Do you ever feel like an author has laid out plot points for his or her story, book jacket-style, and what they came up with is a poorly-written novel with a really good storyline? I put Cecilia Ahern in this category -- her books always sound good, but then you're bogged down in the middle of sentences that run on and aren't terribly brilliant, and you're wondering why people in the United Kingdom love her so much.

Now, I'm not ready to put Anita Shreve in this category. But I found The Pilot's Wife to be one of those stories that was really good, while the writing was not so bad. (Better than mine, mind you.)

Example 1, and plot summation:

“She thought about the impossibility of ever knowing another person. About the fragility of the constructs people make. A marriage, for example. A family.” (p. 233)

Example 2, verging on spoiler:

“She wondered as she drove why she had never imagined an affair. How could a woman live with a man all that time and never suspect? It seemed, at the very least, a monumental act of naivete, of oblivion. But then she thought she knew the answer even as she asked the question: A dedicated adulterer causes no suspicion, she realized, because he truly does not want to be caught.” (p. 267)

Shreve's work makes for a book you can't put down once you're invested in the plot. There aren't a lot of surprises, and you find yourself racing to the finish line. But it's the kind of book that looks good in outline form, and that I'm surprised hasn't been made into a major movie. (I feel like Diane Lane would make an excellent pilot's wife.)

Now, for a book that would never look good on outline, I offer Kathleen Tessaro's Elegance. I do not think the storyline -- girl picks up 40-year-old self-help book, changes her life according to alphabetized rules -- sounds like the makings of a fantastic novel.

But I loved it. I thought Louise's journey to well-roundedness and near-normalcy was so well-written, and believable, and multi-dimensional. I believe this is because of Tessaro's style -- while two or three chapters might run together narratively, the next five might feel more like short stories. This makes it unclear how many years pass between start and finish, but it also feels like a real life. People's lives don't have twists and turns every single day and week. Sometimes the next most interesting thing happening in your life will happen next year or two years from now.

(God help me if the next time my life is interesting is two years from now.)

I have to admit, too, that while Elegance is by no means a self-help book in itself, I found it somewhat inspiring. In fact, I've been on a big purge since reading it, tossing clothes I'll never wear (or shouldn't wear) and reorganizing files. My next move is to start selling off and giving away books I've no intention of reading or don't wish to keep.

So, dear friends, if you have any requests for books from my shelves, now's the time to tell me.... I happen to have two Cecilia Ahern novels I'd be more than happy to give away....

“I’ve come too far. If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that being elegant is just a matter of being willing to make an extra effort and enter into the spirit of things -- of life -- with enthusiasm and grace.” (p. 333)

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