There is a stack of books the length of my arm piled on my bedside table. When it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than my tummy and I often have two or three going at once. Currently, I'm reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf for book club, Twin by Allen Shawn (brilliant) but to soothe my melancholic mood at my son going back to college (mothers of little boys, it doesn't get any better when they get older), I needed something fun to read, which brings me to this:
If you're suffering from the post new year blahs, if your child has just gone back to college, if you're sick of winter, I'd strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the delightful "Helen of Pasadena" -- the unabashedly romantic, funny and surprisingly smart novel from Lian Dolan of NPR's The Satellite Sisters fame. I have to be honest that although the book was given to me by my lovely friend Maureen whose taste in books is impeccable, it didn't look like the kind of book I'd like, but given my dark mood, and the fact that the cover was covered in jolly fuchsia roses, I decided to give it a try.
And I didn't put it down.
Helen, our adorable protagonist, has to rebuild her life and that of her teenage son after the unexpected and tragic death of her husband (his scooter collides with a Giant Panda float in the Rose Parade). She pulls herself up by her bootstraps and embraces her new circumstances cheerfully and with gusto, pioneer-style.
The book is filled with lovely descriptions of the Huntington Library (one of my favorite places to visit in Southern California) and an interesting sub-plot involves Helen of Troy (hence the title).
The snappy, smart writing style lifts it head and shoulders above most of the other offerings in this genre. Lian Dolan is hilarious and observes every tiny detail of upper middle class in Pasadena, to a fault, somehow managing to avoid being mean-spirited. It's a quick read, perfect for a Sunday afternoon at home in the garden, but won't leave you feeling like you've eaten too much chocolate. I give Helen a hearty and enthusiastic recommendation.