea of having something in common with someone meant getting matching tattoos? Because I really don’t think you’re qualified to be telling other people how to live their lives, thank you very much.”

I thought it odd that there was no real description given of what Claire looks like but the green eye cliché of all time was used to describe Lucy’s boyfriend, Drew, in the beginning of the book. “I really noticed his eyes. They were the color of emeralds. I’d never seen eyes so green.” I’ve read a lot of romance novels lately and honestly, if I read that description of a man’s green eyes ever again, I’m not going to finish the book!

Glenn writes with a pace that makes me wonder how much coffee and/or sugar she consumed while writing it (or maybe it was Pinot Grigio which would explain things); but maybe that was just how she wanted Claire to sound, and if so, bingo!

Heaping Spoonful is a story that’s not sure if it’s a romantic comedy or a black comedy. There are no less than three deaths in 151 pages and while there are happy special events as well, the story came off as a spiteful “My Best Friend’s Wedding” when Claire, not a moment too soon, realizes that the man she truly loves has been staring her right in the face for a very long time!

While Shauna Glenn is a decent writer and really is capable of creating funny material (read her blog at Is It 5 O’Clock Yet?), unfortunately there is absolutely nothing original or delightful about this novel except for the recipes in the back of the book. There were also a few short stories thrown in as a bonus but to be honest, I didn’t bother to read them.

Daisy Dooley Does Divorce by Anna Pasternak

I would like to tell you about a fantastically funny, heartwarming delight of a book called:


It’s a funny inspiring tale for anyone who has braved the courageous and sometimes disastrous journey towards true love.

Meet Daisy Dooley:

“The only thing sadder than being thirty-nine and still single is being thirty-nine and freshly divorced. And unemployed. And living with your mother. (And her dogs.)”

In the tradition of Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary, Anna Pasternak’s popular column in the London Daily Mail, Daisy Dooley Does Divorce, has evolved into this witty novel full of hope, humor, wine…and dachshunds.

Publisher: 5 Spot (Hachette Book Group USA) / Ebury Publishing under their Vermilion titles in the UK

Author Bio:

ANNA PASTERNAK is the author of the popular column, Daisy Dooley Does Divorce, which has been running in London’s Daily Mail since November of 2004. She is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Princess in Love about Diana’s love affair with Major James Hewitt. The grandniece of Russian novelist Boris Pasternak of Dr. Zhivago fame, she lives outside of London with her daughter Daisy and her dog Wilfred.

More about Anna, by Anna:

Believe it or not, a woman as daft, ditzy, desperate, daring and occasionally as delightful as Daisy Dooley is someone I relate closely to. I’m not saying I’m quite that self-absorbed. Actually that’s a fib because I am. But really my life had started out with such promise. The idyllic childhood. The famous ancestry. The revered Oxford academic father. The beautiful interior designer mother. The place at Oxford University with the glittering social life to match. With a siren-spinning surname, I owed it to myself and my family to do something of note. So of course my future was all mapped out. I’d waltz out of Oxford and into some top job that marked me out as special, wouldn’t I? But that wasn’t quite the way it happened, and it knocked me for quite a loop. Really, who wouldn’t agonize over such monumental life cock-ups- realizing on your honeymoon that you had married the wrong man. Come on, could it get any worse?

Naturally I worried myself half to death about how I was then going to get my life right, let alone learn to love again- myself and a worthy mate, that is. So Daisy Dooley was born out of my own ridiculous and miserable myopic marriage and divorce, followed by my dire dating experiences. I found that the only way to reach the other side of unhappiness and raging insanity was to poke fun and send myself up in the most unbecoming, but hopefully often endearing ways. And judging by the sales in self-help, I can’t be the only woman who has stood in a bookshop by a stack of best sellers, feeling utterly broken inside and turned with trembling hands to any uplifting tome that might just instill a further nugget of promise that actually, yes, if you believe this or chant that, you will feel less of a failure and more emotionally grounded and secure.

As I ricocheted from starter marriage to a relationship with a younger man that ended in- further shock and horror- my single mother status, at least I clung to my spiritual support. I began to believe in something bigger than myself- if the knight on the white charger wasn’t going to save me, at least my guardian angel might. I’ve lived through all Daisy’s disappointments but have an amazing daughter to show for it. And would you believe it, after all the life knocks, I still believe in the happy ending!