Sunday, December 15, 2013

8 Great Guilty Pleasure Books

Whether your guilty pleasure is genre fiction, trash, or erotica, sometimes it's the only thing that will hit the spot. A steady diet of great classics and literary fiction can give you bookish indigestion if not peppered with the occasional guilty pleasure - here are eight books that are fast, fun, and sinfully delicious.

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
Fielding's novel is better than any other chick-lit out there, with the diary format lending itself well to the book's chatty tone. Bridget is deeply relatable, utterly flawed, prone to ridiculous disaster, and yet so charming and guileless that you believe she really could attract her Mr. Darcy and transition from Singleton to Smug Married - a legitimate everywoman. Though thank God, most of us don't have a mother like Bridget's. Enormous fun.

Dragon's Milk - Susan Fletcher
The first of Susan Fletcher's Dragon Chronicles, Dragon's Milk is intended for a young adult audience, but it's pure escapism for people of all ages. Kaeldra has the rare ability to communicate with dragons and as a result, she becomes entangled with a nest of baby dragons when the only cure for her foster-sister's illness is dragon's milk. As I've written before, children's fantasy tends to be better written and less bound to the conventions of the genre; Dragon's Milk is a strong example of that principle.

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married - Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes is the queen of good chick-lit. Her novels are hilarious and though they're far from feminist, her sardonic sense of humor chips away at some of the more egregiously misogynistic aspects of the chick-lit genre. Lucy Sullivan, the heroine of this novel, is a mess - she's broke, all her boyfriends are jerks, her roommates are bitches, and her father's an alcoholic. A funny and un-embittered, if sometimes alcohol-soaked, paean to being single and female.

A Summer to Die - Lois Lowry
Lowry's first novel, written more than fifteen years before The Giver, is utterly melodramatic. The title is not an exaggeration. Meg is angry and confused when her perfect sister Molly becomes seriously ill and, unable to cope, she takes refuge in photography. Those who are squeamish, beware - this has the most graphic childbirth scene I've ever come across in a young adult novel (or any novel, for that matter). I loved this kind of misery-porn when I was a kid (and I kind of still do).

Truer Than True Romance - Jeanne Martinet
Using the original graphics from insanely misogynistic romance comics (published between the 40s and the 70s and all written by men), Jeanne Martinet rewrites the stories to better reflect both the wacky illustrations and actual romance, as lived by women. Titles include "Loving Gay Men!", "The Job from Hell!", and "My Heart Said Yes, But My Therapist Said No!" The perfect antidote for a romantic comedy binge.

Delta of Venus - Anais Nin
Forget Fifty Shades of Gray. No one tops Anais Nin when it comes to erotica. Her writing is gorgeous and gloriously gynic, inclusive of diverse forms of desire and unconstrained by phallocentric sexual norms. Nin was utterly fearless when it comes to dealing with taboo sexual subjects, from incest and pedophilia to voyeurism and homosexuality, and she was writing in the 1940s, when Alfred Kinsey's scientific study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and its companion volume on female sexuality were being banned right and left as "pornography."

Divergent - Veronica Roth
As fast-paced as an action movie, Roth's super-violent dystopian young adult trilogy takes place in a futuristic Chicago where all of humanity has been divided into five factions, based upon virtues - Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Tris, born into an Abnegation family, discovers that she is Divergent, that is, that she has conflicting traits and is not clearly aligned with any particular faction. Divergence is both a strength and a liability, especially as power struggles between the factions intensify. 

Jackaroo - Cynthia Voigt
Set in a pseudo-medieval kingdom, Jackaroo follows Gwyn, an innkeeper's daughter who doesn't believe in the legendary Jackaroo, a Robin Hood-like outlaw who aids the poor, until she is stranded in a remote cabin during a snowstorm with a handsome nobleman, whose clothing matches the descriptions of the legends. Gwyn is a vibrant character and her central conflict - she must choose to either marry or remain single for life - lends urgency to her coming of age story. 

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