Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: Semi-Charmed Life

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Semi-Charmed Life
Nora Zelevansky
Publication date: July 3rd 2012
by St. Martin’s Griffin


In Nora Zelevansky’s hilarious debut, Semi-Charmed Life, an Upper West Side naïf, Beatrice Bernstein, gets swept up in the seemingly magical life of socialite Veruca Pfeffernoose, while ghost writing her blog. Veruca’s glitteringly opulent world soon seduces Beatrice away from her own insular, arty family with a promise of fancy parties, travel outside Manhattan (for once) and one desperately cute guy. But when her new glitzy lifestyle starts to take on dark undertones, Beatrice has to decide who she is—once and for all. With her own magical touch, Zelevansky deftly explores the world of rarified Manhattan in this sparkling modern fairy tale of first love, finding one’s voice and growing up.

*A copy was provided by St. Martin’s Press for review purposes*

What started out as adventurous and New York chic, this quickly turned into a bizarre magical contemporary. When you include an overwhelming quantity of references that went way over my head, Semi-Charmed Life ended up being an exceptionally tedious and confusing read.

I absolutely adore New York City. I visited a year ago and I was dazzled by the lifestyle and how it seems to be in its own world. Since, I’ve come to love books set in the Big Apple. I can revive the energy I felt walking the streets, hear the strangely refreshing noise of people living lives like no other, re-experience the city that never sleeps. It’s what compelled me to initially pick this book up, and I was especially pleased with how much the NYC setting came alive. Hence, at the beginning I was actually quite enchanted by it all, staying convinced that I was truly going to enjoy it.

Then… strange writing in her notebook starts to appear and disappear. (What is this book supposed to be? O_O). Then, constant parties with extreme detailing keeps putting me to sleep. Then, talk of tatamis, and beef negimaki, and rogan gosh, and ryokan, and Mark Rothko, and caipirinhas, and remarks that go like: “[…] preach-to-the-choir debates about neo-postmodernism in a postmodern age or the revival of modernism in an antimodernist millenium or ever Fairway belly lox versus Zabar’s nova” …*blinks*… Dude! What am I reading here? I so did not go to Harvard! Name dropping after name dropping, reference after reference; nothing from my generation, and definitely not things a simple small-town Canadian girl in her 20s would know of. Since they would come in bursts I kept hoping it was just to give a feel of NYC, where people can be more elite and talk about fried sopaipillas and Proust studies, unfortunately it never let up and halted my enjoyment of this novel exponentially.

Another big factor in my displeasure of this novel is the writing style the author adopted. Written in a third person omniscient point of view, it’s extremely hard to get a feel of who the characters truly are. It’s not a perspective I have ever really enjoyed as it keeps the characters’ thoughts and the emotions of the story at arm’s length, detached. Think of it like someone who is telling someone else’s story, not letting it be an experience. This is purely a factor of individual taste, some readers may really like this type of telling, but I, for one, am unable to get captured by a story told in this manner.

What starts as a contemporary read suddenly turns on the strange side when mysterious messages start to appear, and simple lofts suddenly become luxurious first class accommodations. I was not expecting anything supernatural from this novel. It caught me off guard and I’m not convinced it really fits in the story. It may give it a magical flair, but it remains off-putting. It’s like Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia, meets cameos of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

There is one positive thing I can mention about this book: The characters are fabulous. Regardless of being kept at arm’s length, I enjoyed the personalities that run through these pages with their exotic natures. There are a lot of names to keep track of, but the ones that are prominent have made this enjoyable enough that, despite having so much trouble getting through the story, I never quit, though at times I really wanted to.

With that said, I think this book calls for a certain readership. An older generation who loves perpetual references and an over the top lavish lifestyle (and vocabulary) may just be the perfect audience for this novel.

1 Cold Espresso
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Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

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35 Responses to “Review: Semi-Charmed Life”

  1. Nick

    Well, this doesn’t seem to be your kind of book, Giselle. Sorry it ended up disappointing you, but I can see why you were not happy with the book. The sudden turn from contemporary to paranormal would have caught me off guard too. And the references would put undoubtedly put me off. I don’t think book is for me even though you mentioned how great the characters were.
    Thank you for the honest review, Giselle!

  2. Mar

    Hi Giselle,

    I understand what you mean about the third person omniscient POV. I find it very confusing most of the times, and it makes me less fond of the entire book. And that quote made me feel like ‘… what?! Dafuq I just read?’ and after a couple of times reading it I just gave up, I will never understand it.
    Thanks for the honest review 🙂


  3. Eileen

    This sounds…interesting. o.O As somebody who gets confused really easily, and I’m talking REALLY easily, I can understand all the different references being brought up and the names might be really intimidating. I’m sorry you didn’t really like this one 🙁 But I also hate third person POVs…it’s so hard to get into the protagonist. 🙁 But it’s still a great review! 🙂

  4. Amy

    I found myself laughing at some of your review. “Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia…” Lol!!! I don’t think I would enjoy this book very much either. I don’t tend to like 3rd person writing very much either, not that I haven’t enjoyed books written that way, but this seems not great for my taste. At least you were able to like the characters enough to get through it, but too bad you didn’t like it. Great review hon!!

