Saturday, 11 December 2010

All I want for Christmas is some festive chick lit

I can remember, back when I was only about 8 or 9 years old, visiting Skegoneill Library in North Belfast (since replaced by the Grove Wellbeing Centre) on a regular basis with my granny or my father. My sister (two years my junior) and I were avid readers from a young age and the librarians had encouraged us in our literary endeavours by increasing our book borrowing limit from the standard 3 at a time for children to the adults' 6 at a time. Our favourite shelf in the children's section was the one that housed the Sweet Valley Twins books and we eventually read every one of those books that the library had, hooked on the adventures and dramas of twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.

As time went on my sister's tastes started veering more towards my mother's Dean Koontz thrillers and whilst I was partial to the odd Stephen King book myself, I mainly progressed to Sweet Valley High and The Saddle Club series (even though I had, and still have, zero interest in horses). And thus our tastes have remained. My sister enjoys autobiographies, psychological thrillers and what I would consider to be boring serious books. Meanwhile, much to her bewilderment and contempt, I have remained very much a fan of the "chick lit" genre, or as she calls it, "candyfloss".

I feel I should apologise up front to anyone who takes offence at the term "chick lit" but I'm afraid that if the kitten heel shoe fits, it must be worn. I personally don't mind it, mainly because I'm glad to have a more contemporary term for my genre of choice than "women's fiction", which reminds me of Mills and Boon bodice-rippers and the stories my granny used to read in the back of The People's Friend magazine.

There is a lot of scorn out there for chick lit, with people saying that it tends to reinforce gender stereotypes and that the plots are transparent and predictable. I'm the first to admit that I do tend to guess who's going to end up living happily ever after with who from the first chapter, but that's not the point for me - it's more about how it happens and what else happens on the way. I'm always interested in people's thoughts, opinions and stories, which is effectively all that the chick lit genre really is.

I might know from page 7 that terminally single Alice will end up marrying her new, shy, widowed neighbour Ben, but how do they get to know one another? Are there other people involved? Does anything thwart their burgeoning romance? How do they overcome these difficulties? How does the big "finally getting it together" scene happen? Is there a wise but snarky friend dishing out advice? Is there a love rival? Is there a big misunderstanding to be resolved? Are there children to be won over? These are the things that keep me entertained on my bus journeys and sometimes keep me up well past my bedtime.

I must admit I'm more of a fan of the more humorous chick lit books than the warm and fuzzy ones, but the ones that manage both are the real winners. Marian Keyes' books for example, especially those involving the Walsh family, have had me literally laughing out loud one minute and swallowing an emotional lump in my throat the next. I've reread Watermelon and Anybody Out There lots of times and, even though I know exactly what's going to happen, the way the story is told keeps it fresh.

Recently I've discovered a new sub-genre of chick lit, namely Christmas chick lit. I'd seen (and read) a couple of Christmas-themed paperbacks last year, but this year it really seems to have taken off. My mother also reads a lot and, although she enjoys a lot of different genres, she regularly has a good chick lit book or two to donate to me when she's finished with them (thank you mummy!). Her most recent offerings included Twelve Days of Christmas and Angels in the Snow.

I won't go into plotlines since there are summaries on the Amazon links I've posted anyway, but I enjoyed them both. They were both a little mushy for my taste but then again they are based around Christmas, so you have to expect a little heart-warming slush really. Twelve Days of Christmas was very good, if a bit gentle. It was fairly predictable in some ways but there were some twists and turns to keep it interesting.

Angels in the Snow was a bit more dramatic and actually you got two stories for the price of one, which was a nice touch, although it was a bit romance-centric for me - surely there's more to life than just a man, no matter how sexy he may be? It had managed to cleverly hide its Mills and Boon connection from us until we noticed the small M&B logo on the back, although in retrospect we agreed that the doctors and nurses theme should really have given it away!

I'm now making inroads into another Christmas chick lit book called Falling for Christmas and so far I think it's actually my favourite. The product description I've linked to actually has the plot for the second story wrong, since it's actually centred around a department store and a young woman looking after her nephew while his dad is off fighting for his country - there are better descriptions in the customer reviews anyway. Funnily enough we watched a movie based on that second story earlier this week, called Miracle in Manhattan, and really enjoyed it.

I have another book waiting in the wings too, called The Secret Shopper Unwrapped. I actually read its prequel (not Christmas-related) called The Secret Shopper's Revenge quite a while ago and so far as I remember I quite enjoyed that one, so I'm looking forward to another good read.

So there we have it: Christmas chick lit is taking over. Between Christmas books, Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas shopping, Christmas cards and Christmas decorations, I might be quite Christmassed-out by the time the big day itself finally arrives! That said, it only happens but once a year and there is really only about a 6-8 week period where you can get away with reading books with glitter on the front on the bus, while listening to Dominick the Donkey on your mp3 player, so I'm going to make the best of it. Hope you're all enjoying the festive season too. Only 15 more sleeps until Santa comes!


  1. I loved the Sweet Valley books and owned every one of them. I followed your link and grinned reading all about them again :-)

  2. How could you not love them? The real question is whether you were an Elizabeth girl or a Jessica girl :-)