  5. Sam

    It’s like Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia, meets cameos of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

    The encyclopaedia! LOL. Wow, this sounds utterly bizarre and most definitely not the book for me. And all those words… My poor brain! Thanks for the helpful review Giselle. I’ll be sure to skip this. 🙂

  6. Danny

    Autsch! Too bad you didn’t like this one more! ..or … not at all!
    I was also confused at the beginning but then I tried to accept the writing and the weirdness and found myself enjoying the book!
    It is definitely a quite unique story and nothing I have read before. I agree, this won’t be everyones taste but I am sure some people will enjoy this weird mix :))

  7. Alexa

    I would have picked this up just because it’s set in New York City. Unfortunately, the fact that the terms become entirely TOO much just turns me off of it already 🙁

  8. Melissas Eclectic Bookshelf

    HA! What a shame…the blurb sounded full of promise as did your assessment of the beginning of the book. What an odd turn to take though! Magical doesn’t have to mean supernatural and that certainly doesn’t sound like it fits the book. Not to mention the apparent pretentiousness…

  9. kimbacaffeinate

    Eww..I am in my forties and got the references..but not sure it’s what I want in a fiction novel. The synopsis gives no indication of this being anything but yeah the turn would have floored me. I love NY too but contemporary is my least favorite genre..and despite fab characters this just seems to …in a word; weird. Awesome review Giselle 😉

  10. Kris (Imaginary Reads)

    I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy this book. I doubt I’d understand any of the references made in the book either, and that would definitely take away from my reading pleasure. Thanks for the honest review!

  11. Vivian @ Vivaciously, Vivian

    I was clinging on there tightly…then came “belly lox versus Zabar’s nova” and Vivi was hurled off the train T___T

    I really liked your final verdict; very open-minded. I’m sorry this turned out to be a single cold espresso 🙁 Well, at least the characters are something, even though they were distant. and LOOOL at Gossip Girl meets Encyclopedia XD

    Really great review, nevertheless!

  12. Renae

    Too bad you didn’t like this one, Giselle! (I probably wouldn’t like it either.) It does sound interesting, but also like it might be a little rough to get through at the same time. Thanks so much for this review!

  13. Carina

    That excerpt?! Wow, talk about confusing…
    I have to admit that I haven’t really heard much about this before and when I just read the summary before reading your review, I thought “Wow, this sounds promising.” But now, not so much. The way you describe it lets me know that it’s definitely not my kind of read either. Thank you very much for your honesty, my dear!

  14. Katie @ BlookGirl

    Ugh. No. Just, no.

    Especially this part: “[…] preach-to-the-choir debates about neo-postmodernism in a postmodern age or the revival of modernism in an antimodernist millenium or ever Fairway belly lox versus Zabar’s nova”. I mean, what in the WORLD?!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Giselle. You just saved me time AND money! 🙂 <3 Great review, muffin.

  15. Aylee

    Umm, that’s weird. Don’t really know what to make of this one after reading your review (and it sounds like you don’t either!) so that’s probably not a good sign. I’m sure all of this would go right over my head too. I wonder why the author thought it would be a good idea to include all of that. I know it would take away from my enjoyment of this novel as well, so that’s too bad. At any rate, thanks for the review anyways!

  16. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Sounds like a big bag of confusion. Reading that quote…I knew what ONE thing was (but only because I went to Brazil and actually drank caipirinhas). The rest…nothing. And if you’re going to change genres mid-story, I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Hope your next read is better!

  17. A Canadian Girl

    Lol, the synopsis of this one didn’t sound interesting to begin with and after reading some of the references and realizing I have no idea what the character is talking about either, I’ll be skipping this one. Thanks for the review, Giselle!

  18. Jenni @ Alluring Reads

    This book sounds… just no. That modernism broohaha up there, I would be so lost! OMG and the switch from contemp to para would completely take me off guard. Happy I know to stay away from this one.. far…. far…. far…. away.

    Great honest review love!

  19. Mia

    What a shame! The summary was really intriguing to me. But honestly, just reading the summary I wouldn’t have expected any magical elements either.

    Aw, man! I hate when books have really dull or odd plots but the characters are awesome. I always prefer characters > plot but I don’t think it would prevail here for me.

    I loved your review. It was amusing to read, especially with your description of the book using pop-culture references.

  20. Meg K.

    Aw, sorry to see that you didn’t like this. The characters sound lovely, but I agree: writing in third person isn’t really the best way for readers to connect to the characters. I think I’ll be staying away from this one for the time being, but thanks for the honest review! 🙂

  21. Chel

    “Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia”

    LMAO! That is just so weird. And what are those words? English is neither my first nor my second language so if you had a hard time trying to understand the book, what of me!? Too bad you didn’t like it. I don’t think I’d like it either, much less understand it. Thanks for the review, Giselle! :]

  22. Camille Picott

    I can’t help it. I read the title, and that old Sugar Ray song immediately started playing in my head. (Semi-charmed Kinda Life.) Now I can’t get it out of my head!

    Sort of looks like this was an attempt at stream of consciousness? I’ve never been a big fan. Probably my years as a lit major . . . now all I want is good old fashioned pulp fiction!

  23. Melissa

    I can see why this book would be confusing, the one line excerpt that you posted had me going “huh?” So I can just imagine how off putting it might be if the whole book were like that.

    Thank you for such a thorough, and funny review!

  24. Rebecca

    It’s like Gossip Girl meets the Encyclopedia, meets cameos of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. – *giggles*

    This sounds…all over the place. Must have been annoying that it kept on changing genre; pick one and stick with it! Before your review I hadn’t given this book a second glance which is good because it sounds like I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I’m sorry to hear you struggled with this and didn’t enjoy it, but I’m glad that you liked the characters! 😀 Gorgeous review, gorgeous!